Book Review: Five Miles South of Peculiar

Five Miles South of Peculiar, Florida, there’s an estate known as the Sycamores. The man who built it set up an annuity for his descendants to live on. But fifty years after his death, the property will go to the county (I never quite understood why that would be the case).

The current residents of the Sycamores in this novel are two middle-aged sisters. Darlene is the oldest and the queen bee. She’s not only very domestic, but she’s on (and usually runs) several different committees in church and in town.

The youngest sister, Nolie (short for Magnolia), lives a quiet life with her dogs and garden, making unique aprons for anyone and everyone. She has never lived anywhere but the Sycamores and never wants to live anywhere else. She assumes the good townspeople will let the sisters keep their home when their time runs out.

One more sister, a Broadway singer named Carlene, lives in New York. Though she’s quick to tell everyone she’s not a star, the Peculiar residents think of her as a local celebrity. She doesn’t get back home often, but not because of her busy schedule. She and Darlene are twins and used to be close. But for most of their lives, they have gotten along better if Carlene keeps her distance.

But now, Carlene is coming home for a birthday celebration. She hasn’t told anyone, but a botched throat surgery has left her unable to sing. She’s not sure what her next steps should be and if she’ll even be welcome in her family’s home.

Further complicating matters, an ex-preacher named Erik shows up at the Sycamores looking for work. His church let him go after his wife left him, and he needs to support himself and decide what’s next.

Sparks don’t fly outwardly very often. Everyone keeps their opinions mostly to themselves. But that also means they don’t talk about their issues.

The point of view switches between the sisters, and it’s amazing how the same words or actions can be interpreted so differently. Each character has his or her own sorrows, Darlene, in particular, is apt to color a situation with her own inferences.

I loved the tag line of the book: “If these three sisters don’t change direction, they’ll end up where they’re going.”

You’d think a book about sibling issues would be depressing, but the snappy dialogue and comic asides keep things lively. A few samples:

She stepped off the plane and felt hot, humid air cover her like a damp blanket.

What if someone had been using a video camera? If anyone filmed her fall, she could be on the Zoo Tube, or whatever they called it, by nightfall.

You know how things are in a small town—your neighbor is known by his first name and his last scandal.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am going to look up more by Angela Hunt.

Book Review: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

In 1951, a thirty-year-old black wife and mother was being treated for cervical cancer at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. Unbeknownst to her, the doctor took some of her healthy and cancerous cells for research purposes. This was routinely done before informed consent was common practice.

Like many doctors of his era, TeLinde often used patients from the public wards for research, usually without their knowledge. Many scientists believed that since patients were treated for free in the public wards, it was fair to use them as research subjects as a form of payment (pp. 29-30).

Researchers were trying to grow cells in culture from their samples, but the samples all died. However, Henrietta’s cancerous cells continued to divide over and over under the right conditions. Eventually the cells were used to test Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine on a large scale. They were involved in cancer and AIDS research, experiments in space, cloning, genetic mapping, and much more. The cell line became known as HeLa, using the first two letters of Henrietta’s first and last names.

Henrietta died at age 31 after a horrific battle with cancer. Her family knew nothing about her cells being used in research nor about whole factories being built to house and reproduce her cells. Twenty years later, the HeLa cells were so strong that they easily contaminated other cell cultures. The family began getting calls from researchers who wanted samples of their blood in order to determine the genetic markers of HeLa. Naturally, Henrietta’s family members were confused, not understanding how some part of their mother was alive. When they learned there was a whole industry that sprang up around their mother’s cells, they wondered why they  weren’t getting any of the benefits. Many of them could not even afford health insurance.

Rebecca Skloot first heard Henrietta’s name in a college class, but not much more was said about her. Rebecca wondered about the woman behind the HeLa cells. Ten years of research resulted in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

There are several threads to the book. Part of it in Henrietta’s story: what’s known of her background, personality, family. Another thread is the development of the cell line, the scientists involved, the industry that sprang up. Yet another involves the ethics and arguments swirling about research, consent, and compensation. Another tells the story of Henrietta’s children and what became of them. And the final thread is the author’s journey to research the cells and to talk to the family who were, understandably, skittish about reporters by that time. Eventually, Rebecca became very close to Henrietta’s daughter, Deborah.

