God Is Not Nice

by Ulrich Lehner, Ave Maria Press, 160pp, £15

Near the middle of his new book, the German philosopher Dr Ulrich Lehner says: “The way previous generations have understood God has been destroyed.” It’s a grim diagnosis of how our modern era has affected the human soul and our capacity to contemplate the eternal things. What has been lost is a true belief in God’s mysterious nature, and a corresponding reverence that manifests itself in our liturgies and our lives.

This book is not simply an elegy for what has been. Instead, Lehner writes that the traditions of the Catholic Church are just as sound and life-giving today as they were in ages past. The stuff of sainthood is all around us, he believes. All we must do is claim and practise it.

God is Not Nice was inspired by interactions Lehner had with students in his classes at Marquette University, where he realised that the God of these students’ imaginations had little in common with the God of Scripture and Catholic tradition. Pop culture theology (sadly often taught in Catholic schools and parishes) gives us a God of niceness, of convenience, of vapid sentiment and vague supportiveness. Lehner believes that the honest reader will quickly recognise the pervasiveness of these contemporary notions of God, even in the lives of faithful believers, and he moves on swiftly to exploring how to change things.

The first step to curing contemporary spiritual flabbiness is to recognise how widespread it is. Lehner sees many culprits: from Enlightenment notions of individualism to scientism. He pinpoints and dismantles ideology after ideology, demonstrating how each constitutes an assault on a proper understanding of the human person and his relationship to God.

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