God of Surprises (revised)

Hughes, Gerard W.
Darton, Longman & Todd (2008)
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Gerard Hughes is one of the most successful Christian authors of the past quarter century from the Roman Catholic standpoint and you can see why. His writing style is easy, almost conversational, and he tells good stories of others and himself.

As he says in his introduction, this book is not systematic but it does have a core theme. Our life purpose is to search for the treasure hidden in the field (Matthew 13:44) in order to live full and holy lives. We are the field and God is the treasure within us, so we have to survey ourselves (the field) and then select tools and start digging; you get the picture. Like all such metaphors for sustained discussion, it gets strained somewhat and ultimately you wonder whether it is more help than hindrance in holding the book together.

I suppose my greatest disappointment was that Hughes does not really show that God is a God of surprises at all unless, of course, you hold a rather caricatured, evangelically severe idea of God in your head. Hughes attacks the old patriarchal model, personified in "Uncle George" and he characterises the real Jesus in a quite witty passage on the trouble caused to the Church by Mr. E. Manuel who is seeking ordination whilst carrying on a semi-detached radical mission.

Although this edition post dates the original by some 25 years, it still contains a rather odd coda on nuclear weapons and, more serious, it has nothing to say about the radical reversal of the Vatican from the Decrees of the Second Ecumenical Council of that name. Hughes is properly ready to say how badly much spirituality from Vatican I to II was warped and even damaging but to read Hughes' revised text you would think that all is lovely in the progressive garden; which it is not, as any reference to recent writings by Nicholas Lash and Hans Kung would amply demonstrate. I suppose it is easy for an outsider (or, more accurately, a deserter) to say that leading and popular Roman Catholic thinkers like Hughes need to be firmer in their criticism of Vatican back-pedalling but there's something slightly distasteful in becoming a populist author who won't quite tell it like it is.

The part of the book I found most helpful was a simplified schema of the Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola and an anatomy of consolation and desolation which, if anything, look more 'current' now than they did all those years ago but, conversely, the psychology looks a little trite.

Hughes says in his defence that the book is intended for doubters and those seeking a relationship with God rather than committed believers but my researches indicate that there are many believers who read this and books like it. That's one of the key problems that Christianity faces; the majority of its adherents take it much less seriously than their secular occupations and vocations and few of them continue to study and grow. If you must read this book, then for God's sake, and your own, get past it to something more substantial.