18/10/2010

Reaching for the Invisible God (by Philip Yancey)

It's only in the past ten years or so that I've started reading books by the American Christian writer Philip Yancey. I love his style, his honesty, and his thought-provoking reflections about some difficult topics. And now I'm gradually re-reading my way through them.

I first read 'Reaching for the Invisible God' early in 2005. The subtitle, 'What can we expect to find?' is what the book is about, in a nutshell. How, Yancey asks, can Christians possibly talk about having a personal relationship with Somebody we can't see, hear, or touch? It's a question that tends to be avoided by those of us who consider we have such a relationship, and asked with some ridicule by many who don't.

I have to admit, the first half of the book didn't really grab me this time, although I very much enjoyed it five and a half years ago. It covers topics such as faith and doubt, what we mean by personality, what we might expect from God - assuming He exists - and some of the mistaken views that abound. There are some interesting anecdotes, and the writing style is always clear and thoughtful, but I didn't find myself inspired or enthused, or even surprised by anything new. I don't know if this is because I've moved on in the past five years, or slipped back; but for a few days it was a struggle to read even half a chapter in the mornings.

However, by the time I was half way through, I was thoroughly enjoying this book again. I was particularly taken with the section on relating to God in the 'desert', and then subsequent chapters about our relating to each other and to God as child, adult and parent of children. I enjoyed the second half of the book so much that I'd still rate this as one of my favourites, albeit with a slow-moving start.

If I have one slight niggle with Yancey's writing, it's that he appears to have a problem using pronouns for God. Perhaps he - or his publisher - is unsure whether to use a capital letter for such pronouns, and so avoids the problem by simply repeating the name 'God' even when a pronoun would make the paragraph easier to read.

I wondered if Yancey also had a problem with the convention of using a male pronoun, since we have no gender-neutral ones in the English language; but in one of the later chapters I was jolted out of this possibility by a single use of 'He', referring to God. It was as the first word of a sentence, thus had a capital letter for that reason.

It's such a minor detail that I don't, in general, worry about it; but for some reason I found it somewhat distracting in this book, spotting so many places where another writer would have put 'he', 'him' or 'his' (with or without a capital H). It would be interesting to know the real reason, and whether or not this has ever disturbed anyone else.

Nonetheless, highly recommended to anyone wanting a thoughtful and well-written book about our search for the invisible God of Christian beliefs.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 18th October 2010

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