The Book I Can’t Stop Recommending

By Stephen Bates
Do you know what question most of my students despise? “What are you going to do when you graduate?” You can see them shrink back the second it’s asked as they get hit again with the reality that they at some point will need to choose a profession, and that choice holds the weight of the world. Most of us have been told that the key to happiness is to find a job that allows us to fully express ourselves, to live our complete authentic selves. Under that weight we either become so hurried that we constantly teeter on the edge of burn out or despair because our relationship to work is profoundly broken.

Enter Alan Noble’s You Are Not Your Own, the book I can’t stop recommending - this book not-so-gently turned my face to Jesus and his grace. Really. But not without a little terror.

The first half of the book surveys our inhuman culture. Alan convincingly shows us we live in a world that promotes belonging to ourselves. But the promises “belonging to yourself” give us—autonomy, full-expression, joy—never pan out. We are left anxious, hurried, paralyzed by decisions, and deeply unwell. Noble does not take his foot off the neck of our inhuman culture until the second half of the book.

And then, the turn at chapter five. The turn knocked me to the ground. See, when I pick up a book by a Christian teacher, I realize I’ve come to expect and even desire what Noble calls “technique”: practices and methods which allow us to have efficiency in every field of our lives. I come to crave a type of “Christian” life-hackery that quietly promises some sort of trade: practice Sabbath to experience God’s presence. Stringing together a flurry of Christian practices and mantras cannot produce comfort. It may even hurt, if done with efficiency in mind. It is not enough.

What is enough? That we belong to Christ. Really. We cannot justify our existence through our deadly doings. Our existence is justified by being shot through by the grandeur of God. Our existence is justified because that breath you just took was coaxed out and held by the Maker of it all. And more. "He loves you and gave himself for you" (Gal. 2:20).
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