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Books: Job's question

Books | Luis Palau on responding to life's tragedies

Issue: "God, Caesar and taxes," April 17, 1999

The Bible "proclaim[s] that even in tragedy, God walks with His children," writes Luis Palau, well-known international evangelist, in Where Is God When Bad Things Happen? This helpful book aims primarily at unbelievers, addressing 10 specific kinds of tragedy and in each case outlining principles of faith and action that point the reader toward trusting in Christ. It is not, Mr. Palau warns us, "a philosophical explanation for the problem of evil," but a book meant for practical action. Each chapter, in fact, contains one or more lists that delineate scriptural principles relating to the tragedy it discusses and how we might or ought to act on those principles. His greatest emphasis is finding a vital faith in God and trusting His sovereignty and His love: "What you need most is to talk to the One who can really give you insight into your sorrow and medicine for your soul," he writes. Drawing on actual conversations with callers to his counseling broadcasts, Mr. Palau brings his advice alive with the results he's seen in real situations. His general reliance on Scripture rather than pop psychology is most refreshing. He urges us not to blame God for the pain that comes into our lives, but to trust Him; not to question His presence in tragedy, but to seek His purpose. The tragedies Mr. Palau discusses include death, deformity, abuse, disease, abortion, unemployment, and more. Again and again, he assures us that God doesn't make mistakes, nor is He absent when tragedy occurs: If you have lost a loved one to what seems an early death, he reminds you that God knew all the days of that person's life; if you have been diagnosed with a terminal disease, God will "walk alongside [you] every step of the way." God did not create the world with pain. Each of us has complete responsibility for our actions, Mr. Palau keeps reminding us, but God also has the power to use our evil to bring about good. As Joseph tells his brothers in Egypt, "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good." Sadly, however, Mr. Palau neglects to invoke this foundational principle in the advice he gives to women who have been abandoned by their husbands or who have been raped. Instead, he dwells on the horror of the man's sin, never telling women to look for what good God can bring to them out of the tragedy. Worse, he tells a man whose wife has left him for someone else that he should use the situation to assess his own behavior, repenting of sins that contributed to the rift, but he tells women in both situations that it is not possible for them to bear even the slightest responsibility, stopping them from the same self-assessment. This double standard is not worthy of the rest of the book, in which he consistently challenges individuals not to blame others for their circumstances, even if those others are at fault. Even if your boss unjustly fires you, for example, you are not to blame him or dwell on the injustice, but look for what God wishes to teach you. In fact, understand that "nothing comes to you that doesn't first pass through God's hands," Mr. Palau writes. "Whatever the hardship may be, consider it as His discipline to help you become more like Jesus Christ." Good advice in every circumstance, certainly. Perhaps the most important thing he says is simply this: After noting that Old Testament writers often come to God "hurting, confused, weary, and even desperate," God doesn't rebuke them for their feelings. However, He "seldom answers their questions. Instead He gives them Himself." That, of course, is the ultimate hope for us all.

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