- It is easy sometimes to imagine God is asleep, uninvolved, or uncaring about the state of His world. But in the hurricane of sorrow and loss, and need, and grief, Hannah Corwin’s book BUT GOD. is a testament and testimony that tells a different story.
In an atmosphere of horrific destruction, a world, where daily, billions of voices cry out for deliverance from hunger, violence, oppression, slavery, poverty, and addiction; for healing from disease, mental illness, depression; for rescue from verbal, sexual, and physical abuse, for rest and reprieve from war, abandonment, loneliness, confusion, hopelessness, and suicidal thoughts: what are we to believe? It is easy sometimes to imagine God is asleep, uninvolved, or uncaring about the state of His world. But in the hurricane of sorrow and loss, and need, and grief, Hannah Corwin’s book BUT GOD. is a testament and testimony that tells a different story.
In words and photographs, it testifies that God is very much involved with His creation, and His intentions and heart towards humanity corporately and individually is always and ever LOVE and Loving. it testifies that He is bringing the physically and emotionally dead back to life. He is restoring lost dreams, redeeming mistakes, and canceling consequences for crimes committed. He is defeating cancer and all manner of disease, He is lifting despair and torment, He is sustaining His children when their hopes are dashed, and aspirations must be recalibrated. He is with them and walking them through the shadow of death. And His goodness and mercy emanate from HIM and follow them forever.
GENESIS – Beginning of a book
Hannah Corwin, a portrait photographer who has worked with leading brands and top photographers and clients around the world, wasn’t merely translating her photographic gift for capturing beautiful people beautifully in BUT GOD., she was on assignment for God. Hannah had one of those interludes, those encounters where God reveals Himself and his plan. When she went on a trip to Uganda, volunteering to take pictures for a month, she met women who had endured “wars, rape, traumatic childbirths, murder of loved ones, mutilation and more.” And there and then she saw “how their lives had been sewn back together through His love and restorative power.”
“Sometimes we want Him to answer our prayers and fix things quickly. But what He’s always wanted is to be close to us. – Jill
She asked, “Why are people not hearing or seeing these stories of hope, restoration, and redemption?” Whether it was just a frustrated rhetorical question thrown out to God or an expectant prayer requiring an answer, God replied, “So, go tell them. Capture my work in everyone, from the faceless to the famous, from the rich to the poor, no one is exempt from my love…These are my stories of hope. Now go tell them.”
Like much of God’s directions, assignments, projections, and prophesies, it took time and more miles for Hannah to be ready to tell God’s stories, because He was working on her story at the same time.
Capture my work in everyone, from the faceless to the famous, from the rich to the poor, no one is exempt from love. These are my stories of hope. Now go tell them.” – BUT GOD.
Coffee Table book, yes, or no?
The book has been called a “coffee table” book. Coffee Table books usually have beautiful or dramatic or arresting photographs of artwork or nature or people or historical events or celestial wonders. Coffee Table books are long on visuals, and usually shorter on text. And since But God. posits humans as God’s artwork, reflecting Ephesians 2:10 (“For we are his workmanship [artistry], created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them), in one way the coffee table attribution makes sense. But God. features beautiful, dramatic, and arresting photographs of people who have had equally or perhaps surpassing dramatic healing/transformation journeys with God, so it possesses a certain “coffee-table-ness.” Something you browse through, while you’re waiting for your host to deliver the Hors-d’oeuvres, or something to ooh and ah over while sharing coffee, or one of the books on a table at your upscale dermatologist or dentist. Most coffee table books that live in homes tell the person who lives in that home’s guests what its owner is interested in or what they think is important, usually in the hopes that those who see it will approve of the owners, insight, taste, artfulness. Well if you own this book and display it, it declares that “God” and preeminently the God of the Bible, the God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is important and real to you. And He is up to good things in a messy world. But does it also declare that cosmetic beauty is valuable? …And God takes his cues from Paris, New York, and Milan?
A matter of perspective
At first, looking at the photos styled in the manner of celebrity spreads, fashion shoots, editorial layouts on famous people in magazines like Vogue, Elle, Vanity Fair, in keeping with Hannah Corwin’s experience and vocation, one might be confused. The thought, “mmm, these don’t look like slaves or servants… Didn’t Jesus say, “But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted” (Mt. 23:11-12). Isn’t God’s kingdom, the upside-down kingdom? Wouldn’t pictures that reflect the dire circumstances outlined in 2 Cor 11:22-23, where we see Paul battling, death, hunger, torture, shipwreck, sun, and wind be more appropriate, since many of the people in the book suffered disease, homelessness, emotional, and physical trauma. And certainly, when you read it, those represented in BUT GOD. have endured monumental losses and unfathomable challenges. One might expect more the black and white depression-era photography that captures dignity amid tragedy: dusty, smudged faces, lined from worry and weather; intense eyes that burn a hole through the black and white and sepia tones of the photo paper.
