What are the upside-down yet encouraging truths of the book of Job and other key Bible passages that remind us of the ways God is present in our pain? Why does God allow suffering? And why does God seem to go silent when we’re in pain? How does a pastor work through his faith in the gut-wrenching three-year struggle his family endured with his son’s cancer?
Bible Gateway interviewed Adam B. Dooley (@adambdooley) about his book, Hope When Life Unravels: Finding God When It Hurts (Zondervan, 2020).
What are the circumstances that prompted you to write this book?
Adam B. Dooley: When my son Carson was diagnosed with cancer in 2011, I knew God would teach us a great deal about himself through the ordeal. Because he was just short of four years old, I realized Carson would forget much of what he went through if I didn’t write it down. So, I kept a journal of key moments along the way, interspersed with my interpretations of the events. Near the end of our three-year journey, it dawned on me that these formative experiences might be good for the greater church.
You say this is not a book about cancer. What is it about?
Adam B. Dooley: My goal was to present a theology of suffering that’s rooted in the goodness of God. I wrote to comfort anyone facing hardship of any kind with the same comfort we received from the Lord (2 Cor. 1:4-5). In addition, I wanted to debunk some of the common myths propagated by the prosperity gospel.
What answer have you come to as to why an all-loving God allows suffering?
Adam B. Dooley: Ultimately, all suffering is rooted in Adam’s Edenic Fall (Rom. 8:20-21). Thus, all suffering is the result of sin generally. That does not mean, however, that every trial can be traced back to a specific sin in a person’s life. In his goodness, God providentially redeems our pain to accomplish his greater purposes (2 Cor. 4:17-18). Though these intentions are sometimes obvious to us, we scarcely comprehend the breadth of all that God orchestrates through our earthly troubles.
You write about the dark side of God’s love. Please explain.
Adam B. Dooley: Scripture is clear that no one can fully comprehend the mind of God (Rom. 11:33-36). From his perspective, what we want may contradict what we really need. As a result, the Bible describes suffering as a blessing and a privilege that sometimes serves as a means to a greater good, even when we cannot understand how (Phil. 1:29). Ultimately, our pain has the potential of our knowing Christ more fully and intimately (Phil. 3:7-10). Though God’s providence is sometimes hard, it’s always good.
What do you mean when you write, “don’t waste your pain”?
Adam B. Dooley: Even when the primary agenda behind our trials is more focused on God’s glory than our development, the Lord is gracious to work in our lives simultaneously (Rom. 8:28). Knowing that God is always purposeful in our suffering, it’s imperative that we learn to suffer well. The greater the trauma our trials cause, the greater the tragedy when we waste those opportunities to redeem our burdens for God’s greater glory and good. Though my list is not exhaustive, I record numerous ways God develops us through the pain we endure.
What do you say to people who feel God is silent in their distress?
Adam B. Dooley: God’s ways are not only unfathomable to us, they can also leave us bewildered and lonely because we lack understanding. Yet, he’s often the most active when he seems the most absent. The issue, however, is not that we can see God in every trial, but that God continues to see us. The Lord never spoke to Joseph as he carried burden on top of burden, yet the Genesis narrative repeatedly says, “The Lord was with Joseph (Gen. 39:2-3, 23).” The same is often true for us.
How (and why) are the trials we face a necessary means of spiritual growth?
Adam B. Dooley: Perhaps because nothing gets our attention like suffering. Spiritual platitudes will not suffice when your life begins to unravel. It’s no accident that we pray and read the Bible more when we’re hurting. Pain forces us to seek God like never before while building strength and endurance into our lives (James 1:2-4). Apart from struggle, most of us would remain self-centered in our relationship with the Lord and others.
How have you come to see the book of Job through your pain?
Adam B. Dooley: The greatest lesson from Job is that some of the trials we face aren’t really about us personally. Satan’s primary agenda is to rob God of glory and he often suggests that the Lord has to buy our affection. Thus, the devil insisted that Job would curse God when the blessings he enjoyed were taken away from him (Job 1:9-11; 2:4-5). Without a doubt, the Lord has grown my faith tremendously through my son’s cancer battle, but I often wonder if the whole ordeal was more about the Lord’s glory than anything else. Either way, God’s glory is never in dichotomy with our good.
What is a favorite Bible passage of yours and why?
Adam B. Dooley: Romans 8:28 is my favorite Bible verse because it reminds me that God is always working the details of my life together for good. As a result, nothing that happens in my life can separate me from his love (Rom. 8:35-39). These verses were a lifeline for my family during Carson’s chemotherapy.
What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App and Bible Audio App?
Adam B. Dooley: I use these resources every day. The website is user-friendly, and the Bible Gateway App allows me to take the Bible with me on the go. The ease with which I can compare multiple Bible versions is tremendous.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Adam B. Dooley: Though trials are just as common as the air that we breathe, a new normal is coming. Through the redemption of Christ, the entire cosmos will be redeemed, and one day we’ll live free from the burdens of The Fall. God will wipe every tear from our eyes, and we’ll enjoy the life that the Lord intended for us (Rev. 21:4). The hidden joy within our suffering is the increased desire for the eternal realities that await us.
Hope When Life Unravels is published by HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc., the parent company of Bible Gateway.
Bio: Adam Dooley and his wife, Heather, along with three sons and two daughters, live in Jackson, TN. He is the pastor of Englewood Baptist Church and the founder of A Better Way Ministries. His greatest passion is helping others apply the timeless truths of Scripture to our contemporary culture. Adam has degrees from Clear Creek Baptist Bible College (BA) and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (MDiv; PhD). Follow him @adambdooley.
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