We had another English book club today. It's been interesting and frustrating to read The Heavenly Man with people from my church. At the beginning, the book causes a big explosion. There are two non-Christians in the group, and all the others are church members. One of the non-Christians went on a rant about how he didn't want to read a book that was just full of miracles. A church member went on a long processing train of thought about how this book was like reading the Bible and he couldn't figure out why the Chinese people became Christian. Multiple people were confused about why the main character became Christian (his father had cancer and was cured overnight when prayed for...the whole family followed Jesus from then on).
The way people respond to miracles often confuses me. When I read about miracles...real miracles, mind you...those things that are inexplicable aside from God existing...they make me starving to see Him in real life. Reading about them always makes me go slightly crazy...that is, I end up in my room in tears begging Him not to hide from me and not to keep His face turned from the places I live. I watch many people (Christian and non), however, hear about miracles, shake their heads, and say "I can't believe that." To me, when I read these stories, I think not believing them requires a greater leap of faith, and a much more detailed argument, than believing them. The number of things that would have to be true for this story to be anything other than God touching China with a magnificent show of power is unbelievable to me.
Anyway...we had another meeting today. I really appreciated the church member who is leading the club because he has put a tremendous amount of work into getting us maps and putting together time lines and looking up Bible verses to go along with the story. It definitely adds to the story when you see where some of the places are, and just how far they were willing to walk to carry the gospel.
What I have realized, though, is how much suffering can steal our eyes away from God in the times when He is often most visible. Today, they decided that we will read chapter eight next month, and after that we will probably skip to chapter 22 because everything in between those two chapters is pretty much "just persecutions", the leader claimed. I was not sure how to respond.
Partially, I am a little relieved. I know that this book has stirred up some of the thoughts that needed to be stirred up, and I'm not sure the church members need to read it for the next year and a half, which is about how long they would be reading it at the rate they're going. They've purchased the book, so if there are people who God is nudging to see a bigger picture of Him, they can always read it on their own.
But it brings up an interesting point to me...the sufferings that Yun goes through are horrible. But they are not the whole story, or even close to the whole story. They are going to miss stories of unbelievable transformation within prison walls...of a complete fast that lasted longer than 40 days...they'll miss Yun learning about his service to the Lord becoming an idol and how he brought his focus back...they'll miss efforts to unify the house churches in China...they'll miss seeing the amazing good things that happen because Yun stands up for the truth boldly, and the way God cares for him constantly while he is inside prison walls...and stories of God warning Yun ahead of time about what will happen through visions so that he is prepared and can continue to honor God through everything that happens to him.
But hearing from the people who have read the whole book, it's almost like they didn't see any of this stuff anyway...my non-Christian student who attends this book club described the book after she finished reading it as "a book where the man suffers through the entire thing." She made it sound like every page was nothing other than reading about a man in agony.
Perceptions are interesting things...it's interesting to me that, in a book where I see God's power overcoming in the most dramatic, awesome ways possible, others see nothing more than a man tortured around every turn.
It's something I experienced myself, especially with the prophetic books of the Bible. I remember reading Amos for the first time as a college student and feeling physically sick. When I read Amos, all I saw was God's anger, God's threats of violence, people being killed. It took until the fourth time reading it (in the course of a week...it was for class) to see the verses "They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals. They trample on the heads of the poor as upon the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed." (2:6-7). That was all I needed...my view of God at that time involved a God who mostly cared for the poor, homeless, etc., and seeing that the reason he was angry was because serious, serious injustice was happening was my gateway into being able to see Him in those books...but I had to have that opening first. That one view of His goodness in the middle of verses like "For three sins of Israel, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath" (which caused my stomach to ache) was all it took to begin the journey of seeing Him other places in the prophetic books.
I wonder what the opening would be for these church members. I wish I could help them see God and be inspired by this story.