One of the most touching scenes in the book was when a scientist invited Henrietta’s two youngest children to a lab to see their mother’s cells. Deborah looked in wonder through the microscope and on the screen where the scientists enlarged the cells. She got to hold  vial of her mother’s cells and witness one of the cells on screen dividing.

In the history of cell culture development and cancer research, it was astonishing to read how some researchers would get caught up in the science and forget the human factor. One injected Henrietta’s cancerous cells into other patients without telling them to see if they “caught” cancer that way and to test how healthy and cancer patients fought off the cells differently. Guidelines had been set up after the Nazi experimentation during WWII, but the guidelines weren’t law then.

One patient caught on that something unusual was going on when his doctor kept calling him back for blood work even after the patient had moved away. He learned that his blood produced a unique protein, and the doctor was experimenting and hoping to patent a cell line. Unlike Henrietta, this man had the means to sue the doctor. The case went through several courts and appeals, but the patient finally lost. It was deemed that once your tissue leaves your body, it’s not yours any more. In an afterword, Rebecca said that there are storehouses for tissues and organs removed from patients. Most, I think, would not object to their cells and removed organs being used in study. But when money is being made off their parts, they naturally feel entitled to a portion of the proceeds. Rebecca’s afterword details the latest (at the time the book went to press in 2009) complicated considerations of the different sides of cell research, ownership, and profitability.

Objectionable elements: unfortunately, there are 4 instances of the “f” word and one graphic scene when Deborah, was being pursued by a cousin.

I had first heard of this book several years ago, but figured it would be too “science-y,” too much like a documentary. Then it came up on an audiobook sale, nicely read by Cassandra Campbell and Bahni Turpin. I’m glad I finally read it. I’m glad Henrietta’s story was finally brought to light, and the medical and ethical discussions were detailed clearly.

Book Review: Sandhill Dreams

Sandhill Dreams: A WWII Homefront Romance by Cara Putnam is the second in her Cornhusker Dreams series. The first book, Canteen Dreams, was a fictional retelling of Cara’s grandparents’ love story. Sandhill Dreams features a friend from the first book, Lainie Gardner.

Lainie’s dream was to be a nurse and serve her country. She began her training but then contracted rheumatic fever. She recovered, but still experienced residual symptoms. She had to be careful about overdoing, stress, or anything else that might trigger a relapse.

Still, she wanted to do something to help during WWII. She traveled to Fort Robinson in Nebraska without any prior arrangements, figuring surely they’d find some use for her there.

Tom Hamilton had a serious accident involving a dog bite as a boy, and he’d been afraid of dogs ever since. He joined the Army hoping to work with horses, but the Army assigned him to the canine unit. He hopes he can successfully battle both his disappointment and his fear without any officers or soldiers noticing.

Lainie and Tom get off on the wrong foot. They both have issues to deal with. But perhaps they can help each other recover from their broken dreams and find new ones.

I like stories that aren’t just romance, but have the characters grow, overcome obstacles, etc. This book fit the bill. I thought it ended just a touch abruptly, but perhaps that’s because it’s the middle of a series, and the story is ongoing.

Book Review: The Color of Hope

The overarching story in Kim Cash Tate’s The Color of Hope is that of two different churches, one predominately while, the other predominately black, who try to meet together once a month. Many folks are for this occasional merging, but there’s a small but loud opposition.

But several other stories lines are woven together.

One woman runs into her old boyfriend at a reunion in Hope Springs, NC. She thinks sparks are still there, but in the time since they knew each other, he became a pastor and she walked away from God.

Another woman plans to leave the area, but is unexpectedly offered a position coaching in the high school. Could this be God’s sign that He wants her to stay—and is the assistant principal’s interest purely professional?

One couple lived away from Hope Springs but now feel drawn back to this town of the wife’s father’s roots. The wife misses her multi-ethnic church in the city and isn’t quite sure she’s going to be happy. But she’s asked to substitute teach in the high school and befriends a young outcast named Sam.

There are several subplots as well.

Some would want to know there is a rape and a suicide in the book. The descriptions are not explicit, but they might be triggers for some.

