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Wednesday, December 25, 2013

"Faith in the Fog" (Jeff Lucas)

TITLE: Faith in the Fog: Believing in What You Cannot See
AUTHOR: Jeff Lucas
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013, (208 pages).

Bethlehem is not exactly a land of peace, despite it being world famous for being the birthplace of the Prince of Peace. In a place that is often called the holy land, the various suspicions and threats of violence have rendered it more unholy. Even the Christian places of worship had been segregated into tense quarters where fights and arguments are commonplace whenever any party cross their stated boundaries. All these leads to more confusion and fogginess with regards to hope and faith for the author. Beginning with John 21, bestselling author Jeff Lucas tries to make sense of the 1st Century land where Jesus first walked, and contrasts that to what he is experiencing today. From having to grapple with many different languages used there, to the constant warnings not to venture into any sect's sacred spaces, Lucas asks about what it means to walk in hope when there seems to be no hope. How do we walk in peace when all around us is filled with unpleasant human relationships?  How do we exercise faith in the midst of a foggy spiritual climate? These questions and many more are tackled in this very reflective and personal journey of faith.

Lucas tries to transport himself to the very moments when the disciples had seen Jesus crucified and exited disgracefully from the world scene. He visualizes the various healing incidents, the way Jesus touches lives, and how Jesus goes throughout the land on foot to preach the gospel. Slowly, he puts himself in the shoes of the disciples who had nothing else better to do when Jesus had left, but to go fishing.

The author then shares how he became a believer: what he went back into Church to get his coat! His journey to growing faith requires him to go through various spiritually foggy situations. He found the Bible more of a mystery. He was taught a "pick a blessing" approach to the Bible. He was also given erroneous theological advice especially with regards to his own calling. Such a background continues to plague his own ministry, in particular, his first Church planting. He goes into depression. He battles "legalism, traditionalism, fear" too. His path to greater faith comes with his observation of how Jesus allows the fishermen to fish at night, and only appear to them in the morning. Then slowly, something clicks. There is hope for the down and out. There is light at the end of the dark tunnel. There is faith amid the fog.

Through the John 21 passage, Lucas tries to show readers that there will be clarity at the end. One needs endurance to go through the tough times. One needs to be constantly reminded that God had loved them and will be carrying them. The fire and breakfast at the morning after a fruitless fishing all-nighter, is a reminder that God provides for us, even when we feel unaccomplished. We worship God not on the basis of our good works but on the promise of God's forgiving us in grace.

So What?

This book is a deeply personal book that the author had walked. Depression, discouragement, disillusionment, and the despairs of doubts are formidable barriers to faith. Some of the most helpful things we can do when in such a state is to take care of ourselves physically. Take time to smell the flowers, to exercise, to eat well, to be with friends who can share and understand without judging, and to avoid superficial theology that does not have an anchor on reality. It is important not to assume all questions are bad, even those that questions our belief. Questions often show us the nuances of each situation. I am intrigued by the number 153 mentioned in John 21.  Lucas says it is just a big number, the catch of the disciples' life, recorded in Scripture.

There is no particular profound revelation in this book about how to overcome depression and doubt amid the fog. What it contains however is a down to earth reflection of how John 21 informs the theological musings of Jeff Lucas, who had to endure many spiritual troughs and theological confusions. This is not helped by the several early encounters of Christian leaders who have a slightly misinformed understanding of faith. What Lucas is able to provide some guidelines to how one can still find a reason to believe. Let me provide just five observations of Lucas's perspective. First, he confesses his broken past and comes to God not as a healed person but as one who needs healing. Second, he knows depression and suffering are real, with his own personal journey into depression a rather painful recollection of his past. It enables him to see John 21 from a gloomy atmosphere that Peter and the rest of the disciples were seeing at that tie. Third, one needs to learn how to receive rather than to constantly be worried about how to give and get. Lucas calls this atttitude "a sense of helplessness and humility of heart" that is needed to cultivate open hands and an open heart. Fourth, in dealing with the area of suffering, it is not what hits us that is the main focus. It is how we respond to the trials and tribulations we face. Fifth, learning to mind our own business in terms of letting our faith be upon God rather than upon other people's faith. This is critical as there are way too many people whose faith wavers or strengthens according to "role models" they know or see. Our focus must always be on Christ and the Bible's promises.

If you are tired of those books that promise "victorious living" and how they dumb down all kinds of negative but authentic emotions, you may find this book a breath of fresh reality. Without having to swing to either extremes of pessimism or optimism, there is a healthy does of realism in this book that is centered on faith in God. Depression and doubt are real chapters in the book of anyone's faith. Thankfully, they are not the final chapters. The final chapter is always in the hands of God who will lead and guide the faithful, for the glory of God. 

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Zondervan and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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