Room of Marvels by James Bryan Smith

I am reposting this 2011 review because the Kindle Edition is currently on sale for $1.99 as part of the Big Deal Sale
Room of MarvelsTakeaway: Heaven is not just a promised place (fire insurance), but really is a place we should look forward to.

This is a short semi-fictional novel by a primarily non-fiction author and professor, James Bryan Smith.  In his book, The Good and Beautiful God (my review), Smith shares that in a short period of time his good friend (and renter of his attic apartment) Rich Mullins, his 2-year-old severely disabled daughter and his mother all die in pretty quick succession.  Smith was devastated and mad at God.

In the novel, an author is in the same situation and goes on a five-day spiritual retreat.  During the retreat, the main character has a dream and is taken to heaven to visit with the three that were the cause of the spiritual quandary but also others that help him understand more of the purpose of God.  The epilogue says that while the setting is fictional and that Smith did not have a dream like character in the book, he did have a ‘waking dream’ writing exercise with many of the same features.

It is hard not to compare this book to The Shack.  Both books deal with the anger against God as a result of the loss of a child.  Both books involve a spiritual visit that may or may not really have happened or been dreamed.  Both books end up bringing about real healing in many people that read them.

The primary differences are the focus.  In the Shack, the author is primarily mad at God and the book is more about the character of God and knowing God better.  In the Room of Marvels, the main character is still angry at God, but it does not actually have God as a character.  I think most people that did not like the Shack did not like the portrayal of God.  The Room of Marvels is a trip through heaven, similar to CS Lewis’ The Great Divorce.  It is definitely a less controversial and more orthodox portrayal.

The Room of Marvels may feel a bit derivative from the Shack, but it was published three years earlier than the Shack.  Heaven is a controversial topic.  Smith is not interested in the type of controversy that either NT Wright or Rob Bell have been involved in recently.  Instead, Smith is focused on the real Christian belief that heaven will be a place of healing and joy.  Smith’s heaven does feel a bit like the final book of the Chronicles of Narnia (and CS Lewis is a character in the Room of Marvels).

I think in many ways this is a book that might be better if you are not facing the death of someone close to you.  Not that you will not get something out of it.  But I think that many times, it is better to have some right thinking before you face difficulty instead of having to deal both with pain of loss and the pain of anger of God.

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