Naked Before God: The Return of a Broken Disciple

By Bill Williams with Martha Williams
Morehouse. 1998. 328 pp. Pb. $ 14.95.
ISBN 0-8192-1878-2

Reviewed by John Sniffen, Richmond, Va.


Bill Williams has written a very good book for those who wonder why, if God is all-powerful, there is imperfection and suffering in this world. He had good reason to ask such questions. He was one of three children in one family who were born with cystic fibrosis. Noting that the odds of such an occurrence were one-in-four, no wonder Williams asks, "Why?"

His siblings died young, but Williams was given a reprieve. The doctors said he would only live to 13 and he survived nearly three times that long. Given that his struggle to survive also included dealing with diabetes, at times his lengthened life was both a blessing and a curse.

But lest one think that Williams’ book is a cry for pity, that’s not the case. The computer software programmer who turned to the ministry weaves a modern gospel that graphically describes both his physical and spiritual struggles and leaves the reader with a strong sense of hope.

Williams writes from the point of view of a mythical disciple, Nathaniel, who fled naked from the Garden of Gethsemane the night Christ was arrested. Nathaniel, like Williams, suffers from cystic fibrosis and diabetes.

This version of Jesus’ teaching and suffering crosses freely back and forth between ancient Israel and modern America, but without losing the strength of the story. For example, at one point the disciples are loaded in a car crossing by ferry to the Texas coast on a hot summer day. Recognizing them, a woman in another car yells to Nathaniel that Jesus will heal him. But he knows it won’t happen; he knows he will die a slow and agonizing death. Given Nathaniel’s closeness to the great healer, it is one of the big “Whys?” to which Williams searches for answers.

To reveal how he resolves his doubts would take away from the strength of his book. It is Williams’ story, and he tells it best. He finds his answers and — while realistic about his physical fate — is spiritually ready.

Williams also offers thoughts on modern church ritual. For example, he says that the Communion service emphasizes that Jesus died because we are sinful, making us feel guilty. “We have to face up to this,” he writes. “Our Communion liturgies do exactly the opposite of what Christ was trying to do: bring forgiveness to the world. Christ died defending people’s right to be genuinely cleared of such burdens.”

Instead, he challenges congregations to try what he calls “The Potluck Prayers” which follow a first-century Christian practice that predates the modern Communion liturgy. Williams includes such an experimental service as an appendix to his book.