Thursday, December 8, 2016

Book Review: Finding God in the Ruins

There couldn't have been a better book for me to read while working on a novel about redemption than this book by Matt Bays, Finding God in the Ruins. Subtitled "How God Redeems Pain," this book is a brief contemplation on the quest to understand how and why God uses pain and suffering in our lives. The author chooses to look the most devastating moments of life squarely in the eye and not shy away from the story or the pain. I devoured this book in one sitting. Apart from an uncomfortable passage where Bays talks of giving God the middle finger, I'd count this a five star book for its honesty and encouragement.

Before he even begins to share his transparent story of a life filled with sexual abuse and familial dysfunction, Bays caught me with these three paragraphs:

"For many years in my own search for redemption, I needed others to be the hands of God to me - to let me know that if things didn't work out, they would stand with me, even if I stopped believing.

"Most of my spiritual mentors never said the words I was desperate to hear: 'I'm sorry for all you are going through. You are going to make it, and I'm going to be there for you if you need me. You don't need to be anything other than what you are in this moment.' Instead, I heard only this substandard spiritual remedy: 'God has a plan, and one day he will use this for his glory, so get on with it.'

"My brokenness for God's glory. It felt like a slap in the face. I could not bear the responsibility for making sure my pain would eventually be turned into something that would make God look good. What I really needed to know was that in spite of my pain, I would be okay, even if things never got turned around."

And that is the blessed takeaway from this book. You can, indeed, find God in the ruins of your life. He is working on making something useful of your pain. Moreover, you don't have to sanitize your life and make it acceptable. You can tell God exactly how you feel about your circumstances. As two chapter subtitles put it, "God Wants You to Tell the Truth - The Uncensored Version of Your Story." Bays recognizes the importance of the stories our lives tell, especially the messy ones that many Christians want to silence. Toward the end of the book, he writes, "Each of us has a calling that comes from the core ache within us - a calling to write with our lives the beautiful stories of God's redemption. To remind others that all of our pain has been regulated. So when hopelessness seems to have had the last word, the love of God instead, which has been written on our hearts, will set God's redemption loose in the enemy's pawnshop."

As I read, I discovered that the author lives in Indianapolis, not far from me. How I want to contact him and say, "I'm working on a novel about this very topic. I'd love to meet you and talk about the writing process and the story I'm trying to tell." But then, fear holds me back and I tell myself, "Just get on with it. Maybe if you finish the manuscript, you can one day ask him to write an endorsement, if he's willing to take the time to read your writing." I have to argue with myself from Bays' own words and say "Your story is what God will use most of all." May that be true and may Bays' encouraging words spur me to keep on writing.

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