Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 15, 2001
Finding God's will amidst tragedy
The Will of God as a Way of Life: Finding and Following the Will of God, by Gerald L. Sittser, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000. 192 pages. Hardcover.
Review by WAYNE HOLST
Special to the WCR
Many struggle to know the will of God for their lives. Gerald Sittser learned to discern God's will in fresh though sometimes extremely difficult ways as a result of a defining moment that struck him a decade ago.
A drunken driver crashed into the minivan in which he and his family were riding. His wife Lynda, four-year-old daughter Diana Jane and mother Grace were killed. His children John, Catherine, David and the author survived.
But the tragedy thrust him into a lengthy period of confusion and forced him to struggle with some basic questions about why God would have allowed this to happen.
"I could not believe that God had suddenly changed his mind about what he willed for us," said Sittser. "The accident forced me to reconsider my assumptions about God's will. Did God plan only 'the good life' for me?"
At first he could not think about it in rational terms and spent many months in a fog; groggy with pain. He started reading the Bible, gradually gaining new awareness. He introduced the story of his experience in a previous book A Grace Disguised (1996).
Now, Sittser expands on some insights developed earlier, providing a larger context and fuller perspective; not "five easy steps" into living God's will.
God is in control, he says. God has a plan for our lives. We discover that plan as we put God first; seeking and making choices to do God's will in the present. Life will gradually unfold; we will know what we need to do and can look back in retrospect to see God's pattern through it all.
No matter what happens to us, we need to view our stories as part of God's larger, redemptive story. "Success" should never be the criteria for determining a decision is the will of God. Both success and failure are often misleading, since what appears to be success one moment can be a failure in another; and vice versa.
The author investigates a range of issues such as a Christian's calling and motivation. He liberally salts his material with narratives and references from Sacred Scripture as well as from history and modern life.
His children, with whom he has grown into the role of father, play an important part. Sittser has been learning to blend a career as an ordained minister and college professor with single parenthood.
This book is well written and provides help to a range of readers of all ages. His insights are as valuable for young people starting out as they are for those in the midst of life's responsibilities and those in the later years of integration and assessment. Persons of many Christian perspectives, liberal and conservative, Catholic and Protestant, will gain much.
Not every reader may claim so strong a conviction that God is in control and that in the end "all will be well." The author mines deeply from his own Calvinist tradition but looks to other Christian sources for powerful and sustaining resource as well.
Sittser's conclusion is both reassuring and hopeful for those attempting to put first God's reign and righteousness. We never know how things will work out, he says. But we know that God will work them out.
(Rev. Dr. Wayne A. Holst is an instructor in religion and culture at the University of Calgary.)