Lucado, Max. For These Tough Times: Reaching Toward Heaven for Hope & Healing. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2006.
Brief overview of the book (Theme, Perspective, Approach):
This book discusses a theme highlighted in Reformed theology: the sovereignty of God. The book begins with Scripture (Psa 11:3-4) though verse three “When all that is good falls apart, what can good people do?” (NCV) is more literally “if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (ESV). See the critique. Lucado then uses Joseph, Moses, Daniel, and then Jesus, as exemplary. The theme is that when everything falls apart, God is on His throne. The second chapter has to do with the love of God for us even while we sin (“how does God feel about me when I am a jerk?”, 16) and quotes Romans 8. This chapter focuses on the nativity. The next chapter has to do with Jesus having all authority — while on earth and as the ascended Christ. Then chapter four is the theodicy. And it focuses on Satan and how he is a servant of God (albeit unintentionally). As he says, “The wolf cannot get to the sheep without the permission of the Shepherd, and the Shepherd will only permit the attack if, in the long term, the pain is worth the gain” (44). Forgiveness compared to revenge, how God is the one who should be asking questions and we should be silent (see Job), and life after death for Christians, are themes that round off the book.
Critique (Strengths & Weaknesses):
One can see why Lucado is such a popular writer from this book with his cute little comments and quick comebacks to common objections and cute anecdotal stories and the later chapters have great devotional power. But in many respects the books weaknesses far surpass its strengths. The translation difference mentioned above sets the book off on the wrong foot. It plays into the world’s thinking: I am a good person. When they need to see that they are rotten at the core. Translating with the word righteous changes this because people in the world hesitate to say that they are righteous. My overall complaint with the book is that it is not bold and challenging enough. Yet it avoids the main failure of popular theodicy — it does not try to answer the question but instead simply declares, ‘God is on His throne.’
Even his strengths are weaknesses as the cute little comebacks to straw men can be misleading. For example, on the trinity the straw man asks, “How can God be the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit?” and Lucado replies, “Could it be that heaven has a different set of physics than earth?” (5). This cute comeback to the straw man is worse than misleading on many levels, including the reality that the Triune God created the invisible heavens. He is the Creator. He is not subject to any set of physics He has created. Lucado’s mistake is that he does not take God’s transcendence or immanence far enough.
In sum, Lucado looks at a distinctively Reformed theme (the sovereignty of God) but does not approach apologetics in a Reformed fashion and therefore fails to offer comfort and answers. That being said, many believers will undoubtedly find this cute little book helpful because they already believe and it reinforces their worldview so long as they do not stop to think about it very long and they should find some of his later chapters fairly helpful from a devotional perspective though he failed to notice that Job’s friends did sit in silence for seven days and seven nights before they began their speeches (Job 2:13).
I have done a lot of funerals this year and this book is fairly helpful as a check to make sure you are not saying something unhelpful to those who grieve. Ironically my most recent funeral sermon building from Job 2:13 was the one that touches on some of the themes of this book most closely. One thing as I was reading this book I came to appreciate more was that I could use more time in silence with the Lord.
Read slowly the phrase “God is for us” [cf. Rom 8:31]. Please pause for a minute before you continue. Read it again, aloud. (My apologies to the person next to you.) God is for us. Repeat the phrase four times, this time emphasizing each word. (Come on, you’re not in that big of a hurry.)
God is for us.
God is for us.
God is for us.
God is for us.
God is for you. (11)
I received this book for free in order to write this review.