Reaching for the Invisible God: What Can We Expect to Find?

Reaching for the Invisible God: What Can We Expect to Find?

by Philip Yancey


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"How do I relate to a God who is invisible when I’m never quite sure he’s there?" —Philip Yancey Life with God doesn’t always work out like you think it should. High expectations slam against the reality of personal weaknesses and unwelcome surprises. And the God who, you’ve been told, wants a personal relationship with you may seem remote, emotionally unavailable.Is God playing games? What can you count on this God for? How can you know God? This relationship with a God you can’t see, hear, or touch—how does it really work? Reaching for the Invisible God offers deep, satisfying insights to the questions you are sometimes afraid to ask.Honest and deeply personal, here is straight talk on Christian living for the reader who wants more than pat answers to life’s imponderables. Ultimately, Yancey shifts the focus from your questions to the One who offers himself in answer. “A brilliant book. It is both profound and simple, the best blend, in my view. Simple is neither shallow, nor simplistic. The sections on doubt and God’s ‘absence’ are classics.”—Rick Warren, pastor and author, The Purpose Driven Life

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780310247302
Publisher: Zondervan
Publication date: 02/18/2002
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 356,433
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.75(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Philip Yancey serves as editor-at-large for Christianity Today magazine. He has written thirteen Gold Medallion Award-winning books and won two ECPA Book of the Year awards for What's So Amazing About Grace? and The Jesus I Never Knew. Four of his books have sold over one million copies. Yancey lives with his wife in Colorado. Learn more at

Read an Excerpt

Born Again BreechOh God, I —don't love you, I —don't even want to love you, but I want to want to love you! Teresa of Avila One year my wife and I visited Peru, the country where Janet spent her childhood. We traveled to Cuzco and Machu Picchu to view relics of the grand Incan civilization that achieved so much without the benefit of an alphabet or knowledge of the wheel. On a grassy plateau outside Cuzco we stood next to a wall formed of towering gray stones that weighed as much as seventeen tons each. "The stones you see were cut by hand and assembled in the wall without mortar—so precisely that you cannot insert a sheet of paper between them," our Peruvian guide boasted. "Not even modern lasers can cut so accurately. No one knows how the Incas did it. Which of course is why Erich von Daniken suggests in the book Chariots of the Gods that an advanced civilization from outer space must have visited the Incas." Someone in our group asked about the engineering involved in transporting those massive stones over mountainous terrain without the use of wheels. The Incas left no written records, which prompts many such questions. Our guide stroked his chin thoughtfully and then leaned forward as if to divulge a major secret. "Well, it's like this . . ." The group grew quiet. Pronouncing each word with care, he said, "We know the tools . . . but we —don't know the instruments." A look of satisfaction crossed his sunburned face. As we all stared at him blankly, waiting for more, the guide turned and resumed the tour. For him this cryptic answer had solved the puzzle. Over the next few days, in response to other questions he repeated the phrase, which held some significance for him that eluded the rest of us. After we left Cuzco, it became a standing joke in our group. Whenever someone would ask, say, if it might rain that afternoon, another would reply in a Spanish accent, "Well . . . we know the tools, but we —don't know the instruments." That enigmatic phrase came to mind recently when I attended a reunion with several classmates from a Christian college. Though we had not seen each other for twenty years, we quickly moved past chitchat toward a deeper level of intimacy. All of us had struggled with faith, yet still gladly identified ourselves as Christians. All of us had known pain. We updated each other, telling first of children, careers, geographical moves, and graduate degrees. Then conversation turned darker: parents with Alzheimer's disease, divorced classmates, chronic illnesses, moral failures, children molested by church staff. In the end we concluded that God is far more central to our lives now than during our college days. But as we recalled some of the language used to describe spiritual experience then, it seemed almost unintelligible. In theology classes twenty-five years before, we had studied Spirit-filled living, sin and the carnal nature, sanctification, the abundant life. None of these doctrines, however, had worked out in the way we anticipated. To explain a life of spiritual ecstasy to a person who spends all day taking care of a cranky, bedwetting Alzheimer's parent is like explaining Inca ruins by saying, "We know the tools, but we —don't know the instruments." The language simply —doesn't convey the meaning. Words used in church tend to confuse —people. The pastor proclaims that "Christ himself lives in you" and "we are more than conquerors," and although these words may stir up a wistful sense of longing, for many —people they hardly apply to day-to-day experience. A sex addict hears them, prays for deliverance, and that night gives in yet again to an unsolicited message in his e-mail folder from someone named Candy or Heather who promises to fulfill his hottest fantasies. A woman sitting on the same pew thinks of her teenage son confined to a halfway house because of his drug abuse. She did the best she could as a parent, but God has not answered her prayers. Does God love her son less than she does? Many others no longer make it to church, including some three million Americans who identify themselves as evangelical Christians yet never attend church. Perhaps they flamed briefly, in an InterVarsity or Campus Crusade group in college, then faded away and never reignited. As one of John Updike's characters remarked in A Month of Sundays, "I have no faith. Or, rather, I have faith but it —doesn't seem to apply." I listen to such —people and receive letters from many more. They tell me the spiritual life did not make a lasting difference for them. What they experienced in person seemed of a different order than what they heard described so confidently from the pulpit. To my surprise, many do not blame the church or other Christians. They blame themselves. Consider this letter from a man in Iowa: I know there is a God: I believe He exists, I just —don't know what to believe of Him. What do I expect from this God? Does He intervene upon request (often/seldom), or am I to accept His Son's sacrifice for my sins, count myself lucky and let the relationship go at that? I accept that I'm an immature believer: that my expectations of God are obviously not realistic. I guess —I've been disappointed enough times that I simply pray for less and less in order not to be disappointed over and over. What is a relationship with God supposed to look like anyway? What should we expect from a God who says we are His friends? That baffling question of relationship keeps cropping up in the letters. How do you sustain a relationship with a being so different from any other, imperceptible by the five senses? I hear from an inordinate number of —people struggling with these questions—their letters prompted, I suppose, by books —I've written with titles like Where Is God When It Hurts? and Disappointment with God.

