My Rating – Put it on your list
Level – Easy, relatively short (~230)
This book is mostly about unanswered prayer. We pray for certain people or events, and sometimes God does not answer that prayer, but instead takes our life (or others) in different directions. To us, that makes no sense. The book tries to answer what we do when this happens.
There are 19 chapters, plus an intro and concluding thoughts. The chapters are grouped together in four parts – When God’s Ways Make No Sense, What Then? Three Stories, Three Answers; When God’s Ways Make No Sense, Tremble! Why? What? How?; When God’s Ways Make No Sense: Trust in God’s Unthwarted Sovereignty; When God’s Ways Make No Sense: Three Parables.
I really dislike the use of the book title in each chapter; it seems really unnecessary and redundant. Part One looks at the three stories of Jonah, Paul, and Habakkuk. Part Four retells Part One with modern day reactions. Part Two takes a look at our two responses, as Crabb sees them, which is to tremble and to trust. Part Three takes a bit of a detour into providence and sovereignty, which is probably necessary in a book about God’s plan, especially when we disagree with it.
I wish I could rate this book a 4.5, because I think some of the questions Crabb discusses are necessary for all Christians to seriously consider, but some of his analysis isn’t quite there for me. Much like Yancey’s book on Prayer (my review), it challenges Christians to really be discerning and ask hard questions, but I’m not sure either take you much farther (though, that is a great place to be).
Early in the book, Crabb makes reference to Romans, where Paul discusses sin and how he seems unable to stop sinning. That is an interesting aspect to unanswered prayer that I have never considered. Have lost two friends just last year to addiction, I would have liked to hear more about this. However, that is the last mention of personal sin as far as unanswered prayers. That’s too bad, it is an understandably difficult topic. What makes less sense than prayer to God to be delivered from temptation, only to fail? Instead the book moves mostly to the familiar realm of pain, suffering, and failure. I love this quote, and I think Crabb really hit on how Christians feel if they are being honest:
God I know you are good, but what good are you? In struggles with no answer, or when his ways make no sense, we wonder what good God is for us.
It really sets the tone for the book – the honesty, the struggle, the questions – and I’m glad that a esteemed leader in the Christian community is willing to write about them in this way; and these are clearly issues he is struggling with currently.
Part Two is probably the strength of the book. That is where you have to look honestly at events in your life and how the unfold in ways that are not according to your plan and you have to wonder what God is doing. Likewise, Part Three looks at our response and delves Biblically into what God says about suffering and general pain in our lives. Though, I’m not sure why he felt compelled to make up his own term, unthwarted sovereignty, that is somewhat between a slight misreading of Calvinist sovereignty and open deism. It’s almost more of a rebranding (attempt) of God’s sovereignty; maybe some people will find it helpful in understanding God’s ways.
The only part I didn’t really like was the second of his stories/answer/parable in Parts One and Four, when he discusses Paul. In Part One, he does a little exegesis of the three Biblical narratives of people he things exemplifies ways we respond to God when we don’t like what he is doing. Though they were insightful and Biblically sound, I feel like his point on Paul missed. Or rather, his point was good, but Paul didn’t really show it the way he might have thought. His point is that Paul distorted and denied God’s word. Obviously we do that today, and I suppose you could say that Paul did, but that is all before his conversion. I just don’t think you can make a strong argument about a Christian response from a non-Christian.
Overall, I think it is an interesting and challenging book. I think anyone who has ever wondered why God’s ways often don’t make sense should read this. This is certainly a must read for those who believe, like I once did, that you can’t question God’s ways. Similarly, people who come from a moralistic or health and wealth gospel view of God, need to read this book. However, for those who have moved passed this, you won’t get as much new thought, and definitely no definitive answer. But that is our lot in life, right? We will likely never understand why some things happen. For now, we keep praying, keep reading, and continue to seek understand. If unanswered prayer is one of those questions for you, this is a book to add to your list.
* I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.