In her latest book All That’s Good, Hannah Anderson stirs our appetite for goodness. There is a satisfying simplicity to her thesis that we ought to train ourselves in discernment by taking up Paul’s charge to the Philippians and seeking out “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable” in the world around us. But, as with all of Anderson’s books, her thesis has hidden depths.
Anderson reminds us that in order to seek good, we must first believe that goodness exists in the world around us. The daily onslaught of news and information can overwhelm us and tempt us to “opt out of the struggle, to retreat into our safe spaces, hunker down, and stay in our comfort zones” (40). Developing discernment, however, gives us the courage to “see the world for what it was meant to be and believe that God is powerful enough to restore it to its intended purpose” (49).
Each chapter begins with a personal anecdote about where Anderson has seen goodness in the world, in everything from baking blackberry pies to the history of tea to the experience of shopping at thrift stores. Readers who enjoyed her last book, Humble Roots, already know that Anderson chooses her metaphors masterfully, bringing rich truths to life through vivid illustrations. For example, she describes a family trip to Paris where they saw a statue in the Louvre that was beautiful even though it showed signs that it had been “manhandled.” Anderson uses this image to illustrate how we can develop a discerning eye that sees beauty even in broken things. We can recognize the masterful work of the artist even after damage has been done. And such appreciation can renew our longing for the creator of all good things to come and renew his creation.
One of the important distinctions Anderson makes is that goodness is something we pursue, not something we preserve. In her chapter “Whatever is Pure”, Anderson makes clear that purity is not simply a matter of avoiding evil. If it were, we might be right to simply avoid the world, with its mixed bag of good and evil. Instead, Anderson suggests that although discernment takes courage, the alternative is a fearful naivete. Thus, “the best way to preserve someone’s innocence is to show them the difference between good and evil and teach them how to pursue whatever is pure” (128). I’ve always loved Rosaria Butterfield’s reminder that “Sin isn’t something other people track in our front door” because her words remind me that my primary job as a Christian isn’t to avoid being contaminated by sin, but to remember that the temptation to sin already lives in me. Discernment offers us a courageous freedom. With it, I can venture out into the world (and let the things of this world into my heart and mind).
What I appreciated most about this book was that it reminded me to enjoy the world. We were meant to respond to goodness, and the world is full of beautiful things that not only “draw us to themselves” but also “draw us beyond themselves to a greater reality than either of us” (136). Anderson’s book teaches us to go back to our own lives and look for those things which draw us out of ourselves so that we can see how all our desires point back to the creator of all good things. “We find his goodness binding our hearts to Him, drawing us on, ever pursuing, ever seeking, ever searching until that glorious day when the beauty of the Lord finally rests upon us” (145).
For those who tend to overthink everything (like me!) and for those who tend to follow their emotions, All That’s Good illustrates how discernment trains us to join our desire with our intellect. Discernment helps us distinguish “right and almost right” (borrowing Spurgeon’s definition), so that we can learn to desire good things.
“There are many who say, ‘Who will show us some good?” says the Psalmist. All That’s Good reminds us there is plenty of good for those who have eyes to see it.