What Good is God?

I just finished reading an advance copy of What Good is God?: In Search of a Faith that Matters, by Philip Yancey. The book, which is scheduled to be published on October 19, 2010, was sent to me by the Hachette Group. Although I haven’t read Yancey’s earlier books, reading this one makes me anxious to do so.

“What Good is God?” is a question, Yancey suggests, that “occurs in some form to every person who experiences pain or death or poverty or unfairness – in other words, to everyone.” The book reflects Yancey’s attempt to answer that question in a positive and hopeful way – to demonstrate that there are reasons for us to dare to hope “that somehow God can wrest permanent good out of this flawed planet and us its flawed inhabitants.”

Over the years, Yancey has spoken all around the world to varied groups and he uses that experience as a way to present his thoughts. He picks ten of his speaking engagements at different places, ranging from Virginia Tech to Mumbai and from the Bible college he attended to China. For each, he gives us two chapters, the first of which presents the story of the place and people he is with and the second of which presents the talk he gave on that occasion. It is an effective way of proceeding.

Each of the parts of the book offers a different gloss on Yancey’s ultimate faith that God is at work in the world, albeit not always in the ways we expect or would like him to be. His powerful encounters with professional sex workers convince him that God’s grace can reach even those who view themselves as the lowest of the low; he listened to numerous “gripping accounts of what happens when a woman rejected by everyone else suddenly grasps that she is not rejected by God.” His experiences in China reveal that, no matter what the obstacles, “God goes where he is wanted,” and “that the kingdom of God grows from the bottom up rather than being imposed from the top down.” Spending time on the campus of Virginia Tech after the massacre there and in Mumbai, Yancey saw the ways in which church can be a place of comofrt, how “[t]rue healing, of deep connective tissue, takes place in community.”

Some readers will not share Yancey’s hopefulness. Too many want God to answer in ways that make more sense to us, reasoning that if God does not directly and forcefully intervene to prevent suffering, then he is no good at all.

Ultimately, however, I think Yancey is right that God chooses to reveal Godself not by Superman-like stopping of oncomings trains, but by “ordinary people like us….We are the ones called to demonstrate a faith that matters to a watching world.”