I don’t usually begin book reviews this way, but I feel I must say at the outset that I cannot recommend 10 Gospel Promises For Later Life by Jane Marie Thibault.
The premise is a good one. Mrs. Thibault has been a clinical gerontologist and has worked with the elderly for nearly thirty years. After a consultation with a pastor whose housebound church members said they had trouble relating to the gospel any more for various reasons, Mrs. Thibault began discussing this with her patients and heard similar comments. So she compiled a list of ten major concerns elderly people face — among them, depending on others for help, fear of illness, pain, fragility, disability, loneliness, losing everything and ending up in a nursing home, life after death — and sought to apply gospel truth to them.
While there are some helpful parts to the book, unfortunately there are several major difficulties.
In a section speaking of Jesus’ suffering on the cross, the author says:
Jesus realized that his suffering was necessary. The only way he could convince humanity of God’s love for us was to die for his cause and his teaching. He put his money where his mouth was, dying for his message out of total and complete God-love for the entire world’s well-being until the end of time (p. 85).
Jesus’ death was much more than dying for his cause to convince us of his teaching! He died so that those who believe could be”justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus (Romans 3:24-26.) If a judge told a convicted murderer that he could go free, everyone would cry that that was unjust. In the same way, God cannot just forgive sins without satisfying His justice. When Jesus took our sin on Himself and suffered our punishment, that act satisfied God’s holiness and justice, so He could justify us and still be just Himself, and those who receive Christ as Savior receive as well “the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe” (Romans 3:22).
Another major problem I have with the book is Mrs. Thibault’s belief that living people can ask the dead for help. Speaking of “institutionally acknowledged saints,” she writes:
“If they continue to live in God’s love and to participate in God’s love of us, the saints might also help us in our daily lives, especially if we ask them to enable us to grow in our love of God and one another” p. 121-122).
“I also believe that every single Christian in the church visible (that’s us) can ask for help from anyone in the church triumphant (those who have been promoted into heaven before us”) (p. 123).
She relates that in struggling with forgiving her mother because of feeling that her mother had been apathetic to her and emotionally abandoned her before her death when the author was a teenager, the author wrote a prayer to her mother asking that the two of them work on healing their relationship.
There is nothing in the Bible that encourages interaction with the dead: in fact, there are warnings against it. Deuteronomy 18:11 says, “There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch.Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For all that do these things are an abomination unto the LORD: and because of these abominations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee.” The only time I can remember in the Bible that anyone tried to communicate with the dead was in I Samuel 28 when King Saul was desperate because the Philistines were about to attack him and God wasn’t answering his prayers any more because of his disobedience. He tried to contact the prophet Samuel through a medium, and Samuel did not say, “Hi there, what can I do for you?” He said, “Why hast thou disquieted me, to bring me up?” He not only did not help him, but he prophesied that Saul and his sons would be die. There is nothing I am aware of in the New Testament that would negate these warnings. Mrs. Thibault is not advocating using mediums or having seances, but still, there is nothing in the Bible instructing us to seek help from the dead or to pray to anyone other than God. Why would we want to, anyway, when He has promised to meet every need exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think?
A third major problem is the idea that “By interpreting our suffering as energy that can be useful to the human community and by offering this energy to God, we unite our sufferings with those of Christ…In effect, we turn the energy of our suffering into a gift for others to use for their well-being” (p. 86). She posits “According to the string theory of quantum physics, we are all inter-connected by subatomic ‘strings’ along which energy flows from one created thing to another. We can use our will, our intention, to direct this energy wherever we want it to go” (p. 88-89). According to my husband, who is a physicist, this is a faulty application, and the string theory is just a theory: according to Wikipedia, “The theory has yet to make testable experimental predictions, which a theory must do in order to be considered a part of science.” Mrs. Thibault says “This sounds like the scientific equivalent of Jesus’ image of the vine and the branches” (p. 89), but Jesus is speaking of the spiritual life and energy He gives to those who abide in Him (John 15), not of our directing energy wherever we want it. She writes, “Jesus has promised us that we can use our suffering energy for the welfare of all” (p.91). Not in any version of the Bible I have ever read. There are many Scriptural reasons for suffering, but nothing like this is mentioned: even the section of suffering for others’ sake does not indicate this kind of thing. The author tells of “dedicated suffering” as a group for agreed upon persons and says that those who participated in this kind of thing decreased their doctor visits and personal complaints. I don’t doubt that they felt better, but I think it was more likely due to the thought that their pain could help others and the practice of each participant expressing his or her pain. It is helpful to discuss your pain with others who also experience pain who would uniquely understand you. The author says this practice of offering the energy created by our pain to others or to God for Him to use for others “has its theological foundation” in Colossians 1:24: “Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church.” But I do not believe this type of practice is what Paul is talking about (my views on what this verse is teaching align more with what is taught here.)
Even though there were parts of the book I found helpful and useful, I cannot endorse it overall for these reasons.
(This review will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)