Our 2019 Children’s Books of the Year stand out from an increasingly troubling crowd
Many Christian authors have produced tear-jerking books centered on a child’s death or a friend’s demise. It is good and right to cry about death stalking those we love—Jesus wept and thus gave all of us permission to weep—but manipulating emotion to gain more clicks or sell more books seems not only unseemly but sub-Christian.
That backstory is why Cameron Cole’s cry from the heart and mind is our Accessible Theology Book of the Year. Therefore I Have Hope (Crossway) can benefit both sufferers and their friends who want to help. Not settling for bathos, Cole steps through the Bible honestly in pursuit of—as the subtitle says—12 Truths That Comfort, Sustain, & Redeem in Tragedy.
Cole’s first truth in surviving the worst fear of many parents—that a child will die—is essentially what good journalists learn: stay low on the ladder of abstraction. Instead of agonizing about how to survive the next 20 years, remember: “I am only called to today. God has given me grace for today, not for tomorrow. Stay focused on the present.”
‘If God is not fully sovereign in your suffering, then you cannot trust that he is fully in control of your healing and recovery. If God’s hands are tied when the Worst enters your life, then maybe his powers are also limited in helping you.’ —Cameron Cole
The center of the book physically and spiritually is Cole’s sixth truth: God’s providence. Cole relays a story about a woman lamenting her son’s death in a car accident: “Why did God do this to me?” A well-intentioned hospital chaplain replies, “Ma’am, God didn’t have anything to do with your son’s death.” The woman snaps back, “Don’t you take away the only hope that I have.”
Cole writes, “Behind the grieving mother’s remark lies the hope that the sovereignty of God enables. If God is not fully sovereign in your suffering, then you cannot trust that he is fully in control of your healing and recovery. If God’s hands are tied when the Worst enters your life, then maybe his powers are also limited in helping you.”
Cole then gets personal: “The idea that God had nothing to do with my son’s death terrifies me. … For all of these years I would have falsely believed in a universe with higher order and purpose. … If God had nothing to do with my son’s death, then certain pockets of life—the really awful ones in particular—are given over to chaos.”
Cole acknowledges that “the matter of God’s sovereignty and goodness invokes tension.” He (and I) knows only one way to reconcile the two: the cross. If Jesus’ suffering was part of God’s goodness, in some hard-to-fathom way ours can be too. As illogical as that seems to atheists, they have failed for 2,000 years to come up with anything better even in their own eyes: In their blindness they say light does not exist.
What do we say? In his chapter titled “Doubt” that examines the very ancient book of Job, Cole shows that Job’s sin was not doubt but overconfidence. Job presumed to know what God was doing, unlike Habakkuk, who admitted his fogginess. We can speculate on why some big events and small events happen, but all we can know is that God is good and His character does not change.
No, we can know one thing more: That we are sinful. Cole writes, “When I found myself becoming angry and entitled, I would write down the twenty worst things that I had ever done or thought in my life. … Knowing that God completely accepted me through Christ enabled me to lay all my dark deeds on the table.” What a merciful God we have!
Spoiler alert: Cole told himself not to yearn for happy endings, and Therefore I Have Hope doesn’t offer one—but that doesn’t mean life after tragedy is unrelenting sadness. Cole ends the book on this note: “On November 13, 2013, we had buried our precious son, Cam. On November 13, 2014, … God brought new life into our family. God is real. God is good. Christ reigns forever.” And that’s true even when there aren’t such bittersweet anniversaries.
(Please read our short list for Books of the Year in Accessible Theology.)