Have you ever experienced the 'betrayal barrier'? This was not a term I had come across until a few months ago. But circumstances we were facing as a family led me to pick up a book I had not previously known, entitled 'When God Doesn't Make Sense.' And it describes the 'betrayal barrier' as a sense of 'extreme disappointment after we have relied on God to look after us'. The writer continues: 'I reckon that most Christians, sooner or later, feel that God betrays them or uncaringly lets them down in some way.'
For me the situation that led to the reading of this book involved a chain of family hospital admissions plus two seemingly 'freak' accidents happening to close family members – all within a few months. One of the accidents seemed particularly cruel, occurring as it did at the very entrance, literally, to a major Christian event that this relative had been particularly looking forward to attending. As a result of what happened they spent the week in hospital and in severe pain, rather than attending any of it. Any Christian facing a situation such as this is bound to ask, 'What on earth is it all that about then?'
So a book entitled When God Doesn't Make Sense was obviously going to be appealing. And it did not disappoint.
Written by James Dobson, and with an introduction by RT Kendall (from which I have quoted above), there were many things that were good about it:
1. It is painfully honest.
The book is full of examples of situations where, to be candid, most of us would wonder what was happening to us. For example, Dobson writes of 'a church in Dallas, Texas, which was destroyed by a tornado some years ago. The twister suddenly dropped from the boiling sky and "selected" this one structure for demolition. Then it lifted again, damaging almost none of the surrounding territory. How would you interpret this "act of God" if you were a member of that congregation?'
Dobson also does not hold back from giving personal examples of situations in his own life and the lives of those close to him as well. This is no academic treatise.
2. It is pastorally sensitive.
As well as giving personal examples, Dobson shows the skills that gave him renown as a person of pastoral wisdom, insight and kindness.
'My chief concern,' he writes, 'and the reason I have chosen to write this book, is for my fellow believers who are struggling with circumstances that don't make sense. In my work with families who are going through various hardships, from sickness and death to marital conflict and adolescent rebellion, I have found it common for those in crisis to feel great frustration with God.
'This is particularly true,' he says, 'when things happen that seem illogical and inconsistent with what had been taught or understood. Then if the Lord does not rescue them from the circumstances in which they are embroiled, their frustration quickly deteriorates into anger and a sense of abandonment.' As you read the book you feel you are walking with a companion who has intense sympathy and understanding for those to whom he is writing.
3. It is Biblically robust.
However, this book is not filled with warm platitudes, soppy soundbites, 'name it and claim it' promises for victorious living, or indeed pop psychology. It is soaked with Biblical wisdom. Suffering, the book argues, can teach us things nothing else can teach us: for example, to trust God's Word even when we lack outward evidence in a particular situation – and also to remind us that God's ideas about what is best for us (indeed his knowledge of what is best for us) may be rather different from how we see things with our very limited perspective.
That said, Dobson is always aware that theological answers alone may well not 'take away the pain and frustration we experience when we journey through spiritual no-man's land'.
He adds: 'If you are among those people who have been separated from [Christ] because of disillusionment or confusion, I have written with you in mind. I know you are hurting. I understand the pain that engulfed you when your child died or your husband betrayed you or your beloved wife went to be with Jesus...'
So if life seems painful and baffling right now, read 'When God Doesn't Make Sense'. It won't provide all the answers – and that, in a way, is precisely the point. But the book will provide you with a sympathetic companion to take just one step forward in the desert. Countless believers in both Scripture and history have trod this path before, and continue to do so. You are not alone. And this is not yet the end of the story.
David Baker is a former daily newspaper journalist now working as an Anglican minister in Sussex, England. Find him on Twitter @Baker_David_A. A shorter version of this article appears in the new edition of Evangelicals Now.