Book Review: The Cup and the Glory

Every once in a while you pick up a recently published book, read through it, and know it’s going to be around for a very long time. It’s not light. It’s not transient. It’s not directed at a particular subset of the culture which will be gone within 5 years of the book hitting the shelves. It’s not a hyped-up, mass-marketed feel-good book (see: Prayer of Jabez, The Purpose-Driven Life, Your Best Life Now, etc.). Rather it is a book where study and emotion meet, and the truths contained in it were first etched deep in the heart of the author.

The Cup and the Glory first and foremost is a book about suffering. I didn’t intend to read this book, having a stack of books on my own shelves waiting to be read. I went looking for Greg Harris’ second book, The Darkness and the Glory, but ran across this one on my pastor’s bookshelf. Harris starts the book off with a letter he wrote to the church he pastored:

Joe Hammond had just given me a piece of peppermint taffy, a ritual he had performed after every church service for as long as I can remember…Being a father of two I knew the predicament of having one piece of candy that could not be shared. Doris Stough saw this too and graciously added another piece of peppermint candy she had in her purse…When I came back to the foyer, [my daughter] had taken both pieces of candy.

“Place them in my hands,” I told her.

“But I don’t want to Daddy,” she replied.

“Lauren, those are my two pieces of candy. They are not yours until I give them to you. I may give you one or both, or I may not, but they are mine to give or mine to keep. Place them in my hands.”…

Lauren reluctantly placed both pieces of candy into my hand. I think she was expecting since she had given them to me, I would automatically given them back to her. In this case, I closed my hand over the candy and told her we would talk about this on the way home. As parents, Betsy and I do not want our children to take what has not been given them or to be presumptuous.

Later that night Harris’ wife gave birth to identical twin girls. Both were stillborn.

Even at the hospital when we first received the news that the babies yet to be born would not live, I still expected down deep that if I gave the twins to God, then He would give them back to me…Only after the nurse walked down the hall with our second baby and turned the corner forever out of our sight this side of heaven, did I fully realize this was one of those times when God had closed His hand over what had been placed into it.

There’s a world of difference between a book written about suffering by someone who has never suffered, and one who has experienced the severe mercy of God where He takes us where we do not want to go in order to produce in us what we could not attain otherwise. But merely experiencing suffering doesn’t make an author’s book helpful for others. Rather, one who has suffered and understands why it is better to suffer and know Christ more deeply than to remain in mediocre faith and a comfortable lifestyle has much to teach us all.

At the heart of Harris’ message is a question about our prayers: When we pray for sanctification and the Father’s will to be done, do we really mean it? Sanctification and ease are two words that do not often room together. If we are to pray for spiritual growth, we must be ready to drink the cup of suffering the Lord may place in our hands. And we’ll only drink that cup if we understand the glory we are to receive is incredibly worth the hardship we must endure to gain it.

There are a lot of books that have sold more copies than The Cup and the Glory. But few books will match it in helpfulness. Harris’ message is a difficult pill to swallow. The God he proclaims shatters the kindly grandpa-in-the-sky image so popular in today’s churches. But a sovereign God who ordains suffering for the sake of love is far greater and more deserving of praise than a God we can look down upon. Get the book. Read it. You’ll probably need it soon.

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