“Sooner or later, just like the rest of us, you’ll ask The Question:‘Why, God? Why did You let this happen?’”
Bob Russell has seen it all—tragedy in his childhood church, broken families in his pastoral ministry, a world torn by war and injustice—the list goes on. It all begs the question: Why?
But Bob thinks we should be asking a different question: Who?Who is God, and what is He doing as our hearts are hurting?
With compassion and wisdom, Bob Russell turns your Why? question into the Who? question, leading you to the God who can be trusted no matter what.
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About the Author
BOB RUSSELL At just twenty-two years of age, Bob became the pastor of Southeast Christian Church. That small congregation of 120 members became one of the largest churches in America, with 18,000 people attending the four worship services every weekend in 2006 when Bob retired. Now through Bob Russell Ministries, Bob continues to preach at churches and conferences throughout the United States, provide guidance for church leadership, mentor other ministers and author Bible study videos for use in small groups. An accomplished author, Bob has written over one-dozen books.Bob and his wife Judy of 50 years have two married sons, Rusty and Phil. In his leisure time he enjoys playing golf and is an avid University of Louisville football and basketball fan.
Read an Excerpt
ACTS OF GOD
WHY DOES GOD ALLOW SO MUCH PAIN?
By Bob Russell, ROB SUGGS, Elizabeth Cody Newenhuyse
Moody PublishersCopyright © 2014 Bob Russell
All rights reserved.
How to Face Life's Toughest Question
SOONER OR LATER, you'll come to it, just like the rest of us.
Sooner or later, you're going to face that moment. It's on its way, no matter who you are or how you think. The Question is in your future. You'll run right into it, head-on, in some moment of emotional turmoil.
Why, God? Why did you let that happen?
It's as much of a cry as a question, really; a wound; a shout of betrayal of all the rules of life and fairness as you knew them.
So it may be a cry, but it expresses itself, every single time, as a question: Why? And it expresses itself, invariably, to one person. Why, God?
It comes when you're facing something that doesn't fit into the pie ture—something terribly, frightfully wrong in every way. And it's the most basic reflex of human nature to want to know the reason.
Perhaps the worst of the moment is knowing, with some awful inner assurance, that no answer is forthcoming—at least not the kind of answer you crave. Not the full and satisfying answer your heart cries out for. In this of all moments, the heavens fall silent. Count on it.
When will you face that question? Or could it be that this is old news, that you've faced the question before. Once. Twice. Maybe more times than you can count. Maybe your mind is full of this question during this season of your life, and it's the very reason you picked up this book.
Perhaps it came when you confronted the death of a child. Perhaps it was the news of a natural disaster; perhaps some cruel, very personal heartbreak that brought the Question to the forefront of your mind.
You held it there, turned it around, and examined it from every angle, really grasping its implications for the first time—but not the last.
For, like some monster from a B-movie, the Question never dies. No matter how many times you knock it down, it always rises from the dust. There's always a sequel.
It can't be fought off, rationalized away, or overcome by the quantity and kindness of friends. There's no stake to hammer through its heart. The Question is no respecter of persons. You could be the richest person in the world, and still it is relentless, threatening that place in your soul where life makes sense, where all endings are happy ones.
Why, God? Why did this happen?
Why didn't you stop it?
Why won't you explain yourself?
Actually, the Question would never occur to us if the world weren't, overall, such a lovely place. Have you ever thought about that? Weeds aren't ugly unless they're seen in a garden or a beautiful lawn.
Our world is a garden. It's filled with majestic vistas that speak of a divine artist. We see the power of God in a sunset, feel his affection in the warmth of a little child, sense his wisdom and guidance in the cycles of life and nature. This earth is a museum of his magnificence, and we walk through it day by day, letting it fill our hearts to overflowing—until, once again, some horrendous event crashes into our midst, taunting our faith and defying our easy answers.
It's the number one question that people bring to me. Why? Why death, disaster, injustice on micro and macro scales? How can these things coexist with the loving, perfect God I've told them about so many times?
