on November 19, 2001
I've been having a lot of problems of late. So my pastor gave me this book to read. When he did, he said that some people he had given it to loved it while others hated it. And I can understand why there is such a diverse reaction to it.
Basically, I can sum up this book in two sentences:
1. God never promised you a rose garden.
2. What God has promised you is Himself.
More specifically, it is Barnes thesis the God has never promised that those who trust in Him will have happy, fulfilled lives. He does not promise that things will go well with you. He does not promise that your health will remain good, that your finances will not fail, that if you're single you won't be lonely, that if you're married, your marriage will not fail, or that He will protect you from any of the other myriad of things that can go wrong in life. Problems will come to the Christian just as they do to the non-Christian.
What makes this book particularly discouraging is that Martin is saying that when things go wrong you cannot trust God that "things will work out." They just might not work out. Things might just keep getting worse. So Martin completely disagrees with the "health and wealth gospel" that is preached by many.
Even more, Martin disagrees with the "self-fulfillment gospel" that is also often preached. As the Gospel is presented today, it often is given as a way for people to find meaning, purpose, or fulfillment in life. But Martin says that this is a misconstruing of the Gospel. In this fallen world, a lack of fulfillment is "normal," and becoming a Christian is not going to change this.
As the back cover of the book states, "In this book, Barnes suggests we weren't created to be whole or complete. With a fresh reading of the early chapters of Genesis, he says that much of our pain and disillusionment arises from wrong expectations of the gospel and of life."
However, Martin states that when we suffer, God Himself is our only "hope." In fact, it is only when we are suffering that we can really experience God's grace. Quoting again from the back cover, "[Martin] helps us see how our needs and limitations are gifts, the best opportunities we have to receive God's grace."
Some quotes from the book will help to bring this idea out:
"Our hope is ultimately rooted in God, not in what he can do for us" (p.131).
"Our saving hope is not that we are spared from experiencing the pain of loss. Jesus never hurries to save us from that. Our hope is simply in Jesus himself, who is greater than that for which we had hoped" (p.134).
The last two pages sum up the book very well:
"Now, return with me to the long line of broken lives waiting to receive Communion on Christmas Eve. In holding up the body of Christ, what hope do I give them for next year? Does the broken body promise that things will get better if they just hang on? In the moment in which my eye catches theirs, do I wink as if to say, "Yes, but soon God will fix it all if you only have faith? No. Absolutely not....
What I hold up that night is the hope that God has found them. If they can see that, if even for a moment, it is enough. Then everything has changed. Nothing may be different, but those who have realized that they journey with God perceive everything differently. A bit more of the unpredictable light of Christ has broken into the darkness that surrounds us all" (pp. 180, 181).
So what is my opinion of this book? I like the reference in the last sentence quoted above to Christ's "light" shining in the "darkness" given I direct a ministry called "Darkness to Light." But beyond that, I'm not really sure.
In a way this book is depressing. I would like to think that as my life crumbles around me I can trust God to turn things around. But this book is saying that's not the case. Things just might get worse, not better. My health, finances, and other aspects of my life just might continue to get worse.
I would like to think that I can trust God to give me some direction or meaning in life. But again, this book is saying that's not the case. My life just might continue to be directionless and meaningless.
To say that God is my "hope" sounds good, but it is really difficult to grab onto such a nebulous concept in the mist of struggles. But when everything is going wrong, such a nebulous hope is about all that is left.
To trust in Christ Himself and not in what He can do for me is a struggle, but it is all the only secure hope that the suffering person can grasp onto. Everything and anything else provides no secure foundation. Anything else a person trusts in can fail or be taken away. Only Christ Himself is a secure refuge for the suffering person.
If the reader is looking for help in trusting God to "work things out," then I wouldn't recommend this book. It will be just be a discouragement. But if you're looking for help in trusting in God Himself as your only hope in life, then this Book will be very worthwhile.