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Book Review

Shattered Dreams:

Godís Unexpected Pathway to Joy

Crabb, Larry, 2001. Shattered Dreams: Godís Unexpected Pathway to Joy. 2001, Colorado Springs, Colorado: WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House, Inc. ISBN 1-57856-506-5

What God has in mind when He tells us to keep hoping may not be what we usually mean when we think of hope. We wish for things to get better; we want to feel what we want to feel.

Those are our dreams. But that kind of hope is for later. For now, in this life, the Bible offers a different kind of hope, a kind that at first we donít find attractive or even hopeful.

p. 37, Shattered Dreams

This is the best book on Christian living and spiritual maturity I have ever read. It compares favorably to the best of C. S. Lewis in its content, though it does not quite have the same felicitous style or turn of phrase. This is the book Iíd hoped Lewis would have written long after his wife died, as a sequel to "A Grief Observed." It answers, in a humble way, the age-old question of why God allows his people to suffer, allowing many specific questions to go unanswered, but dealing with the experiential reality, and following the Biblical pattern found in the Book of Ruth.

Larry Crabb has been a Christian and a minister for many years, and has often felt, as a counsellor, inadequate to the life problems people have brought him. After experiencing cancer, he realized how difficult it is to be in the Christian church when you are really hurting, and how the church thoughtlessly increases the pain by its shallow, quick-fixit approach.

This book is his answer. Far more satisfying than Rabbi Kushnerís "When Bad Things Happen To Good People," which essentially leaves us with a Compassionate but powerless God, this book also goes farther than Philip Yancey's excellent classic, "Disappointment with God," which I got so much out of years ago. Crabbís book digs deep into the problem of why God lets his own people suffer, using the Book of Ruth throughout as his theme text.

There are no easy answers here. There is plenty of pain, confusion, and suffering. The answers, when they come, though they are simple enough, are very, very hard to take Ė and we certainly donít want to hear them. But they ring with the sound of Godís voice, and they illuminate Naomiís bitter experience of life, and lead us through to the only truly satisfying conclusion.

Before we can experience joy, God has to strip away our happiness, and He has to leave us suffering for quite some time before we experience our own thirst for Him. Healing, when it comes, is never what we thought it would be, or hoped for, and is never what people have prayed we would find Ė but it is better. Itís just the kind of better that we need to be prepared to appreciate. And that preparation itself is fiery and difficult.

This book is real. It does not sugar-coat our natural rage against God when He seems to be our worst enemy, and Crabb doesnít beat us up for feeling it: he reassures us that Naomi ("pleasantness"), when she wanted to be called Mara ("bitter"), was not punished for her bitterness, but accepted. And God had something prepared for her, but she needed to be prepared for it first. This is not the happy, easy-faith, Just-Trust-Jesus feel-good Instant Gospel that so many church people spout when they are clinging to their happiness and their good lives with both hands so hard that they have no hand free to reach for God. As Crabb himself boldly states:

"The Christian community is often a dangerous place to be when your dreams shatter. Initially, friends are warmly understanding and supportive. ÖBut two unwritten rules eventually surface in our response to one who hurts. First, mourning has a time limit. Ö Second, we think thereís a proper way to mourn. ugly battles should remain out of sight. Acceptable battles may be shared, but only if we season our account with hope."

p. 65, "Shattered Dreams."

This book is real comfort for the afflicted, showing how God accepts us and works with us through our broken hearts, anger, rage, bitterness, sorrow, depression, and despair.

This is a hard book to swallow, but Iíd like to give a copy to every person who, when they heard of another recurrence of my cancer, dispensed little pellets of easy Bible verses, or tried to bully me to "smile." As a matter of fact, Iíd like to smack them about the head with this book Ė but thatís another story.

This is definitely for every person who has suffered broken dreams.

And, for those whose worst life experience has been having someone steal their parking space at the mall or wearing the same skirt twice to the opera, this book should be read with humility and repentance for all the shallow, thoughtless, easy answers they have given to those in pain.

I have only one proviso Ė please, please, please, donít use this book and some of its phrases to parrot at people in pain! This is a thing that needs to be lived through. No "bumper sticker" answers will ever be appropriate to those who are wounded. If youíre not sure if what youíre about to say to a suffering person is appropriate, just think, "Would I say this to Christ at Gethsamane?" and remember how harshly Jesus rebuked Peter for trying to encourage him that the worst would never happen.

Even if youíve been through much pain yourself, thereís often little you can say that doesnít hurt, as I found out to my chagrin when my best girlfriend also got cancer, and I found myself spouting all the shallow encouragement Iíd hated from others. All I could do was apologize and ask for her forgiveness, which she graciously gave me. And, I might add, without smacking me about the head with anything Ė even a book.

This book also clarifies what the Christian faith really is. Like Judaism, at its roots, it is a messy, embarrassing, shameless religion that doesnít look good to outsiders. Itís true: Buddhismís dignified deadening of pain through the killing of desire looks much more "spiritual" than a Bible believerís wrestlings with God and sorrow. Just as Socrates' dignified drinking of the hemlock seems far more mature and philosophical than Christís weeping and sweating blood the night before His crucifixion Ė a thing many philosophical types have thrown in the Church's face for centuries.

If you prefer Socrates and Buddha to Christ, then admit it. If you are uneasy with the full range of human emotions God has created, and allows us to suffer, unfettered, and often unsupported and uncomforted, then maybe you really donít understand God at all. Thatís OK, too. We all see through a glass darkly, and admitting our ignorance is the first step, and one we almost never take when things are going well.

Iíve read this book two or three times already, and Iím keeping it handy on my shelf to read over many times more. It has so much substance and wisdom, it should become the classic work on this subject. I canít recommend it too highly.

If you donít understand what true pain and suffering really feels like, and this book isnít graphic enough for you, read C. S. Lewisí "A Grief Observed." It is a humbling, enlightening invitation into someone elseís enormous, soul-wounding, life-shattering grief, sorrow, and pain.

Reviewed by Jesse Ancona
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