I tell them he is love. I tell them we are his precious, beloved children, and that he has proven it; that he paid the highest of prices to bring us home to him. I tell them he's sovereign, which means that he's got the whole world in his hands.
Their response: "Pardon us, but—this world? This world of tsunamis and falling towers and poisoned skies, of death and war and disease? This world in which some of us are losing our homes because we can't find work? He may have the whole world in his hands, but is there not blood on those hands?"
I tell them God identifies with their grief. They tell me, "We don't want identification; we want intervention."
They can and do believe in the God I serve. But they want to know why. Why won't he step in when life turns inside out?
Or won't he?
I've had a lot of years to think about these things.
* * *
I'll never forget my first truly devastating experience with the Question.
It was the afternoon of homecoming at my home church, the happiest of happy days in congregational life. Homecoming is a great reunion, a joining of church present with church past. The prodigals return, and the pews are full. The aromas of home cooking drift through the building.
I was in my mid-twenties then, back for a visit; I was preaching at another church on most Sundays. It felt good to be home. We'd had a joyful worship service that morning, and people sang the hymns with gusto, though their voices were mingled with the rumblings of their stomachs. Incredible feats of cooking awaited, and everyone knew it.
It was a lovely day outdoors. We ate, we laughed, we played, and we swapped old church memories. The sounds of children's shouts rang through the air. Then those shouts—well, their tone changed. They became screams.
We came running and discovered the ghastly news. Our preacher, Gerald Comp, had dived deep into the frigid swimming hole while playing tag with some of the kids. One of the kids wanted to know why he didn't come up.
Life simply stopped. It felt that way to everyone. One moment, there had been laughter and play, the next it was as if death had stolen in, easily overcoming the sum of our joy.
Even now, I can close my eyes and recall the image of Gerald's wife, Barbara, and their two teenage daughters, standing with pale faces as his lifeless body was pulled from the waters. Some wept, some prayed, but most of us did both. We fell to our knees and pied with God, passionately, desperately, to glorify his name through the healing of Gerald Comp.
A group of men went about the business of resuscitation. It all came to nothing. There was our pastor, our man of God, a lifeless shell. He was having his own homecoming, death's mockery of our church's day.
Never before that moment had I ever seen my father cry.
Why, God? Why Gerald? Why our church? Were our prayers not sincere enough? Were our tears not wet enough?
Gerald Comp was a thirty-eight-year-old man, a revered pastor, a model husband and father, and a spiritual leader abounding in fruitfulness. If God wanted to remove one of his most effective servants from the earth, well, he'd certainly done that. How could there even be a reason?
From Gerald's very mouth we had heard sermons on Romans 8:28, telling us that all things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose. Many of us could rattle the words off our tongues without thinking. But now those words had real weight; now they had implications. The apostle Paul's math seemed like an imbalanced equation—theology that didn't add up.
As the ambulance came, and the rest of us stood huddled in one another's arms, we whispered about what came next. The name Greg was among those whispers. Who will tell Greg?
Greg Comp, the pastor's fourteen-year-old son, was home with the flu; he could have no idea that his life had changed forever, that in some mundane moment, he had lost something that could never be replaced.
Someone had to go and bring the news to Greg.
Thirty minutes later, a friend and I were heading for the Comp home. I couldn't imagine what I was going to say or do, how I was going to be the harshest messenger of his life.
I was no more than a decade older than Greg. I thought about my own father, and tried to imagine myself in this position. Where would I be now if I had been deprived of my dad at fourteen years old? What might my life be like?
As I realized the struggles in store for Greg Comp, I felt so many things: speechless, confused, spiritually disarmed, upset. What words could I possibly say that would not come across as unfeeling platitudes?
In the end, I think I realized that any words I chose, other than the information I bore, were next to irrelevant. Most of the point was simply to be there, to share an unthinkable moment. There were no magic expressions or potions to dull his pain.
And yes, I asked it, within myself: Where were you, God? Why did you let this happen? How is this family supposed to bear up?
And from heaven came a profound silence—or so it seemed to me.
