Book Review: “The Insanity of God”

Book Review:  The Insanity of God: A True Story of Faith Resurrected by Nik Ripken with Gregg Lewis.

Let me get a couple of beefs out of the way to begin with. This is an outstanding book (see below), even though the title doesn’t fit and seems wrong.

The choice of title often a publisher’s call to make, rather than the author’s, and I have a theory about that, which you’ll see in a moment. There was nothing in here of faith dying, so the “faith resurrected” theme makes little sense. The author’s faith certainly came under intense pressure, but it didn’t go away.

As for “The Insanity of God,” that’s the provocative kind of cover message that the reader rightfully expects to be explained in the book. Now, there are many difficult things in it, many miraculous things, many unexpected things to be found in this book. But insanity of God? I don’t think it will spoil anything for you if I quote the only place that idea is articulated inside the book, in the very last words on the last page:

Begin a spiritual journey of your own. Discover for yourself the incredible peace and power that you too can experience when you live by faith resurrected. It will change your life and turn your world upside down.

I know this all sounds crazy. But I assure you that it’s not.

It’s just . . .

THE INSANITY OF GOD

(All caps in the original.) That came totally out of the blue.

There were distantly related reference to “the seemingly insane teaching of Jesus who had instructed His followers to ‘love your enemies,'” and to the seemingly insane idea of being sent out as sheep among wolves. But these were hardly prominent  enough (especially among the other very negative usages of “insane”) or closely connected enough to the title to explain or justify it, in my view.

I’m suspicious that the publisher wanted a title that would grab attention, and the author or some editor appended this last bit on here to justify the title they chose. I don’t like it.

An Outstanding Book Nonetheless

But enough of that. I’m not happy with the cover or the last few paragraphs. Everywhere else, I loved this book. The story is continually absorbing. The message is deeply challenging.

“Nik Ripken” is a pseudonym the author adopted to protect the identity of the real-life individuals described in the book. A rural Kentuckian, he took great personal risks to become a pioneer in leading relief efforts into Somalia before and during the “Blackhawk Down” days. It was a time of intense physical need for the Somalis, and of great danger for any person living or traveling there. Chapter One is aptly titled “Descent Into Hell.”

His family stayed in Kenya during his many extended trips into Somalia, supporting him in prayer and administration; but the death of a son in in Nairobi, and of his mother-in-law at home, led them to return home to the U.S. for spiritual recovery (the point at which his faith was most severely challenged). Thus ends the first gripping portion of the book.

They had little spiritual fruit to show for their years of work in Somalia, but God had been preparing them to study and to understand spiritual persecution. Nik undertook a worldwide research project on the oppression of Christians, which comprises the rest of the book. Where the Somali story had been one of much danger to him and little spiritual fruit, the stories he uncovered elsewhere in the world revealed much spiritual growth coming out of much danger, imprisonment, and death among believers under persecution.

It is unlike anything we in the West can imagine, but for them it is simply normal Christianity. In the former Soviet Union, Ripken asked believers why they did not share their stories of faith under fire with the rest of the world. One of them took him to an eastward-facing window and asked him, “Do you tell stories of how the sun comes up every morning?”

He learned in China that the standard three-year prison term for religious activities was considered on a par with seminary: it was the place where one learned to minister, and it was widely expected to be part of a pastor’s preparation. Still, when Chinese house church leaders found out about the persecution in two large Islamic countries, they vowed to get up an hour earlier each morning to pray for their brothers and sisters there.

Ripken set out on these travels with a defined research program in mind, but discovered along the way that it was the believers’ stories that mattered most. They were also what affected me most in this book. God’s persecuted people know something about him that we in the West do not. Their trust shines through — and frequently their joy as well.

I close with the portion of the book following the episode of the “sun coming up in the east.”

I was with yet another group of believers listening to their stories of prison, persecution, and God’s provision for His people. Once again I was struck by the power of the testimonies and stories that I was hearing. As we came to the end of our time together, I asked, “I just don’t understand why you haven’t collected these stories in a book? Believers around the world ought to hear what you have been telling me here today. Your stories are amazing! These are inspiring testimonies! I have never heard anything like them!”

An older pastor reached out and took my shoulder. He clamped his other hand tightly onto my arm, and looked me right in the eye. He said, “Son, when did you stop reading your Bible? . . . If you would just read the Bible, you would see that our stories are there.”

We paused and then he asked me again, “When did you stop reading your Bible?”

But reading contemporary Christians’ hope, trust, and joy under deep oppression is encouraging nonetheless.

Christianity in the West knows nothing of persecution like these believers know. We are just barely coming to grips with the faith’s recently accelerating. decrease in popularity. Someday a book like this might instruct us in dealing with real pressure. For now, it provides a much-needed perspective for us as we pray for our brothers and sisters around the world, and as we deal with whatever challenges we may face.

So I suggest you ignore the cover and skip the last half-page or so if you wish. The rest of the book is valuable reading.