I admit, I haven't read the book itself. In fact, I'd never heard of it until this past weekend when I attended a ladies' retreat with my church. The agenda said that, over the course of three days, we'd watch five video sessions and split into groups after each one to discuss the correlating discussion questions and assigned Scripture readings. Sounds great, I thought.
The first session was quite beautiful and insightful. Ann Voskamp has a unique and soothing poetic style that, though it was difficult to get used to at first, I really enjoyed. I'm a lover of poetry and of the written word, so it appealed to me personally. She talked about how important it is to make a conscious effort to recognize the everyday gifts God gives us--curls tied with ribbons, the smell of fresh baked bread, freckles on little boys' faces--you know, the beauties God has woven into the fabric of our existence--things we often overlook or take for granted, especially in times of trouble. Recognizing God's thousands of gifts (big and small), she taught, will multiply our joy and help us recognize God's grace. I agree.
Then we went on to session two. And I started to get uncomfortable with the direction she seemed to be heading. By the end of session three, I knew I was done.
Now, I don't know what she says in the book, but in the video in session two, she said, "What if our troubles are only feelings?" Um, no. Say that to a mom of young children when she has just been diagnosed with cancer and given only a few months to live (even with treatment). She'd be within her rights to give you a good punch in the face.
And a question in the study guide for that session (top of pg. 31) reads, "What if the things that feel like trouble are gifts of grace?"
And, what if the things that feel like trouble, are actually trouble?
John 16:33 Jesus says, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."
And, Paul writes to the Romans, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: 'For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.' No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:35-39)
These passages should make it clear that the troubles themselves aren't grace, but Jesus is the source of our victory over those things. If troubles themselves are gifts of grace, then what need do we have to be delivered from them? They must actually be good, right? What right do we have to acknowledge a loss? What right do we have to mourn? What need have we of comfort?
But Jesus said, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted." (Matthew 5:4)
The video session for the third lesson got even more convoluted. Talking about hardships (in her case, the example was of watching her boys fighting at the table), she said (and I'm quoting from memory), "I feel like a greedy child taking candy from God's hands, but refusing the trouble." The implication here is that God doles out both blessings and troubles (I can only guess this means suffering, hardship, evil, and trials of all kinds, as she makes zero distinction between them), and we should be equally thankful for both.
She also said, still speaking of all kinds of trouble that, presumably God hands us, that we should, "give thanks for all things."
She uses no Scripture to support this--probably because the Scripture passages that come the closest to her subject say something very different.
Matthew records Jesus's words in Matthew 7:9-11 (which is also recorded in Luke 11:11-13), "Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!"
So, would God give us trouble? Should we ever consider bad things as God's gifts? Obviously not, from what Jesus adamantly proclaims here.
So, if God doesn't give us bad things, why does Ann Voskamp tell us we should thank him for "all things?" The Bible doesn't even ask us to do that. I Thessalonians 5:18 tells us to "give thanks in every circumstance." That little preposition "in" is very important. It does not mean "for" which, when Ann uses it, means something completely different. God wants us to recognize God's victory and power within every circumstance--the good, the bad, the ugly. As David says, in Psalm 9:9, "The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble." But, He never asks us to thank Him for the bad or the ugly, as if He was the instigator or the source of the evil in the world.
According to Ann, God dishes out the trouble. According to the Bible, God is a refuge from it.
Ann uses very little Scripture that directly backs up this point, and the Scriptures she does use, she misinterprets. On pages 44-45 of the study guide, she has us read Luke 9:37-43, provided below:
"The next day, when they came down from the mountain, a large crowd met him. A man in the crowd called out, "Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. A spirit seizes him and he suddenly screams; it throws him into convulsions so that he foams at the mouth. It scarcely ever leaves him and is destroying him. I begged your disciples to drive it out, but they could not." "O unbelieving and perverse generation," Jesus replied, "how long shall I stay with you and put up with you? Bring your son here." Even while the boy was coming, the demon threw him to the ground in a convulsion. But Jesus rebuked the evil spirit, healed the boy and gave him back to his father. And they were all amazed at the greatness of God...."
In reference to the above passage, Ann asks the question, "How did Jesus see good and beauty in situations where everyone else saw only a mess?"
No. Let's think about what actually happened here. Jesus didn't see "good" or "beauty" in this situation. He saw evil, and He cast it out.
Throughout this session, both in the video and in the study guide, Ann keeps repeating the phrase, "All is grace." At first I had trouble wrapping my mind about what she meant by that... until I started analyzing all of the above misinterpretations of Scripture, mis-directions, and flawed assignations to God's character. So, let's look at that phrase in light of all the other things she's been saying. Naturally, if you believe that God is the sort of being who is the source of both good and evil, as Ann seems to, then this makes sense. Perhaps it could be true that "all is grace" if there is no genuine difference between good and evil. But even as she blurs the lines between them when she claims both come directly from God, she continues to claim that God is good. Wait... what's the definition of "good" then? And what is "evil"? Do these words even mean anything anymore?
When you take a word pregnant with meaning, like the word “grace,” and strip it of its opposites, the word ceases to mean anything. If "all is grace," that means that "grace" has no opposite. Evil is also grace. Sin is also grace. Intense, meaningless suffering is also grace. And it all came from God.
No, Ann. No.
What about the young lady whose father has been raping her from the time she was three years old until she turned 16 and finally ran away, only to be sucked in by a sex trafficker? Is that grace? Did God do that? Is that one of the "good gifts" from His hand?
If “all is grace,” what moral responsibility could there be for us when we sin? After all, the suffering we cause others must really be just the gift of grace to them from God’s hand, right? So, nothing I do could ever really be blameworthy. And that poor raped girl has no right to feel angry or hurt by what Daddy did. Because it was really all arranged by God. And, in some baffling twist of logic, it was good.
If “all is grace,” what is Satan’s job? The Bible calls him “a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”(I Peter 5:8) Ann ignores him completely.
If “all is grace,” what need do we have for Jesus? Why did He have to die? If every good thing and bad thing are equally gifts of grace from God’s hand, then we would have no need of rescue. And when evil and sin lose their meanings, so do goodness and grace.
Actually, I could probably make a list of one thousand things that aren’t grace:
Then whence cometh evil?