It was apparent from his first book and has been reaffirmed in his second: Kent Annan is an honest man. In “After Shock” he describes the struggle of faith when faced with the suffering we can see not only in post-quake Haiti, but around the world and in our own neighborhoods and homes. The world is an unreliable, dangerous place. Women are raped, children die of preventable disease and tectonic places shift beneath the feet of hundreds of thousands of people in the poorest place in the Western hemisphere. It happens, yet Christians believe in a good God, faithful and true, who created this world. How do we reconcile this faith with the reality we are called to deal with on a daily basis?
“We don’t have to minimize either suffering or uncertainty. Our love for truth can help protect us from ourselves and from worshiping an untrue god that can’t survive the trial of this world. Let our faith too be nailed regularly to the cross of this world. Any faith that dies there was dead to begin with. What is resurrected is Life.” – p. 49
“After Shock: Searching For Honest Faith When Your World Is Shaken” is Kent Annan’s argument with God. More like a lover’s quarrel. He is a committed Christian, but one who isn’t content with the pie-in-the-sky spirituality and rose-colored glasses view of the world that popular evangelical Christianity often adopts and promotes. He recognizes in Scripture the voices both of praise and questioning. This book quotes at the beginning of many chapters from Psalm 13, which in the NIV reads:
How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, LORD my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the LORD’s praise,
for he has been good to me.
Kent actually describes this book itself as a Psalm, in the closing chapter which he addresses to God: “This book is my psalm to you, clawing its way toward faith and gratitude.” The Psalms alternate between adoration, questioning and complaint…and so does this book to some extent.
Another aspect of this book, closely related to the personal honesty, is the insight into human nature in response to disaster. Many were eager – practically falling over one another – to help after the earth shook.
“On the plane with thirty four people,
circling in toward destruction.
Like angels (like vultures).
Why?” – p. 50
People wanted to go to help for many reasons, including their own egos.
“Some clamoring to get down are so transparent in their messages, and on Facebook and on Twitter, doing it for their own sake. Can’t you invite admiration more subtly, I think in disgust? You’ll blow the cover for the rest of us.” – p.51
Still, there’s a human/divine aspect that comes through in the giving and receiving of aid, even in small ways, after a disaster like the one that struck Haiti last year.
“This God who is distant comes close through … us. Practically when we’re clearing rubble, when we’re healing wounds, when we’re helping people create their own better future, when we’re working to overturn unjust systems and provide where there is need. Mystically because in this practical help we experience something of the transcendent God’s presence.” (p. 113)
In “After Shock,” Kent Annan has given us another painfully honest, soul-searching look at a world in pain and need, bound by both systemic and personal sin, yet being redeemed by the seemingly powerless but incredibly potent message of the cross (and resurrection). I recommend that if you haven’t read either of Kent’s books, that you pick up both his first book and this one and read them in order. Prepare to do some prayerful soul-searching along the way. Then, take action.
“I tell you for certain that if you have faith in me, you will do the same things that I am doing. You will do even greater things, now that I am going back to the Father.” – John 14:12 CEV
Book Review: Following Jesus Through the Eye of the Needle (IgneousQuill.org)
After Shock: Kent Annan’s Presentation at New York Theological Seminary (IgneousQuill.org)
Poverty at the Gate (IgneousQuill.com)