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God of Comfort Review
This week’s book review is on Scott Harrower’s book with Lexham Press, God of All Comfort: A Trinitarian Response to the Horrors of This World.
Some book are like streams, some are like rapids. In other words, some nourish us and we can drink from them easily and with the knowledge that the water is trustworthy. Others are fun, if in unpredictable ways, and so keep us on our toes. Then there are waterfalls. Waterfalls are dangerous and not to be taken lightly, they are also magnificent, inspiring, and can be harnessed for power, for growth and the pool which settles beneath them can be incredibly comforting.
This book is a waterfall.
“The book you are reading is about horrors,” the introuduction says, “what they are…and why is it that they are so deadly. Once we know what horrors are, we can do something about them, or at least ask God for help to do something about our lives when horrors invade. We care about this problem because horrors affect us all in irreversible ways, sometimes setting our lives on courses we never hoped for and even dreaded.”
That is a huge task for a single book to take on, but it’s not just a book, it’s an author. Harrower is like the crest of the fall, drawing in all of the avaliable information on the subject and then filtering and translating that information into something to be harnessed. As with every book in this series and others like it, this is the result of much study and work, far more than most of us will ever dream of doing, much less on such a difficult subject. Harrower knows both what he’s doing and why, he’s seen both the horrors of this world and the responses the world has given to them and he’s convinced that God gives us a better response, not just any god, but specifically the holy Trinity. What’s more, he also recognises that, especially in the modern global north, “theologians have recognised the insufficiency of language to speak of topics relating to horrendous trauma.” Going on to explain how trauma is actually often only the result of what he calls horrors and not the horrors themselves, therefore leaving us with room for growth in our current understanding of the human experience. As theology is often set out under the following headings:
it would seem, at least from Harrower’s view, that we have some work to do.
The world on the one hand and the church on the other, this book this book does an excellent job of helping us to understand how we as christians should define horrors, the responses others have made to them — particularly those who have used/misused the bible —, and how to fomulate our own responses. This summary only scratches the surface of everything covered, but these are, to my understand, the main points.
As a writer, who writes about suffering, my own suffering as well at the suffering of others, I would do well to take Harrower’s advice and listen to his warnings. If you’re a pastor, a counsellor, a therapist, or anyone who disciples people in group or one-one settings, you’d do well to read this book and use it to help you develop, or improve, your own responses and methods for dealing with those who have encountered horror in thier own lives. I won’t go into huge amounts of detail as to how you might do so but here are three pieces of advice for how to approach this book and others like it:
My wife, when quoting anything off of the top of her head, never does so correctly. She’ll quite often sing songs to herself while she’s getting ready to go to bed and gets a surprising number of the lyrics wrong. She’ll use turns of phrase incorrectly, forget the correct punchline to jokes, merge movie quotes together, or misattribute them entirely. She’s more than happy doing so, it’s not hurting anyone and it’s actually a source of entertainment for us both. After all, the apple doesn’t fall too far from killing two bird with one stone, am I right?
When we do this with our theology though, even when everyone knows what we mean, we leave ourselves open to being misunderstood, leaving open the possibility of causing uneccesary division, and at times we can hurt people we meant to help. Possibly because this book is a “Trinitarian response” the first examples which come to mind are the awful, oft times accidentally heretical, respresentations of the Trinity. Those of us who use them are trying to make things simpler, more understandable, but are likely doing quite the opposite. For this reason, reading books like this which are meticulous in not only their use of particular terms but meticulous in thier Taxonomy (classifcation and explanation of those terms.)
Altering our language to better represent what we mean, as well as knowing why we are using said language can be invaluable.
Imagine you have a business making boxes for transporting fragile goods. You need to know whether or not your boxes can handle heavy duty damage and so, you decide, to throw those boxes, fragile goods and all, down the waterfall to test them. That may sound crazy but as you may have seen, a company making cases for phones is doing, essentially, just that. They clad iPhones in their gear, go bungee jumping, up tall buildings, and other places phones would fall from and never, ever survive. On the other hand you may remember a few years ago that Tesla, to prove how good their bulletproof windows were, smashed not one, but two windows(!!) using handtools on stage at an event.
In love, use this book to throw your current procedures off of and test them. If they survive, that’s excellent, if they’re worse for wear then repair what’s broken, if they shatter entirely, then use this book to help inform how you rebuild. (That is, of course, if you believe that the book in question, this one included, is correct in it’s theology and isn’t usurping the Bible’s ultimate authority.)
“This work in no way resolves all issues around horrors and trauma neatly, and many questions linger in my mind. I need to explore these further, and I would encourage you to pursue them also.”
Horror isn’t a a movie genre, or a Stephen King novel, it’s how life is for some.
The reality is though that whether fiction or non-fiction, through the written word or through other media, we need to discuss these issues more thoroughly and from a Christian point of view. Many of us would be terrified to do so, but I was reminded whilst watching the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe with some coworkers recently that it’s so entirely necessary. The film is, at times, quite kitschy and the acting leaves a lot to be desired, the crucifixion scene stays with you though. In stark contrast to the rest of the film, it left us all in tears, not just because it was scary, but because of what it represented. There we were, eight adults sitting in different rooms on a watch party, crying our eyes out about the death of Christ whilst watching a lion sacrificed for Edmund’s sake on the stone table. C.S.Lewis wasn’t scared to include it in a children’s book, we shouldn’t be scared to write about it for any audience.
I’ve been through things in my life which I’ll only write about under a psuedonym or through allegorical fiction, they’re that bad, I will write about them though, I need to promise that I will. We have a duty as Christian writers to steward the gift of suffering that we’ve been entrusted with, to show how God’s light shone through into that dark place and to help others to see the way, the truth, and the life, the God-man Jesus.
I’m not in any way encouraging you to reveal your wounds too early, or say things which would be unwise or put you at risk. This book, however, leaves the baton with us an encourages us to continue the race, advocating for the ones who are currently reeling from the experiences of horror in thier own lives through pastoral care, regaulr discipleship, church community, listening ears, slow tongues, heavy pens, and the clicks of our keyboards.
Waterfalls are dangerous and canny things, but they can be used to draw great power. Imagine how powerful a mill would be if placed below a waterfall, or how much potential energy niagra falls holds. This book has the potential energy to call you to act.
Will you take up that call?
This is how we must treat all academic theological literature, it has not been written to puff us up, but to help us wield the sword of truth, scripture, and press on, using what we’ve learned practically in the contexts we find ourselves in. I pray that many would read this book to that end.
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