Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Book Review: "Can God Be Trusted?" (Thomas D Williams)

Title: Can God Be Trusted? - finding faith in troubled times
Author: Thomas D Williams
Published: NY: Hachette, 2009. (advance reader copy. Book will be published 13 Oct 2009)

The timing of this book reflects an ongoing general climate of distrusting religion with lots of questions surrounding the existence of God and also the evidence of goodness. This book is written to address not simply doubts but those who are discouraged by events happening around the world, to the point that they question the very God they had earlier believed.

Written for a general audience, this book is not an academic treatise. I am reminded of an earlier book first published in 1998, (second edition released in 2009), of the same name, by Dr John Stackhouse of Regent-College. While that book (Stackhouse) deals more with the philosophical side of the problem of evil and suffering in the world, Williams' book tend to cover a more layperson perspective. Instead of dealing with reasons why God can be trusted from a personal point of view, Williams opt for something different by looking more closely at why people distrust God from the people's point of view. In the process, he tries to waylay the barriers to faith through gentle dislodging of the hurdles to trust. If Stackhouse's book engages the reader at an intellectual level, William's book removes practical day-to-day hurdles.

Williams point to 'trust' as a need of the human make-up. In Part 1, his basic claim is that, if trusting God is difficult, not trusting God is worse. In Part 2, trust is seen as a gift, rather than a tiresome exercise of faith. In Part 3, Williams walks the reader through the difficulties of trusting God, covering the temperament aspect, the moral obstacles, and everyday examples of disappointments affecting normal life. Helpfully, he lists 2 kinds of people who tend to distrust God. The first group comprises of people who have been disappointed in the past. The second group are those who are afraid of rejection by God. Part 4 deals with both of these groups' concerns by distinguishing the real and unreal expectations of God. Gently, he suggests to the reader that trust is not something that is expected of us but also 'bestowed' by God. In other words, we can trust God because he first trusted us. The last part, Part 5 goes through some of the ways we can increase our faith and trust in God. Below is a list of what I gather from his prescription:
  • Recognize the futility in trusting other worldly gods;
  • Build trust by adopting a childlike attitude;
  • Pray through both ups and downs;
  • Having an attitude of 'poverty in spirit,' dependence on God;
  • Increasing faith by meditating on the psalms.
My Comments
Williams highlights 5 major competitors to trust in God. They are education, wealth, our social networks, our self-ingenuity, our ideologies. The book is filled with quotes and personal sharing from different people Williams encountered. They make the book very down-to-earth and personally relevant to the layperson. Simple, and devoid of theological jargon, it should provide the general reader an easy and comfortable read. The exhortation to faith is gently applied, leaving room for the reader to step back and reflect upon their own beliefs and doubts. It is not a book that argues on a blow by blow account, but one that appears to walk alongside the person struggling with trust. It should appeal widely to those finding the need to discover fresh faith in a troubled era. If you are looking for a less academic treatment of the topic of faith amid tough times, this is the book.

My main gripe with this book is that it gives a excessive weightage on the 'rightness' of humans over the 'rightness' of God. In other words, it practically assumes that the feelings of the respondents over their disappointments in God are 'correct' in the first place. I make a distinction between recognizing the sinfulness of men and the need to understand/tolerate our differences. Whatever it is, sin is not something to be downplayed. A major factor behind the problems of this world is the presence of sin itself, which is something that Stackhouse's book zeroes in on. Stackhouse poignantly address the causes of sin, while Williams massages the peripheral effects of sin. So as you read this book (or both), remember that they are writing to quite different audiences.

My Rating: 3 stars out of 5.


No comments:

Latest Posts