Book Review: “The Insanity of God” by Nik Ripken

Posted: October 21, 2013 in Book Reviews
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The Insanity of GodNik Ripken is not the actual name of the author of The Insanity of God. The author uses a pseudonym out of concerns for the safety of the many people he and his wife have met with through many years of Christian service and missionary activity. The book tells the remarkable story of a young Christian couple from Kentucky who follow their call to the mission field, through a number of years of hard work with few encouraging results, through a crisis of faith upon the sudden death of one of their teenage sons, and then back to a faith resurrected as Nik met with and interviewed over 700 individuals across 72 countries where Christians have been and/or are persecuted for their faith.

Through the journey, their purpose changed from going to a people group in order to spread the gospel and grow disciples to one of encountering the living Christ and learning how to follow him through the example and extraordinary stories of those who risk all every day in order to live out their faith. Reading the book is a humbling experience for those of us who sit in the comfort of a church pew whenever and wherever we want, praising God publicly without fear of more than a little inconvenience here and there.

I have long had a passion for the persecuted church. I remember as a newlywed in our first apartment in Kansas City in 1979 stuffing envelopes with portions of scripture and hand addressing them to individuals in persecuted countries. I have long been affiliated with organizations that minister to and provide Christian resources for believers in countries where they are not likely to have access or the funds to purchase Bibles or other Christian literature. It was the dream of a lifetime for me to spend some time in China in 2012 meeting with believers from several mostly rural churches, celebrating with them the distribution of Bibles and worshiping God together. It was a privilege to briefly speak at some of those services, but mostly a blessing for me to see their faith, their joy at being given a copy of the Bible in their language, and their exuberant worship of the same Lord I worship.

The Insanity of God is a very honest account by the Ripkens of the questions they faced, the lack of answers that sometimes haunted them, and the healing that has come over time following the devastating loss of their son. It is filled with account after account of miraculous ways that God is at work around the world just being God and doing what he has always done. It is a very different story than our typical western, American, Christian experience. There are stories in the book that will encourage you regarding the ability of God to accomplish his purposes in the darkest, most evil environments on earth. There are countless examples of followers who risk all because Jesus is worth it.

A number of comments jumped off the pages as challenging to me as I sit in the comfort of my home, writing this across from bookshelves filled with Bibles and Christian resources. Here are a few of them:

“Suffering is one of God’s ordained means for the growth of his church.”

Regarding American Christianity: “How in the world was it that these people managed to get so much more excited about what happened on a high school football field on Friday nights than they did about the resurrection of Jesus at church on Easter Sunday morning?”

“I saw no separation or distinction between accepting Christ and surrendering my whole life to Him to do what He wanted me to do.”

“How is it, I wondered, that so many people are willing to die for financial or humanitarian reasons while many Christian groups insist on waiting until it is safe to obey Jesus’ command to ‘Go’ into all the world?”

Regarding the paperwork and committee process they had to go through in order to be appointed as missionaries: “When they asked me the same question about when I had received my call, I looked around the meeting room and simply said, ‘I read Matthew 28.'”

“Their stories convinced me that it would never be enough to feed and shelter them. We do that much for animals.”

“The stronger the persecution, the more significant the spiritual vitality of the believers.”

From a Russian believer: “For us, persecution is like the sun coming up in the east. It happens all the time. It’s the way things are. There is nothing unusual or unexpected about it. Persecution for our faith has always been–and probably always will be–a normal part of life.”

Regarding obedience to the great commission: “You don’t have to come back. You just have to go.”

From a believer in Eastern Europe: “Don’t ever give up in freedom what we would never have given up in persecution!”

“God, evidently, was doing today everything that He had done in the Bible!”

“Believers who experienced and endured persecution found their faith strengthened, deepened, and matured. They were being changed.”

“Jesus was worth whatever his faith might cost him.”

“Rather than thinking that we are all alone and that we have to start from scratch in wolf country, a much better and more effective strategy for carrying out the great commission, especially in our world’s toughest and most discouraging places, would be to learn what God has already been doing and is doing there, join Him, and together figure out how we can build on that.”

“For decades now, many concerned western believers have sought to rescue their spiritual brothers and sisters around the world who suffer because they choose to follow Jesus. Yet our pilgrimage among house churches in persecution convinced us that God may actually want to use them to save us from the often debilitating, and sometimes spiritually fatal, effects of our watered-down, powerless western faith.”

“Ruth and I have seldom encountered a mature believer living in persecution who asked us to pray that their persecution would cease. We have never heard that request. Rather, believers in persecution ask us to pray that ‘they would be faithful and obedient through their persecution and suffering.'”

“The freedom to believe and witness has nothing to do with the government or political system… They (and you and I) are just as free to share Jesus today in Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, Communist countries as you and I are in America. It isn’t a matter of political freedom. It is simply a matter of obedience.”

“If we spend our lives so afraid of suffering, so averse to sacrifice, that we avoid even the risk of persecution or crucifixion, then we might never discover the true wonder, joy and power of a resurrection faith.”

“We are often asked if we believe that persecution is coming to America. My response is often rather pointed. I say, quite sincerely, ‘Why would Satan want to wake us up when he has already shut us up?’ Why would Satan bother with us when we are already accomplishing his goal? He will likely conclude that it is better to let us sleep.”

“Perhaps the question should not be: ‘Why are others persecuted?’ Perhaps the better question is: ‘Why are we not?'”

Such statements are, indeed, challenging and they ring true to the gospel. Jesus promised his followers that they would be hated and persecuted just as he was. Those of us who claim the faith and yet fail to experience any persecution are either living in an oddity of history when for a short while in a limited geographical area Jesus’ words are not being fulfilled, or (far more likely) we simply aren’t living up to our calling in ways that bring about the persecution experienced by so many around the world for the past 2,000 years.

As I see lukewarm Christianity stagnating the lives and witness of tens of thousands of American churches, as I see pastors, leaders and church members turn aside from historical, biblical doctrine in order to be liked or non-controversial in a politically correct environment, I mourn at the loss of real, life-changing faith such accommodation brings.

I wonder about the possibility of such persecution of Christians ever becoming the norm in America. On one hand, I see the legal and cultural consequences growing for those who live and profess sound biblical faith and practice. On the other hand, though, Ripken’s comments above about us avoiding persecution because we are spiritually asleep may sadly describe our future instead.

None of us long for the physical, career, family, cultural impact of persecution in our lives. Yet it is simply true that throughout Christian history the church has thrived under persecution. The faithless get weeded out and the spiritually mature continue on as faithful, inspiring examples to others, even to death if need be. Maybe persecution would be the best thing that could happen to the church today.

As Ripken says in his concluding remarks, “I know this all sounds crazy. But I assure you that it’s not. It’s just… THE INSANITY OF GOD.”

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