Hope When Life Unravels

Christians are well-resourced when it comes to books on suffering. Such books can typically be divided into two types: Those that are structured around theological themes and those that are structured around lived experiences. So some people begin with an examination of what the Bible has to say about suffering while other people begin with their own experiences of suffering and apply Scripture to them. There is value in both approaches. Adam Dooley’s Hope When Life Unravels falls squarely in the category that begins with experience.

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When Dooley’s son Carson was three, he began to show some strange symptoms. He became listless and developed an odd rash that extended from his chin to his chest. His three-year-old energy and enthusiasm disappeared. His concerned parents took him to the hospital where they soon received the terrifying news: Carson had leukemia. “Why us? Why now? Why this? Feelings of anger, frustration, and bewilderment ravaged my mind.” This began a three-year period dominated by hospital visits, chemotherapy, and spiritual warfare. “As fear welled up in my heart, myriad questions bombarded me. Can we handle this? Is our faith strong enough? Will we lose our little boy? Why is this happening at all? Of all the people forced to go through a trial like this, why did God choose us?”

Though this is a book that began with cancer, Dooley insists it is not a book about cancer. “Yes, I will share the powerful story of our son, who battled leukemia heroically. And yes, the lessons God taught us over a strenuous three-year period will be chronicled here. But my main purpose is to comfort others with the comfort I received from the Lord (2 Corinthians 1:4-5). Your adversity may be different, but don’t make the mistake of assuming that it isn’t important or that it lacks benefit. The Bible has much to teach us about suffering, no matter what our particular circumstance is. My prayer is that God will use what He taught my family when storms blow into our lives. Despite the differences in what we face, the universal principles of Scripture are a healing balm for our greatest heartaches.” After all, none of us are without heartaches in this world, none of us escape without suffering. In that way, we all benefit from the truths God reveals in the Bible, whether we need to endure leukemia or a very different kind of affliction.

As a secondary theme, Dooley addresses the pernicious but prevalent claims of the prosperity gospel “that is an insult to the purposes of God and the pain we often feel.” This brand of theology emphasizes what we receive from God rather than the more biblical theme of resting in God. Its myths “diminish the rich treasures of growth and maturity that often accompany our deepest wounds.” Instead, they spur confusion and disappointment when we become convinced we haven’t received all the good things we deserve. “Daring to believe that when God seems most absent, He is often most active has been a lifeline for me. I want the same for you.”

And so he begins telling the story of Carson’s long battle with cancer. He tells it in small, chronological snippets, and uses each to explore a dimension of an explicitly Christian perspective on suffering. The first chapter is titled “Who’s Really to Blame for Our Suffering” and, not surprisingly, attempts to address some of the “why” questions that invariably accompany our darkest moments. The second chapter, “The Dark Side of God’s Love,” explores God’s providence in its mysteries. “More Than You Can Bear” grapples with the well-intentioned and oft-repeated (though imprecise and unhelpful) phrase, “God will not give you more than you can bear.” And so it goes through 13 chapters in which he seamlessly and helpfully weaves narrative and theology.

The subtitle of Hope When Life Unravels is “Finding God When It Hurts,” and that really is the dominant theme. We know we serve a God who promises “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” yet we are prone to distrust the promise, and to distrust the God who made the promise, when our circumstances are difficult. This book provides comfort and assurance by mustering biblical promises alongside personal experiences. It’s a powerful combination. Whether you are suffering now, or preparing to suffer in the future, Hope When Life Unravels will prepare and equip you to do so well.

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