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Three Mile an Hour God: Spiritual Formation Book 10

"The affirmed life must not become either a lazy life or a happy-ever-after, easy life. The affirmed life is not a life of the power of positive thinking. To be affirmed by God means to live with danger and promise."


Kosuke Koyama's book Three Mile an Hour God was written out of the experience of the Second World War and its aftermath in Japan. As Koyama says in his preface, it is "a collection of biblical reflections by one who is seeking the source of healing from the wounds... inflicted by the destructive power of idolatry." The title speaks of a God who moves at walking pace - three miles an hour - and even, in Jesus, comes to a "full stop" - nailed to a cross. If we try to move faster than the love of God, says Koyama, we fall into idolatry.

What is the book about?

Three Mile an Hour God has 45 chapters, each a separate short reflection headed by a Bible verse. Some deal specifically with Japan, considering her role in WWII, the damage inflicted by the atomic bombs, and her recovery since the war (the book was written in 1979). Others consider the ambivalent nature of technology, the interaction of the church with the surrounding culture, and what it means to live well, to love well, and to use time well. Koyama thinks deeply and packs a lot of meaning into his short, punchy sentences.

What encouraged you?

In chapter 9 Koyama relates an experience of standing in the mist in Wilmot Pass, in New Zealand, "in the silence of a primeval world." He felt his insignificance in space and time. Out of that he reflected on what makes us, tiny and ephemeral as we are, human.  Thought and morality, which he calls thinking-well; and care for and responsibility to others, which he calls purity of heart. Both, he says, are only possible when in them people see God. 

And then he writes this beautiful line: "Thinking-well and purity of heart meet in the point of 'seeing God'. Yet God remains unseen." I loved that. All our efforts of thinking and loving are directed towards seeing God - and yet we never quite get there. We do so much, and we find ourselves standing in a misty valley, realising again how small our life really is.

Image by Javier Calvo Parapar from Pixabay

What challenged you?

Chapter 5 is a meditation on the parable of the rich farmer, who grew so much grain that he decided to build bigger barns to store it all. But God said, "This night your soul is required of you..." 

Koyama relates this parable to spiritual riches, linking it to the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector in the temple. The Pharisee thought his soul was in a pretty good place, and thanked God that he wasn't like that wretched tax collector. I could probably say the same as the rich farmer and the Pharisee: "Soul, you have ample goods laid up..." Or as Koyama puts it, "God is on your side, and in his name both your soul and stomach are safe!"

I see in myself some of that spiritual and material complacency. So the searching questions at the end of this chapter were a challenge to me. When do I love myself rightly? When do I love myself without incurring injury to myself and my neighbour? As he says, these are difficult questions to answer.

How has it changed how you see things?

I really appreciated Koyama's thoughts on technology. Although written in the 1970s, they don't seem dated, as we have become ever more surrounded by computers. In chapter 10 he talks about the way that technology makes us see only the streamlined outside of things. "It covers up all the confusing parts," he says, "and presents to us only the attractive, simple side - shiny switches." In the same way, we present a streamlined version of ourselves to the world. This, of course, has only become more prevalent in the world of social media. But God asks us to look below the surface, to the confusing reality of ourselves and others.

And in the final chapter he talks about the relationship between technology and social justice. Technology can be used for good or evil, but if we don't establish justice and righteousness as a priority over technological advancement, then we will find that "technology brings desolation to mankind". "In the context of social injustice," Koyama says, "technology makes the rich ever richer and the poor ever poorer." We have got to the point where one can barely function in society without a mobile phone, and people find themselves locked into unaffordable monthly contracts. Meanwhile, mining for the raw materials for these phones causes health and environmental problems elsewhere. How do we practice justice and righteousness in this world?

What would you like to explore further?

Francis Xavier is mentioned in Three Mile an Hour God several times. He was an evangelist to Indonesia, Japan and India in the 16th century. I know his name but that's about it. Koyama's comments made me think that I should find out more about him.

By Rangan Datta Wiki - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0


What is one thing you will remember?

 I picked out a number of excellent quotes as I was reading Three Mile an Hour God. I certainly hope I will remember some of them. I'll leave you with a closing selection.

"Theology is to do with the living continuous story of Jesus Christ and how in this life God revealed himself to us."

"Genuine resourcefulness comes from the experience of 'being carried by God' instead of 'carrying God'. This, however, is against our liking."

"I understand that 'to be human' means to live in two-way traffic and 'to be divine' means to give up one's right of way for the sake of the other."


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