Thursday, May 8, 2008

Polishing God's Monuments - A Book Review

Last week I started and finished reading the book "Polishing God's Monuments" by Jim Andrews. Jim Andrews is a pastor, author, and in this book, the father of one of the main characters, his daughter, Juli. It is the true story of Juli and her husband Paul whose marriage of nineteen years has been surrounded by the most unbelievable illness and suffering.

The style of the book is unlike any other I have ever read. The author moves through the book by writing a chapter on how Juli's health is during a specific time period and then he follows with a chapter that deals with the theology of pain and suffering from a Biblical perspective. This alternating format seemed weird at first, but I quickly realized, at least for me, that the personal chapters would have been far too emotionally taxing to read all at once, and the theology needed the break in order for me to absorb the teaching.

The personal side of the book deals with the illness of primarily Juli, but also with Paul's correlating illnesses as well. As very new newlyweds, they were both diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). Shortly after that diagnosis, Juli would began to suffer from another illness that some CFS patients are susceptible to, Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS). These two illnesses combined would send Juli, Paul, and their families on a maddening, painful, God-questioning, journey for the next nineteen years of their lives. Juli's MCS quickly became very severe. She soon developed sensitivities to cosmetics, soap, and all household cleaners. One scent of any of those items anywhere within her house or even a scent on someone who entered the house would cause her body to shut down in a pain she describes as acid being poured through every vein and muscle in my body. Her illness advanced to a point where the MCS so severely attacked her body that she was allergic to paper, fabric, and many various chemicals that made up their everyday life. For example, she developed an intolerance to chlorine. In the summer months, when the city they lived in would increase the levels of chlorine used in the treatment of the city water, her MCS would become so severe that she could not tolerate a drop of water anywhere within the house; no drinking, no bathing, no toilet. As if that were not bad enough, she even developed a sensitivity to electricity. She soon became a prisoner in her own house. Living in darkness, she would spend her days without books or music to help pass the time. Her illness cut her off from all personal contact with her family and friends except for her contact with Paul. However,as heart wrenching as the personal side of the book is, it is the other chapters that give the book its substance.

One of the questions that first confronts the reader is why? Why did this happen to Juli and Paul? They were a young, talented couple with their whole lives in front of them. Their desire was to serve God on the foreign mission field and they were taking steps to fulfill that purpose when the illness struck. Why would God allow such pain and suffering into the lives of those who are willing to devote their lives in service to Him? The author begins to relieve that tension by describing what he calls, "monumental faith." This is not faith of an enormous size, but rather it is faith in the God of monuments. He describes various times in his life where the sovereign hand of God was extremely evident. It is those times in the past where God could clearly be seen that he describes as "God's monuments." He explains that in the periods of our life when God appears to be silent or far from us, that in those moments we go back and remember those "monuments" of God. When God appears to be distant is when we must rely on what we know of His character. He is faithful and true, the same yesterday, today, and forever. He works all for our good, even the periods of lives that are filled with pain and questioning. It is in those times that we need to fall back, remember God's faithfulness in the past, "polish God's monuments" in our lives, and continue to trust that He knows what is best for us.

This book struck a chord with me personally. I think in part due to some of what our family has gone through in the last year. However, it also revealed a heart issue for me. I think it can best be summarized in the following quote from the book. The quote is from a young lady who was a friend of the Andrew family. She was battling through her second brush with brain cancer and in the midst of that circumstance, in incredible pain, just months before her death, she said these words. "When I became a Christian, I surrendered all my rights to Jesus to do with as he chooses. If it's his good pleasure to slice me into pieces and barbecue me on a skewer, that is none of my business. The Lord is good; his ways are perfect and I have no complaints." Could I say that? What is my response to rather minor inconveniences? How I respond to the small trials in my life is rather telling about the faith I profess to have in a sovereign God.

This was a different book. A book on the Biblical theology of suffering is not going to sell as many copies as all of the other "Christian" drivel that tells us how we can achieve what is best for life here and now. However, the weight of truth in this book will stand far longer than most of what is being mass marketed as "Christian" to the evangelical community today. I enjoyed this book so much, that I wanted to begin reading it again as soon as I finished it. I have in fact gone back to read portions of it. I highly recommend it and think that it would be a welcome edition to any personal library. You can purchase it here.

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