Penguins, Pain and the Whole Shebang
By God As Told to John Shore

Book Details

Discerning Reader Editorial Review

Reviewed 01/22/2008 by Mark Tubbs.

Not Recommended. A witty and unpredictable book for unbelievers. Christian readers beware (see below).

Like the interminable pharmaceutical ads monopolized by the drone of the announcer regaling his television audience with all potential side effects, this book ought to come with such an advisory. This book is not for the faint of heart, the curmudgeonly, the holier-than-thou, the traditionalist, the weaker brother, etc. Then again, maybe these types should read this book and come face to face with a God who sounds suspiciously like a standup comic: “Thank you, thank you very much. I’ll be here throughout eternity.” It might do them good. Shore’s writing does of course require the willing suspension of belief. Provided you are willing, and can stomach a book rife with anthropopathism, reading it will be an unpredictable and thought-provoking ride.

The curtain rises on a heavenly laboratory of sorts, circa Creation. Our first taste of God (as told to John Shore) reminded me of Christopher Lloyd’s professor character in Back to the Future. God is putting the finishing touches on the first human prototype and is explaining to the archangel Michael (“Mickey”) the ins and outs of what will soon be human existence. In the course of this interchange, Shore shows himself to be a wordsmith of range possessing a knack for rendering the actually impossible literarily plausible.

Following the human creation vignette is a series of entries written from God’s perspective (as told to John Shore) to atheists and agnostics and anyone else who has a hard time believing in Him. In these, Shore retains the flavor of his humor but sensitively modifies his tone and delivery when necessary. Although he often skirts the edges of propriety in treating delicate issues, he never falls over the edge into bad taste – unless you are one of the faint of heart, the curmudgeonly, the holier-than-thou, the traditionalist, the weaker brother, etc.

I came across a few theological sticking points, which I mention here to note for the record, but refuse to dwell on them for ‘purpose’ and ‘audience’ reasons that will become clear later in this review. Firstly, God’s chief end (as told by John Shore) seems to be human freewill fueled by blind and self-effacing love, when Scripture indicates a more transcendent reason for creating humanity. Secondly, Shore’s God seems to be open to theistic evolution. Thirdly, Shore’s explanation of the Trinity comes close to the ‘three-gods-in one’ error. Fourthly, Shore’s God contends that He lives in every human being. And finally, Shore’s God experiences “mortal agony” by rolling on the floor in pain whenever a human being experiences a tragedy…even a sliver. If so, God must have worn out the heavenly carpet many times over.

Those issues aside, Shore does not sugarcoat human sin, and shows a profound understand of the doctrine of the atonement. The book ends with another vignette; that of John Shore’s actual, true-to-life conversion experience. Shore narrates his own life experience with as much verve and panache as the fictional portions, and again presents the gospel reality of the chasm that exists between a holy God and sinful man apart from God’s gracious intervention in our lives. My favorite bits of the book were the two episodes when ‘God’ allowed John the divine stenographer (Shore, not son of Zebedee) to insert his two cents. What emerged was nonsense, and had me laughing like I used to laugh at John Arbuckle’s antics in Garfield comics.

A final word about audience and purpose: this book has a specific raison d’être. It is designed to present unbelievers with the existence of God in a way that differs from virtually every other traditional approach. Instead of lambasting this book for its irreverence (it rides the fence between PG-13 and R), I believe we ought to say with the apostle Paul that we are happy for the good news of God to go out into the world, in whatever form.