Takeaway: There are many false narratives that detract us from the real God.
The Good and Beautiful God is the first in a three book series that is intended to be read as a group, particularly in a group context. I am reading them by myself, but I have all three books and I am planning on reading them all over the course of the next couple months. Good and Beautiful God is particularly about understanding God the father as Jesus understands him, as father and as God.
Much of the first 10 to 15 percent of the books is concerned with background and an introduction to series. There are some good things here (like the fact that one of the big things that we need to do to know God is get enough sleep).
However, the real start of the book is when he describes how he and his wife were first told that their soon to be born daughter would be likely still born, or die soon after birth because of a genetic defect. Their daughter was born, and did have a variety of genetic defects, and lived for about two years. The struggle with why this happened, along with the stunningly bad theological advice and counsel that they received (a pastor friend took Smith out to eat and asked him whether it was he or his wife or both of them that had sinned to cause the death of his daughter), drove them to seek a new understanding of God.
This lead to a new understanding of Christ’s role. We actually get to participate in Christ’s own faith (Gal 2: 19-20). Christ prays for us, Christ has faith for us and Christ shows us God. Smith then uses Christ as a hermeneutic of understanding God the Father. So he asks about the question of who sinned, “Is the God that I know through Jesus Christ, one that would punish my unborn child because of my own sin.” Then he sees how Christ has shows that suffering is not always the result of sin through a variety of passages (most explicitly the in the question about the tower of Siloam in Luke 13). We may not understand now (because we are limited beings) why suffering happens. But we have been told that we will understand eventually. We can trust in God, that even if we do not understand now, we will understand.
In a similar way, Smith shows us that we should not fear the punishment of God for every individual sin because Jesus said we can approach God as Abba (Daddy). Fathers love their children. Fathers may be disappointed in children, they may wish they can protect them from the consequences of bad decisions or bad behavior, but we know that good Fathers still love their children in spite of bad decisions (or sin).
There are a couple other ‘false narratives of God’ that Smith works through. Eventually however, he gets to the best description of Love, Holiness and Wrath that I have heard. Over simplifying his argument, Love is an essential part of God’s nature. The Wrath of God is a temporary (not meaning short term, but meaning not permanent). Wrath is a response to sin and evil but not an essential part of God’s nature. Holiness, in a similar way to Love, is a part of God’s nature but Holiness is not anger and it is not Wrath.
Each chapter of this book has ‘soul training’ exercises. These are simple acts of spiritual discipline. This book is intended to be read one chapter a week with a group and to practice for a week a new spiritual exercise. I have done many of the exercises before, but these are not things you perfect, they are things you become. So one week it is simple sitting still for 5 minutes a day. Another week it is trying to read scripture in a in a particular method. The general movement of these exercises is to get us to slow down. Throughout the book there is an ongoing discussion about ‘hurry sickness’ as the primary problem of the modern age. If we are to really submit to God we cannot be hurrying. Hurrying does not allow us to either hear or respond to God. We must create margin in our lives.
This is a very good book. I will read it again. I would like to read through it with a group. I would highly recommend it as a group study. It is easily understandable, but not simplistic. If you take this seriously, there will be spiritual growth and struggle.