Review: What God Thinks When We Fail: Finding Grace and True Success @ivpress

what does god think

It has been a while since I have a reviewed a book that I read and I really want to do it justice.  So here goes….

David, Jacob, Abraham, Peter, Paul, Elijah.  What do you and I have in common with these “Giants Of Faith” (GOF hereafter)?  We, and they, have failed. Yes, failure is a part of our lives and when it comes to following God, all have failed.  We don’t like to admit that fact, but it is true and it is something that binds us all together.

But the question comes, what does God think when we fail?  Particularly, what does God think of us when we fail?  This is the question tackled in the book What God Thinks When We Fail by Steven C. Roy, IVP Publishers, 2011.

Roy is a professor and former pastor and knows a thing or two about failure.  He opens with his story and then jumps right into the examination of what success and failure are.  In success he asks what constitutes success, especially in God’s eyes.  Telling the stories of GOF, dealing especially with Jacob and Moses, he informs us of what most of us know:  Success to God is following His will and what He wants us to do.  When we do this, we can expect that God is pleased.

Roy moves on to his treatment of failure and how we respond to it.  The majority of the book is dedicated to this and Roy does very well making sure we know failure is inevitable and how we respond is how it defines us.  Within this is wrestling with failure theologically.  Dealing with failure and what God thinks of that is the heart of the book.

If one takes nothing else away from this book, I would say the five Truths of Grace that Roy supplies are alone worth the price of the book.  They are as follows:  1. Not all failures are sinful; 2. All sinful failures are forgiven by God; 3. God is progressively working to transform us and our sinful failures; 4. No failure defines our identity as Christians; and 5. No failure will have the last word in our lives.  Roy provides further insight into each of these truths, but the truths themselves tell us more than most of us are willing to admit.  Too often we let the failure define who we are and not propel us to who we can be.

The final chapter, Helping Others, was to me the most challenging.  It called upon all Christians (pastors, leaders, volunteers) to reach out to those who have failed.  Roy states that often times we hear of failure from a distance (i.e. the pulpit, the Sunday School teacher position), but people need to hear of failure in relationships.  He calls us all to reach out to those whose failures are the result of sin and help bring them back.  The old saying “Hate the sin.  Love the sinner.” is recalled here saying that we are very good at hating the sin and not so good at loving the sinner.  This is a risky position because it can bring accusations of “accommodation”.  But wasn’t Jesus accused of being a sinner?  In helping them deal with failure, Roy says it is hard, it is dirty and it is what God wants from us all.  Because in the end we all fail and are in need of grace.  And when we reach out to each other and to God, we can turn the failure into ultimate success.

This is an excellent book.  At only 160 pages, Roy packs a pretty good punch.  I have struggled with failure recently and this book was extremely helpful in my struggles.  I also needed to read the chapter on helping others as I believe we all need to get our hands dirty and reach down and lift up.  All in all, this is a very good book.  I intend to make some time to read it again.  If you have struggled, or are still struggling, with failure, you owe it to yourself to read this book.

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