We all think about suffering, and we have all suffered, are suffering, or will suffer to some degree, but leave it to Joseph Bentz to investigate the upside of pain, loss, and adversity. A professor of English at Azusa Pacific University, Bentz is also a novelist and writer of books related to the Christian experience. His latest book, Nothing is Wasted: How God Redeems What is Broken (Beacon Hill Press in Kansas City, 2016) explores the idea that redemptive elements are all around us and are even within the worst circumstances.
I was in a prayer group with Joe for a few years (the group is still running, but I have not attended in a long time), along with a few other professors in the Azusa Pacific University community, and I found him to be encouraging and persuasive. The group was formed to encourage one another for creative projects and endeavors, and to pray for one another as the struggles ensued. My husband and I plan to return to this remarkable group when more time has opened up for us, but I can say here that it is made up of gentle, uplifting individuals who are humble, productive, and inspirational. They have certainly known disappointments, struggles, and suffering, but they quietly persist in their efforts, their faith, and their kindness.
Joseph Bentz has written ten books, including five novels and five books related to Christian life. We met last week at Starbucks near the campus so that I could interview him about Nothing is Wasted.
Joe does not hesitate to confront the most difficult issues that Christians face, and yet his personal demeanor is calm, thoughtful, and gentle. Not opinionated, he nonetheless has some resolute ideas about our walk with God, our awareness of the overall context of our faith in Christ, and our choices as believers in the God of redemption and hope. His books include subjects that some of us prefer to avoid: God’s silence when we want him to speak to us (Silent God), the delay we experience when waiting for God to act, (When God Takes Too Long), and now the reality of suffering and God’s redemptive “song” in the midst of our troubles in Nothing is Wasted.
I was eager to ask him a few questions after I finished the book. A believer in Christ, I have nonetheless had a crisis of faith more than once, during a prolonged period of chronic pain due to a car accident neck injury, a series of disappointments, and cataclysmic church issues that threatened to derail my faith.
Me: When did you start writing this book, and what inspired it?
Joe: I started the book in 2013 and finished it in 2015. I was interested in the ways that “redemption” was scattered in unexpected places. I met many people at writers’ conferences who had suffered great pain and who were writing about their experiences. I met a woman at one of the conferences who had been hit by a car, and yet she talked about it as a life-changing, positive experience. I wondered what the perspective of others was about the painful things that had happened to them.
Me: What kind of research did you do for the book?
Joe: I read articles and books written by people who had experienced painful events, and I also spent time with others that I met who had suffered great losses. They gave me permission to tell their stories, as they wanted them to be told. They also wanted to help others who might be experiencing the same thing.
Me: It almost seems as if you are writing in response to St. John of the Cross and the Dark Night of the Soul.
Joe: That would be more prominent in Silent God and the issues I write about in that book. For this book, I had observed that many writers had dealt with great emotional pain and difficult circumstances, and I wanted to find out how it affected them. Were they bitter? Did they blame God? How did they deal with the effects of the tragedy or difficulty?
Me: I have struggled with the idea of what we can expect from God. Will he protect us? Does he prevent some tragedies? What can we look for in our ongoing walk as people of faith?
Joe: We can look for hints, echoes, and traces of redemption. Somehow, God will bring good out of the pain, both for ourselves and for others. The pain of our losses may never subside, and yet we can observe that good comes out of them in a variety of ways.
It is a theme song in the universe, according to Bentz. We are in a world of tragedy, disasters, and death, and yet despite the nature of the world, we will find the traces of redemption eventually, if we are open to them. We don’t have to find them, says Bentz. We can ignore them, succumb to bitterness and anger, abandon our faith. Or, we can celebrate the echoes, hints, and traces of good that we find, even in the worst of situations.
It might be tempting to enlarge upon the severity of the suffering that see in the world, and yet Joe Bentz can provide both a presence and an argument that challenges us to look beyond the suffering to God’s redemptive plan, which eventually culminates in eternity with him, although we have little knowledge about what that will look like.
This book is an invitation to see the best instead of the worst, a call to look up into heaven instead of down into the circumstances, and it is also a subtle, yet persuasive, call to redemption as well as a full-on confrontation with the worst that can happen. Here’s to Joseph Bentz for looking into the darkness and finding flashes of light.
Find out more about Joseph Bentz at his website, JosephBentz.com.
Order Nothing is Wasted from Amazon here.