A Theology With Skin and Bones: A Review of Relentless Hope by Beth Guckenberger

I believe in the sovereignty of God and the truth of Romans 8:28, and yet I know how trite it feels to communicate these Biblical realities to those in suffering. Why is that? I think, from my own personal perspective, it is because so many times Christians have turned these concepts into simply abstract theological statements and we have not sought to apply them to concrete pain in real people. We insensitively throw the phrases around as if they somehow make all grief and suffering vanish. It’s a problem that I think span the theological world, and my theological world in particular. A couple of weeks ago I received a book in the mail which is aimed at correcting this particular problem and it does so with powerful, beautiful, and messy stories from real people.

Beth Guckenberger’s book Relentless Hope: Extracting the Precious from the Worthless is not typically the kind of book I read. You might classify it more as inspirational than theological but that distinction may be unfair, for the book is rooted in a deep theology even if it doesn’t surface on every page in the most fully developed or articulated way. Guckenberger assumes that the God of Scripture is indeed in every event in our lives, working, moving, and transforming us. He is the God who is pulling out the precious from the worthless events in our lives and challenging us to do the same. It’s a testimony to God’s sovereignty and grace in our deepest struggles, and it is beautiful and gritty. The subtitle of the book comes from Jeremiah 15:15-21 where God calls the prophet to extract precious things from worthless experiences, it’s a call that Guckenberger wants us all to answer and so she presents us with examples of people who have and are striving to do just that.

The stories are deeply moving and beautiful: a daughter watching her father die of cancer; a mother watching her son destroy his life with drugs; a young lady escaping lesbianism; a family who lost their baby after months of fighting. The stories don’t all have traditional happy endings and yet each storyteller is able to see good that God has done in them, for them, and through them. Guckenberger states that she started this project because she wanted to learn how to see the good that God was doing through trials in her own life.

There are far more sticky situations in my day than miraculous moments. I want to hear and see and experience challenges and difficulties and setbacks and not immediately look down or focus on the missed shot, but train my eyes to extract the precious (15).

It seems that she may know something already of how to do this. Guckenberger and her husband head up Back2Back, an orphan care and child development ministry in Monterrey, Mexico. In this book she shares with us not principles, there are far too many books rooted in principles, but rather she shares practical theology. Here is what it looks like to live Romans 8:28 and to believe even in pain that God is good and He is working for our good. She balances nicely between proof texting everything in the book with some reference to obscure texts of Scripture and not including any Scripture. She makes us see clearly that this concept is rooted in Scripture. One might be able to nitpick about interpretations and applications of Scripture here or there, but this is just the kind of book I need to read to balance my abstract mind with real life application.

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