A few years ago on the RELEVANT Podcast, we spoke with Life.Church pastor and author Craig Groeschel about learning how to lean on God, especially during life’s toughest times. His book Hope in the Dark began as a letter of encouragement to a friend and co-worker struggling with the loss of a child, and became a quiet refuge to him during a hard time as well.
Groeschel knew he had to bring this book to life to impact others.
RELEVANT: You wrote Hope in the Dark some time ago, but you didn’t feel like it was quite the right time to release it. Could you tell us about that story?
Craig Groeschel: When I first wrote it, it wasn’t intended to be a book. There’s a lady who works in my office who is like family to me. She and her husband were trying to conceive for a long time, and when they finally did, we were really excited. Then a while later, she came in and said they had lost the baby. And she was a relatively new believer, so not only was it tragic, it really rattled her faith. So I decided to write a letter to her to try and bring some comfort. What started out as a few pages turned into a lot of pages.
When I gave her the letter, she came back in the next day and said, this is the difference between me staying in my faith and me walking away. So I was really thankful that the letter served it’s purpose and ministered to her.
I left it on a computer and didn’t talk about it for years. Then a few years ago, my daughter Mandy got really sick. And we thought she’d get better, and she didn’t. It was horrible for all of us wondering what in the world was happening. So I thought, I’ll pick up that letter I wrote to my co-worker and read through it. And it’s crazy how the letter I wrote to someone else seemed like words someone had written to me. I cried all the way through it. It really spoke to me and some of the struggles I was having. So that’s when I called the publisher. And that was the beginning of Hope in the Dark: Believing God Is Good When Life Is Not.
“Believing God is good when life is not” is such a common struggle, and always has been. Why do you think that’s haunted the church for its existence and what are some conclusions you came to while writing this book?
I’ve done a lot of books and haven’t had one that seemed to hit hearts as directly as this one. What I tell some people is that this book isn’t for everyone. If your life is going great right now, this book is probably not for you. At least right now. And I think the reason this is such a common question is a couple of reasons. One is what I would call our American version of Christianity, there’s an implied belief that in following God, He will allow only good things to happen to me. And if He doesn’t, either God doesn’t care or I did something wrong. I think that’s really bad theology.
We all want some kind of neat answer at the end where everything works out fine. And I think that’s the reason this book is ministering to people because there isn’t a why. There’s no conclusion, no resolution. The book Hope in the Dark is based loosely on the book of Habakkuk. And Habakkuk is one of the most beautiful, powerful and frustrating books in the Bible because there’s no “and then God does the miracle” story at the end. That doesn’t always exist in real life.
So many people deal with that. They still battle depression, they still hurt after divorce, they still grieve the loss of a loved one. God may bring comfort but it doesn’t always work out with a happy fairytale ending, and I think there’s power in that. In fact, just the name Habakkuk means both “to wrestle” and “to embrace.” What I’m trying to do is give believers permission to go ahead and wrestle with the unanswered questions and doubts to push back on God at times and say, “Why are you allowing this?” But at the same time, we wrestle without letting go of God and continue to embrace Him.
What are some ways we can change our mentality as an American church to open up to the faith that you talk about in Hope in the Dark?
God is always a good God. Anything is possible. At the same time, our faith isn’t based just on God giving us the desired outcome. Our faith needs to be based on who He is. His character, His nature, His goodness, His sovereignty. As a preacher, I did notice this almost all sermons I preach have that “God miracle” at the end.
So when I taught on the book of Habakkuk in our church, the first week I had to explain myself and say, this book is not a sitcom sermon. Generally, in a sitcom, all problems are solved in 30 minutes or less. In most of our sermons, they’re kind of resolved at the end with a Romans 8:28, God works all things together for good. And that’s great. But the good isn’t always the good we want it to be. So I just left every message hanging with, and then Habakkuk still had an unanswered question. And Habakkuk wound up saying, even though my prayers aren’t answered, I’ll still praise you. It’s not a sitcom sermon. But still, he’s got this real revelation of who God is. But it was nowhere close to the happy ending.