People of the Books: Faith at the Edge by Robert N. Wennberg

I’ve actually had this book around for a while—I used part of it in teaching a class at church on doubt within the faith tradition back in October.  Then I went back and re-read it, because Lord knows you don’t really get into a text when you teach it the way you do when you’re reading it.  Not to mention that that class was wicked hard for me because I was hardcore in the middle of doubt while teaching about it, and that’s just spiritually rough.

Faith at the Edge:  A Book for Doubters is a pretty short text, which is nice, and it doesn’t hammer its point, which is also nice.  Wennberg is very clear that this is a book for those who are doubting within the faith; he’s not writing to those who are skeptical about the whole thing, because that’s a different kind of conversation.  He’s actually very clear about most of the parameters within which he’s working, which the academic part of me appreciates.  The thing about this is that it’s not about assuaging doubt or telling you that you shouldn’t have doubt—it’s about building the reassurance that you’re neither the first nor the last to doubt faith and examining what that doubt is actually doing within your faith.

Wennberg’s book isn’t the best thing since sliced bread, for sure, but it does act as a fantastic starting point for deeper conversations and understandings.  He points you to the darkness within Mother Teresa, to the brilliance and lostness of St. John of the Cross, and to the heart of G.K. Chesterton (one of Wennberg’s literary heroes).  This is a good starting place, because whatever it doesn’t get into (which is a lot) it at least has signposts for.  This is, after all, a collection of thoughts, not a book of answers.

Some of the things Wennberg does tackle are things like doubt not being unbelief but uncertainty, which is somehow “better.”  I’m not a fan of his use of “wrong” and “right” around the types of doubt, but I get where he’s coming from—believers are totally allowed the moments when they yell at God for the fact that it seems like He’s checked out, but that’s not the same as actually not believing He’s there.  In fact, being angry kind of proves you believe, because you can’t really be pissed at a Being you’re convinced doesn’t exist.

This is good, for me, good to know—not only that I’m in damn good company about the moments when I don’t remember why I’m serving a God Who seems to be on vacation most of the time, but also that there’s an understanding behind that.  What Wennberg gets at without ever really saying it is the nature of being in relationship with this God, this crazily un-understandable Deity.  And relationships are hard, and they don’t always go the way we want them to, and that’s true.  Sometimes we have to re-evaluate what we’re doing with the relationship; what we want from God is perhaps out of whack, or what we think God expects of us isn’t in line with what God actually expects.  It doesn’t say anything about the worth or value of the relationship, other than that it’s true—unfortunate, to be sure, but imperfect beings being besties with a perfect Ultimate isn’t really going to be smooth sailing.  So we have the dark times, and the growth times, and underneath all of that we are reminded that God doesn’t every actually leave.

This is very, very, very good to know.

And yet, sometimes that still isn’t enough, because being there without doing anything or responding can be just as bad as not being there.  But books like this are there to say, well, “don’t give up” (something that makes me chuckle because “You Are Loved [Don’t Give Up]” by Josh Groban is ending literally as I type this).  The relationship continues, and you find new ways to find God—even Mother Teresa, who felt for much of her life that God had abandoned her, sought Him in new ways.

The “Questions for Reflection” at the ends of the chapters aren’t terribly helpful, as they’re very basic and kind of silly in a way, but I’m not usually one for built-in study questions.

I’m sorry that’s kind of scattered for my usual standard of reviews—it’s been a while, and it’s the end of Dead Week (last week of classes), and I graduate in eight days.  Holy.  Crow.  But things are moving on apace, and God is showing up in all the places I never thought I’d see Him, and that’s frustrating as hell, really, but phenomenal all the same.  Hang in there with me, Reader, and we’ll figure this out.  Maybe.

Rating:  3.5/5 stars  

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2 thoughts on “People of the Books: Faith at the Edge by Robert N. Wennberg

  1. You graduate in 8 days? Wow, I’ve really lost track of time. I wish you the very best as you navigate through the whirlwind.

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    • I know, right? It still doesn’t seem like anything big—I keep getting caught off-guard by the fact that it’s happening, like, for realz.
      You have been rather caught in your own stuff lately, so I’m not surprised. Good luck with all of that, and I hope to see you again eventually!

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