There are so many characters, the first few chapters were confusing trying to sort out who was related to whom, who was with whom, and who was interested in whom. But eventually all the relationships fell into place. Kim has a number of books about the people of Hope Springs, so readers of the series would be more familiar with the characters..

My one little quibble with the book is that, since it’s about primarily racial tensions between two churches, there was no indication for most of the book about which church and characters were what race. I just reread the first four chapters to see if I missed something, but there was only one mention of one girl being blond, which doesn’t really indicate anything. The young girl, Sam, is described as biracial and and feeling like she doesn’t fit in anywhere. Eventually all of that becomes clear, but it made me as a reader feel another layer of confusion trying to figure out the characters.

But, that one little complaint aside, I thought Kim did a great job weaving so many characters and stories and conveying the need to come together rather than pull apart. This book was published in 2013 but seems apropos to 2020.

 

Book Review: Be Victorious

The book of Revelation in the Bible is a challenge for many reasons. Readers and interpreters argue about what’s literal and what’s symbolic, what the symbols mean, what’s going to happen when. In Warren Wiersbe’s brief commentary, Be Victorious (Revelation): In Christ You Are an Overcomer, he mentions “I have dozens of commentaries on this book, and no two authors completely agree on everything.”

But I like Wiersbe’s emphasis:
John’s prophecy is primarily the revelation of Jesus Christ, not the revelation of future events. You must not divorce the Person from the prophecy, for without the Person there could be no fulfillment of the prophecy.

In fact, Wiersbe says in his first chapter:

The word translated “revelation” simply means “unveiling.” It gives us our English word apocalypse which, unfortunately, is today a synonym for chaos and catastrophe. The verb simply means “to uncover, to reveal, to make manifest.” In this book, the Holy Spirit pulls back the curtain and gives us the privilege of seeing the glorified Christ in heaven and the fulfillment of His sovereign purposes in the world.

Although Wiersbe gives a more detailed outline of the book, this one emphasizes how Christ is pictured in each section:

In Revelation 1—3, Christ is seen as the exalted Priest-King ministering to the churches. In Revelation 4—5, He is seen in heaven as the glorified Lamb of God, reigning on the throne. In Revelation 6—18, Christ is the Judge of all the earth, and in Revelation 19, He returns to earth as the conquering King of Kings. The book closes with the heavenly Bridegroom ushering His bride, the church, into the glorious heavenly city.

Wiersbe suggests four reasons for the heavy use of symbolism in this particular book. At the time John wrote it, he was an old man exiled on the island of Patmos, a Roman penal colony. He might have used symbols as a kind of code, so the Roman officers wouldn’t pick up on what he was saying. Another reason: the symbols’ meaning and strength would last through the years rather than being specific to a certain time and culture. A third possible reason: “symbols not only convey information, but also impart values and arouse emotion. John could have written, ‘A dictator will rule the world,’ but instead he describes a beast.” Also, some of the symbols carry over from the rest of the Bible: the church as a bride, Jesus as a lamb. In fact, Wiersbe notes that “Nearly 300 references to the Old Testament are found in Revelation! This means that we must anchor our interpretations to what God has already revealed, lest we misinterpret this important prophetic book.” And he warns that we “must not conclude that John’s use of symbolism indicates that the events described are not real.”

Something that stood out to me this time around reading Revelation was the parallels between it and Genesis. Wiesrbe has a chart with the things that began in Genesis (heaven and earth created, day and night established, the curse for sin, death, people driven from Eden, beginning of sorrow and pain, marriage instituted) and were brought to completion in Revelation (new heavens and earth, no need of sun, no night, curse, death, sorrow, tears, people restored to paradise, marriage supper of the Lamb). I know these must have been pointed in in previous studies or sermon series through Revelation, but it it was like I noticed it for the first time. Maybe I had just forgotten.

I’m not going to get into the explanation and exposition of Revelation and the arguments over the whether and what and when of millennium—that would take too much time and space. Wiersbe presents the reasons for the different views but confesses to be a premillennialist. That’s what I was taught the majority of my Christian life. Our current church is the first we’ve been in that has a different view. I also read from my ESV Study Bible. The commentator there was also careful to explain the different views before stating which he thought was correct. Though he differed from Wiersbe regarding the millennium, they agreed on many other things. Good people can differ on these things. I don’t think different views of the end times are anything to argue or separate over. But, I agree that, as Wiersbe says, “no matter what ‘key’ a student may use to unlock Revelation, he cannot help but see the exalted King of Kings as He vindicates His people and gives victory to His overcomers.”

