After writing about the contentious creation-evolution debate, it's a pleasure to turn to a remarkably gifted writer who poetically describes God's grace in big things and small. Ann Voskamp is a farmer's wife, homeschooling mother to six, and author of a book published in January-One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are (Zondervan)-that's become a surprise hit.
Voskamp summarizes her faith on the home page of her website, aholyexperience.com: "I believe in Jehovah God who created the whirling galaxies, the birds soaring in the sky overhead, the endless crashing waves and all that dances within them. I believe in Father of all who knits together life, made in His very own image, in the secret quiet of our beings.
"I believe in Jesus Christ, the One with no earthly Father, with the dust of this earth between His toes, and with our names etched onto the palm of His hands, right beneath the nail scars. . . . I believe in the Cross as our only Hope, our only Claim, and our only Foundation. I believe that in the pounding surf of life we have only one thing to cling to: the feet of our Lord, hanging on that tree, His lifeblood flowing down, washing us whiter than snow.
"I believe in the Holy Spirit, moving, whispering, indwelling our very skin. . . . I believe in the infallibility of the Bible, God's Word-a sure Word, a pure Word, the only secure Word. I believe the words on those pages are breathed from the very throne room of heaven, are the love letter penned from the heart of the Lover of our souls; a beacon of light for stumbling feet to find sure footing on a dark path."
A poet who praises Jesus Christ? What's not to like? But in this fallen world, nothing is without controversy. Several bloggers have taken exception to the final chapter of One Thousand Gifts, which states, "God lays down all his fullness into all the emptiness. I am in Him. He is in me. . . . Anywhere-in the kitchen scrubbing potatoes, in the arching cathedrals, in the spin of laundry and kids and washing toilets-anywhere I can have intimate communion with the Maker of heaven and earth. . . . The intercourse of soul with God is the very climax of joy."
One post critical of Voskamp, titled "Intercourse with God," quoted those passages and concluded, "This is what garners five stars from Christian women at amazon.com?" To which another blogger responded, "If you're really able to extrapolate some kind of offensive message from Ann's book, you are entirely missing the point. Ann uses lots of figurative, metaphorical language. This Is What She Does Best. It's called a literary device."
Well, read for yourself. I asked Voskamp to write a column for WORLD. Here it is.
Buy the book: Links to purchase the books featured in WORLD's 2011 Books Issue
Browse through our library of annual Books Issues dating back to 1999.
"If God really works in everything-then why don't we thank Him for everything?" She asks me this straight out.
My daughter and I, we sit in the truck on the field's hem, waiting to give my husband his lunch. My farmer husband's planting bean seeds into earth's dark bed. The sky's rising darker in the west. He races rain.
"For every drop of rain You keep from falling-thank you, Lord . . . " I'd murmured the prayer, water splatting hard against the windshield of the pickup. We need at least one more day of dry weather to plant a year's worth of beans, our livelihood.
"And for every drop of rain that You do let fall-thank you, Lord . . . " My daughter, Hope, whispers her strange echo.
Really? I turn, searching her face.
She looks me right in the eye.
"If God really works in everything, why don't we thank Him for everything? Why do we accept good from His hand-and not bad?"
This is hard. Maybe the hardest of all. She is young. She has much to come.
I have held dying babies. Eaten with those who live on the town garbage heap. Wept with women who've been violated, with the bankrupt, the heart crushed, the terminal. And this never stops being true: Neglecting to give thanks only deepens the wound of the world. Doesn't God call His people to a non-discriminating response in all circumstances? "[G]iv[e] thanks always and for everything" (Ephesians 5:20).
If I only thank Him when the fig tree buds-is this "selective faith"? Practical atheism? What of faith in a God who wastes nothing? Who makes all into grace?
And yet-is thanking God for everything . . . thanking Him for evil?
Rivulets run down glass, blurring my husband and all our seeded prayers. What do I accurately see and know?
When we bought the enemy's lie in the beginning and ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, Satan hissed then that we'd really see and know what is good and evil. But the father of lies, he'd duped us in the whole nine yards. Though we ate of that tree we did not become like God, and we have no knowledge of good and evil apart from God; my seeing, it is not omniscient. Can I really see if a death, disaster, dilemma, is actually evil? Mine is only to see His Word faithfully and wholly obey Him in this. Therein is the tree of life.
Is this why He commands "giv[e] thanks always and for everything"? Because to thank God in all is to refuse Satan's relentless lure to be god-like in all; to thank God in all is to bend the knee in allegiance to God Who alone knows all; to thank God in all is to give God glory in all. Is this not our chief end? When I only give thanks for some things, aren't I likely to miss giving God glory in most things?
Murmuring thanks isn't to deny that an event isn't a tragedy and neither does it deny that there's a cracking fissure straight across the heart. Giving thanks is only this: making the canyon of pain into a megaphone to proclaim the ultimate goodness of God.
Our thanks to God is our witness to the goodness of God when Satan and all the world would sneer at us to recant.
I lay my hand on the rain-filmed windowpane and I see clearer. But this is not easy: That which I refuse to thank Christ for, I refuse to believe Christ can redeem.
The gray sky's drumming steady on the truck's tin roof.
His perfect love casts out all fears and leaves only thanks and I listen to her sing it, like a chorus with the rain: Thank you, Lord. Thank you, Lord.
Like a song from the belly of the fish, like a Jonah refrain echoing off the walls of the whale: "But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you . . ." (Jonah 2:9).
Like a haunting, holy answer to what she asks, the song of the saints, thanksgiving-practicing here the lone song that will be sung at the last, "Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving . . . to our God" (Revelation 7:12).
Thank you, Lord. I lilt it soft with her, faith's brazen song facing storms, the rain falling now hard.