Max Lucado is known as "America's pastor." In his 20 years of writing, he's sold 82 million books in 41 languages. He's appeared on USA Today, Larry King Live, and NBC Nightly News, and has spoken at the National Prayer Breakfast. Hallmark even has a line of greeting cards based on his writings (they've sold over 1 million cards so far).
Yet despite his national renown, he's a pastor at heart. Gentle, gracious, and filled with concern for his congregation, for over 25 years he's counseled his flock at Oak Hills Church in San Antonio through countless painful experiences—the marriage that's fallen apart, the 5-year-old who died in a car accident, the war vet burned from head to toe in Afghanistan. These experiences led to his latest book, You'll Get Through This: Hope and Help For Your Turbulent Times, an extended reflection on suffering, pain, and hope based on Joseph's story in Genesis. Jeff Haanen, executive director of Denver Institute for Faith & Work, spoke with Lucado on living through tragedy, a theology of suffering, and the hopefulness that flows from trusting in God's sovereignty.
Why did you choose Joseph's story in Genesis as a basis for your book?
Well, I've been pastoring for a long time—over 30 years—and I've found myself wanting to give people a real hope-filled message that they can consider during tough times of their lives. And Joseph's story has always attracted me. Here's a guy who was sold into slavery, abandoned by his family, unlawfully imprisoned—yet he never gave up, he never gave in. Bitterness never took over. The way he survived made him the perfect illustration of my point in the book.
How does this book flow out of your decades of pastoral ministry?
Through the years, I've realized that one in every five people I see on a regular basis—on a Sunday—is passing through some kind of struggle. "My mother died last week," or "I just got laid off." So what do you say to somebody? Through the years, I developed this little mantra: "You're gonna get through this. It's not gonna be quick or painless, but you gotta believe God can use this mess for something good. So don't do anything foolish, but don't despair either." It's just something I've turned to over and over, like a favorite baseball glove, or a handy tool. And so I picked that theme for the book.
So what do you tell people when they don't get through it—when your wife dies, you lose your home, or an addiction hangs on? What do you say then?
I say don't give up. From a Christian perspective, we do get through it, even if the "getting through" is not until heaven. We do get through things. Sometimes we have setbacks; sometimes we have push downs. But what I'm waging a war against in this book is despair. Despair—that feeling of hopelessness—is the enemy. It is when we despair that we make decisions that only make matters worse. We create addictions that only cause more trouble. The challenge is to give people enough hope so that they don't give up.
Does God promise to "get us through this" only when it's innocent suffering? How about when suffering comes as a result of your own sin?
Those are the two sources of suffering: things that we've brought on ourselves, and things done to us. God's message through Scripture is that he gets us through both types. Joseph is not a great example of things we do to ourselves because, quite honestly, the guy didn't make very many bad decisions. But there are plenty of others in the Bible who did. David, when he commits adultery; Peter, when he denies Jesus; Thomas, when he doubts Jesus. God gets them through those things even though they brought it on themselves. That's just his character. He could no more leave a life un-encouraged than he could leave a child's tear untouched.