The Rev. Greg Laurie, an evangelical pastor known for his daily radio broadcasts and stadium-filling outreach meetings, knows what itâ€™s like to face sorrow during the holiday season.
To those hurting or anxious as Christmas approaches, Mr. Laurie says: â€œDonâ€™t be afraid, Godâ€™s in control. God loves you. Look to Him. The joy youâ€™re looking for doesnâ€™t come from Christmas; it comes from Christ.â€
Mr. Laurie, 68, is the senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship, an evangelical megachurch in Riverside, California. In a telephone interview Monday, he spoke in light of a recent Pew Research Center survey showing that 80% of Americans believe most of the worldâ€™s suffering is caused by people, not God.
â€œPeople, during this time of the pandemic, have been spending more time thinking about big questions like the meaning of life and whether there is any purpose to suffering,â€ Mr. Laurie said. â€œAnd I thought that was fascinating.â€
He said Christians â€œlive on promises, not on explanations,â€ believing a better life awaits in heaven.
Should people not ask God about the â€œwhyâ€ of their suffering?
â€œThereâ€™s nothing wrong with asking God why, as long as you donâ€™t necessarily expect to get an answer,â€ The pastor said. â€œLetâ€™s just say for the sake of argument that God would tell us why we suffer. Would that really take away our pain?â€
He recalled the July 2008 death of his 33-year-old son, Christopher, in a collision on the Riverside Freeway in Corona, California, not far from the ministryâ€™s offices.
A pastor for nearly 50 years, Mr. Laurie said â€œalways the hardest thing for a pastor to do is try to explain the death of a child to a parent.â€
After his sonâ€™s death, he was that parent at the funeral service listening to a pastor trying to explain the â€œwhyâ€ of the tragedy. Despite having counseled hundreds of others, on that day, â€œI was just the father who lost my son,â€ he said.
â€œI needed to, to believe what I had been telling others. And I did,â€ Mr. Laurie said. â€œYou know, when, when hardship hits, thatâ€™s the time to double down, and believe your beliefs and doubt your doubts.â€
He said â€œthereâ€™s nothing wrong with crying and being sorrowfulâ€ when a loved one dies, â€œbecause the depth of our sorrow is an indication of the depth of our love.â€
But he added that â€œwe donâ€™t grieve hopelessly we grieve hopefully, because as Christians we believe weâ€™ll see our loved ones again in heaven. So theyâ€™re not just a part of our past. Theyâ€™re also a part of our future.â€
Mr. Laurie said that friends of the bereaved should avoid an impulse to counsel the grieving.
â€œSometimes the best thing to say is nothing, but just to be thereâ€ with the person, he said.
Recalling the biblical story of Job, Mr. Laurie noted that â€œthe best thingâ€ the patriarchâ€™s friends did was â€œwhen they sat in silence and cried for him. Itâ€™s when they started talking that the troubles began, because they didnâ€™t know what they were talking about.â€
Mr. Laurie, whose latest book is a commentary on Revelation, the New Testamentâ€™s final message, said his experience in losing Christopher and a book he wrote based on the diary the pastor kept during that time give him authenticity when speaking with those facing loss.
â€œI think when youâ€™ve suffered, people are willing to listen to you because they know youâ€™re not speaking from an ivory tower,â€ he said.