THE USUAL SUSPECTS
Let's be honest: This is no easy question, the relationship of God to human suffering. The wise and the devout have grappled with it throughout history, and not always to a victorious conclusion. St. Teresa of Avila said, "Lord, if this is the way you treat your friends, it's no wonder you don't have many!" At least hers was less an expression of doubt than of frustration.
Others have taken hold of the Question as a kind of checkmate in the game of rationalizing God out of existence—or at least diminishing our view of him. Their line goes like this:
God is purportedly good. Yet there is great human suffering.
Since God doesn't intervene, he lacks either the will or the power.
If he lacks the will, he isn't good after all. (If he's God, he isn't good.)
If he lacks the power, he isn't God after all. (If he's good, he isn't God.)
It's a striking line of reasoning. But it's also a little too cut and dried, right? God, the world, and suffering: These are not simple issues. We all sense that there could be other reasons God would hold back from stopping anything and everything unpleasant in this world.
So we look for other reasons that evil and suffering may exist; we round up the usual suspects.
Maybe it's simple cause and effect. This is the "you had it coming" argument. Once Jesus came across a blind man, and his disciples immediately asked, "Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" (John 9:2).
They are hoping, of course, for a lively philosophical debate with Jesus the teacher. They have been taught that disease or disability is mark of someone's sin. So whose?
Jesus tells his disciples they're asking the wrong question. It's not about who sinned, but how the goodness of God can shine through the situation. And he proceeds to make that happen. As always, Jesus gets to the root of the subject in a startling way. He shows us an old question from a brand-new angle. As we'll see, he has hit upon a key element of the problem of suffering.
We'd like to scoff at the disciples' thinking and say that our God doesn't work that way, punishing sin with suffering. The problem is, the Bible says that he does—sometimes. Moses wasn't allowed to enter the Promised Land because of a certain incident in which he lost his temper and usurped God's glory, a serious offense. Miriam, his sister, was temporarily struck with leprosy for undermining Moses' leadership.
And those are not isolated incidents. There's an important passage in Hebrews 12. It tells us that God disciplines us as a father disciplines his children—for our good. Discipline is simply a part of loving training. We do need to distinguish punishment from discipline. The former is simply a penalty dealt out for a misdeed; the latter is a loving form of training. We impose discipline on ourselves not as punishment but to be better people.
So God disciplines. But there are other angles, too.
2. Poor Decisions
Sometimes we suffer due to our own WE can't rail against willful error. Maybe the warning was on the label all along, and we simply ignored God when we're it. The sign said the road was slippery, given fair warning. and we pushed the accelerator down.
Let's say Uncle Bob's bad report from the doctor concerned lung cancer. He smoked for years, everyone nagged him about it, and he really did mean to stop. But the fact is, he didn't. He foolishly ignored the warning signs. So it's not as if God is suddenly, arbitrarily inflicting this bad medical report like a lightning bolt of sheer wrath. Uncle Bob quite sadly brought this upon himself.
Sometimes we choose the wrong friends, eat the wrong foods, make the wrong decisions in business or in family. The old TV detective Baretta used to say, "Don't do the crime if you can't do the time."
But the Bible puts it better: "Be sure that your sin will find you out" (Numbers 32:23). Life comes with any number of hazard labels. We can't rail against God when we're given fair warning. Actions have consequences.
3. Satanic Attack
Could it be the devil?
It's the simplest and most logical of arguments, in a way: All good things come from heaven, all bad things are the work of Satan. The Bible describes how he attacked a good man named Job, who suffered deeply and thoroughly.
Paul spoke of a "thorn in the flesh," some unpleasant infirmity that God allowed Satan to use as a weapon against the apostle. From the devil's perspective, it was an attack; from God's, it was a tool to protect Paul's humility.
Again, here's a compelling clue to how God relates to our pain. An attack could originate from hell, while shaping us for heaven. The devil himself—as much as he hates it—finds his own place in the vast plan of God, who is all-powerful, capable of using any element as part of the great tapestry he is knitting together.
4. The Sins of Others
The disciples suggested that the blind man may have been blind because of his parents' sins. This was logical, from their perspective, because the man had been born with his infirmity; it couldn't be his fault if he was born that way.
