What does God’s redemption look like? God’s kingdom comes in fullness and all that is wrong is set right. But what about in the meantime? How is the gospel hope for broken? The oppressed? The abused? Matt Bays observes that many modern Christians have this working definition of redemption:
Redemption n.—A state of existence in which the faithful to God receive what they expect to receive out of life (and out of God), and what ails them is converted to something fresh and new. (Getting the desires of one’s heart.) (26).
But the reality is that the faithful suffer: miscarriages, mental illness, bankruptcy, loss of jobs, doubt, grief, etc. Sometimes God doesn’t seem to come through and even the redeemed carry the scars of the past. In Finding God in the Ruins Bays opens up his own hard journey and shares this experience of hope and redemption. God didn’t remove the brokenness and the pain but stepped into it with him.
The impetus behind the book came when Becky, a cat-loving-coworker succumbed to a deep depression and committed suicide, taking too many pills and leaving a note. Bays wrote in his journal I hope they saved the pen she used—that the leftover ink inside will be used to write words of love and hope (32). At her funeral, Becky’s husband John gave Bays the pen and told him to ‘write beautiful hope-filled words’ (34). In the pages which follow, Bays weaves his own painful journey with the tales of other broken doubters and beat-down saints.
At the age of twenty-eight, Bays was several years a pastor, but the pain of his childhood caught up with him. He had been abused by the Step-Dad from Hell. Beyond the physical and emotional turmoil he experienced, he also experienced the confusion of incest. He turned to alcohol. When it didn’t anesthetize the pain, he found a counselor and began to work through his issues. Bays also shares of his doubt and struggle watching his sister Trina fight stage-four breast cancer.
Bays story is hopeful. He experiences real healing in his life and he points to the unlikely places God met him through broken people (i.e affirmations from a pedophile band teacher). But this is a raw account of what it means to have faith in the midst of some pretty blankety-blanked-up-stuff. Bays rages against God, talks about the ways that Jesus felt distant from him— i.e “When God was thirteen, he never faced any kind of trial” (63). Ultimately Bays experiences the grace of God through family, through learning to face his pain and share vulnerably, learning to tell his story and seeing how much God-in-Christ truly experiences and enters into the pain and struggle we face:
God wasn’t staring on in the brothels of Mumbai; he was stuck on the dirty floor with a pedophile on top of him. And he wasn’t leaning against the laundry machine in my basement; he was being pierced, crushed, bruised and wounded so eventually I could be healed. It happened to him every time it happened to me. It was him, the same as it was me. (197).
This is not Hallmark-Channel-Jesus. Jesus doesn’t ride into an unbeliever’s life with a saccharine sweet ending, tying off all loose ends and making it all work out. The kind of redemption that Bays points to is more personal. Jesus steps our heartaches and experiences all the horrors we do. He brings us to redemption by going through the pain with us.
This is a great book, but emotionally heavy. At a different stage, I wouldn’t have been ready for it. Bays lie story allows him to speak empathetically to those of us who likewise struggle. I appreciate the radical honesty he advocates. Bays helps us face ourselves (all of us), face our pain, and be honest to God about our struggles. This doesn’t give our doubt the final word, but allows for real faith to grow. I give this book five stars. ★★★★★
Note: I received this book from LitFuse Publicity in exchange for my honest review.