I started reading books by the American Christian writer Philip Yancey about twelve years ago, I suppose. I was introduced to one of his books by a friend, and found his style very enjoyable. He tends to write very honestly, admitting his own failings and struggles. He uses anecdotes and a chatty way of writing that I found appealing. I also found myself nodding and agreeing with just about everything he wrote.
I first read 'Disappointment with God' in 1999. I suppose it was the third or fourth book I'd read by Yancey at the time, and I found it extremely inspiring and encouraging.
Since I've now collected and read all his books, and there are no new ones at present, I've started re-reading some of them. Over the last week or two, I've read a chapter or two per day of this book. Again, I found it very readable and well-written.
It basically asks three questions: Is God hidden? Is he silent? Is he fair? Yancey talks at some length about a friend of his who wrote a book about the Biblical character Job, but then due to various circumstances, found that he had lost his faith. He was asking these questions, and concluding that God probably wasn't there at all - but if he was, he was hidden, quiet and unfair.
In the first part of this book, we look at the Old Testament period when God was by no means hidden or quiet. His people knew what he wanted, saw his signs, and sometimes heard his voice. However it didn't make them any wiser than we are today, or any more likely to love him. Nor did the majority see him as a loving father, but (in most cases) more like an autocratic boss. Yancey concludes - with some reference to CS Lewis's writing - that since God wants us to love him, and have faith, it's probably better that we don't see and hear him literally.
The questions are not really answered, but are explored thoroughly and honestly, with further anecdotes from other friends, some of whom experienced very difficult or painful circumstances, yet continued trusting God. Yancey shows us a hint of the eternal perspective, pointing out how we are limited to a time-bound view of events, and also points out how God responded to Job - not entirely satisfactorily from some points of view, but showing him that God's view of the world is very different from anyone else's.
I have to admit, I didn't find the book as mind-blowingly inspiring as I did the first time. Perhaps this is because I could remember many of the arguments in the first part of the book; perhaps, too, I've matured a bit and no longer feel that God should be visible, audible and 'fair' in human terms.
Still, it was a good read, and I'd recommend it to anyone struggling with these questions who would like an honest approach rather than pat answers that evade the issue. 'Disappointment with God' was first published in 1988 but is still in print on both sides of the Atlantic over twenty years later, which is a testament to its popularity.
Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, April 1st 2009