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Thin Places


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I remember a time when I was in college and my mom called to
tell me of two teenagers who were killed in a car accident. It was broad
daylight and they had been walking (or maybe it was skateboarding?) on the side
of the road. And I remember Mom saying that she wasn’t sure her faith could
handle a loss like that. A senseless loss. An
if-only-you’d-been-there-five-minutes-later loss. And, more than that, the loss
of a child, a child filled with all the possibility of decades that ought to
have been.

Now that I have children of my own, I resonate more with my
mother’s comment, but at the time, I thought, “Bad things happen every day.
Someone out there loses a child, a spouse, a friend, every day. Your faith
shouldn’t be shaken only if bad things happen to you. It is either firm no
matter your personal situation, or it is falling apart.” I suppose I was right
on some level. Any honest faith in God should contend with the reality of
devastating brokenness in our world, whether or not that brokenness hits home personally.
And yet I know that those questions of God’s goodness in the face of human
suffering weren’t real to me until my friend ran his car into a tree and died,
until my mother-in-law was diagnosed with terminal cancer, until pain became
personal.

Kent Annan’s new book, After Shock: Searching for Honest
Faith when your World is Shaken
, addresses the questions he has for God in the
wake of the earthquake in Haiti. Annan had lived in Haiti for two years and had
worked with Haitian people for nearly a decade prior to the earthquake (he
writes about this experience in Following Jesus Through the Eye of the Needle,
which I reviewed for Books and Culture last year). He witnessed the devastation
firsthand, and After Shock recounts his anger and despair as he walks with his
friends through their broken city, their broken land.

Annan raises the same questions that have always been raised in the face of tragedy, and yet because he is personally connected to the people impacted by the quake, these questions come across not as theological diatribes but as earnest and necessary dialogue with God. Towards the end of this slim volume, Annan explains why he wrote it: “I’ve been writing this book because my faith might die. I don’t want it to. But I don’t want a sentimental faith. I didn’t know where this search would lead, whether I would be able to claw my way to gratitude as at the end of Psalm 13. I do want any part of my faith that isn’t true to die…” After Shock is an account of faith in crisis, a faith that has been shaken forever and yet remains.

After my friend died in that car accident years ago, I set aside an afternoon to talk with God about what had happened. I went to a beach where my friend and I had spent time together. I brought a journal, some pictures, my Bible, and a copy of C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed. I read the whole book in one sitting, and Lewis’ account of how he handled his wife’s death was a gift. He guided me through my own grief.

After Shock reminds me of A Grief Observed because it too could guide anyone whose faith has been shaken and is on the verge of being shattered. It too offers raw questions and refuses trite Christian answers. And it too holds out hope that the God manifested in Jesus Christ is still God, still loving, still giving, still good. Annan describes taking Communion amidst the rubble of Port-au-Prince: “The rubble seems like evidence of God’s absence or abandonment, and yet here I sit, taking and eating the rubbled body of Christ. Here, week after week, people come to find Jesus. The rubble may make him harder to find, but maybe, like the wafers in the center of this leveled church, he never left and never will.”

I recommend this book for anyone who has honest questions for God in the face of suffering, for anyone who yearns to believe in God’s goodness amidst the rubble. 

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