But in reading the intro and story of the author, and the stories of the beautifully photographed men, women, and children across ages and ethnicities featured and their inspiring stories, another Scripture comes to mind: Daniel 12:3 “Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.” Also, Matthew 13:43, “Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” And again in Philippians, “..so that you may become blameless and pure, ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.’ Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life” (2:15-16). If that is true, these pictures of God’s storytellers, present them as God sees them, a proud papa, displaying pictures of His sons and daughters, after He has carefully wiped off the ashes and mud and sprinkled them with stardust. These children have humbled themselves and they have been exalted. These are shining stars. These are both the faithful brother and the prodigal son or daughter with a ring and a robe, wearing the Father’s mercy, grace, healing…and glory (Lk 15:11-32).
“ [S]o that you may become blamelessand pure, “children of Godwithout fault in a warped and crooked generation.”[a]Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky16 as you hold firmly to the word of life (Philippians 2:15-16).
BUT GOD. tells the overwhelmingly victorious stories of orphans given families, of both unexpected and believed-for-healings and losses, of the dead raised to life, of financial reversals, of wrestling with personal limitations and pushing beyond them, of journeys of discovery about our motives, our identity, our weaknesses, and strengths, and the cause of our calamity that in most cases arrives at a happy ending. That is not to say that it always leaves the reader satisfied. When someone is rescued from suicidal self-destruction, we are so glad, but still ask “why” about all the times the people we all have known weren’t interrupted in the act. Thankfully not every ending in the book is the hoped for and prayed for one. Although the individual storytellers end up wiser and generally much healthier and more prosperous in the truest sense of the word, their prayers are sometimes delayed or answered with a ”No,” or a “Not yet.”
“They said I would die, but I’m alive.” – Josh
Some of the deepest lessons come from people who see and realize God’s healing hand and provision and arrive at a new place of gratitude and appreciation of God even though they don’t ultimately receive the dream they were hoping for, or lose a treasured loved one while gaining life, perspective, and health. Such as “James” who battles cancer for years, a somber victory, but before he is faced with cancer contends for the life of his wife as she succumbs to the disease. Both, at the time of her death, living out their lives in fulltime ministry. Or Meg who had a dream of being a Physicians Assistant, but had to leave the program due to physical, emotional, and cognitive/focus inability to keep up the pace in the face of all that was assailing her.
…to tell people that I was still dealing with memory and problem- solving issues made me feel as if this story God was writing somehow fell of the tracks. And my sense of importance, purpose and value went with it.
Undoubtedly, my overcoming of the orphanage, polio, and a brain tumor can be inspiriting, but I had to learn that my value does not stem from my story. My value isn’t dependent on the way I’ve handled my experience and hardships. It’s also not dependent upon my accomplishment.
Fully embracing this truth is the one thing that finally brought me peace. I may still walk with aid and have days where my memory and thinking fail. I may still have moments of deep frustration and sorrow regarding what I believe was stolen from me by the enemy. And I may not know what new challenges are ahead. But here’s the one thing that remains—God knows my name and knows there is more to my story.
And Gerard who gives depth and understanding in his experience as a young black man of the racism that still shapes many hearts and communities. He says when he reflects on the fact he is “divinely understood,’ it reminds him, “not to let past hurts or disappointments taint my motives and intentions… to continue trying to understand others who wouldn’t try to understand me, just as Christ would.” His pain has not been resolved, the world is still polarized and prejudiced, but he “takes this challenge rooted in Psalm 139: “To see others as a wonderous work and to be seen as a wonderous work.”
And there are those captured by God’s love that weren’t even looking for Him, or if they were, didn’t know it.
Of course as cited, these stories are juxtaposed to those where through years of painful waiting (for a child, a healing, a word, clarity), miraculous interventions, deliverance from disease and demons and addiction, wrestling to take hold of identity, or transformative revelation of the Father’s heart. There are babies raised from the dead, new creation, and creativity all around. There are people we know and those we don’t. Artists and writers, singers and scholars and moms, prophets and pastors, entrepreneurs, and day laborers. There are the affluent and those in need. And they are all showered with God’s goodness in one form or another, and they all declare God’s goodness and grace and mercy in their testimonies and photographs.
