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*****= An all-time favorite
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*****Discovering the Character of God

by George MacDonald

compiled, arranged and edited by Michael R. Phillips

Reviewed March 29, 2003.
Bethany House Publishers, Minneapolis, 1989.  317 pages.
A Sonderbooks’ Stand-out of 2003:  #1, Nonfiction Rereads

I discovered this book four years ago.  I’ve read it slowly and thoughtfully about three times, and still found new things to underline on my last trip through it.

C. S. Lewis said of George MacDonald, “I have never concealed the fact that I regarded him as my master; indeed I fancy I have never written a book in which I did not quote from him.”  Many other authors like J. R. R. Tolkien, G. K. Chesterton, W. H. Auden, and Madeleine L’Engle have expressed their admiration for him.  I read the book when my interest was piqued by reading a novel by Michael Phillips set in Germany, where some wonderful Christian characters quote from George MacDonald.  (We have that series of novels at the Sembach Library.)

This collection is a good way to find out what all the fuss is about.  Michael Phillips has organized a series of short chapters (suitable for a morning’s devotional reading) with selections of George MacDonald’s writings on different topics.  He includes poetry, a nonfiction selection and a fiction selection in each chapter.

I have to admit that some will find some of his ideas heretical.  No, it doesn’t match standard Evangelical teaching at every point, though he does teach that faith in Christ is essential.  In fact, he teaches that "As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive."  Personally, I find his ideas beautiful and presenting a much deeper view of God’s love.

I’ll copy out some of the passages I have underlined:

“The very best of men said he knew God, that God was like himself, only greater, that whoever would do what he told him should know God and know that he spoke the truth about God, that he had come from God to tell the world that God was truth and love.”

“The business of life is not to get as much as you can, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.”

“Surely such a God would not have created men knowing that some of them would commit such horrible sins from which he could not redeem them.”

“He wants to give you your life again, the bliss of your being.  He will not speak to you one word of reproach, unless you should try to justify yourself by accusing your neighbor.  He will leave it to those who cherish the same sins in their hearts to cast stones at you; he who has not sin casts no stones.  Heartily he loves you; heartily he hates the evil in you.”

“The Lord never came to deliver men from the consequences of their sins while those sins yet remained.”

“He came to do more than take the punishment for our sins.  He came as well to set us free from our sin.”

“There isn’t a word of reconciling God to us in the New Testament, for there was no need of that; it was us that needed to be reconciled to him.”

“If Jesus suffered for men, it was because his Father suffers for men.”

“There must be truth in the scent of that pinewood; someone must mean it.”

“Your business is to acquaint yourself with the man Jesus:  he will be to you the one to reveal the Father.  Take your New Testament as if you had never seen it before, and read to find out.  The point is, there was a man who said he knew God and that if you would give heed to him, you should know him too.”

“It would be ten times more terrible if God did not hate and punish sin.  Do you think Jesus came to deliver us from the punishment of our sins?  He would not have moved a step for that.  The terrible thing is to be bad, and all punishment is to help to deliver us from it, nor will it cease till we have given up being bad.  God will have us good.”

“Those who say justice means the punishing of sin, and mercy the not punishing of sin, and attribute both to God, would make a schism in the very idea of God.”

“Evil is a hard thing, even for God to overcome.  Yet thoroughly and altogether and triumphantly will he overcome it.  But not by crushing it underfoot--any god of man’s idea could do that--but by conquest of heart over heart, of life over life, of life over death, of love over all.  Nothing shall be too hard for the God who fears not pain, but will deliver and make true and blessed at his own severest cost.”

“Our business is not to think correctly, but to live truly.  Then first will there be a possibility of our thinking correctly.”

“Till they have done being anxious about their own salvation, we must forgive them that they can contemplate with calmness the damnation of a universe, all the while believing that God is yet more indifferent than they.”

“If God punishes sin, it must be merciful to punish sin--for God is merciful.  And if God forgives sin, it must be just to forgive sin--for God is just.”

“God does punish sin, but there is no opposition between punishment and forgiveness.  The one may be essential to the possibility of the other.”

“The opposite of evil is good, not suffering.  The opposition of sin is not suffering, but righteousness.”

“When a man loathes himself, he has begun to be saved.  Punishment tends to this result.  Not for its own sake, not as a make-up for sin, not for divine revenge, not for any satisfaction to justice.  Punishment is for the sake of amendment and atonement.  God is bound by his love to punish sin in order to deliver his creature.  He is bound by his justice to destroy the sin in his creation.”

“Because God is so altogether alien to wrong, because it is to him a heart-pain and trouble that one of his little ones should do the evil thing, there is, I believe, no extreme of suffering to which, for the sake of destroying the evil thing in them, he would not subject them.  A man might flatter, or bribe, or coax a tyrant.  But there is no refuge from the love of God.”

“They are those who would have us love Christ for protecting us from God, instead of for leading us to God--the one home of safety--in whom alone is bliss, away from whom all is darkness and misery.”

“He will spare nothing to bring his children back to himself, their sole well-being, whether he achieve it here--or there.”

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Copyright © 2005 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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