Book Review – Reaching for the Invisible God by Philip Yancey

“I am trying to remain open to new realities, not blaming God when my expectations go unmet but trusting Him to lead me through failures toward renewal and growth.”

What I appreciate most when it comes to Philip Yancey’s writing is his honesty. I think he’s a wise man but he never pretends to have answers that he doesn’t. He puts his own doubts, his own uncertainties, front and centre and, by doing so, allows the reader to freely express their own. I have no time for Christian writers who pretend Christianity to be only mountain-tops and walks on the beach with Jesus. I have walked this road long enough to know that isn’t true. Yet neither do I wish to wallow in the valleys, in the shadows. The mountain-tops are real, but they’re hard to get to some times.

As Yancey writes:

“The only thing more difficult than having a relationship with an invisible God is having no such relationship.”

In Reaching for the Invisible God (Zondervan, 2000), Yancey delves into those times in the Christian faith when God feels far away from us. He delves into the reality – both harsh and beautiful – that we worship and believe in a God we cannot see or touch.

“Life with God advances like any relationship: unsteadily, with misunderstandings and long periods of silence, with victories and failures, testings and triumphs. To achieve the perfection that drew us on the quest, we must wait until the race has ended, until death, and the waiting itself is an act of extraordinary faith and courage.”

Depending on my mood on any given day, that statement alternates between encouraging and horrifying. This is a journey that will not end while I live. The glimpses of perfection that which “drew us on the quest” – the highs we might experience, particular at the beginning of our Christian life – draw us forward. Those “Ezekial moments”, sustain us, encourage us. And yet, the promise of those moments will never be entirely fulfilled while we live these human lives.

Yancey offers encouragement here though.

“The journey itself is the goal. The very quest for our God, our determined pursuit, changes us in the ways that matter most. The silence and darkness we encounter, the temptations, and even the sufferings can all contribute to God’s stated goal of shaping us into persons more like He intended – more like His Son.”

One thing that I’ve come to learn in my Christian walk is that some times the act of doing something is very important. While I don’t follow a faith that says my actions gain me salvation, I do believe that they can help me along. I don’t feel like reading my Bible every day. Maybe you do and, in all honesty, I’m envious of that. I read my Bible because I believe that in doing so, I benefit myself and those around me. I believe that the more I read, the more I might desire to read. And I believe that even this pitiful effort pleases God. I truly believe that He can take my weak, sinful effort to read the Bible and He can use to change me. C.S. Lewis puts it this way:

“We act from duty in the hope that someday we shall do the same acts freely and delightfully.”

It isn’t our actions that save us, but a loving God who searches for the heart behind the action.Yancey puts it this way:

“Transformation comes, in the end, not from an act of will, but an act of grace. We can only ask for it and keep asking.”

It is that beautiful moment in Mark, when the father of a demon-possessed boy, cries out to Jesus,

“I believe; help my unbelief!”

Mark 9:24

What I found most encouraging in Yancey’s book was the reminder that doubt, uncertainty, and frustration are all normal passages in the Christian. Not ones where we should dwell, but paths we all walk through. Yancey offers encouragement, not answers, but most importantly, he reminds us, he reminds himself, that we are not alone.

“Hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God.”

Hosea 12:6

Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.

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