Saturday, October 25, 2008

Exclusive Interview with David Sanford, Author of "When God Disappears"

When I enjoy an exceptional book, I generally make an attempt to hunt down--I mean, locate--the author to try to schedule an interview. I always have questions I want to ask, and I suspect you end up with questions as well.

David Sanford's thought-filled book, "When God Disappears", prompted me to email him immediately. Though some time has passed, you can still read my review by clicking on the link at the end of our interview.

Now, let me introduce a man I highly admire and respect, David Sanford:

What prompted you to write "When God Disappears?

Not everyone experientially loses his or her faith. But everyone has or will face crises of life and faith. These pivotal times are part of each person's spiritual journey.

No Christian is exempt. Not even me.

A decade ago I was hit with a rapid-fire series of crises. Emergency surgery for my oldest daughter, who had just been diagnosed with endometriosis, a painful, cancer-like condition. Unexpected house repairs. Two vehicle breakdowns. Huge unpaid bills. I felt the hand of God was crushing me, emotionally, physically, financially and every other way.

How could God do this to my family?

This isn't fair!

My love for God, joy for life, and peace were shattered. In their place I felt angry, deceived, and desperate for a way out of my family's nightmare.

In my despair, I doubted God's character. Finally the day came I couldn't read the Bible anymore. Not a single verse. I couldn't pray, even over a meal. For days and weeks on end.

Experientially, I had lost my faith. Why? Because I had let the circumstances of life temporarily overshadow what I knew to be true. At a result, I couldn't fall asleep at night. I couldn't get rid of the stabbing pain in my chest.

Finally, like Peter the apostle at the end of John 6, I finally realized, "Where else can I go, Lord? You alone have the words of eternal life." I dared take the risk of embracing faith again.

Thankfully, God renewed my faith when I started taking several simple (but nonetheless terribly hard) steps of obedience. I forced myself to open my Bible, read a verse—I don't even remember which one—and honestly answer the question, "Do I believe it?" To my surprise, I said "yes." It wasn't a big "yes!" But it was enough to prompt me to read another verse, and then another.

At long last, I felt God speaking to me again. I started praying to him, as well. To my surprise, he wasn't angry at me over my crisis of faith. Just the opposite. In time, my faith was renewed in a remarkable way.

Much is said about how Jesus came to give us abundant life. What's your view of that in light of what you've written?

That's a great question! In biography after biography, in interview after interview, I see the same pattern. God allows us to go through a deeply troubling, faith-testing period that can last for weeks, months, years, even decades. The question is always the same: Will we remain true to God no matter what?

If we persevere, God does something remarkable. He blesses our life's work and impact to an extent we never could have imagined.

We always want to 'say the right thing' when someone is in a crisis. What's the best response a believer can offer to someone who's feeling all alone and that God is no longer present?

First, love your friend unconditionally.

Second, invite your friend to tell his or her story. When they do, just listen. Don't ask questions. Don't interrupt at all, except to quickly affirm that you're actively listening.

Third, be unshockable. Truth be told, we've all broken the Ten Commandments, at least in our heart. Confession is good for the soul, so let your friend just talk. Don't react to anything he or she says, no matter how ugly or angry. They're not angry at you, even if it sounds that way.

Fourth, after your friend has finished talking, remain quiet. Keep listening. The other day I met a man who poured out his heart to me. When he was done, I kept looking into his angry, deeply hurt eyes and didn't say anything. After a minute he finally told me, "All I needed was hope and mercy." What a profoundly sad statement. But if I had started talking, I never would have heard what he needed.

Fifth, once your friend tells you what he or she needs, clarify that list. Make sure you both agree on what was or is needed.

Sixth, don't promise to meet your friend's needs. Often they want to know "Why?" You don't know. Don't even try to guess. Speculation will only ruin your credibility.

Seventh, if you and your friend have a mutual friend who has a strong faith in God, explore the possibility of inviting that mutual friend to join you at some point in the future. If your friend can share his or her story with a second person, it's often helpful. That mutual friend may be a pastor, a professor, a psychologist, or another gifted Christian leader. Or that mutual friend may be an "ordinary" but wise individual you both know you can trust.

Eighth, ask your friend if you can pray for them. If they're in agreement, pray right then. Then remind them from time to time that you're still praying for them. Prayer invites God back into the picture.

Ninth, at the right time invite your friend to read the Bible with you. Read one of the four Gospels together. As you read, pray that your friend will fall in love with Jesus again.

Finally, stay in touch with your friend no matter what. Your friendship can't be contingent on whether or not your friend comes back to faith in God. That's up to God, not you. You may have to hang in there for years before your friend re-embraces faith. No problem. Never get up on your friendship. True, some will walk away. But never let it be said that you walked away.

Can we look forward to more from you in the future?

In many ways, If God Disappears is the book I've always wanted to write. Lord willing, I'll have the opportunity to write more books in the future. The topic of If God Disappears is closest to my heart though I'm certainly interested in a wide variety of topics and enjoy writing books.

Would you leave my readers with one take away bite from your book to 'whet their appetite' for more?

I'd love to! Here's the Epilogue:

I always wondered how Jesus talked Peter and Andrew, James and John, and others to drop everything, leave it all behind, and start following him—with no stated destination, spelled out itinerary, or promise of safe passage and return.

Exactly how did Jesus pull that off? While reading Mark's Gospel again recently, I discovered how. First, Jesus came to their town. Second, he hung around with them for a number of days. Third, without warning he disappeared.

Peter and the others looked for Jesus everywhere. Finally, they found him a ways from town, in the wilderness, walking stick in hand, ready for a long day's journey.

"Don't you know everyone has been looking for you?" Peter asked.

"Yes, but we need to be going. I have many other towns to visit." It was clear there was no point trying to convince Jesus to come back. He was already standing up and starting down the road.

Instantly, Peter and the others had a decision to make. Jesus wasn't laying out various options. By his very actions, he was issuing a command.

That that command was preceded by his absence no longer strikes me as strange.

What if the Lord sometimes disappears on purpose? What if God, by his very actions, is commanding us to get more serious about following him in a whole new, radically different, risking everything, not-sure-where-this-is-going sort of way?

What is your experience to this point?

Has God ever given you the slip?

What's your story?

To read my review of this fascinating and enlightening book, click here!

To read the 1st chapter of this book, click here!

Happy Reading!


1 comment:

Kim said...

I loved this book, and I am so glad to read this interview! I've used chapters from this book in my class for women in rehab, and it has been a tremendous blessing to all of us. Addiction brings about a hopelessness like nothing else. This book has opened the door to talk about a lot of things!

Thanks Deena and David!