Since his voice was ruined by surgery, worship leader Bob Sorge has been speaking with quiet authority about faith in the face of frustration.

Why do bad things happen to obedient, faithful Christians? If God allows evil to afflict the believer, is it for punishment or promotion? Does God intend to deliver us out of our troubles?

From the days of Job to today, such questions have plagued millions of people. Rare is the pastor who has a sermon series on unanswered prayer. Charismatic Christians are especially known for expounding on the triumphal life but not dwelling on its perplexities.

Yet the body of Christ is consumed with perplexity and weary of platitudes, says one Missouri pastor, who may be producing some of the most intriguing work available in the United States today on the subject of suffering. Bob Sorge--whose bout with a surgeon's knife nine years ago left him nearly voiceless--has weighed in on the dealings of God with man to a growing audience of listeners around the world.

Now 44, Sorge was pastor of an upstate New York charismatic church in the spring of 1992 when disaster struck. Formerly the director of music at Elim Bible Institute in Lima, New York, he was developing a nationwide worship ministry and had already written a charismatic textbook titled Exploring Worship. He had built up his nondenominational congregation from 35 members to several hundred people.

Just before setting out to Singapore for an international worship convention, he noticed a mysterious soreness near his vocal chords. By the time he returned from overseas 10 days later, "It felt," he remembers, "like a marble was lodged in my throat.

Doctors said Sorge had an arytenoid granuloma: an ulcer easily removed by laser treatment. Just before undergoing surgery that August, he was told he would be back in the pulpit within three weeks.

When extreme pain persisted even after the surgery, however, Sorge realized something was terribly wrong: The surgeon's laser work had singed his throat, causing a permanent rawness.

He could only speak an hour a day--and that at a whisper--before pain took over. For a pastor in his prime, whose living depended on his being able to preach and lead worship, the surgical mishap was calamitous.

Thus started Sorge's wrestlings with God, what his wife, Marci, calls "the longest valley of our lives."

"The first year, you walk in denial," Marci says. "The second year, you realize it is not going to go away. It is total blackness. Then, you have to go deep. You have to have answers.

"He has not had an answer of 'Why?' yet," she continues. "It has changed us on how we relate to people who are weak and broken."

When Heaven Is Silent

In 1994 Sorge came out with In His Face, a book about the silence of God and why He sometimes delays in answering prayer.

"The first sign that you've been pruned is this: God stops talking to you," he candidly writes. "As frantically as you might beseech heaven, heaven is not talking to you right now."

Instead, he says, if God does speak, it is on an unrelated matter. "Although God may be silent regarding the things you want Him to talk about, He will be speaking to you the things that are on His heart."

Before the tragedy, Sorge had borne the attitude, held by many Christians, that suffering was somehow the sufferer's fault. The common teaching in many circles is that sickness is caused by a lack of faith or a lack of trust in God. But after two years of pain, Sorge says his viewpoint changed.

"God brought me to a new realization that calamity and tragedy come alike to saints and sinners," he writes. "Just because you're having troubles doesn't necessarily mean you're doing something wrong. Joseph made all the right decisions and still ended up in the blackness of prison."

Too many Christians, he says, are like Job's three unhelpful friends: They misdiagnose why a person is suffering and dump more guilt on the sufferer. And charismatics typically espouse a set reason for suffering: "God is disciplining you, and it's your fault."

But the disciplines of God are for promotion, not punishment, he explains. The means God uses to perfect His saints are the same means He uses to punish the disobedient. To the undiscerning, it appears to be punishment.

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