I think we live in a world that has not existed very long. It has only been about 100 or 150 years where we've had cameras. Now, we have high-definition televisions where we can see suffering almost the moment that it happens. When the horrible earthquakes in Sichuan, China, happened, they had video feed of the damage before aid workers could get to the scene. 

When we can see that much pain that clearly, it makes us ask questions of God, especially in a world where we value helping people if you can. And we value personal liberties and choice. The way the world seems to be going runs flat up against those values. So I think it's necessary to ask him these questions. 

CW: You mention helping.  As a pastor, what are some practical thoughts you have on how we can help those that are experiencing crisis or tragedy? 

JP: When Katrina happened, you needed people to drive down truckloads of bottled water and things like that. That mobilizing almost felt better than something like this. I was getting calls every day, "I'm hopping in the car right now, and I'm bringing 10 clinical psychologists with me. You just line up the people." I ended up telling most of those callers, "Please, turn around, go back home, tell me where you are. And then we're sending our students home for the summer in about a week. Give them free counseling when they get there." 

What you have to be able to do is allow the Lord and allow the people that are on the ground to guide. And then when you are in that moment, I found sometimes the most valuable thing - this is so simple, but maybe it takes me a while to learn this - is I just sat in silence, and I just let them let it out.  I let them say things about the world and about God that they know aren't right, but they needed to say them. It's a good thing to give people soothing words, but sometimes those words can be thrown around very callously. 

CW:  Is there anything else on your mind that you want to share with the readers before we wrap up? 

JP:  I think one of the things is that this book is born out of the Virginia Tech shootings, certainly. Quite literally, there is a publisher that heard some of my interviews on CNN, and that's how it got started. But it's not a book about the shootings.  It really is about that point where you just get to a breakdown, and you think this doesn't make any sense anymore.  You say that you are loving and aware and strong, but what I see is not that at all. God, until you and I get this sorted out, we can't move forward -- whether you are a follower of Jesus or not. 

The book moves the conversation along, gets people a little unstuck. Then I just get out of the way and let them and God take it from there. That's the hope of it. 

CW:  It has been several years, you've been through a lot and you've written this book. Do you feel like it is realistic to have a strong trust in God even in the difficulties of life? 

JP:  This has almost made it stronger for me. Because the thing that tragedy does is it makes you lose your confidence in what you trusted… the world as a safe place that will hand you a comfortable life, etc. And what you have to do then is you have to reflect. Some say, "Well, I don't know how to sort this out with God" or "I just can't move in this anymore," and your faith actually becomes much weaker. Mine became stronger, where it's like this is the way the world is. This is exactly what the scriptures say will happen. It doesn't say there is going to be a shooter on the campus. But Jesus says, "Look, it hates me. It's going to hate you." He said, "Look, this life is going to be full of difficulties. There is an abundance of trials." 

It made me appreciate the fact that God played by his own rules. He doesn't protect me fully from it, but he hasn't protected himself either. He sent his son who walked on the earth, lived through this, walked through pain himself. God knows what it's like to lose a kid, because he's lost one. I would have never done that. It's too painful. And so it made me appreciate the commitment and the risk, that God is committed until the time he feels is right so that we have a chance to be real.  And I think that's amazing. 

CW: I really appreciate your time, thank you very much! For more information on Should We Fire God? visit http://www.jimpace.org/should-we-fire-god/.

April 16, 2010