One good reason for reading and studying Revelation, besides the fact that it’s as inspired as the rest of the Bible, is that “When you have assurance for the future, you have stability in the present.” As more than one Christian has said, “I’ve read the end of the book—I know how it all turns out.” Plus, “A true understanding of Bible prophecy should both motivate us to obey God’s Word and to share God’s invitation with a lost world.”

Here are a few other quotes that stood out to me:

Labor is no substitute for love; neither is purity a substitute for passion. The church must have both if it is to please Him.

The church that loses its love will soon lose its light, no matter how doctrinally sound it may be.

The “overcomers” are not a “spiritual elite,” but rather the true believers whose faith has given them victory (1 John 5: 4–5).

No amount of loving and sacrificial works can compensate for tolerance of evil.

Unloving orthodoxy and loving compromise are both hateful to God.

The first step toward renewal in a dying church is honest awareness that something is wrong.

If men and women will not yield to the love of God and be changed by the grace of God, then there is no way for them to escape the wrath of God.

God’s Word will be there. “The word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day” (John 12: 48). Every sinner will be held accountable for the truth he or she has heard in this life.

It’s always challenging to go through the book of Revelation, But I am thankful for the help this book gave this time around.

(Sharing with InstaEncouragement)

Three Children’s Books About Race

Recently, my daughter-in-law and I were discussing the lack of diversity in children’s books. Bible story books, in particular, seemed to draw Biblical people lily white, when in reality they would have been Middle Eastern in appearance.

Not long afterward, I came across What God’s Family Looks Like, a post from The Story Warren about children’s books that deal with race. I looked up the main book mentioned, then followed a rabbit trail of recommended reading. I ended up getting these three books.

Why be colorblind when we can be colorFULL insteadThe first is Colorfull: Celebrating the Colors God Gave Us by Dorena Williamson, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu. I love the tagline: “Why be colorblind when we can be colorFULL instead?”

The back of the book says this:

Imani and Kayla are the best of friends who are learning to celebrate their different skin colors. As they look around them at the amazing colors in nature, they can see that their skin is another example of God’s creativity! This joyful story takes a new approach to discussing race: instead of being colorblind, we can choose to celebrate each color God gave us and be colorFULL instead.

Imani’s Granny Mac helps gives the kids some perspective. My daughter-in-law said she wished adults would read this book, too.

When God Made You by Matthew Paul Turner, illustrated by David Catrow, doesn’t explain or emphasize race: the story just incorporates it naturally as part of who God made you to be. God planned each person with their particular gifts, appearances, personalities, etc. to reflect His image.

One line in this gave me pause: “Have faith but love more.” At first it seemed to downplay faith. But you could also read it as saying, “Have faith, but don’t stop there: love others.”

An inside page:

Trillia Newbell’s God’s Very Good Idea (illustrated by Catalina Echeverri) took several weeks to get here. I hope that means lots of people are buying it!

Trillia begins at the beginning: with creation. Making people, and making them in all different colors and varieties, was God’s idea. They would “all enjoy loving him and all enjoy loving each other . . . reflecting what God is like.”

But the first people chose to disobey God. That plunged all of us into sin. We don’t love God or each other as we ought. “Sometimes we treat others badly because they are different than us.”

But part of God’s very good plan was sending Jesus to come and live on earth, to show us how to love, to die on the cross so we could be forgiven, and to rise from the dead, and to give us the Holy Spirit to help us live for Him.

He also gave us the church as a foretaste of what it will be like in heaven some day, “lots of different people enjoying loving him and loving each other.”

I love that Trillia’s story is couched firmly in the Bible and the gospel. She gives an overview of creation, sin, and redemption in words a child could understand.

I didn’t get a chance to read these with my grandson. I sent him home with them. But I hope he enjoys them!

I believe children need to be taught early that God created all people in His image.

