Few authors have had as much an impact on my life as Philip Yancey. A friend of mine gave me a copy of Reaching For The Invisible God at a particularly low point in my Christian walk and it was, for lack of a better term, a lifesaver. Yancey addressed much of the bitterness and cynicism I felt towards my church, and the religion in general, without pandering or avoiding the difficult questions.
It’s true that Yancey’s books can sometimes become a bit repetitious, that he revisits many of the same themes and ideas time and again in his writing — but his writing is also always honest, lyrical, and deeply compassionate. Which, as someone who is often highly skeptical of much so-called “Christian Inspirational” writing, often turns out to be just what I need.
The church I attend reserves a brief time in which people in the pews can voice aloud their prayers. Over the years, I have heard hundreds of these prayers, and with very few exceptions, the word polite applies. One, however, stands out in my memory because of its raw emotion.
In a clear but wavering voice, a young woman began with the words, “God, I hated you after the rape! How could you let this happen to me?” The congregation abruptly fell silent. No more rustling of papers or shifting in seats. “And I hated the people in this church who tried to comfort me. I didn’t want comfort. I wanted revenge. I wanted to hurt back. I thank you, God, that you didn’t give up on me, and neither did some of these people. You kept after me, and I come back to you now and ask that you heal the scars in my soul.”
Of all the prayers I have heard in church, this one most resembles the style of testy prayers I find replete in the Bible, especially those from God’s favorites such as Abraham and Moses.
Why would God, the all-powerful ruler of the universe, resort to a style of relating to humans that seems like negotiation — or haggling, to put it crudely? Does God require the exercise as part of our spiritual training regimen? Or is it possible that God, if I may use such language, relies on our outbursts as a window onto the world, or as an alarm that might trigger intervention? It was the cry of the Israelites, after all, that prompted God’s call of Moses.
Like Abraham, I approach God at first in fear and trembling, only to learn that God wants me to stop groveling and start arguing. I dare not meekly accept the state of the world, with all its injustice and unfairness. I must call God to account for God’s own promises, God’s own character.
And speaking of Christianity Today, Zalm has posted an excerpt from an article in the latest print edition titled “The Church’s Great Malfunctions” that touches on a question that seems rather basic but oh so timely in today’s global climate: “Why have Christians, who embrace a peaceable fath, often been so violent?”