By Luis Palau
Doubleday, 222 pp.
Luis Palau is often called "the next Billy Graham," a moniker, this book makes abundantly clear, he's earned the hard way. Palau shares here his most poignant personal tragedies and passages of doubt, including the premature death of his father at the age of 34, when Palau was a teenager at boarding school. This haunting loss, which seared his young heart with the unpredictability and brevity of life, goes a long way to accounting for the passion and resolve he brings to his international crusade.
Palau has brought these same qualities to "Where Is God When Bad Things Happen?" Just released in paperback, the book addresses life's hardest questions about God, faith, and hope in the face of gut-wrenching circumstances. Palauian force and pathos saturate the narrative, making it so affecting a read as to nearly consign it to the reference shelf: It is not a book to put in the hands of someone who is grieving, vulnerable or raw.
Each chapter tells a crushing human story of someone felled by the indifferent blows of tragedy: the death of a child; a baby born handicapped; incest; an automobile accident; disease; divorce; adultery; rape; abortion; unemployment; natural disaster. Each predicament centers on the story of someone Palau knows personally--someone who came to him with their story and whom he helped.
Palau uses these stories to tell us how we can help people like he does. I loved his advice to the betrayed wife of an unfaithful husband: "Your husband is not only a faithless, treacherous adulterer, but on top of it, men often try to make the woman feel it's her fault. Either they're not kind enough or they're not tender enough or they don't know how to make love. They'll pull out any story. That is an old trick that's from the devil himself. Don't let someone lay guilt on you for his adultery and faithlessness." That kind of no-nonsense rebuke is Palau's irrepressible way of cutting to the heart and winning trust.
Indeed, Palau in person gives the feeling you're with somebody you can trust. Nothing, it seems, shocks him or catches him off guard. His warmth and goodness elevates you--like being in the presence of the father or brother or dear friend you never had. These qualities in tandem--laser-like instincts and affective force--account for his broad appeal as an evangelist.
But in Part Two, Palau forgets that only he can be Luis Palau. A woman or man who has just lost a child does not have a category for "seven things to say to someone in this kind of pain." The friend of the grieving person should employ this book with the proviso that he use it prayerfully as a guide and not a how-to manual. The book offers helpful insights about passages of grief and the questions people ponder in such suffering, but it should not be applied as the fix-it formula for how to move these people forward. In fact, the grieving person and the helpful friend might be better served to go to a Palau crusade. There, a life might really change.