Book Review: The Lonely God

The Lonely God, by Ronald L. Dart

Having read, and greatly appreciated, the book Law & Covenant, this is a book I wanted to like.  In the end, while I appreciate the erudition and skill of the author in dealing with a series of difficult questions about God without dogmatism and with opinions that largely mirror mine, I don’t feel as if my initial hopes upon reading the book were really fulfilled.  It’s a book that provokes questions, and deep thoughts, but leaves one wanting more rather than satisfying one’s curiosity.  Whether this is intentional or accidental is not for me to decide.

I must start out by noting some of the flaws of this work that hindered my enjoyment of it.  Some of the flaws are minor, like a consistent refusal to capitalize He and Him with God (and even once refusing to capitalize God itself when referring to our Heavenly Father).  An able copyeditor would be able to make that aspect of his writing better.  Some of the flaws, like the apparent lack of focus of the work, may be a matter of design, in that the book appears to be a loosely connected series of mostly stellar and always thoughtful essays relating to difficult questions about God’s nature and purpose and character and dealings with mankind rather than a focused and tightly organized work.  Some of the flaws are more troublesome for me, however.  One such flaw is his falsely ascribing Psalm 42 to David rather than to its correct author, the Sons of Korah [1].  An even larger flaw is his equivocation about the Trinity, a gravely serious matter [2].  These flaws make it impossible to wholeheartedly enjoy or recommend this book.

Nonetheless, despite the flaws the work is full of a lot of thoughtful meditation on the nature of God and God’s working with mankind.  I rather wish the author would have developed the idea of “the lonely God” more, as it is only a small part of this book rather than being the organizing principle as it deserves.  Far too much time is spent talking about manmade poems and hymns and far too little time is spent on the Bible, to satisfy this picky reviewer.  Nonetheless, a pivotal point is made very plain in the book that deserves thought and reflection:  our suffering as mankind comes as a result of freedom.  God did not create automatons, but rather free beings who could (and do) reject Him and His ways and suffer the consequences.  We cannot be free to reject God but also be free of the consequences of that rejection.  This book is particularly thoughtful in examining the thorny implications of our freedom in the implicit and subtle way He works with us.  I too have studied these matters in detail, including the matter of God’s subtle working with Naaman [3].

Additionally, it is vital (I agree) to be honest with God, as the Psalms are.  This is why I have studied the psalms and written about them in some depth (as is true of Mr. Dart as well).  I could also commend Mr. Dart for trying as I do to avoid the pitfalls of “Greek” thinking and accepting the enigmatic biblical truth that comes from “Hebrew” thinking as expressed in the Hebrew and Aramaic language found in the biblical originally, that is, if I did not feel that occasionally he engaged a bit too much in wordsmithing, as in the case of the Trinity, to avoid being “pinned down” about his true beliefs.  It is all fine to accept that some things cannot be known by mortal and limited human minds (something all wise human beings have to face at some point).  It is entirely a different and more blameworthy matter to muddy up the waters so that no one knows where you stand.  Sometimes, Mr. Dart is guilty of moving from the one to the other.

Some aspects of this subtlety and trickery I find somewhat blameworthy is his implication that the stridency of Stephen and Paul is what made them have to suffer so much.  As someone who is given to a rather prickly personality and a fairly fierce and combative one (especially in debate), I take umbrage to the implication that God’s order ordains suffering and misery simply for being disinclined to suffer fools gladly.  It is more my thought that those who have God’s spirit working with them are able to recognize kindred spirits and those who are enemies of God are particularly inclined to directly confront those who are God’s open allies and who are Satan’s open enemies.  Rather than considering the suffering the fault of the strident person himself (or myself), I consider it the result of a strategic decision of openness rather than craftiness and subtlety as Mr. Dart seems to operate by.

