Category: the life of the spirit

A passion exceeding other passions: A review of Larry Crabb’s Finding God

Note: The following is a repost of a book review I wrote for the Philippine Navigators newsletter in December 2015.

 

I first read Dr. Larry Crabb’s Finding God during the semestral break of my junior year in college, after a few months of hanging out with a Bible study group mostly for the sense of fun and friendship (not to mention the cooking of our study leader, Ate Paping) than for anything else.

I was merely looking for something to read; it did not occur to me how heavy the book would turn out to be as I see it now. I can’t even remember if it was recommended to me or if I just happened to pick it among many other books in the shelf. But considering how there couldn’t be such a thing as chance if there’s such a person as God, that choice must have been divinely appointed.

You see, it’s one of those books that make you deal with questions you may not know you’re asking, but need to.

Like most people in a relatively religious culture, I was familiar with such messages as trusting God and resting in the fact that he is in control, perhaps so familiar to the point of it all sounding commonplace and unremarkable. But exactly how that trust plays out and what it involves—what it demands of us—is often lost in trite sayings and the platitudes of forwarded e-mails and memes. Dr. Crabb’s book, I found as I read along, is one of the most painstaking, rigorous, but realistic explorations of how that trust looks like.

The book is rich with insights from biblical examples as well as stories from his own life and from people he had counseling sessions with. Its unrelenting assertion is that our fundamental sin is doubting God, doubting that he is good. The world is full of pain—even for people who are walking in the way of Christ. One common way that we cope is to tend to become indulgers (like the younger brother in the story of the Prodigal Son), dulling the pain with entitlements and pleasures we believe we deserve. Another is to become conformists (like the elder brother), jumping the hoops, subduing all desire, and believing that we can get God to cooperate with us, but ending up angrier when life takes a bad turn or seems unbearably unfair.

Neither of these is the biblical way, Dr. Crabb says, because in both cases we seek desperately to make life work with the tools and talents God has given us so that we don’t have to deal with him. We are in fact actively arranging life so that we can make it “a satisfying experience without ever having to trust God.”

In this perspective, sin is therefore not just our breaking of laws but our effort to supplement what we think are limits to God’s goodness. In a number of different ways, the book asks the question: “Did the fact ever cross your mind that you are here in this world just to understand the Lord Jesus Christ, and for no other reason?”

We begin to find God when we start considering seriously that he is good even if we don’t get everything that we want. That God himself is enough, even if our pain never goes away. “We find God to the degree that we want to find him. Until our passion for finding God exceeds all other passions, . . . we will not find him as deeply as he longs to be found.” In other words, our primary purpose is not to use God to solve our problems but to move through our problems toward finding God.

Finding God is personally significant to me because it happened to be the book that introduced me to the world of authors who wrote on the same theme: Philip Yancey (Where Is God When It Hurts? and Disappointment with God), John Piper (The Pleasures of God), Jerry Bridges (Trusting God), and later C. S. Lewis (Mere Christianity) and Frederick Buechner. (Consider giving these books a try as well for a wider perspective.)

Perhaps one criticism that could be made about the book is that it doesn’t seem to dwell as much on the glories of finding God as it does on the upheavals and “pruning” that one goes through in finding God. But maybe that’s just as well, because that’s an accurate picture of the Gospel—something that is “bad news before it is good news.” Still, the book does talk about what can be called initial redemptions in transformed lives, and it makes references to the banquet, the party, the wedding feast with Christ that the Bible foreshadows.

“The Christian ideal,” says G. K. Chesterton, ” has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult, and left untried.” Read this book for a soulful look at what it would be like if twenty-first-century people like you and me did try it. It will involve more than a little brokenness, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be beauty in it.

You could say it is part psychology and self-help, in the sense that you can assume anyone reading a book with this title would probably at least want to help himself to a better understanding of himself and of God. But the message in this book is one of the farthest things you will see from that of the popular self-help bestsellers on today’s bookstores—even the supposedly religious ones.

More than an academic work or your typical motivational guide, this book is a sort of biblical mirror, a journal of all the mess of coming face-to-face with ourselves, our sometimes misguided passions, our deceptively fallen foundations, and through it all a stirring invitation into a trusting relationship with our Savior that doesn’t sweep away our emotions but instead puts them in perspective in light of Who it is we are relating with.

 

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On being fully known and truly loved

To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.
–Tim Keller