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Book Review Download and print:
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Conversations With God by Neale Donald Walsch. Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads Pub., 1996. 211 pp.
Reviewed by Dave Schwier

SEND DAVE A COMMENT OR QUESTION

 What an intriguing title.

When this book hit the stores several years ago, I was excited about reading it.

Knowing it was not written from a Christian perspective, I thought it would nonetheless be written honestly and from the heart; possibly from someone crushed by many decades of living, and tired of being given simple answers to complex questions. A modern book of Job, if you will.

But I must confess, I let it go, favoring instead Finding God by Larry Crabb, Disappointment with God by Philip Yancey, and the classic Your God Is Too Small, by J. B. Phillips.

A couple years later, however, Conversations with God was recommended to me by a New Age friend after we talked about heaven and the afterlife.

I thought, "That book is still around?"

And a little research showed it’s not only still around, but it has spawned three sequels, Conversations With God books 1,2 and 3, including a sequel to the sequels, Meditations on Conversations with God. Also available is a CD set of music to accompany readings and meditations of each book.

I journeyed to the local library to see what was all the rage.

Our local libraries own exactly 103 copies, and you would be lucky to find Conversations With God book 3 available on any given day, much less books 1 and 2. Impossible.

An afternoon sitting with a copy on closed reserve quickly revealed why this book is so popular.

Conversations With God has it’s finger on our culture's spiritual pulse. This book appeals to those who have been hurt in life - by family, friends, authority figures, "organized religion" and failures in career and relationships.

In short - all of us.

And apparently, according to author Neale Donald Walsch, "God" is not pleased with all that suffering, especially suffering caused by intolerance and fear. And especially not suffering which is perceived to have been caused by the Bible and it’s followers.

Though Walsch admits to having very loving parents and wonderful childhood, he wrote this book after 49 years of his own suffering and failure in relationships and career.

Dissatisfied with life, he sat down late one night to write an angry letter to God. Walsch claims God answered him, and he wrote down the answers. He said that what God told him was so surprising and unexpected, he had to share it with others.

Yes, he is really claiming it is from God. Unfortunately, he gives no basis for why we should believe him. One has to wonder - does he REALLY think God spoke to him? Or was he simply clever enough to look at the run-away success of James Redfield’s, The Celestine Prophecy, realizing historically, if you write books about the virtues of selfishness and autonomy, they will come. In droves.

A more accurate title than Conversations with God would be Conversations With Any Anonymous Liberal Arts Professor Who Teaches At The University Down The Street.

There is nothing in this book that a good, modern liberal arts education will not give you. These ideas have been brewing for a long time now.

But Walsch hit the jackpot by taking it one step further - these ideas are no longer exclusive to university professors and liberals, but are now sanctioned by "God" himself or herself.

Why is this book being eaten up and savored as if it were the last cheesecake on earth? Here are some of the ideas that readers find so appealing:

God has a mistrust of authority. If it feels good, He opines, we should do it. Truth is relative. Each of us creates our own reality; avoidance of pain and tolerance of all views is the highest morality.

As I read, I pictured Walsch’s "God" as Adam Sandler sitting at the dinner table with a 5-year-old:

"Do you want to eat your vegetables?"

"NO!"

"Ok, then, let’s eat ice-cream and cake for every meal."

"Yea God!"

Critics extol Walsch’s God for being more loving than the Bible’s, but let’s look 10 years in the future when the child is obese and has no teeth. Was that really more loving?

Walsch’s God is our buddy. He has no authority or sovereignty. He doesn’t command, he suggests.

Here are some more not-so-new, but appealing suggestions from the man (or woman) upstairs:

God tells us we are all gods ourselves in reality. God tells us our natures are not evil and sinful, but loving. And God is not an absolute moralist, but merely utilitarian.

Unfortunately, Walsch never tells us why we should believe he is speaking for God. He apparently expects his audience to accept these revelations at face value. And this seems to be fine with his readers.

And yet, maybe they are bullied by the most clever of post-modern tricks, one which Walsch has mastered - In his reality, he is telling his truth, and it would be intolerant of me to say I think he is lying. Now the critic becomes the bad guy, not the huckster himself.

However, despite the negatives I’ve presented, I still recommend the book. Why? Because even if it can be shown that Walsh’s conclusions are faulty or unsupported, the pain he’s experienced in life is real, and he brings up some legitimate beefs. Even the Bible agrees with him at points... Yes, living and making decisions from a position of fear not love is a bad thing. The apostle John told us that "perfect love casts out all fear." And yes, we should be wary of people who use authority and truth for manipulation, including the author of this book.

But the Bible has answers to Walsch's dilemmas, answers which are more positive, exciting, logical and complete than the ones Walsch is relaying to us from "God."

Here are a few responses to the way Walsch portrays the God of the Bible:

1. "Organized religion" forces people to live according to the rules of the power structure or face dire consequences; critical thinking is discouraged.

Response: The Apostle Paul appealed to the minds of his listeners. In Acts 18:19, for example it says he "reasoned with the Jews." When he presented the gospel Paul offered reasons to believe. In 1 Peter 3:15, every Christian is expected to be willing and ready to answer his or her critics. In Isaiah 40-44, God claims that unlike other God's, he is able to offer evidence (predictive prophecy) that he is the true God.

2. The God of the Bible has no idea how hard life is, and what is worse, he doesn’t even care.

Response: The biblical God is aware of the pain humans face in day-to-day life and has suffered so that we can have real life.

"Since then the children share in flesh and blood, He (Jesus) Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil; and might deliver those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives." - Hebrews 2:14,15

"For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one (Jesus) who has been tempted in every way, just as we are - yet without sin." - Hebrews 4:15

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life." - John 3:16

The God of the Bible wants us to be fulfilled, but he suggests a novel way to pursue fulfillment. Jesus said, "For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it." - Matthew 16:25

A life of understanding in humility, acknowledging God as creator, us as created, serving our fellow man in the power of God because he loves every one of his creatures - this is the way to the most fulfilling life possible.

This is a life of growth and relationships, but that also means pain. It is quite often a hard, rough and tough way to go. But Jesus promises it results in true fulfillment.

Walsch’s prescription for fulfillment is a life of retreat and pain avoidance - a full retreat into self, putting myself at the center of the universe at all costs, reserving the right to judge right and wrong through my own eyes.

It may minimize pain, but it is abundant life?

Conversations with God is extremely appealing to our autonomous, victim-focused culture. But it seems to fan the flames, not put them out.

We need to consider what Jesus says is the end result - death - and weigh these two paths carefully, as if our very lives depended on it.

convwgod.htm


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