Now that I look again at the post I first mentioned, I see a whole list that I must have forgotten to look up when I got distracted earlier. So I will probably explore some of those. Now that we have some books with a good, Biblical worldview about race, I’d love to find some that just show kids of all different colors naturally as characters in a story.

Do you know of any good books for kids along these lines?

(Sharing with InstaEncouragement, Worth Beyond Rubies, Grace and Truth,
Hearth and Soul, Senior Salon)

Book Review: Chasing Jupiter

I enjoyed Rachel Coker’s debut novel, Interrupted: A Life Beyond Words, so much, that after finishing it I immediately looked up her second book, Chasing Jupiter.

In this book, Scarlett Blaine is a teenager in Georgia in the 1960s. Her parents are busy fighting and going to political meetings, so Scarlett becomes the main cook and caregiver for her elderly grandfather and younger brother. Her brother, Cliff, has some kind of unnamed mental or processing disorder. Not as much was known about such things then, so he’s just generally regarded as “different.” Partly out of standing up for him, Scarlett takes on the mantle of being “different,” too—not in a mental way, but just in her personality.

Cliff has decided he wants to build a rocket to go to Jupiter. Scarlett knows they can’t build a real one, but she helps Cliff raise money for materials. They decide to make and sell peach pies, with the help of the local farmer’s son, Frank.

Scarlett grows to like Frank, but Frank has eyes for Scarlett’s wild sister, Juli.

Scarlett’s pastor’s wife hears about her culinary skills and invites her over to help make food for the church’s shut-ins. Scarlett is reluctant at first, but then enjoys getting to know the pastor’s wife.

A series of family tragedies shakes Scarlett’s faith. Her pastor’s wife tells her, “The beauty of salvation and God’s grace isn’t in him solving all of our problems instantly, like a magic genie. Its beauty comes in the assurance that he has a greater plan for you.” Can Scarlett trust Him with all the problems and find peace in the midst of them?

Rachel has written another beautiful story. It took me just a bit longer to connect with Scarlett than Allie in the previous book. But I could empathize with much in her situation.

This book was written in 2012, and I’ve seen nothing from Rachel since these two books. There’s nothing on her Facebook page since 2017, when she was newly married. Looks like she went into photography for a while, but that sight has not been updated since 2016. Perhaps everyday life precluded her writing. But I hope she finds her way back to it some day.

(Sharing with Booknificent)

Book Review: A Gentleman in Moscow

Amor Towles novel, A Gentleman in Moscow, takes place almost entirely within the walls of the grand Metropol Hotel in Moscow. Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov lived there in 1922, when he was convicted as an unrepentant aristocrat, declared a Former Person, and sentenced to house arrest. He was moved from his suite to an attic storage room and told that if he stepped out of the hotel, he would be shot.

Believing that “if a man does not master his circumstances then he is bound to be mastered by them,” the Count determines to make the best of his.

There are worse places to be confined than a Grand Hotel. But confinement is confinement, and it strains the count at times. In one of the best pieces of “showing, not telling” I’ve seen, the Count has been inside for about a year when he feels a blast of cold air in a hallway. Searching for its origin, the Count finds himself in the coat room, where someone has just come in in from outside. He also notices the smell of wood smoke on the coat someone has just left behind. The coat room girl finds him a few minutes later, holding the sleeve of the coat. It was such a poignant moment, made all the more so by the fact that Towles didn’t explain, “He missed the outdoors and the smell of winter and wood smoke.” He left the scene as is for the reader to infer why the Count lingered, holding the coat sleeve.

The Count hits a low point, and I love the scene that switches his thinking. But mostly the book involves the Count’s activities, friendships with members of the staff, interactions with a nine-year-old girl, a famous actress, an American journalist, Russian officials, and various others who come through the hotel.

We learn what kind of man the Count is. He’s in his thirties at the beginning of the novel and his sixties by the end. At first he is quite charming but almost flippant. He’s almost unfailingly polite. As he tells a little girl who asks about the rules for being a princess, “Manners are not like bonbons, Nina. You may not choose the ones that suit you best; and you certainly cannot put the half-bitten ones back in the box.” He’s not without thought for others, as we see in remembrances of getting his grandmother out of the country before his arrest, his care of his sister, his sacrifice for a friend. But we also see how he grows as a person over the course of the novel.

