When I first read last week of Jim Andrew’s book Polishing God’s Monuments via Tim Challies’ review, I decided to be spontaneous and order it immediately. After all, it’s not every day that an uber-prolific Christian blogger and book reviewer says of a book something of this sort:
As I closed the cover on this book, 294 pages (yet only one day) after beginning, it struck me that this is undoubtedly one of the best books I’ve read so far this year. I skimmed back through my files to see how many other books I’ve read in 2007 and can see that it is at least sixty or seventy. So it’s no small thing to realize that this is one of the best. I simply can’t recommend Polishing God’s Monuments too highly.
I received the book yesterday in the mail.
Now, twenty-four hours later (and the same 294 pages), I can say with Tim Challies that this is indeed one of the best books I’ve read ever.
At the risk of redundancy (having linked to Tim’s very thorough review above), let me offer a few reflections in the hopes of persuading you to purchase this soul-strengthening and riveting book.
Polishing God’s Monuments is both a biographical narrative and a Biblical treatise on suffering. I’d previously suggested to friends that D.A. Carson’s How Long, O Lord?: Reflections on Suffering and Evil was the best book I’d ever read on the subject of suffering. Without necessarily comparing the two, I’d say that Polishing God’s Monuments has an authenticity and element that makes it stand out. How so? The book seeks to present a “strategy” for coping with the suffering that is inevitable in this life for all of us who live in this sin-stained world. The title hints at what pastor and former seminary professor Jim Andrews refers to as “monumental faith,” which, in short, is learning to make it a point to hold onto past evidences of God’s faithfulness in order to endure present (and ongoing) trials. He develops this idea in the context of the last two decades of his life, during which his daughter and son-in-law have undergone unbelievable and agonizing ongoing, chronic, and debilitating medical problems — which have taken no small toll on their respective parents — and somehow (by God’s grace) survived with their faith intact, even though their health challenges very much remain.
I don’t want to say too much more about the narrative, at the risk of taking away the full impact of the book. I will say that Andrews provides a very heartfelt and accessible presentation of Biblical evidence for reasons to trust in God’s sovereignty and goodness, and ways that we can in our weak sin-laden flesh learn to cling to those truths no matter how severe or light our afflictions may be. He is neither overly “academic” in his presentation, nor hopelessly colloquial that the reader would fail to see the strong Biblical underpinnings of his exhortation to live a “monumental faith.” (He even addresses the horridly sad implications of recent trends above evangelicals to accept the unhelpful theology of “open theism” with respect to enduring true suffering).
Probably the most succinct praise I could offer of this book is that it manages to combine solid Biblical & theological reflection on how to endure suffering with engaging storyline of real-life struggles with suffering, all in a very readable and understandable fashion. Andrews manages to thread that difficult path of showing us how our “creeds” can and do truly affect our deeds, and not merely describe one without addressing the other.
As he opens the book, Andrews mentions that he especially has in mind readers who are enduring suffering. But he continues later on to remind us that sufferings and trials are supposed to be normal for the Christian. He helpfully argues that if we think otherwise (especially in our very comfortable American modern civilization) we are not only deceived and out of sorts with the words of Jesus, but we will be very ill-prepared for the sufferings that will come our way. After reading the book, I was deeply impressed by the importance of not living for comfort, but for eternity. And how easily the former will distract us from the latter. As Andrews suggested, Christians are saved not to seek mere comfort, but to seek conformity to Christ; and it’s primarily through trials that we grow stronger in this direction.
As I made my way through this book, I thought of dear friends who have endured chronic diseases over the past several years, and have an inclination to purchase extra copies to gift to them. Not so much, in their cases, because I think they haven’t demonstrated faithfulness. But as a marker to thank them for the testimony they have been to me of trusting God amidst suffering and pain, in the hopes of bringing them encouragement. I thank God for this sobering yet hope-filled book, for it did not only present a story of suffering, but a firm and strong reminder of God’s sovereign and gracious workings amidst all of our sufferings.
In short, buy this book. Read this book. Be helped, be encouraged, be prepared.