A pastor offers a personal exploration of the mystery of God’s hiddenness.
Russell opens his account by stating its central question directly: “Why is God so cruel? Why is heaven so silent?” And like many theologians and Christian thinkers before him, he characterizes God’s silence as a central problem of faith: “A silent heaven is the greatest mystery of our existence.” Russell brings a 25-year career as a pastor and religious counselor to bear on the question, and he seeks to understand God through his own experiences and the bedrock faith lessons he’s learned over time. He offers stories of his church service, his “burnout” and breakdown in his late 50s, and his slow recovery. He also talks about his charitable work for hospital-outreach programs, where he often saw examples of God’s seeming absence, including little children suffering horribly from burns and various illnesses. His book then broadens its view to look at plagues, natural disasters, and urban violence. When he turns to the underlying question of where God is while such things are happening, he tends to offer obscure phraseology that Christian thinkers have been offering on the subject for millennia, and he predicates his solutions on denying the existence of the problem: “Before one can think about the silence of God, he or she must really believe in the existence of God,” he writes, for example, or “Do I need to know God exists in order to understand his silence? Yes, you do.” Sentiments like these will narrow the appeal of Russell’s book to his fellow practicing Christians, who will agree with him that “Faith is the ability to see what isn’t” and who will nod at his conclusion that God is not, in fact, ever really silent. For this audience, though, his interpretation of Scripture will seem refreshingly direct, as when he reminds them that none of the prophets ever attempted to prove the existence of a caring God: “Enoch sought God by faith, found God by faith, walked with God by faith, escaped death by faith, and was rewarded by faith.”
Christian readers will find this a thought-provoking examination of an age-old question.