The narrator also lets us in on what’s going on in the country and how it affects the Count even inside a hotel. This was a time of great change in Russia, after the revolution, spanning two world wars, famines, the Stalinist era, and more.

A few of my favorite quotes:

“A king fortifies himself with a castle,” observed the Count, “a gentleman with a desk.”

But imagining what might happen if one’s circumstances were different was the only sure route to madness.

It was, without question, the smallest room that he had occupied in his life; yet somehow, within those four walls the world had come and gone.

I also enjoyed a section where he talked about names in Russian novels—how difficult they are, and how several names can be used for the same person with nicknames, honorifics, etc. I smiled because I had thought that very thing when reading Russian novels.

This is not an action-packed, plot-driven novel (though the action picks up and becomes quite suspenseful in the last few chapters). It’s more of a quiet, thoughtful book. This doesn’t often happen, but I didn’t start another book for more than a day after finishing this one, just to sit with my thoughts about it a little longer.

Towles said he got the idea for the novel when, traveling for business overseas. He noticed some of the same people every time he visited certain hotels. He wondered if some of them lived in the hotel, and that started his thoughts around a character who did live at a hotel, but not by his own choice.

I loved Towles’ writing. One thing I especially liked was the way he took details of a previous scene that I thought was finished and brought them up again later. For instance, in an early scene, the Count has some fennel sent to his friend, the chef at the hotel restaurant. I got the idea that fennel was hard to come by, and the Count was a nice guy to get some, and he still had the connections to do so. But then the purpose for the fennel comes out in a much later chapter, a delightful surprise.

I normally avoid most current secular fiction because there’s almost always some language issues and/or sex scenes. I don’t recall many language problems–a couple of “damns,” one instance of taking the Lord’s name in vain (though the author sometimes told us someone did without subjecting us to the sound of it). There are a couple of sexual encounters, but no steamy, explicit scenes.

I enjoyed going down the rabbit hole of Towles’ web site for the book. He shares some information on the Metropol (a real hotel) and its history, interviews about the book, some questions he receives and their answers, a reader’s guide (though I’d advise not reading the latter two until after you’ve finished the book to avoid spoilers). The structure of the novel hadn’t dawned on me until I read the guide Towels’ mention of it n the guide: the first few chapters cover a day, then a couple of days, gradually increasing. Tthe middle covers years, and the last chapters hone in on days again. I was also surprised that one of the most-often asked questions concerned who the person was in the last scene with the Count. That person was always described throughout the novel with a particular adjective that’s also used at the end, so that was no mystery to me. I enjoyed learning what some of the scenes were based on.

I listened to the audiobook superbly read by Nicholas Guy Smith. He did a wonderful job giving each character distinctive  and apt voices.

Have you read A Gentleman in Moscow? What did you think?

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved)

Book Review: Interrupted: A Life Beyond Words

In Rachel Coker’s debut novel, Interrupted: A Life Beyond Words, teenager Allie Everly takes care of her mother in the late 1930s. Suffering from a brain tumor, Allie’s mother’s behavior and memory become increasingly erratic.

After her mother passes away, Allie is uprooted and sent miles away from home to be adopted by a single woman named Beatrice. Resentful and bitter, Allie can’t allow herself to accept Beatrice’s love. She closes people out and barely accepts a friendship with bright bubbly classmate Charlie (a girl). When her childhood friend, Sam, shows up, Allie keeps him at arms length.

Allie’s mother had not believed in God, had even told Allie not to trust Christians. Beatrice assures her that:

Faith isn’t about superstition or leaning on others because you haven’t got any … guts. It takes guts to believe sometimes. To know that even when things don’t look like they’re going well, God is still there and he’s still guiding you. Faith like that—the faith to trust Christ enough to take the place for your sins and take control of your life. Faith like that takes all the guts in the world. And it’s worth it.

This was such a good story. I loved Sam and Beatrice’s patience and Allie’s slow dawning that life might be different, good, even. I enjoyed the lines from Emily Dickinson at the beginning of each chapter.

