‘Don’t be afraid, God is in control,’ says evangelist Greg Laurie

The Rev. Greg Laurie, an evangelical pastor known for his daily radio broadcasts and stadium-filling outreach meetings, knows what it’s like to face sorrow during the holiday season.

To those hurting or anxious as Christmas approaches, Mr. Laurie says: “Don’t be afraid, God’s in control. God loves you. Look to Him. The joy you’re looking for doesn’t come from Christmas; it comes from Christ.”

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 world’s suffering is caused by people, not God.

“People, 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,” Mr. Laurie said. “And I thought that was fascinating.”

He said Christians “live on promises, not on explanations,” believing a better life awaits in heaven.

Should people not ask God about the “why” of their suffering?

“There’s nothing wrong with asking God why, as long as you don’t necessarily expect to get an answer,” The pastor said. “Let’s just say for the sake of argument that God would tell us why we suffer. Would that really take away our pain?”

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 ministry’s offices.

A pastor for nearly 50 years, Mr. Laurie said “always the hardest thing for a pastor to do is try to explain the death of a child to a parent.”

After his son’s death, he was that parent at the funeral service listening to a pastor trying to explain the “why” of the tragedy. Despite having counseled hundreds of others, on that day, “I was just the father who lost my son,” he said.

“I needed to, to believe what I had been telling others. And I did,” Mr. Laurie said. “You know, when, when hardship hits, that’s the time to double down, and believe your beliefs and doubt your doubts.”

He said “there’s nothing wrong with crying and being sorrowful” when a loved one dies, “because the depth of our sorrow is an indication of the depth of our love.”

But he added that “we don’t grieve hopelessly we grieve hopefully, because as Christians we believe we’ll see our loved ones again in heaven. So they’re not just a part of our past. They’re also a part of our future.”

Mr. Laurie said that friends of the bereaved should avoid an impulse to counsel the grieving.

“Sometimes the best thing to say is nothing, but just to be there” with the person, he said.

Recalling the biblical story of Job, Mr. Laurie noted that “the best thing” the patriarch’s friends did was “when they sat in silence and cried for him. It’s when they started talking that the troubles began, because they didn’t know what they were talking about.”

Mr. Laurie, whose latest book is a commentary on Revelation, the New Testament’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.

“I think when you’ve suffered, people are willing to listen to you because they know you’re not speaking from an ivory tower,” he said.