Review: Philip Yancey, Finding God in Unexpected Places

Published 1997 by Servant, Ann Arbor, Michigan

Kit Schindell is a hospital administrator in Vancouver BC.

"Doubt, for me, tends to come in an overwhelming package, all at once. I don't worry much about nuances of particular doctrines, but every so often I catch myself wondering about the whole grand scheme of faith."

Philip Yancey finds himself in unexpected places. He marvels at the intricate treasures of the natural world. His description of a media tour makes one shudder. He visits the slums, the jails, to see Christians put their faith in action. He debates, he writes, he spends time with other thinkers.

That same angst that so many of us feel after ten minutes in a shopping mall is brought to life with Yancey's words. And he finds God in expected places. This is a disturbing book, but no shocker. In fact its mildness makes it all the more powerful. In Alaska he pulls off the road at waterside to join others collected to silently watch a pod of whales having dinner. In Atlanta he spends hours with an eccentric missionary who fills her days meeting the needs of the poor and abused and beaten who call her day and (mostly) night. In Moscow, he, along with other visiting Christians, is welcomed to a country that persecuted Christians not so long ago, a country now hungry, seeking, ready for change, ready now to listen to God. In America he joins a group of terminally ill individuals and shares their laughter and tears. Yancey, the journalist "looks for traces of God" and finds him in places he does not anticipate.

He shows us how we need to look for God beyond the walls of the church, and at the same time stop running into our churches, boarding up the windows, hiding the keys and separating ourselves from all God's children and from God himself. This is not a gritty book. It doesn't drag us through all the sordid and seamy and insist "this is reality," nor is it cute and coy bedtime reading, telling us sweetly that God made the roses. But we are reminded very powerfully that God is not napping in a dusty sanctuary somewhere and he is not confined to Sunday afternoon prayer groups and hospital chaplains. God is the God of musk-oxen, God is adored in a secret maximum security prison in Zambia, where "worst offenders" live in a filthy hellhole, and sing praises to a loving God who knows what it is to be a prisoner.

I work in health care, and am in the midst of the crisis that is affecting the country. Yesterday I spoke to two administrators in hospitals in the Maritimes, and the only difference we shared in our experience was that we in the West had a steady diet of good old Vancouver rain and they were experiencing an icy windstorm. There are not enough nurses, not enough beds and too many patients. The day of writing I was on call and had, at the end of the day, too many very sick patients in two separate hospitals — and I needed to find beds, with nursing care, for all of them. At nine o'clock at night when I eventually staggered home, everyone was safely taken care of for another night. None of us entered health care for these adventures, but the work has to be done and God is to be found on the job.

Yancey discovers more "traces" of God in books, in the writing of Shakespeare, and of Walker Percy. He encourages us to be sensitive and encouraged and to expect the unexpected.