Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Got Pain? Finding God in the Ruins

I've been on a reading kick this year, and this is the second of three non-fiction book reviews. You can find the first one here. Enjoy! --Jenn
In the Bible, Jesus tells His followers (and me) something disturbing: "In this world you will have trouble." He wasn't kidding. What He says next has always been something that has heartened me: "I have overcome the world." I've believed that all my life. As I've aged, though, I've wondered what to do when I can't reconcile that statement with the evil I see in the world.

Matt Bays has personal experience with evil. He too has grappled with what to do when the cliches of Christianity didn't mesh with his reality, leaving him to wonder where God was while he lived through things he wouldn't wish on his worst enemy.

So Matt put God on trial to see if he could find Him and retain his faith in the aftermath of his agony.

Originally, I bought this book for a friend of mine who is walking through an incredibly difficult season. Before I gave it to her, though, I thought I should be familiar with the content so that we could talk about it later. 

I had no idea how this book would resonate with me.

I have long had the need to, as Matt describes it, "know the why" of everything. Then when I couldn't, particularly in light of the challenges I had faced and the predicament of evil in the world, I told myself that His ways are not my ways, and that His thoughts are higher than my thoughts. I didn't know anything else to do when that didn't satisfy my need to know.

My own brokenness was also a challenge. I didn't want to embrace it; I wanted to remove it. When the Apostle Paul boasted about his weakness because it allowed Christ power to rest on him, I thought, "That's nice for you, but I don't want to boast about my weakness. Any other way I can get Christ's power to rest on me?" Then I read this by Matt about that very passage:

"The word glory is often defined as 'the silent existence' or 'the unspoken manifestation of God.' The Greek word for glory is doxa, which is also used to convey God's intrinsic worth or his core value. So not only is the glory of God revealed in our brokenness, in the ruins of our lives, in those things we can't figure out, get right, or seem to overcome, but his core value is at its absolute highest when we are at our absolute lowest. The silent existence of God is alive in my brokenness, where his power is not simply present but 'made perfect.'"


Through this book I found an invitation to search for God's presence in the midst of my irreconcilable differences. Matt's heart for those who have felt they had no other option but to walk away from faith, still holding their unresolved pain and questions because they believed their only choice was to swallow their disbelief beats loudly. Matt almost did the same. He describes his church experience as a child this way: "The dominating message was that God wanted me to say yes no matter what and that the more difficult questions of life were unnecessary."

This book is so needed today. Many have never believed and many have walked away from belief because they didn't think they had permission to question, examine, or rail against this God they couldn't square with their circumstances. Matt understands our difficulty and has done what most wouldn't in order to give others hope: he has gone first.

In Finding God in the Ruins: How God Redeems Pain, Matt stares God down as he works through every single question he has about his twisted childhood, daring God to show Himself real and present. One of his most powerful discoveries answered one of my questions too: Where is God in suffering? Matt found that while God allows evil, He is not absent while it is taking place. Not only is He present, He is experiencing our pain, the violations, the injustice WITH US. 

I had never before thought about what Jesus' suffering on the cross for the sins of all humanity for all time entailed. Matt explains what God showed him: Somehow, while He bore the weight of all those sins once for all that day two millennia ago, He also chooses to bear them with us as they happen. 

Matt describes it this way: "God wasn't staring on in the brothels of Mumbai; he was stuck on a dirty floor with a pedophile on top of him. And he wasn't leaning against the laundry machine in my basement; he was being pierced, crushed, bruised, and wounded so eventually I could be healed. It happened to him every time it happened to me. It was him, the same as it was me." 

That's the God I want to--and do--believe in.

In the end, Matt shares this about his process: "We will never know what makes him God. We can make our guesses, but in the middle of our pain, the answers wouldn't matter anyway. We need more than answers. We need the love of God, no matter how awkward or fumbly."

Matt doesn't advocate blind faith or acceptance of the mysteries of God for God's sake. He invites anyone who has questions, doubts, pain, or unresolved irreconcilable differences with God to bring all of that before Him, out in the light. He's giving us permission to stand nose to nose with God and ask every single question we've ever had, show Him every single wound we've received, and ask for, demand, an explanation. He promises God can take it. 

I'll leave you with this final quote: "...I walked away from the faith I knew, and I'm glad I did. I closed the door until I was ready for something more--for something greater. Passing through darkness will always be a part of life because trouble will always be with us. But as I strain my eyes amidst the shifting shadows, I find Jesus in silhouette. Every detail of his face is not recognizable, but his form is unmistakable."

Matt has created a seven-day Bible reading plan to accompany this book. You can find it here: 

You can find his book on

What pain haunts you or has you in its grip? Are you mad at God because He doesn't seem to be offering any purpose for it? I invite you to share in the comments.

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