Andrews, James. Polishing God’s Monuments: Pillars of Hope for Punishing Times. Wapwallopen, PA: Shepherd Press, 2007. Paperback, 286 pages. $14.95
(Review copy courtesy of Shepherd Press.)
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For detailed information about the medical conditions mentioned in this review, we refer you to www.webmd.com.
As a pastor, I am very careful about recommending books to my church congregation. Usually, when I do, there is some sort of disclaimer given with the recommendation. I can count on both hands the number of books I can endorse without reservation for their biblical accuracy, faithfulness to scriptural principles, or encouragement in Christian growth. Jim Andrews, a fellow pastor, has added another book to my conspicuously short list of must-reads.
Polishing God’s Monuments is not only a pastor’s but also a Christian’s dream come true in dealing with the difficult area of suffering and the will of God. Andrews writes from the perspective of one who has endured hardship and pain in his family over a lengthy period of time.
From the get-go Andrews captures the attention of his readers. His prologue, titled “From the Cradle to the Crucible,” begins like this:
Imagine peering into a kaleidoscope, twisting its barrel round and round, and then being asked to describe clearly and succinctly what you saw. There you have some idea of my sense of inadequacy in attempting to convey a cohesive account of what my daughter and son-in-law have been through for the past twenty years. I feel about the same frustration as a tourist trying to compress his vista of the Grand Canyon into a single snapshot—it won’t come close to doing it justice. (p. 15)
And from there, he takes off. His was a typical Christian family: a husband, a wife, and two daughters. No major problems. Just an average family with a common life. But all that changed in just a moment.
One day during the family’s yearly “trek back to West Virginia to visit family” (p. 18), his ten-year-old daughter, Juli, was riding horseback beside her older sister, their two cousins, and a trail guide in Oglebay Park. After an hour of being away and of both sets of parents enjoying some relaxation, the dreamy day turned into a nightmare. Andrews describes what happened next.
[O]ut of the woods and into the parking lot bolted a big white horse charging at speed, straight for the barn. It was dragging, as though a sack of feed, a limp youngster whose foot was still snagged in the stirrup on our side. Her head and upper torso were bumping along on the ground, plowing through the loose gravel like a speedboat knifing through water. Instantly I recognized that small, dangling body. It was Juli. (pp. 18-19)
She had been dragged about 400 feet over rough, rocky ground. And the only thing Jim could do was run after the horse to try to help his daughter. By doing so, he scared the horse even more, which caused the horse to bolt. The horse’s bolt changed Juli’s position and “somehow pitched her tiny head like a fragile egg underneath one of its back hoofs. Right before my very eyes that hoof clomped down on her diminutive skull” (p. 19). But that act saved her life; the blow threw her body free from the stirrup holding her to the horse. Due to such a horrible incident, Juli suffered brain injuries and spent a lot of time in recovery. But the whole affair caused this ten-year-old to reflect that the Lord “had spared her for some greater purpose than just extending time on her life meter” (p. 22). After her sophomore year at Wheaton College, she traveled to Kenya for the summer to minister to the Meru tribe.
Andrews shares that Juli’s “current doctors all agree that this severe brain trauma is undoubtedly a major player in her ongoing medical problems” (p. 22). Juli began manifesting medical problems and returned from Kenya “mysteriously ill” (p. 28). She battled walking pneumonia during her junior year, but “it wasn’t until the last semester of her senior year that things started to unravel” (p.28). She contracted mononucleosis after participating in a communion service where she used a common cup of grape juice. She and her fiancé, Paul, were married the day after their graduation. Paul was beginning to manifest the symptoms of mono, and Juli was still fighting its effects when they went on a one-month honeymoon to Florida in May of 1988. Instead of returning rested, Juli was still fighting a lack of energy.
To shorten the narrative, I’ll list other things that impacted Paul and Juli’s lives.
