Pastor Rick Warren will reach an expected 50,000 people this holiday weekend with his Easter sermon, entitled “Trusting in God when You Don’t Feel Like Trusting Him.” Warren gave me a preview of his message when I spoke to him for “This Week,” explaining his own struggles with keeping his faith, trying to understand a world where bad things can happen to good people, and how he still sees God at work in difficult circumstances around the world.
TAPPER: When have you felt skeptical? When have you had difficulty trusting Him?
WARREN: Well, I think a lot of times God takes away your feelings, so you have to depend on faith. And faith is kind of like a tide. It rolls in and rolls out.
TAPPER: And so even for someone like you, you’re not — you don’t always just have a strong sense of faith?
WARREN: In 1981, I went through an entire year of depression. For the entire year. And during that time, I — my goal was not, ‘Oh, God, build a great church.’ It was, ’Can you get me through Sunday?’ I learned some lessons there that I would have never been able to learn any other way. And so the way God teaches us to live by faith is He takes away our feelings.
TAPPER: And how do you work through that?
WARREN: You keep on going. When you’re going through hell, you keep going.
TAPPER: There’s a lot of pain in the world right now. We saw that horrific act in Afghanistan with those civilian casualties. We saw the horrific acts against American soldiers there. There’s the Trayvon Martin case causing a lot of heartache in Florida. How do you counsel people to trust God when they see horrible things happen to good people?
WARREN: A lot of people worry about this question, ‘Why is there evil in the world?’ ‘Why does God allow evil?’ To me, that’s not the issue. The issue is, ‘Why is there good?’ It’s easy to explain away evil. We have a free choice, and our greatest blessing is also our greatest curse, because I don’t always make good choices. Other people make bad choices. I make bad choices. And sometimes we hurt other people. Sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally.
So the Bible says that everything in the world is broken — every relationship is broken, our bodies are broken. They don’t work perfectly. Nothing works perfectly. The weather doesn’t work perfectly. Because of sin in the world, nothing works perfectly. But in spite of that we can find comfort. We can find strength.
We don’t always find answers. God doesn’t owe us an explanation for everything and actually what I’ve found in dealing with people like this for well over 30 years, in tragedies, is that explanations don’t comfort. What comforts is the presence of God, not the explanation of God.
And so I teach them to — the things that are out of my control, I just have to give over to God and trust one day I’m going to understand it later. I’m going to understand it more. But the key is really just saying my brain isn’t big enough to figure out why everything happens. It would be like an ant trying to understand the internet.
TAPPER: I think you’ve been to Rwanda something like 10 times.
WARREN: Yeah, at least a dozen times.
TAPPER: And you’ve just recently got back. When you go to a place like Rwanda, you see 800,000 orphans, 200,000 people infected with HIV/AIDS, where do you see God?
WARREN: Well, I see God in the people, in the people of God, because God is at work in His family, in His church, in his communities, in His people. And Rwanda is actually a shining example of success. I actually serve on the president’s advisory council in that particular nation, and we just got a report last week that 1 million people have come out of poverty in the last five years in that nation.
The poverty rate’s gone from like 57 percent to 48 percent. And I see a nation being turned around. I’ve had the opportunity over the last five years to see God at work really all around the world. We do a thing called the PEACE Plan, which is promote reconciliation by planning churches, equip leaders, assist the poor, care for the sick, educate the next generation.
In the last five years, I’ve had 14,896 of my members in every nation in the world, all 196 nations. Well, when you go to all these nations, you see all of these problems, but you also see what God is doing through the lives of people. And we see, these are the best of times and the worst of times.