Beloved Children in the
Presence of a Delighting God
A Review of
Does God Really Like Me?
Discovering the God Who Wants to Be With Us
Cyd and Geoff Holsclaw
Paperback: IVP Books, 2020.
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Reviewed by Dale Gish[printfriendly]
In my work as a spiritual director, I see a lot of dedicated, faithful Christians who believe that God loves them but struggle to experience God’s love in an affective way. Deep down they feel that God is disappointed in them, scolding, judging, frustrated. If that’s your experience, it’s hard to be deeply connected with God, to experience God’s love. And when I suggest that God delights in them, people are often taken aback, disoriented by considering this life-changing possibility. What if it were true that God likes you? What would that mean? How would that change your life?
In their book Does God Really Like Me? Discovering the God Who Wants to Be With Us, Cyd and Geoff Holsclaw challenge us again and again with the reality that God likes us, that God desires us, that God wants to be with us. Their goal is to get that message through to us on whatever level we need it. And the Holsclaws are able to speak to us on many levels, Geoff is a theologian, both are pastors, and Cyd is a life coach and spiritual director.
Some of us have theologies or ways of reading scripture that keep us from knowing that God likes us, that God desires to be present to us. To help us out, Cyd and Geoff have a huge focus on telling the big picture story of scripture in a way that highlights their point. From the creation and fall story in Genesis, through the story of Israel, through Jesus’s incarnation, life, death, and resurrection, through the early church and all the way through the new creation of the book of Revelation, they trace God’s desire for us, God’s delight in us, God’s presence with us.
Geoff is a theologian and we receive his gifts, but since the two of them are also pastors, the theology and biblical exegesis are very accessible and relatable. If you have theological questions about their thesis or wonder if it is really biblical, they do an excellent job of making their argument. I was already convinced, but I think many will find their arguments helpful.
Others of us need less of a theological argument but instead need relatable stories of what it means to allow ourselves to be transformed by experiencing God’s love for us. We also receive generously from this book. Both Cyd and Geoff share numerous significant stories from their individual lives and from their life together as a couple and as a family. Some of the stories illustrate how we often fail to recognize how much God likes us. Others are encouraging and inspire us to enter into the goodness of God’s pleasure and presence.
Here is where the Holsclaw’s pastoral experience shines through. Based on their own experience and the experiences of those they minister with, they are able to speak into our human struggles and aspirations, making this real for us in our own lives. The book does an excellent job of helping us see ourselves more truthfully, both in our struggles and in the ways we have been created for good. Their honesty clears the way for us to stand honestly before the Lord, receiving God’s delight in us.
I suspect that most of us need help actually receiving God’s love, like, and delight. It’s easy to say we want to do it, but we may have no idea of how to do it. Fortunately, the Holsclaws have ended each chapter with an application section. I suspect this is where we benefit from Cyd’s gifts as a spiritual director. Each application section has a prayer practice for us to experiment with, a topic for reflection, and a song to listen to.
Prayer practices include “finding your joy place,” the examen, and Immanuel journaling. I found these prayer practices a helpful invitation into deeper connection with God who delights in me. I found the reflection topics to be very relatable and lead us to reflect on who we are, significant and formative experiences, and what is actually going on in our hearts, minds, and souls. Each reflection includes an invitation to reflect with or in relation to God. The songs have been well selected to match the theme of the chapter and provide a way to engage with the theme in a different way. I wish they were a bit more diverse stylistically and racially, with most of them being Contemporary Christian songs and from predominantly white singers. But regardless, sometimes it’s helpful to just be able to sing along and enter into worship as a way to draw close to God.
One of the primary influences for the Holsclaws in writing this book is the Immanuel Prayer Movement, and it was one of the reasons I sought out this book. I have participated in Immanuel Prayer for the last year and have participated as well in some Immanuel Prayer training. It is interesting to see the connections between this book and Immanuel Prayer.
Immanuel Prayer was developed by Karl Lehman, a Christian psychiatrist in the Chicago area, but now has spread across the country and the world. It’s a type of healing prayer where an Immanuel Prayer practitioner facilitates a prayer session where the participant finds healing by letting Jesus take them back to difficult or traumatic experiences and discovering that Jesus was there caring for them even in that painful time. But each session begins with an invitation for the participant to reconnect with a concrete experience where they experienced Jesus loving them, then experience Jesus loving them in the present moment, and then go back into past memories, all held in an experience of Jesus loving them, caring for them and delighting in them.
This book does not focus specifically on Immanuel Prayer, but it is directly named in the acknowledgments. But the theme, knowing God is with us, likes us and delights in us, is the basis on which Immanuel Prayer is built. So this book can be a helpful complement for someone receiving Immanuel Prayer, laying out the biblical basis of one of its core tenants. (To find out more about Immanuel Prayer you can go to https://www.immanuelapproach.com/ )
In 1741 Jonathan Edwards preached the highly influential sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” and people reportedly responded with fear, moaning and crying out. We could perhaps re-title this book, Beloved Children in the Presence of a Delighting God. I suspect readers will respond with different emotions to this description of God and that it will bear a different kind of fruit. May our response be as enduring and influential for the life of the church.
Dale Gish is a spiritual director based in San Francisco. He offers spiritual direction, the Ignatian Exercises in person and via video conference. He has been a pastor and church leader for many years. You can read more about his offerings at www.deeplybeloved.com and read his reflections and poetry at www.deeplybeloved.com/blog.
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I am in the middle of this book now, and as a person who struggles to believe God really likes them, I am hung up on how to understand how God “likes” people who knowingly disobey or are in active rebellion against him. I mean, it’s hard to imagine God liking such people on account of the harsh words he has for them (in both old and new testaments).
Although the authors make a compelling case for God’s affectionate disposition towards all mankind, they seem to make a weaker argument for his actual “liking of” or “fondness for” mankind outside of a general desire to see us all not separated from him. For me, it’s not a matter of believing that God is capable of “liking” us no matter what we do it’s a matter of seeing if scripture supports that. So far as I have read, the authors focus on narratives in scripture to defend their idea (God’s Creation and Tabernacle), unfortunately these examples fall on deaf ears of people (like me) who wonder if God’s disposition changes upon our acting on addictive/sinful behaviors. This is to say nothing of addressing scriptures that seem to indicate that we can displease God (grieve the Spirit, etc).
It is still a great relational read so far, but I hope they address the scriptures that seem to showcase God’s positive and negative dispositions to human actions in the rest of the book.