A few questions…?
The stories are compelling and each unique, yet the voice of the different featured storytellers seemed to be similar. Since they are all so different (different ages, sexes, ethnicities), one would expect the voices projected in telling the stories with so many different people and different experiences, to contrast more. One would expect more variability in accent and vocabulary, but perhaps that was intentional. They told their stories to the author, and she wrote them down with her voice, the way disciples have often done from the beginning.
Page numbers and an index
On certain days, certain stories jump off the page and it makes sense that there are those who would want to return to them. Readers and viewers who would like to hover and consider the conclusions and course of God’s transforming work. Writers who would like to capture scriptural references or a sentence or two for a journal to return to later. There isn’t a map for these destinations, which means you have to flip through the whole book to find the desired place.
Pearl of great price
BUT GOD. is not exorbitantly priced if you consider the quality of production, but because the stories that are told are important for people to read and contemplate, it would be helpful if it were more financially accessible. Also, the stories mentioned regarding the people Hannah Corwin met in Uganda* and their pictures are not included, since they jumpstarted the whole project, it would have added to the richness of But God.
**Editorial Note: We had planned to feature the beautiful men and women of Uganda in the But God book. But due to the legal nature and sensitivity of the children featured we were unable to feature them. We did however have the stories featured at our exhibition release show in November 2022. It’s Hannahs goal to go back to Uganda and capture a stories with the charity and raise money and awareness for the charity.
The best thing that could be done is for every dentist, doctor, and affluent homeowner with a coffee table to buy one at full price so the proceeds could be used to do a quality paperback that can be given to those with no funds and sold more affordably for those able to purchase it. Also, a bi-monthly But God. podcast* would add hearing to the visual and textual component.
**Editorial Note: But God is in the process of releasing YouTube testimonies where you can watch a more in-depth conversation from some of the amazing people in the book. A podcast is also under development.
It’s a wrap
Delightfully, in But God., each person interprets their deliverance differently, each person is at a different place in their life. They communicate and understand their healing and God’s part and their part in their own way. Each person or family gives God honor and glory for their astonishing healing, yet each understand their healing to be moved along because of different factors, the prayer of the saints, or a particular person or persons (by phone or text or at home or in church), or an anointed healing team, or their own crying out, or surrender, or because of Scriptures read, of necessary personal realizations or deliverances, or simply because God loves them and was just waiting for an opening to encounter them and bring His good gifts. However the wonder took or takes place, BUT GOD. proclaims and insists God is with us. He doesn’t abandon us. And in Him, miracles are not just possible, but abound.
“I don’t know what the future holds. None of us do. But I know that God can be counted on no matter what comes.” – Jared
But God. is a representation not only of God’s deep personal involvement, but also how Christians respond to that undeniable care—care beyond coincidence… with life changing results. And for many of those who haven’t wrestled themselves to a peaceful conclusion about “why bad things happen to good people” and why God would allow such things, this book testifies that although we don’t entirely know the answer, the end although not always what we would call “completely to our liking,” has an unquestionably healing and redemptive narrative woven in with the disappointment, diseases, and disaster, and even if the desired ending does not emerge immediately, somehow God is able to shape suffering into an enduring and remarkable faith and a visible transformation and healing, a radically beautiful, revolutionary story that can be seen and understood and shared with the world.
About Hannah Corwin
But God came to be in August 2013 when Hannah Corwin went to visit Uganda and partnered with a charity called Watoto. During that trip Hannah was horrified at the stories and atrocities she was seeing. She cried out to God in desperation ‘God why are these stories not being seen?’
She felt the Lord prompt her to create a book. She had a vision of a book, the pages turning. Photographs on one side stories on the other. ‘From the faceless to the famous, from the rich to the poor, these are my stories of restoration now go tell them’.
Hannah sat on the vision for some time until 2018 when she felt prompted to start a small collection in Nashville, TN.
Fast forward to 2022, she has now created and curated a collection of forty stories seen in the But God book.
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Andrea C. Hunter is a songwriter, producer, writer, and editor who lives in Nashville, Tennessee. She is the co-founder of Recon Records, a worship and prayer label. Hunter worked for Warner Bros. Records and affiliated labels, Fuller Theological Seminary and Worship Leader magazine, among other entertainment, media, education, and para-church organizations. She has a Masters from Azusa Pacific University.