Anne Graham Lotz “Wounded by God’s People: Discovering How God’s Love Heals Our Hearts” Book Review
Even madman Adolf Hitler knows about this. Prior to his attack on Soviet Union in 1941, Hitler mulcted Joseph Stalin of his military prowess when he allowed Stalin to witness some forged documents indicating that his officers were conspiring against him. In a moment of rage and paranoia, Stalin executed 35,000 of his top ranking officers representing over half of the Russian officer corps. With the strategic minds and the invincible force of the Russian army conspicuously weakened, Germany launched its all out massive assault on the Soviet Union leading to more casualties and atrocities imaginable to the human mind.
Often such is the blueprint Satan uses to attack God's church. In our western cultures, with our governments' hand off religious policies, our threat is hardly from our pagan rulers these days. Rare also are the cases when an established Bible-affirming church is rattled by the threat of a strand of erroneous teachings from an outsider. Most churches are equipped with enough intelligent minds and Bible literacy to radar any impeding dangers when an outsider tries to weave in erroneous doctrines into the church. Unlike in the New Testament or in some Communist countries, outsiders --- be it the government or a cultic group outside the church --- are hardly a threat to churches. Nevertheless, Satan has a new game plan. It may take years for a church to witness a slight increment in its membership roll, but it only takes one congregation meeting gone awry to vacate half the church. Nothing missiles more irreparable damages to the congregational life and slams the doors of the church faster than when Christians wound each other (especially its leaders).
Anne Graham Lotz has had firsthand experience of what it means to be assaulted by fellow believers. She has seen with her own eyes how congregations can tear at each other's throats in ways so vicious that you would hear of a law suit coming your way if such behaviors were replicated in a secular corporation. Before we start to explore some Lotz's own experiences and how she responded to those who have hurt her in her latest book, "Wounded by God's People," it is suffice to say a word first about Lotz. Her middle name "Graham" is a giveaway; Anne Graham Lotz is none other than the daughter of famed evangelist Dr. Billy Graham. Over the years, she has followed in the footsteps of her father in becoming one of the most sorted after speakers where she has spoken on seven continents, in more than twenty foreign countries. And like her dad, she is equally prolific with her pen: her books "The Magnificent Obsession," "Expecting to See Jesus" and "The Vision of His Glory" have become popular Bible study guides across women and home groups all over the world.
"Wounded by God's People" is her most personal book to date. Anchored in her own personal experiences where she and her husband were "booed" out by the churches where they were part of, Lotz uses these experiences as her starting point. From which, she chronicles for us with palatable emotions her journey towards healing using the Biblical story of Hagar as her GPS. What makes this book such a rapid page turner is the way Lotz narrates her stories. She holds her pen the same way a CCTV operates: when she and her husband Danny were voted off by her church, we can't help but feel ourselves watching the video of that fateful day unrolling in slow motion before our very eyes. We can't help but wonder how a church that is built upon sturdy columns of bricks could house a congregation of such paper-thin loyalty. We can't help but feel puzzled about how the beautiful spire of the church that points skyward towards the cobalt blue can construe such an agenda that descends straight into the pit. We can't help but imagine how a congregation that can rise from the pews to sing "How Great Thou Art" on Sunday morning could get up of their seats a few moments later to vote out their deacon and his wife, who had taught, led and gave their lives to the church. Ghastliness indeed gets a whole new look when the Lotzes were voted off by 600 members accompanied with a thunderous applause. Right or wrong, can anything be crueler than to applaud for someone's dismissal?
Danny and Anne Graham Lotz are not alone. According to survey conducted by "Christianity Today," 1,500 pastors leave their respective churches each month in the US alone. Out of the current pastors in America alone, 23 % have been forced to resign or fired in the past. 45% of those who were forced to resign left the ministry for good; while 34% of pastors now serve congregations which have forced their previous pastor to resign. But the implications are not just for leaders, church fights have dire repercussions for churches. Rarely does a congregation go unscathed when they have to vote off a church leader; often the repair is irreversible. And let's face it, church fight is the major cause of church shrinkage. And in many cases, it is also the factor that can ultimately lead to church closures.