Again, I have to say that this book has a lot of good material to ponder, including thoughtful examinations on the enigmatic nature of God, God’s loneliness, being open to God rather than rigid in dogma, examining God’s design of mankind with free will, the choice that mankind had in the Garden of Eden, the world we want, liberty and its implications, the question of whether God grants us privacy or not, God’s view of time and his relationship to man, the great misunderstanding we have about God and His purposes, what it means for Jesus Christ to have been one of us, how and why Jesus Christ heals, how Jesus saves, why people hate God (and God’s people, like the Jews and true Christians), how we talk with God through prayer, close encounters with God, our disappointment with God due to false expectations, how we take faith for granted, how God works through the social responsibility of Christians to take care of their family members and brethren, being rich towards God in paying tithes and offerings, the organizing principle of God abiding with Christians through the Holy Spirit, what it means for God to live with us, how to worship in truth, and God’s role as judge.  There is much to learn from these essays.  In particular, Mr. Dart’s focus on our human responsibilities is a well-needed avoidance of pietism that is commendable and necessary.  God works through a godly community and we have obligations as Christians to think beyond our selfish interest and to show personal generosity and hospitality to those with real needs.  To be hard-hearted to our own is to shut off the conduit by which God shows generosity to human beings and may even endanger our eternal destiny.

That said, despite the fact that this book has a lot of very excellent material and a lot of deep thinking, it is a book that in the final analysis is less than the sum of its parts.  A lack of coherence and a tendency to equivocate on important issues mean that one must view this book a bit warily, which makes it far less valuable than it could have been coming from someone who was a bit more open and honest with their hand and a bit less deceptive and subtle in their approach.  This book is a missed opportunity, in that its author chose to be subtle rather than honest about his agenda and motives for writing this book, and then for slapping on it an appealing but misleading title that does not describe the contents of the book very accurately.  That is his loss, and ours.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/02/11/psalm-42-and-4-as-the-deer-pants-for-the-water/

My problem with David being ascribed for psalms he did not write (like Psalm 42 and Psalm 119) is in large part from the perspective one gets that David was the only person in ancient Israel who really understood vital truths about God, whereas the Bible suggests that even obscure characters like Agur (see Proverbs 30) and the Sons of Korah had greater knowledge about the workings of God than Jews (and Christians) today.  Giving proper credit to more obscure biblical figures allows us to better understand the big picture of God’s working with ancient Israel rather than one that is driven by a few notable elites.

[2] This happens in Chapter 4 “How Many Gods,” where the author makes the following provocative comments:

“The question on the table, then, is whether in describing God as a Trinity the early fathers arrived at the best solution to the problem they faced.  Here, as is so often the case in theological studies, we are victimized by semantics, the meaning of words.  Paul warned against being overly reliant on words, and most religious arguments are bedeviled by bickering about words.  But if we take, not only the facts of the Bible, but the words as well, the Bible may solve the problem for us us in words altogether familiar.

The words are “Father” and “Son.”  These words are known in all generations, in all languages and in all cultures.  Not only are the words familiar, but the relationship is understood.  Notice above that the doctrine states that the Father and Son are the same in substance.  That is, they are both Spirit.  Further, the doctrine states they are “distinct in subsistence,” in other words, they are two distinct persons.

This is familiar to us in human terms.  My dad and I were both flesh, but we existed as two distinct persons.  So what about the “Three in One” idea?  Once again, if we decide to use the words of the Bible to describe the facts we see there, we run squarely into the family again:  “For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.” So the two can be one after all.

No one has a problem with the unity of the family, even though we have two persons composed of the same substance, flesh.  In biblical terms, two can be one, so why create a new set of words to explain an old fact.  Now I fully understand that there are long and complex arguments on all sides of this question.  But most people realize intuitively that the simplest explanation is more likely to be right.  Here the simplest explanation is that God is a family composed, for now, of a Father, a Son, and a Family Spirit.” (pages 21-22)

Or here:

“So what does all this tell us about the Trinity?  Are there three Gods or one “Godhead” with three persons in it?  The question is almost entirely lost in semantics, but we can draw some conclusions based on the words of the Bible.  What some men call “the Trinity,” is a family, composed for now of the Father, Son and the Family Counsel.  All may be called God.  All are eternal.  The Father is the first among equals.

Surely, God is much more than this, but the rest is not revealed.  And on the matter that is not revealed, your guess is as good as mine.”

Foot note vii.  Or, if you are so inclined, you may say the Trinity is a family, composed of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” (pages 28-29)

So, Mr. Dart, do you believe in the Trinity or not?  It would appear, based on these readings, that Mr. Dart wants to have it both ways, to be “orthodox” by believing in the Trinity while also wanting to play it safe with those who believe (correctly, per the Bible) that God is a family.  So which is it?  Playing word games won’t get you far with me.

[3] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2010/11/19/divine-providence-in-the-story-of-naaman-the-syrian/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Book Reviews, Christianity, Church of God and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Book Review: The Lonely God

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