In Searching for a God to Love, Chris Blake quoted Robert Farrar Capon, who wrote, "Grace is the celebration of life, relentlessly hounding all the non-celebrants in the world. It is a floating, cosmic bash shouting its way through the streets of the universe, flinging the sweetness of its cassations to every window, pounding at every door in a hilarity beyond all liking and happening." Blake told me that he took ten years to write this book, and I think a good part of that was spent striving to portray the God who could lead that cosmic bash.
The main focus of this book is God. Blake discusses doctrines but always with the purpose of knocking down barriers between us and God or illuminating God's attractive character. True, along the way, this discussion naturally gives some insights about how to live better, how to practice religion or Sabbath or prayer, and how to answer specific challenges to religion. But one sees Blake striving to portray a God so amazing that anyone could love Him without reservations or fears.
This book is wit and humor, it is quotes from sources as varied as court reporters and cartoon shows. It is apt modern parables, it is references connecting to our culture in a thousand ways in order to show that religion doesn't require us to leave our brains at the door of the church when we enter — it is being reasonable and religious at the same time.
The first two chapters set the stage by admitting that the discussion is fraught with difficulty. But Blake defines terms and explains some reasons why we may need God and moves on. In chapter three, he uses an eclectic list of topics to break down barriers to loving this strange Being Who is from beyond nature. The topics that stuck out in my mind the most were the debate about evolution and the scary Old Testament God.
I’ve read several books that I first heard about in Blake’s book. One is The Battle of Beginnings, by Del Ratzsch, in which the author explains the major arguments on both sides of the debate and specifically why most of them are wrong. That really helped me to see that the debate is still going; it can be intimidation or an attempt to divert one from better understanding when someone from either side says someone else is basically stupid for picking the wrong point of view. Blake himself quotes Harold Kushner criticizing any religion that hopes that people will be "too intimidated to find out how the world really works." Science can be a barrier to a relationship with God, but Blake shows it does not have to be.
Blake explains that the Old Testament God does not condone the atrocities we read about, using the analogy of the medical textbook that shows horrible diseases that need a cure. Also, the children of Israel, with whom God interacts the most, were so unready to have a good relationship with Him that God had to reveal Himself mostly as powerful and wrathful — like He was opening the blinds on a dark room only one little slat at a time but still hurting the dark-accustomed eyes of those within. The writers of the Bible also confused the issue by attributing to God some actions that humans actually did.
Chapter six is Blake's narrative re-telling of key events in the life of Jesus Christ, particularly the Passion Week and the crucifixion, with a focus on how surprising God is. Blake's portrayal of Christ's life seems to be factually accurate and Biblical; for example, he explains crucifixion better than I had heard before. But when he writes that Jesus asks after His resurrection for something to eat with a mischievous smile and then licks His fingers with relish, Blake is making a point about Jesus' humanity that can be supported with Scripture but not exactly found in Scripture. It is enjoyable, though, and it fulfills the basic human needs for variety and learning. We who have heard these stories repeatedly need fresh insights.
Blake refutes the idea of the eternally burning Hell in chapter seven. Some people flatly refuse to believe in anything supernatural simply because religious people have said God uses eternal torture. But Blake argues that we could not love a God who does that. Fear could make us serve Him, but fear is a short-term motivator. He mentions an old parable of an angel who has a bucket and a torch to quench the fires of Hell and burn down the gates of Heaven and see who really loves God afterward. Our truly loving God does not need the fires of Hell to motivate us, preferring the waters of grace. But besides such points, Blake also refutes specific arguments taken from the Bible, such as the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16. He explains that that story was circulating among the Pharisees in Jesus' time, as recorded in Josephus' Discourses to the Greeks concerning Hades. Jesus used it to make points about wealth and repentance to the Pharisees, but He did not condone the basic idea of it, which probably would not have been taken literally by the Pharisees, anyway, according to Blake. "Are the 'dead in hell' really able to communicate with those in Heaven? Wouldn't that remove more than a smidgeon from the peace of paradise?" Blake asks. Another key point about Hell is that the term "for ever" in the Bible refers to the length of time that something lasts — it is, Blake states, "used fifty-six times [in the Bible] in connection with things that have already ended." Since Adventists do not believe in Hell, anyway, I mention these points because Blake presents good arguments in this chapter that I had not heard before. And, again, this chapter is about God — the One Who knows we need love without fear.
Blake also discusses Heaven, the Great Controversy, sin, God as a lover, the meaning of suffering, the Sabbath, freedom, and several other key concepts in this book in the chapters I didn't mention. These are often excellent, and I have not even mentioned Blake’s flowing prose, poetic prayers, and gentle and generous humor. I can only say I recommend this book.
I will leave you with this final thought: Blake writes in chapter four about the charges that Satan levels against God:
He is against freedom. He is against personal expression. He is anti-fun. He is power-hungry. His subjects serve Him out of greed and/or fear. He is unforgiving. He is unfair. He will torture you if you don't agree with Him. He cannot be trusted.
Blake makes the point that, applied to God, these charges are lies, but they are the truth when applied to Satan. If you change each one to its opposite, then they do apply to God; for example, change "He is against freedom" to "He is for freedom." Changing each of those statements around and expressing the resulting truth to his readers seems to be Blake's mission in this book.
Lem Bach is a freelance writer who lives in Springfield, Missouri. He married an Adventist he met at Pacific Union College, and they read science fiction, fantasy, and religious books together.
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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/1366