Anson Hugh Laytner is a retired Jewish rabbi. One’s initial reaction might be “This is not Christian theology.” Firstly, Laytner anticipates a Jewish and Christian audience. He describes himself as a skeptical but spiritual person thus the intended audience may go beyond Christian or Jewish to include anyone struggling with questions and looking for answers. More to the point in this context, Christian theology grew out of Hebrew history, ritual, literature and Jewish theology in the first century. Laytner is aware of the relationship. As he begins a section describing Radical Monotheism he mentions the Tanakh and then inserts in parenthesis “the Jewish Bible, similar to the Christian Old Testament.” The search for meaning and understanding is practically universal among people everywhere and Laytner’s process may benefit any reader wrestling with the same issues.
The central theme running throughout the book deals with Job. Laytner’s process is to analyze Job’s suffering and his interactions with God and then relate that to his own experiences with suffering. Chapter 1 introduces the reader to Job, chapter 2 describes the author’s personal experience of losing his father to cancer in his mid 60’s which I immediately related to. That pattern then repeats itself throughout the book. Job – which you will become familiar with as Iyov – becomes a window, an instrument, a translator of our interactions with God in a world that is sinful, fallen and broken.
The Mystery of Suffering and the Meaning of God is not a seminary textbook. The experiences related are real and the insights gained are personal. Laytner gives his second wife credit for much of the healing process that brought him back “into the world of the living” and in his words restored his silliness. In a work devoted to suffering he still finds ways to make the reader smile. In his discourse on random terror inserted into our daily lives he draws an interesting parallel. We’ve all seen the nature films in which a herd of animals such as zebras or gazelles are grazing peacefully and everything suddenly springs into action as a lion emerges to give chase. The animals flee in a life or death flight as the predator chooses one of them to pick off. Then when the threat is over they all go back to their grazing. Random moments of terror are part of the daily routine. American drivers fly along the highway with everyone exceeding the speed limit when suddenly a state trooper appears with lights and sirens then singles out one of them to receive a citation. Everyone slows down for a few miles, then resumes their status quo. Speed traps are the random terror inserted into their daily routine. This is a glimpse into the mind of the author that I hopes illustrates perfectly why I enjoyed reading this book. Theology, like the study of history, can be kind of boring if not made relatable. I enjoy both things of course, more so when well written.
Anson Hugh Laytner ultimately comes to this conclusion: if the existence of suffering in the world leads you to believe there is no God or that he does not care for us, you need to reconsider what you believe about God. Our thought process can be in error but never God himself. For me, though, the greatest wisdom comes early in the book as Job and his friends offer discourse about the nature of God, suffering, reward and punishment. Laytner writes “Yes, God’s providential wisdom fills all Creation, including the human condition, but there is no mention that this divine wisdom includes justice as we humans understand it. Accepting that the one God is the source of all and that God’s operation of things is beyond human understanding was the beginning of Iyov’s (Job’s) awareness of the greater reality beyond his personal situation.”
My initial reaction was “This is not Christian theology, I made a mistake by agreeing to review this book.” No, that reaction was the mistake. I have never gone through anything like the ten year ordeal this author lived through and had to find his way back from. Laytner’s writing makes the events of Job and the personal tragedies of his own life relatable and insightful. I recommend this book to anyone who has ever asked the questions “What does this mean? Why is this happening?” Or the biggie “Where is God?”
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.