Shattered Dreams: God’s unexpected path to joy” by Larry Crabb
(Available as a Kindle e-book)
A friend urged me to download this book. He said he thought it had a lot in it worth thinking about and that I would enjoy it.
He was right.
Every so often a book like this comes along that crystallises barely formed thoughts and jolts me into action.
In what follows I have not used a capital letter for the personal pronoun when I refer to God. No disrespect is intended and I hope you don’t mind. it’s just that I think the text flows better without it.
If you are someone who struggles with your faith and can’t always understand why God can seem so difficult to understand and hard to know, I think “Shattered Dreams” will speak to you. On the other hand, the book may not be so instantly appreciated by those who believe their faithful church membership and good behaviour assures them of God’s favour, a happy life and a reserved place in heaven.
I should share at this point that I have always been uncomfortable with, and slightly suspicious of, churches that teach that because we have “given ourselves to Christ”, God is obliged to smooth our path and give us a happy and successful life prior to our inevitable entry to heaven. Such a faith is a narrow, self-centred and childish faith in my opinion, and such a God is not the God who made me and loves me.
I will try and capture the author’s message and hopefully explain why I found the book so inspirational. Here goes . . .
Firstly God wants to bless each one of us. He wants nothing as much as to hold us in his arms and show himself to us. Our badness and unworthiness is not an obstacle to that blessing. The only trouble is, we don’t always recognise his blessing. As Dr Crabb writes, “We have our own ideas about what a good God should do” (p. 1). Imagine for a moment what we do when we try to second guess God. Can you see? We take the creator and master of the universe to task because we know better than he does! What impudence! What presumption! What misplaced hubris!
Some people argue that they cannot believe in God’s existence because if he did exist he would not allow evil, or any one of a multitude of tragedies and disasters. What they are doing is proposing that God needs to constrain himself to accord with their personal views. Hold that thought for a moment . . . and then recognise it for the nonsense it is.
After all, God is God. He is not obliged to do anything. He does not need to feel compelled to explain himself to me; show himself to me on my terms; act in ways I consider just; respond to my prayers in a way I think he should, or grant me anything I think I deserve. He does, however, choose to love me as his own. Trying to put constraints on God is pointless. Trying to domesticate him so that he acts in ways we think he should act reminds me a little of the manipulative behaviour of people in co-dependent and abusive relationships. That is not the sort of relationship I want with God and it is not the sort of relationship he offers me.
The book’s second proposition is about our innermost yearnings:
“The highest dream that we could ever dream, the wish that if granted would make us happier than any other blessing, is the wish to know God, to actually experience him”. (p. 2). The problem is, according to the author, is that we look for this experience in all the wrong places. We are not self aware. We mistake lots of ‘lesser dreams’ for the real thing. We try to satisfy our deepest longings with things that will never do that. Many of us realise that the latest car or the best address or unbounded wealth will not by themselves bring inner happiness, even though these things are not bad in themselves. This book goes further however. How do “Good marriages, talented kids, enough health and money to enjoy life, rewarding work and an opportunity to make a difference in the world”. (p. 3) sound to you? Yes, they sound pretty good to me too, but even these things will not in themselves bring us to experience God directly.
As the author tells us, our greatest longing, at the heart of who we are and the purpose for which we were created, is the desire to know God intimately; to experience him as he really is. A happy life, well supported by friends and family, and surrounded by possessions, is a really good thing, but is a pale reflection of the joy we were made to experience.
I need to spend more time thinking through the implications of what I just wrote. One of many ideas in this book that need revisiting.
The author’s third proposition is about the role and purpose of pain, disappointments and struggle in our lives. In short, they are essential. Without them we continue to cling to ‘lesser dreams’ and shallower rewards that distract us from our true purpose:
“Our shattered dreams are never random. They are pieces in a larger puzzle, a chapter in a larger story” (p. 3).
Pain and struggle have a purpose in our lives, even though we have no way of knowing what that purpose might be. We try to avoid them, but they need to be experienced. A person who has not had to struggle with doubt, pain, with crushing disappointments and with times of hopelessness, has not discovered their helplessness before God. Without that discovery, we can be blind to our self-centredness and maybe even feel able to presume to give advice to God. A person who feels qualified to advise, or lecture, God, has no need of him and will not experience that which he and we both want at our deepest levels: relationship.
The kingdom of God is not accessible to a person who is in control; who has it all together and, by implication, has no need of God. Neither is it open to a person who thinks they have made a bargain with God along the lines of: I will live an upright life, go to church, and be good to those less fortunate (insert whatever else you will here). In return you, God, have to reward me.
Well, that in a nutshell is what the book is about. I found it stimulating to read, and freeing. I could not help thinking about my own feeble faith. Neither could I avoid asking myself what would be the next step I would take.
I have been encouraged to be a little less troubled by melancholy and disappointment with the difference between what my life is and what it should be. I can see, at least theoretically, that none of that matters when contrasted with the sort of relationship with my creator which this book has reminded me is not only possible, but is what he and myself both want.