Table of Contents

Part 1Thirst: Our Longing for God11
1.Born Again Breech13
2.Thirsting at the Fountainside25
Part 2Faith: When God Seems Absent, Indifferent, or Even Hostile35
3.Room for Doubt37
4.Faith Under Fire51
5.Two-Handed Faith63
6.Living in Faith73
7.Mastery of the Ordinary85
Part 3God: Contact with the Invisible97
8.Knowing God, or Anyone Else99
9.Personality Profile113
10.In the Name of the Father123
11.Rosetta Stone135
12.The Go-Between147
Part 4Union: A Partnership of Unequals159
14.Out of Control173
15.Passion and the Desert185
16.Spiritual Amnesia197
Part 5Growth: Stages Along the Way209
Part 6Restoration: The Relationship's End247
20.Paradise Lost249
21.God's Irony259
22.An Arranged Marriage269
23.The Fruit of Friday's Toil279


Author Essay
A Personal Relationship with God
You need only travel overseas or read a little church history to realize just how unique is the typical American approach to faith. Millions of Christians around the world -- Egyptian Copts or Russian Orthodox, for example -- attend worship services conducted in a language they neither speak nor understand. Others feel more comfortable approaching God through intermediaries, such as icons or saints. Many American Christians, however, make the bold promise that we need not learn a sacred language or rely on a priest or intermediary. We can approach God directly and have a "personal relationship with God," in much the same way that we relate to other human beings.

And there lies the rub. No matter how many choruses we sing about seeing God and touching God, or how many hymns we sing about walking with God in a garden, eventually we realize with a start that relating to an invisible God involves important differences from relating to other humans.

I joke that I have spent much of my life "in recovery" from the churches I grew up in. I learned fairly early to discard the legalism, the spiteful spirit, and the blatant racism of those churches. Ever since, I have sought, as a writer and as a Christian, to find a faith that fits me comfortably, like a well-tailored suit of clothes.

Years ago, I wrote a book called Disappointment with God, exploring misconceptions people have about what to expect from God. In the back of my mind, though, I've always known that someday I would have to answer that question in a positive sense. What can we expect from God? What degree of intimacy? What answered prayers? What, if any, special privileges does God grant his followers? What does life with God look like?

I am not the first to wrestle with these matters, of course. In writing this book I interviewed Christians both ordinary and renowned. I read from mystics who spent their entire lives in pursuit of God. I learned startling things about life with God, things no one had warned me about. I also learned that local churches do not always offer a safe place for struggle and doubt. Many Christians attend church, look around them, and conclude, "Everybody here seems to get it but me." I've heard from so many of those Christians, in fact, that I'm beginning to wonder who really does "get it!"

At the heart of this book you can find the question, "How can we have a relationship with a God who is invisible, when we're never quite sure He is there?" I think that question, in some form, must occur to every spiritual seeker. I have no special authority in attempting an answer to the question -- only the authority of a pilgrim who has thought long and hard about these matters. I make no grand promises, only the small promise of honesty: that I will describe the Christian life as I actually experience it, and believe it to be lived.

--Philip Yancey

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Reaching for the Invisible God: What Can We Expect to Find? 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have never considered myself a person of great faith. I've struggled with guilt and frustration over my inability to 'know' the things about God that my peers claim to 'know'. Yancey's book helped redeem the years of seeking and struggling to believe. It is a book filled with hope and insight that has utterly changed the way I understand faith, doubt and my relationship with God.
stephendr on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was very disappointed by this book. For the countless believers who long to know the invisible God this book offers little help. The invisible God that Yancey writes about is not so 'unknowable'. For believers who long for intimacy with God and who like Moses yearn for more of His glory I recommend "Revival" by Lloyd-Jones, "Holiness" by J.C. Ryle, "Why Revival Tarries" by Ravenhill or anything by A.W. Tozer.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago