What Good is God? In Search of a Faith that Matters
By Philip Yancey.
Reviewed by Rob Ogilvie, CBWC’s Regional Minister for BC & Yukon
With most Philip Yancey books, the title usually gives away the theme, and this book is no exception. Trying to understand what good God is, in a world filled with disasters and traumatic events, is Yancey’s quest. He makes this happen by including talks he has given in ten different places around the world from Mumbai to Johannesburg to the campus of Virginia Tech. The chapter that precedes each of these stories gives the background as to how he came to be invited to this place, introduces the reader to some of the people that he has met and outlines the relevant issues these people are facing.
In the Introduction, Yancey describes how polls in the USA show that in 1957, when asked about their religious affiliation, 2.7% of the population stated “no religion” and that by 2009 that number had grown to 16%. However, he goes on to say that two-thirds of those who claimed “no religion” still believe that God exists and he believes that many of these people judge organized religion as hypocritical or irrelevant. As a way of exploring the value of religious faith and wrestling with the question about God’s goodness Yancey says, “I prefer to go out into the field and examine how faith works itself out, especially under extreme conditions.”
I found it an interesting format for a book that could easily be viewed in two ways. The cynical or strictly business approach could say that it can’t get much easier to write a book than this, because half of it was already written from the talks Yancey had previously given to ten different groups, and the other half was him just telling the stories of how he got invited to such places.
The other perspective recognizes Yancey’s ability to tell stories and to help his readers understand that many of the questions they themselves are asking are also being asked by others, and he does so in dramatic fashion. A young woman who survived the Columbine High School shootings accompanies him to Virginia Tech where together they meet with the families and loved ones and attend a memorial for the 32 students killed by a fellow student. He travels to China where he hears firsthand the realities of what it means to be a pastor of a Christian church in the midst of communism. He attends a conference in Wisconsin on ministry to women in prostitution, where he spends three hours dialoguing with former “professional sex workers” and hearing their stories of “degradation and transformation.”
I learn best from stories and for that reason I appreciated this book. It reminds us that God is present, even when we don’t readily see him, and that we, as ordinary people, are called to be examples to the world around us of the hope and assurance of the goodness of God.