Most astonishing of all is that Rachel wrote this and one other book when she was a home school student. She did a marvelous job. But it doesn’t look like she has written anything since these books in 2012, unless perhaps she has started using a pen name. I hope she is still writing, or comes back to it, because she has great talent.

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent)

 

Book Review: None Like Him

The subtitle of None Like Him by Jen Wilkin is 10 Ways God is Different From Us (and Why That’s a Good Thing).

God has some attributes that we’re supposed to emulate: kindness, love, compassion, etc. He possesses those characteristics in perfection. We never will this side of heaven, but we should be growing in them as we read God’s Word.

Some of God’s attributes, however, are unique to Him: omnipotence (all-powerful), omniscience (all-knowing), omnipresence (everywhere at the same time), immutability (unchangeableness), eternality, etc. Jen devotes one chapter each to these and five more characteristics of God. A subject like this could easily be filled with ivory-tower theologicalese, but Jen doesn’t let it. Her treatment of God’s attributes is both understandable and practical while still invoking awe.

At first it might seem more practical to study the attributes of God that we’re supposed to grow in (and Jen’s next book, In His Image, does just that). But there’s good reason to ponder these unattainable attributes. Studying these characteristics helps us get to know our God better, contributes to our worship of Him, and reminds us of our limitations.

Wait—do we want to be reminded of our limitations? Well, we need to be. Sometimes our overreaching is due to pride. And it’s immensely restful to leave to God the things only He can do.

Our limits teach us the fear of the Lord. They are reminders that keep us from falsely believing that we can be like God. When I reach the limit of my strength, I worship the One whose strength never flags. When I reach the limit of my reason, I worship the One whose reason is beyond searching out (p. 25).

For instance, it never occurred to me before reading this book that our constant efforts to be in more than one place (with one person, on the phone with another, with one eye on the news) might be grasping for omnipresence. Subject ourselves to information overload might be reaching towards omniscience. We don’t want to stagnate: we want to keep learning and growing. But we do have limits.

No, we cannot be in more than one place at one time. When we reach for omnipresence ourselves, we guarantee that we will be fully present nowhere, spread thin, people of divided attentions, affections, efforts, and loyalties. Better to trust that these bodies which tether us to one location are good limits given by a good God. Better to marvel that, wherever we are tethered, his spirit surrounds us and fills us. Aware that he is witness to all we think, speak, and do, we learn to live circumspectly. Aware that he views his children through the lens of grace, we learn to choose frank confession over futile concealment. Aware that we cannot outrun his presence, we cease running, and abide. We learn to savor his nearness. No more virtual Twister. When we trust him as fully present everywhere, we are finally free to be fully present wherever he has placed us (pp. 104-105).

Here are just a few of the quotes I marked:

The thought that there might be a way to cast off at least some of these perpetual needs for perpetual needlessness is an enticing one, indeed. Take, for example, our current cultural obsession with caffeinated drinks as evidence of our desire to be sleep-optional creatures (p. 58).

Sanctification is the process of learning increasing dependency, not autonomy (p. 63).

Like Samson, when we view a particular strength as the product of our obedience to God, we will use that strength to serve ourselves rather than to serve God and others. All strength, whether physical, emotional, or intellectual, can be used either to serve or to self-elevate (p. 127).

The truth of God’s limitless power would be absolutely terrifying were it not paired with the truth of his limitless goodness (p. 135).

Our primary problem as Christian women is not that we lack self-worth, not that we lack a sense of significance. It’s that we lack awe (p. 154).

We too often approach the Bible in a self-serving way: we want to be comforted, affirmed, or assured in some way. The Bible does minister to us, but we need to approach it to learn about God.

God is incomprehensible. This does not mean he is unknowable, but that he is unable to be fully known. It is the joyful duty, the delightful task of his children to spend their lives, both this one and the next, discovering who he is. According to Jesus, knowing God is the fundamental aim of life: “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). We take pleasure in working to grow in our knowledge of him (p. 33).

Meditating on His attributes leads us to worship and increases our faith. The more we know Him, the more we love Him, the more we trust Him.

My meditation of him shall be sweet: I will be glad in the LORD (Psalm 104:34).

(Sharing with Senior Salon, InstaEncouragament,
Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent)