Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Book Review: Our Ultimate Refuge

As I passionately pursue the creation of another manuscript - this one a tale of good intent gone wrong, ending in redemption - I have purposely plunged myself into books about problems of suffering and how God works to redeem the broken pieces of our lives. Thus, I sought out Oswald Chambers' book on Job and the problem of suffering, called Our Ultimate Refuge. Although I was able to glean some vision and insight from its pages, I have to admit it was somewhat difficult to follow and understand what the author was attempting to communicate. It simply lacked accessibility for the reader and that's too bad.

This little book was at least a quick read, at only 138 pages. Oswald Chambers gave a series of talks in 1917 and these words were gleaned from notes taken during the lectures. He addressed a male audience and, of course, minds were clearly focused on suffering caused by a world at war. The focus is on that perplexing question: "Why do the righteous suffer?"

The publisher's forward outlines clearly what the book is attempting to express: "Chambers presents God as not only the ultimate refuge, but our only refuge. With characteristic insight, he discusses our myths of self-sufficiency and eternal optimism, revealing their inadequacy when faced with the destruction of all that human-kind values. Only with a sense of ultimate and utter loss do we come to admit that all we have is God."

Here's some of what I did take away from the treatise. Chambers writes: "The majority of us start out with the belief that God is good and kind, and that He prospers those who trust in Him. Job believed this, but he has a conscious resurgence against that belief now, and it is Job's goodness, not his badness, which makes him reconsider things. There are things in the experience of us all which call for a revision of our credal findings about God."

He argues toward the end of the book, that "Job never knew that Satan and Jehovah had made a battleground of his soul." When faced with undeserved suffering, we must remember that our souls are a constant battleground and we must say with Job that though He slay us, yet we will trust Him. In another section Chambers speaks of the "rehabilitation" of faith in God (from Job 42:1-2) What is needed is a restoration to the former state of trust and belief. He writes, "I have to believe that God is good in spite of all that contradicts it in my experience. It is not easy to say that God is love (1 John 4:8) when everything that happens actually gives the lie to it. Everyone's soul represents some kind of battlefield. The point for each one is whether we will hang on, as Job did, and say 'Though things look black, I will trust in God.'"

The problem is outlined further when he writes: "Many of us have no faith in God at all, but only faith in what He has done for us, and when these things are not apparent we lose our faith.... The danger of experience is that our faith is made to rest in it, instead of seeing that our experience is simply a doorway to God Himself."

There will always be the problem of suffering. Why does a good God allow it in the world? Why do innocents pay the price of someone else's sin? Surely, we think, a loving, benevolent Creator would want to repay trust and belief with the prosperity we crave, and yet we are often plunged into "the dark night of the soul," and cannot see our way clear to Him or his provision. Chambers rightly directs the reader's focus back on God, the right place to hang our hopes and dreams.

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