Nevertheless, this book is not a pity party; neither is this Lotz's paltry attempt to air the dirty laundries of her churches for all of us to see. It is not even a book that merely helps us to palliate our pains; Lotz is not just a school nurse handing out temporary bandages for our lacerated bruises. Rather, her purpose is more ambitious (and should we say Godly); she wants us to face up to our pain and by God's help to walk out of "the cycle of pain" (p. 53). The goal is reconciliation (see pages 207-216): reconciliation to both God as well as to others.
One of the book's most glowing lessons is that Lotz teaches us that wounds are space invaders. A wound like a clothes moth may appear miniscule; but if you leave a clothes moth in a closet long enough, it will ultimately invade the entire of your closet space and leave its marks on all the clothes inside. A wound untreated will cause our inner-self to spiritually decay to such an extent that the wounded becomes the wounder. Lotz illustrates this well when she tells the heartbreaking story of how she accidentally ran over her dog Cedric (pages 59 &60). While Cedric was lying crumpled in the driveway, Lotz rushed to gather the dog in her arms. Instead of resting in his mistress' arms, he drew back in pain, fiercely growling at her before sinking his teeth right into Lotz's hand. This is because when we are in pain, our natural reflux is to bite back in pain. First, wounds invade the space in our hearts in such a way that it blurs our vision between God's people and God Himself (p. 47). When we are wounded, it's easy to think that God is as malicious as the people who were supposed to represent him. Lotz herself is first to admit that after she was hurt by her church she stopped attending church in a self-imposed exile for a year (p. 67). Lotz even goes on to tell us the story of William, a journalist, who was shamelessly abused by the organized church. Not only was William unable to distinguished between God and his people, he even went public with his views on why he has surrendered his belief in God. Wounds have a way of overstaying in our hearts and forcing God out if we don't turn to Him in repentance.
Second, if left unattended, wounds can so burgeon in our hearts that it squeezes others out of our lives. Of all the stories Lotz tells in the book, one is most grateful of how she never allows her wounds to stain her. Despite often being the victims of criticisms and unfair treatments, Lotz and her husband love others with an admirable Christ-like love. Love is a word that is often victimized in the hands of frivolity. But this is not the case with Danny and Anne Graham Lotz: their story of how they stood by their pastor Steve when their church wanted to fire him after he was met with an accident is enough to well tears in our eyes. In a world where friends are more like banes easily tossed around by the wind, the Lotzes are friends we would love to covet. Third, wounds have a way of making us so self-righteous that we would turn everyone who has had offended us into Satan and his devils incarnate. Despite all the pains we have had endured, we do have our blind spots too: "wounded people" as Lotz writes, "need to repent of their sins (too)" (p. 100). However, what is disappointing is that Lotz doesn't bring her exultation to her own church struggles: why did as many as 600 church members vote against her husband? Why did her church refuse to allow her Bible class to be run on their property? Were there any blind spots she has had picked up from her church debacles?
In reading this book one has to admire Lotz for carefully walking with us through every twist and turn of Hagar's cycle from pain to reconciliation. Along the way, she has uncovered for us many gems that have often overlooked if it were not for Lotz's careful eye. Nevertheless, Lotz's exegesis of the text tends to be too myopic at times. Often she would even admit she has to "read between the lines" in order to bring out what she wants to say about Hagar and the Biblical text. There are even times she would even go as far as psychologising the passage in order to elucidate what Hagar must have been feeling at the various junctures of the story. Such exegetical photoshopping of the text is not only uncalled for but it also leads to reading too much of our contemporary nuances into the text. Instead of such myopic photoshopping, Lotz would be better off to consider how the story of Hagar contributes to the wider context of the book of Genesis and the Bible as a whole. It would be more profitable, for instance, to consider how Genesis 16 prepares us for the exodus and the universality of sin. Just as Israel would one day be mistreated by the Egyptians when they were forced to live in Egypt; here we have an Israelite (Sarai) mistreating an Egyptian (Hagar) as she was forced to flee to Egypt. Sin therefore spares none of Adam's children; as cruel as the Egyptians were to the Israelites, given the chance the Israelites did not do any better either. This is why the Apostle Paul has to return back to same of motif of Hagar and Sarah again in Galatians 4.
Nevertheless, Lotz has placed her finger on the white elephant few churches are willing to talk about. Unless we face up to our wounds and stop hurting others, we would ultimately be falling victims to Satan's master plan. Do the church, your church leaders and yourself a favor by picking up Lotz's "Wounded by God's People" today before the next congregational meeting is turned into Satan's workshop.