God On Mute by Pete Greig–Book Review

Although this book is about prayer (the unanswered kind), it really addresses what theologians call theodicy — the problem of pain. The word literally means “the justice of God.” If God is good, and all-powerful, and loving, why does he allow us to suffer? At times we all struggle to understand this question. In the midst of illness, trouble and difficulty, the very time when we need God’s presence most, He often feels absent.

Using his own journey through the serious and chronic illness of his wife, the author explores the reasons our prayer life may seem dry, and our prayers go unanswered. He also includes ways we can engage with the silence of God and remain hopeful.

At the end of the book there is a personal checklist which recaps why a prayer may be unanswered, along with a scriptural reference and suggestions about what we can do when this happens. Please note: this does not mean God is like a gum ball dispenser and if we just learn which buttons to push, we will get what we want. There is also an appendix listing heroes of the faith who have struggled with unanswered prayer and a 40-day prayer guide which I am finding very helpful for reflection, prayer and journaling.

VERDICT: 4 STARS. If you are a Lutheran, you will disagree with the author’s stance on free will –he believes that we “make a decision” to believe. Otherwise, interesting, well-written and helpful.

For more about the problem of suffering see:

Suffer Strong by Katherine & Jay Wolf–Book Review

No Cure for Being Human by Kate Bowler–Book Review

No pain, no gain.

Prayer in the Night by Tish Harrison Warren–Book Review

Keep watch, dear Lord,
with those who work, or watch, or weep this night;
and give Your Angels charge over those who sleep.
Tend the sick, give rest to the weary.
Sustain the dying, calm the suffering,
and pity the distressed;
all for Your love’s sake, O Christ our Redeemer.
– Book of Common Prayer

Author Tish Warren uses the nighttime prayer from the Service of Compline to walk through the dark times we all experience. Her own dark year included two miscarriages, a move to a new city, and the unexpected death of her father. In a time of grief and vulnerability, repeating this prayer was a comfort and a source of strength. Although some people scoff at liturgical prayers (other peoples’ prayers) and consider them less authentic, Ms. Warren makes a case for using them. She says:

“During that difficult year, I didn’t know how to hold to both God and the awful reality of human vulnerability. What I found was the prayers and practices of the church that allowed me to hold to –or rather to be held by–God when little else seemed sturdy, to hold to the Christian story even when I found no satisfying answers.”

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Each chapter is centered around one section of the prayer– for example, “Keep Watch, ” “Those Who Weep,” “Bless the Dying.” This leads to an examination of the theological struggle we often face, how can God be all-powerful even as horrible things happen to us and to the world?” This “problem of pain” is called theodicy, and it often leads to a true crisis of faith.

There is no pat answer. God does not always rescue us. In the end, Tish Warren quotes this statement from Tim Keller:

“If you ask …. Why does God allow evil and suffering to continue?… and we look at the cross of Jesus, we still do not know what the answer is. However, we know what the answer isn’t. It can’t be that he doesn’t love us.”

There are discussion questions and some suggested practices at the end. This could easily be used for journaling, or as a small group resource.

You can read more about Tish Harrison Warren and find a number of versions of the Compline service at tishharrisonwarren.com.

VERDICT: 5 STARS. I’m a liturgical person, so it really resonated with me.

For more about grief see these posts:

The Gravity of Joy by Angela Williams Gorrell–Book Review

The Night Lake by Liz Tichenor–Book Review

For more about the liturgy see:

Liturgy as Prayer

Learning from the Liturgy