Sometimes relatively innocent people suffer out of all proportion to any argument of sin being the cause. A little child dies. A drunk driver steals the life of a promising young lady. An emotionally disturbed man opens fire in a theater or a school. A child is born with a drug addiction stemming from the mother's use of cocaine.
Surely God is not dispensing "discipline" through such horrendous events; it would be mere punishment, serving no purpose for the victim. No, in these cases, people are clearly suffering for the sin of others. It's an unavoidable conclusion, but not a very pleasing one: We may suffer as the consequence of others' sins.
It brings us right back to the question of God's place in this: Why would he allow the innocent to be victimized for someone else's wrongs?
And yet we read in the Old Testament the idea that the sins of the fathers are visited on the third and fourth generations. It may not seem fair, but it's the way the world turns. We must take into account that our sins put out ripples, in the world around us and the future ahead of us.
Here is another striking idea from the Bible: "Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2 Timothy 3:12). So maybe, bad things happen to good people because they're good people.
Again, this checks out logically. We know that if we take a stand for biblical values in an anti-biblical world, we will face certain consequences: ridicule, rejection, possibly loss of work or even freedom, in some circumstances. People are still punished or even executed for their faith in some parts of the world. We've seen businesses lose income when their prominently Christian leaders stood firm for biblical values. Jesus said this would happen, and there's never been a time when he wasn't proven correct.
6. A Fallen World
There's also the distinctly Christian idea that we live not just among fallen people, but in an entire fallen world. In other words, the rebellious sin of Adam and Eve caused all of creation to be corrupted. Paul teaches, in Romans 8, that all of this world "groans" as in childbirth pains, awaiting the birth of a new creation.
This helps us to account for natural calamities: tsunamis, earthquakes, diseases, floods, and even the attacks of vicious animals. We can suffer through non-human agency, and the Bible teaches us that even in these cases, we are feeling the consequences of a world that has rebelled.
As a matter of fact, we find this subject arising much more frequently in recent days. Monster storms have devastated New Orleans and New York; and even near my home, an F4 tornado twisted its way through the community at 170 miles per hour, killing eleven people and doing untold damage. These are the times when people come to me with haunted eyes and ask, "Why?"
The answer is that our planet and our people suffer from the fall of humanity. For this life, we will see the result of rebellion against God again and again, and we call the natural disasters "Acts of God."
Even so, I suspect Jesus would point out that we're still asking the wrong questions. We're quick to brand horrendous things as acts of God, but what about all things bright and beautiful? What about a gentle spring rain, a day of glorious weather, a field of ripe corn? Are these not also acts of God?
In the same way, we look to the heavens in the midst of a bad day and say, "Why me, Lord?" Bad moments are quickly dubbed "God moments." But when something good happens, we tend not to see it in that way. Fathers don't tend to hold a first newborn child, look to heaven, and cry out, "Why me, Lord? Why do I deserve such a beautiful blessing?"
When was the last time you rose in the morning and asked God why he gave you another precious day of life? Three square meals? Family, church, health?
Maybe that's one of the right questions.
Excerpted from ACTS OF GOD by Bob Russell, ROB SUGGS, Elizabeth Cody Newenhuyse. Copyright © 2014 Bob Russell. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1. Why, God? Facing Life’s Toughest Question.
2. Night Vision: Finding Light When All Seems Dark.
3. Suffer the Children:Where is God in a Hurting Home?
4. Bless This Mess: Hope for Troubled Homes.
5. Trials and Temptations: Where is God When the Enemy Attacks?
6. Storm-Proof: Weathering Life’s Dark Moments.
7. Bearing the Wait: Why Is It Taking So Long?
8. Time-Tested: The Secret of Outlasting Long Term Discouragement.
9. Blessing and Testing: How Does God Use Good Times?
10. Redeeming the Time: Making the Most of Sunny Seasons.
11. When the Bad Guys Win: Why Won’t God Punish the Wicked?
12. Pardon Our Dust: Why Must Aging Be Such a Trial?
Epilogue: Beyond This Veil of Tears
What People are Saying About This
Praise for Acts of God
Acts of God offers practical, biblical answers for life's toughest questions. With a seasoned pastor's heart and a masterful grasp of Scripture, Bob Russell guides us through the life of Joseph, adding here-and-now stories to bring each point home. I was moved, challenged, encouraged, and convicted. No pat answers or Christian cliches here: Acts of God speaks the truth, wrapped in God's mercy and love.
