If you don’t already have your hands on this book, it’s time. When I’ve already started reading it for Crossway and am looking at a 5 star review after only a few chapters, AND THEN the Sheologians Book Club chooses it to read and discuss and that hour becomes one of the highlights of my week AND THEN the highly respected ladies leading my church’s womens ministry decide to hand it out to all the women– THEN it’s definitely time to just tell everyone to read this book. And by everyone, I mean EVERYONE, not just women. Just because there happens to be a recipe for a legendary Pumpkin Crunch Cake tucked in the back in no way feminizes the book’s masculine voice.
Strangely Bright by Joe Rigney (the newly appointed President of Bethlehem College and Seminary) couldn’t be more timely. In 7 intensely poignant but delightfully breezy chapters, Rigney asks and answers the question, “Can you love God and enjoy the world?” Long time readers of this blog know one of my main purposes is to encourage first my children and then others to see how God has made Himself known through the world He has made, the Word He has breathed and the workers He has appointed. Rigney goes a step further and reminds us that indeed ALL of the good and enjoyable gifts God has lavished upon His creatures are a means of revelation into His kind and benevolent nature.
While this message is surely timeless in nature, think of what it means for us specifically in 2020. This year we have by various “authorities” and in varying degrees been told to give up God’s good gifts of work (2 Thes. 3:10), of enjoying and indeed rising in the presence of our elders (1 Tim. 5:16, Lev. 19:32), going out and bringing our food from afar (Prov. 31:14), of breaking bread together (Acts 2:246), of showing hospitality (Rom. 12:13), of assembling together in His Name (Heb. 10:25), of encouraging one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph. 5;19), of extending the hand of fellowship and greeting one another with a kiss (Gal. 2:9, 2 Cor. 13:12), of sharing the cheerful countenance that comes from a glad heart (Prov. 15:13), of proclaiming truth in the public square (Prov. 1:20), of weeping and rejoicing with those who weep and rejoice (Rom. 12:15). The list of these, God’s good gifts, goes on and on. But friends, these are not just suggested indulgences in the life of the believer. They are COMMANDED for our enjoyment.
Is there ever a time when God removes these good gifts from the life of the believer? Yes. It’s called suffering and Rigney addresses this in chapter 6 “When the Things of Earth are Lost.”
Is there ever a time when the believer should voluntarily give up one or more of God’s good gifts? Yes. It’s called self-denial and Rigney addresses this in chapter 5 “Denying Ourselves and Sharing Our Riches.”
Is there ever a time when the Government, worldly influencers and other Christians can command you to give up God’s good gifts? That’s the 2020 question, is it not? Alas, Rigney has no chapter to answer that one specifically. But I believe taken as a whole “Strangely Bright” does in fact address this very thing.
I for one, couldn’t read this book and come to the conclusion that the forced closure of businesses, the isolation and neglect of our elderly, the loss of neighborly interaction in the public market place, the forsaking of fellowship and the breaking of bread, the silencing of our public worship, and prayer and preaching of the Word, the withdrawing of hand shakes and hugs, the masking of our smiles, the censoring of opposing view points, the canceling of weddings, the prohibition of funerals, etc…were in any way Biblical responses to our current problems. If anything, it is Satan himself who is rejoicing over our lack of enjoyment of God’s good gifts.
Has it not been so since the garden? Had our benevolent Creator filled the earth with abundance and variety and perfect goodness and then commanded His creatures to eat freely and enjoy His bounty? There was only one restriction and that too was a good and loving and protective gift. But oh, what music to the serpent’s ears to hear Eve add the prohibition which God had NOT given, “and neither shall you touch it.” With what delight did he witness Eve’s seemingly good intentions to be healthy and wise and take what looked good to the eyes rob her of every pure pleasure on earth? Was he not gleefully observing the now infected pair cease from their God-given labors, isolated from fellowship with their only True Companion, hiding behind leafy masks to cover their shame?
Next week is Thanksgiving. Dear Christian, do not be fooled into thinking that the healthy, wise, good looking thing to do is to refuse God’s bountiful provision, close the door to others made in His image, and silence your joyful public declaration of Thanksgiving to the One who has given us EVERY GOOD THING. Let us love God AND enjoy His gifts. And let us do that as the Giver intended, together.
I’ve had to do one too many “Shred It” reviews for Crossway. Mainly their stuff has been ranking a bland “Shelve It” of late. But “Strangely Bright” has earned a solid “Share It” in my book and I hope it will in yours too.