CW:  You're very candid about your own questioning in the book.  I found it striking that you even said that you still sometimes feel mad at God for not taking Cho's life before he could take everyone else's.  What was most helpful for you in resolving these questions and reconciling what happened with your trust in God? 

JP:  There were a number of things just kind of over time. There were almost different seasons. I think one very powerful interaction with God - and part of the book is about this - is really reflecting on if God were to do what I asked him to do, which is stop this, and then if he did what other people that are hurt asked him to do, which is stop the next thing and the next thing, where does God stop stopping? Is there any pain that is acceptable, that we would say, "Yes, you can let this through"? 

And I don't say that in a way to minimize the suffering the families went through. I can't imagine... I am getting choked up now. But the issue that God must deal with, that he has to, is where the end of the list is of what he allows.  And if he doesn't allow any suffering, then what are we left with?

In the book, I talk about people that struggle and battle against cancer. And I know people -- in my family and others -- where the oncologist said, "You know, there's just nothing we can do." The reality is there is always something else the doctor can do. But if they do that thing -- say there's a tumor in your brain -- well, if you take it out, then you do damage; there's nothing left.  If God honestly stopped everything so that we were never harmed, I think we would stop being real. As horrible as this was and as difficult as it still is as we're coming up now on the anniversary, I just don't think that's better. 

CW: You mentioned the anniversary, and one quote that really stuck out to me is, "The really sticky issues for me have always dealt with why a God who claims to be capable, loving, and aware, could allow such suffering to occur for so long."  That last part stuck out to me, because I think, so often, we hit a rough period in life, and we have this adrenaline; we attack it with faith and fervor.  But then suffering drags on, and it gets difficult.  Now that it has been several years, have the questions changed at all?  Are there new challenges? 

JP:  I think everybody I talk with about it seems to be at a slightly different place. One of the things that I hear when I talk to my friends from Latin America or that have connections in Latin America is that when something terrible happens, they don't have a classically American response of, "God, will you please remove this?" When difficulty happens, their response tends to be, "Will you give me the strength to walk through this well?" 

I think a lot of people I know [here], their views of suffering have changed. Functionally, in terms of the amount of violence, a lot of us at Virginia Tech hadn't faced that before. And so this reminded us, okay, there isn't that blanket of protection. How do I pursue God in such a way that I can meaningfully have faith in the midst of the world as I see that it is now, not as I thought it was? That wasn't what it really was?

The honest fact is this has created a problem between a lot of people and God that has not been fixed yet.  But the ones that are pursuing him really intensely through this, I think their view is, "Okay, so this is how it is. Can you provide me the grace and the strength so that I can walk through this well?"

CW:  Some would say it's not okay to question God or get angry at him.  What would you say to someone with that perspective? 

JP: I'd say, "Praise God that this thought is mostly gone!" I can understand the idea. If you teach kids it's okay to talk back to their parents, then they don't get to a certain point where they think, "Oh, I've talked back enough. I'm ready to respect them!" And so I understand the premise, the reasoning, of don't question him. I just don't think it's good.