I was hooked on Max Lucado's FOR THESE TOUGH TIMES from the beginning because it starts with a question from the Psalms: "When all that is good falls apart, what can good people do?" Questions are a time-honored approach to the mystery of all we don't understand about faith --- and the perfect way to start a book on the difficult problem of suffering and evil.
First written as a response to the events of September 11th, FOR THESE TOUGH TIMES has been redesigned as an all-purpose gift book that speaks to any difficult situation: the death of a loved one, the injustice of world hunger, a broken relationship. Christians have long mined the Psalms and the Book of Job for answers to the problems of evil, pain and suffering in the world. And what they've found, as Lucado has found, is that there are no pat answers. Rather, as Psalm 11:3-4 continues, we discover that God is in control. He is over everything. And when we have no pat answers, Lucado compellingly shows that we still have the knowledge that God loves us and cares about what happens to us.
Eight short chapters, plus an introduction and a prayer, make up this slim yet meaty volume. In the book, he asks "Who is God? Where is God in the midst of evil? Can good come from evil? And prayer --- is God really listening?"
Lucado looks to scripture for examples of biblical characters --- Joseph, Moses, Daniel --- who endured difficult circumstances yet whose tragedies were turned into triumphs. He also looks to creation as evidence of God's power and majesty. "Nature is God's workshop. The sky is his résumé. The universe is his calling card. You want to know who God is? See what he has done. You want to know his power? Take a look at his creation. Curious about his strength? Pay a visit to his home address: 1 Billion Starry Sky Ave."
His images are fresh and vivid throughout, whether retelling the story of the nativity or the drama of Jesus calming the storm. "And that was just the beginning of what his sea mates would witness," Lucado writes. "Before it was over, they would see fish jump into the boat, demons dive into pigs, cripples turn into dancers, and cadavers turn into living, breathing people."
Lucado points to scriptures such as Romans 8:31 ("If God is for us, who can be against us?") as a reminder of God's personal care for us. "You are protected. God is with you." Nothing can separate us from God's love if we desire it, because of Jesus, he reminds us.
One of the toughest ideas Lucado offers is that God uses Satan to refine the faithful and allows us to experience pain to come back to faith, be disciplined when we've sinned, or test the church. This is perhaps the most discussable portion of the book, depending on your theology of suffering.
He also discusses the terrible price of revenge and bitterness when we've been victimized in some way and invites readers to consider this: "Would you like assurance that God forgives you? I think you know what you need to do." He urges readers to remember to make time to listen to God, to be quiet, and to be still. He reminds us that "your prayer on earth activates God's power in heaven….When you speak, Jesus hears. And when Jesus hears, the world is changed."
At the end of the book, Lucado includes "Do it Again, Lord," a prayer adapted from one written for America Prays, a national prayer vigil on September 15, 2001. The prayer echoes his belief that "Though we may not be able to see his purpose of his plan, the Lord of heaven is on his throne and in firm control of the universe and our lives. So we entrust him with our future. We entrust him with our very lives." Readers in need of reassurance about God's love and power in the face of evil and suffering will find solace in these pages.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on September 5, 2006