You've been writing books that offer comfort lately.
I hadn't thought of them as comfort books. This one comes out of where I am. I have one particular unanswered prayer--several actually, but this one I've been praying for months and years--and I believe I am praying rightly, but God hasn't answered. So, why? Not blaming Him, just "God, why?" That opened my mind to other whys: Why do bad things happen? Why does evil sometimes seem to triumph over good and hate seem to triumph over love?
Where do you look for the answers?
I have always turned to the Scripture. God brought to mind chapter 11 of John [the raising of Lazarus]. The fact that He loved Lazarus wasn't in question. I think sometimes when God doesn't answer our prayers, we question, "God, do you really love me?" So right there, that settled that. His sisters, Mary and Martha, knew He loved Lazarus. But He didn't answer their plea. When they sent for him He stayed where He was two more days and Lazarus died. When He came into Bethany, Martha said, "Lord if you had been here my brother wouldn't have died."
All of us have gone through that. "If only I had acted more quickly, if only I had placed that phone call, if only I hadn't spent that money. If only, God, you had answered my prayer, this wouldn't have happened." That's what Martha said when Jesus showed up. There are two sweet things about that. One, He showed up. He came into her place of grief. All through scripture, He promises His presence in the midst of our suffering: Psalm 23, when you pass through the valley of the shadow of death, I'll be with you. Isaiah 43, when you walk through the fire, I'll be with you. And He picked up her faith. He took that tender little thing and began to develop it.
I think his delays in my life are often there to develop my faith. It's like going to the gym I guess. The hard things are just exercising just our faith and our trust so that it grows and it's strengthened.
What about the suffering of those who don't have Martha's faith?
When Martha runs to get Mary, Mary just collapses. She has no faith at all. But Jesus didn't blame her. He didn't say, "Mary, if you had more faith I could work with you like I worked with Martha, He just wept. He never answered her prayer the way she prayed it. He never made Lazarus well. He let Him die. He raised Lazarus from the dead. Through that situation He revealed who He is. He was preparing the disciples for a week later, when they would be standing at the foot of the cross and watching as the one that they had thought was the Messiah, the son of God, was crucified. You know they were asking why. I know Jesus' mother was saying, "God, what in the world is going on? Why? I don't understand." Yet three days later on Sunday morning, Jesus accomplished the redemption of mankind, the forgiveness of our sin, He gives us eternal life and that's a great big purpose that God had in mind.
If God can bring blessing from the broken body of Jesus and glory from something that's obscene as the cross, He can bring blessing from my problems and my pain and my unanswered prayer. I just have to trust Him.
Maybe He does and we don't have ears to hear. I think there's some understanding we're not going to get until we get to heaven. Some people who suffer run away from God, and I know the tendency, but instead I just run to him. It's like I throw my arms around and faith around his neck and say, "God, I know you love me. I don't doubt it because I look at the cross. But I feel abandoned. I don't feel your presence in my life". Hebrews tells me that you will never leave me, never forsake me. I know I'm not abandoned.
A book came across my desk recently about God and alcoholism. The writer says, "Your alcoholism is your spirituality," meaning that without our brokenness we could not be spiritual. Do you agree?
I wouldn't put it quite that way, but that touches on something very true. It's in that part of brokenness that God meets us in a special way where He can come if we'll just allow it. If there's never been ever any brokenness or burden or pain in your life, you're very superficial, very shallow. It's the brokenness that somehow God uses to expand our capacity to know him, and to care about other people.