- Both were diagnosed as suffering from Chronic Epstein-Barr Virus, now called Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which has no known cure
- Juli was soon after diagnosed with Environmental Illness, now called Multiple Chemical Sensitivities.
These problems may not seem like much from the wording, but they have severely affected the way Paul and Juli live their lives. They live without electrical appliances because the electrical current is thought to cause Juli excruciating pain. Juli reacts violently to common household cleaners, including soap, laundry detergent, and others. They do not use the town water pumped into their home, including the toilet, because of the slightest presence of “safe” chemicals to kill bacteria. Paul does not venture outside without the fear of bringing in the smell of exhaust, perfume, or other airborne chemicals that can be absorbed into the skin and transferred. Juli will not open her Bible because it is believed that the chemicals used to make the paper would cause her nerves to explode in pain as soon as she touched it. On and on it goes. This is the continuing life of Paul and Juli.
Andrews, after each chapter, includes letters that he wrote to his congregation to update them on Juli’s medical state from years five to seventeen of her condition. In these, he bears his soul’s turmoil in seeing his daughter and son-in-law suffer so much. He gives us a glimpse of the agony of pain and the absolute frustration that can come to a family when no one has the power to alleviate the suffering.
The greatest treasure of this book is Jim Andrews’s focus on God and His Word. Each chapter is a small “theological class” devoted to the purpose of suffering. He says, “Never imagine that you are immune to a spiritual knockout” (p. 42), referring to 1 Corinthians 10:12. Throughout the book, he brings the reality home that suffering will happen at some point in our lives and for an unknown length of time.
He defines what he means by “monumental” faith. He states that “this is a faith that has trained itself in the midst of adversity to look back at God’s past demonstrations of his character and confirmations of his promises” (p. 44). From here, he describes what the title Polishing God’s Monuments means.
Whenever we pray, we should polish our personal monuments. Our tender faith often requires shelter. That shelter is the active memory of those demonstrations and confirmations of God’s goodness, wisdom, power, and faithfulness that we have stored up from our past (p. 44)
Whenever the mystery of our present experience of God obliterates any sign on our immediate horizon that God is who He claims to be, we need to hunker down under the umbrella of those trophies in our past. A “monumental” faith enables us to look forward with confidence because it looks backward to the past. It discounts the baffling mysteries of present circumstances because it finds reassurance in God’s historical works, His uncompromising character, and His unchanging promises. Therein is strength and hope for the future.
Here is a description of each chapter:
- Defining “monuments” and the purpose behind suffering
- The example of Hannah’s monumental faith
- The seeming contradiction of suffering and the goodness of God
- A verse-by-verse explanation of Lamentations 3 and lessons Jeremiah learned in suffering
- God’s methods in revealing Himself during suffering
- The reality of the smallest things in life having meaning
- The heresy of open theism
- What to do when the suffering does not stop
- God breaking into our lives, using Moses as an example
Jim Andrews is a man who dishes out a heavy dose of the reality of pain. But in the reality he presents the greater reality of God and His purposes for pain. In an age where so many argue that God wants us to be blessed with health and wealth, Polishing God’s Monuments is an antidote to such teaching. Andrews clearly states that “the abnormal state of Christian existence on this planet is an untroubled life. And, the truth be told, a healthy, vital spiritual life can ill-afford untrammeled peace and prosperity for long. For it is a law of life that all strength is born of resistance, not repose” (p. 276). I have no reservations in recommending this book to be read and reread for spiritual growth and encouragement for those in any type of suffering and for those who seek to counsel those enduring what appears to be impossible to endure.
|Douglas Brown has served as pastor of Madawaska Gospel Church (Madawaska, ME) since October 2001. He served in the United States Air Force (1990-1992) in southern California at George AFB as an aircraft armament systems specialist. Doug graduated with a BA in Pastoral Studies from Bob Jones University (Greenville, SC) in May 2000. Doug and his wife, Sherry, have two daughters, Rebecca (9) and Sarah (6), and a miniature German schnauzer named Buster.|
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