Liz Curtis Higgs, bestselling author of Bad Girls of the Bible and The Girl's Still Got It
I never refuse an opportunity to read the words of Bob Russell. He is a humble, wise and gifted teacher. I receive this book with great excitement!
Max Lucado, pastor and New York Times bestselling author
Bob Russell is simply one of the most gifted, faithful, and amazing pastors I have ever known. This book is just one example of what has made him such an effective preacher, teacher, and guide: he knows how to bring the Bible into everyday life, and in this book he brilliantly does so through the example of Joseph. This book will be of great assistance to every Christian at every stage of life because it is established in eternal truth and in its enduring power.
Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr., President, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Bob Russell was our pastor for eight years. Everything we admired most about him is evident in this book. It is honest: the difficult questions of life are faced head-on without sentimentality or fluff. It is biblical: godly wisdom leaps from every page. It is practical: Russell offers concrete advice to help us overcome temptation and endure testing. It is hopeful: I finished the book with tears of praise and gratitude for a God who is faithful, who loves us and who will never let us go.
Rebecca Manley Pippert, author of Out of the Saltshaker and Love Has its Reasons
Trusting God through every situation and season in life is a difficulty we all face. How are we to know how and why God acts when we don't understand? Bob Russell takes on the toughest of these challenges with wisdom and grace, and offers a clear perspective for finding a lasting faith. This is a great book!
Jack Graham, Pastor, Prestonwood Bible Church, Dallas
Tragedy strikes each and every one of us. And we have ALL questioned God at times. So this book is for everyone you've ever met or will meet . . . and for you. There's no one I trust more to bring God's Word to life in a practical way than Bob Russell.
Dave Stone, Senior Pastor, Southeast Christian Church
The problem of human suffering presents one of the great challenges to faith. It is as old as Job and has been asked throughout every generation. Bob Russell tackles the question head-on, drawing upon his pastoral experience, his knowledge of the Scriptures, his familiarity with other writers conversant with the issue, and his own personal encounters with unjustifiable suffering. The book provides a valuable resource for personal study and reflection as well as group discussion.
Dr. Gary Weedman, President, Johnson University
In this honest and readable meditation on some of life's most difficult and enduring questions, Bob Russell teaches us how to see beyond suffering to God's purpose and plan for each of us. Based on a lifetime of study, prayer, and personal reflection, Acts of God will deepen the faith of all who read it. Over the years, I have benefited from the wisdom and counsel of Bob Russell. With this book, many more will find reason to be grateful for his practical approach to a great trust in God.
Hon. Mitch McConnell, Republican Leader, United States Senate
In the midst of Acts of God, you need someone to stand with you with a heart after God. There are few I'd trust my hurting heart more to than Bob Russell. Profoundly wise, deeply biblical and always gentle, Bob Russell is a man who writes with a heart of a pastorand the healing love of his Savior.
Ann Voskamp, author of the New York Times bestseller One Thousand Gifts
Bob Russell has a unique way of illustrating how biblical truth intersects with human need. In Acts of God, Bob shows how God's hand was at work throughout the life of Joseph amid the prideful immaturity and alluring enticements of youth, the pain of rejection and unjust suffering, the subtle temptations of power and success, and the sobering realities of aging and preparing for death. I will use this book as a reference for my own teaching and preaching, and I will recommend it to others who face painful situations that make them wonder about the goodness of God.
Dr. David Faust, President at Cincinnati Christian University and author of Married for Good
Life and business throw us some high hard ones. Bob Russell brings a commonsense perspective on how to persevere and even triumph in the toughest trials. Every successful business has a plan and this book will help us all understand God has a master plan for our lives.
David Novak, CEO of YUM! and author of Taking People With You