Several months ago, friends told me the book had made a great impression on them, and I can see why. They left the details of the story for me to find out for myself and last week I finished reading this popular Christian novel. It offers an interesting behind-the-scenes perspective on how God works through the suffering experiences of His children. The father of an abducted and murdered little girl is mysteriously invited back to the scene of the crime by Papa who turns out to be God. As he is about to leave this horrific place after being there just a short time, the scene is transformed into a setting in which the members of the Trinity are present and busy doing their work. The author tries to offer insight on how the members of the Holy Trinity minister abundant grace to a person who has been numbed by such a tragedy.
One has to admire the author’s attempt to describe what he thinks may happen between the Persons of the Trinity in relation to someone who is touched by pain and evil. It reminds me of C.S. Lewis’ effort to give us some insight into the activity of Satan and his demons in relation to human lives through Screwtape Letters. However, Young goes further, I think, in seeking to comprehend God’s activities. By giving God a rather graphic human face by this means, he has attempted to remove some of the mystery of pain and suffering in our lives. And to the author’s credit, he tries to do this in a way that is consistent with principles of God’s love and grace as revealed in the Scriptures — with some exceptions. Perhaps the most daring exception is to represent God as a woman — to the bereaved in this case (because of the poor experience he had of an earthly father). Further, God (or Papa) is usually busy in the kitchen, Jesus in a carpenter’s work shop, and the Holy Spirit in a garden. The author has a fine imagination, but these images, one would have to acknowledge, are rather limiting views of God.
On the other hand, the writer does represent God accurately as Trinity and as communicating the key to overcoming the pain of suffering in our lives. The Gospel is fairly and substantially presented and the need to trust the all-sufficiency of Christ for our lives also is well-supported in the story.
But overall, I found the story-line quite unrealistic in many ways (not even including the heavenly scenes) and a bit too anxious to teach and explain too much. Readers will be impressed by what may be considered the fantasy of it all and take comfort in the ways in which God’s love and grace is so beautifully portrayed. But readers should also be careful not to forfeit what God has obviously left as unresolved mystery until we actually reach heaven’s gates.
The main strength of the book is that it supports the truth that God is mightily and compassionately at work through the difficult things that happen and that there is a grand purpose to all the perplexities and difficulties of our lives. Moreover, God can be trusted absolutely to make it all turn out for good just a He promised (Romans 8:28).