I’ve learned something surprising in 20 years of being a Christian: it’s not always easy seeing God as good.
If that describes you, then James Bryan Smith’s book, The Good and Beautiful God, might be a good place for you to start. I recently finished this as part of IVP Academic’s blog review program. It’s a stark contrast to the books I regularly review—I tend to focus on works that are more theological and historical in their focus—but I wanted to deviate from that because, well, of the title itself.
I honestly started wondering if I could truly affirm, without reservation, that I see God as good and beautiful. Could I see my Father in the same way that Jesus Christ did? Was such a thing possible? For instance, right now, I’d affirm the theological truth that God is trustworthy—but that doesn’t guarantee that I’ll actually believe Him to be worthy of my trust. Such things might take a lifetime (and more) to accomplish, but I think Smith’s book is very helpful in this regard because he approaches the subject by first pointing out the false narratives you believe about yourself and the true narratives about God that were preached by Jesus.
Those narratives include what I listed before: that you are nothing more than a sinner; that God is angry with you; that you have to earn His favor; and so on. In contrast to those lies, Jesus shows us a God who is a loving Father, who has re-made us in Christ so that we can say, with the confidence of the apostle, that the old is gone and the new has come! We can say that God is actually trustworthy, that He is good, and that even His holiness is an extension of His love because He is determined to rid us of anything that would destroy us.
Smith’s book includes personal examples from his own life, a life that has included being mentored by some spiritual heavyweights like Brennan Manning, Dallas Williard, Rich Mullins, and Richard J. Foster. He also uses his experiences to fight against the false narratives that we believe and promote the story Jesus taught. For instance, in one chapter, Smith talks about how he lost his daughter and his struggles with the idea that God might have punished his firstborn daughter because of a sin he and his wife might have committed. He then points out the times in the gospels where Jesus directly condemns this line of thinking.
It’s not a complicated book, but then, it never had the obligation to be. You could probably read it in a day or two, but this is the kind of book that you need to let simmer in your mind for a while. There are even discussion questions and spiritual exercises listed at the end of each chapter that Smith believes will be helpful as you’re contemplating the material you just read.
This book has me thinking about things, and while my review is finished, I know I’m not done wrestling with what I just read. If you get the chance to either buy this or borrow it, then go ahead and make good on that chance.
Publisher: IVP Academic