Saturday, April 07, 2018

Book Review: "Those Who Hope" by Tim Stafford

Those Who HopeThose Who Hope by Tim Stafford

Satisfying depiction of the unsatisfying reality of being caught between the “already” and the “not yet” of the kingdom of God.

I am a big fan of Tim Stafford’s writing–first in nonfiction (his work on notes for the first NIV Student Bible was a major discipling influence on me during some of my most formative years) and also in fiction (I’ve read and re-read his “River of Freedom” trilogy several times to great personal benefit), so I was interested to see what he would do with a book set in an urban gospel mission among the homeless, hurting, and addicted.

I think I can say that I enjoyed reading Those Who Hope, though I’m not sure that “enjoy” is the right word. Stafford has written a book that is good art–it makes you think and feel meaningful things about the world–but the things it makes you think and feel are uncomfortable, unpeaceful, not pleasurable. The characters in this book experience suffering and are often the cause of their own suffering, their own worst enemies. And Stafford shows how relentless that sin and suffering cycle can be. He captures the very real and very heartbreaking pattern of addiction. Even the most virtuous main character feels always ready to succumb once more.

There is hope in this book, and not just in the title. But the hope is not Pollyanna-ish. It’s a chastened hope. There is no over-realized eschatology where the characters stop being fallen and hurting people and everything is happy-ever-after. That day is still in the future in reality and in this work of art. The recovery (and redemption) is very realistic.

I don’t think this book is as good as Stafford’s “River of Freedom” books. The writing is clunkier at times and could have used another round of editing. Readers also should know that it is not a G-rated book. Some swearing and sensuality (though tastefully done) make it at least at PG-13. This is not a book to hand to your younger kids.

The main reason to read Those Who Hope is to experience a bit of the unhappy merry-go-round of addiction and at the same time be pointed to the compelling Person of Jesus who in Himself is the answer both in the “now” and the “not yet.” But that also calls for living in tension while we live in expectation for His Kingdom to come in its fullness. Stafford never reveals it, but the title of this book probably comes from Isaiah 40:30-31, “Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” But many other translations than the NIV translate those words, “Those who wait.” Very appropriate.

Recommended for those who appreciate satisfying art about the unsatisfying parts of life.

View all my Goodreads reviews.