Painfully Aware of the Abyss: A Review of Holly Burkhalter’s “Good God, Lousy World, & Me”

I once read a novel in which the protagonist divided humankind into two categories: those who are always aware of the “abyss,” and those who are not. “The abyss” referred to the darkness and suffering that pervade human life, the agony that screams from newspaper headlines and whimpers in lonely corners. I immediately recognized myself as one who is painfully aware of the abyss. Holly Burkhalter, author of Good God, Lousy World & Me, is also one of us. For many years, her intimate knowledge of the world’s darkness, particularly the hideous ways that human beings can treat one another, made her an angry atheist.

Burkhalter’s career in human rights work brought her face to face with the craven depths of humanity. Her book opens with a scene in West Africa in 1990, where she and her fellow aid workers heard eyewitness accounts of atrocities taking place in Liberia. When a fellow worker publicly thanked God for carrying the workers safely through the African bush and sparing them flat tires, Burkhalter

…thought I’d vomit…Praising God for our spectacular privileges, right down to our intact tires, in the face of the hunger and trauma we’d just witnessed, struck me as downright obscene. I wasn’t a Christian at the beginning of the trip, and by the end of it I could scarcely tolerate the sight of those who were.

Read the entire review at the Englewood Review of Books.

About Ellen Painter Dollar

Ellen Painter Dollar is a writer focusing on faith, parenting, family, disability, and ethics. She is the author of No Easy Choice: A Story of Disability, Faith, and Parenthood in an Age of Advanced Reproduction (Westminster John Knox, 2012). Visit her web site at for more on her writing and speaking, and to sign up for a (very) occasional email newsletter.