- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 13, 2001

LEES SUMMIT, Mo. Suffering without hope, philosophers say, creates resentment and despair.
From Olympic skater Nancy Kerrigan's "Why me?" plaint to Rabbi Harold S. Kushner's famous book on why bad things happen to good people, Americans gravitate to pop psychologists, talk shows and Scriptures to eke some meaning out of life's perplexities.
Yet one Missouri pastor may be producing some of the most intriguing work on suffering in America today. The Rev. Bob Sorge, whose bout with a surgeon's knife eight years ago left him nearly without a voice, weighs in on life's griefs and the dealings of God with man to a growing audience of listeners around the world.
Now 44, Mr. Sorge was the relatively unknown pastor of an upstate New York charismatic church when disaster struck in August 1992. When surgeons operated on an ulcer, called anarytenoid granulona, next to his vocal chords, their laser work left his throat permanently singed.
Instead of being back in his pulpit in three weeks as was promised Mr. Sorge was saddled with a severely damaged throat. The pain was so great, he could speak only an hour a day and that at a whisper. For a man in his prime whose living depended on using his voice, the surgical mishap was calamitous.
"It's affected every area of his life," his wife, Marci, says, "relationships, preaching, everything. And our family the way he relates to his three children it's been very devastating."
In the old days, she adds, her husband played the piano with gusto, singing worship songs. Now, he barely touches it.
"The first year, you walk in denial," she 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. It has changed us on how we relate to people who are weak and broken."
Mr. Sorge started to write more books. Instead of upbeat texts, like his 1987 book "Exploring Worship," his 1994 volume "In His Face" was about faith in God amidst depression. A subsequent book, "Pain, Perplexity and Promotion," was about the biblical character Job.
"All hell seemed to break loose," he wrote. "I don't fully understand why this has happened to me, but I do find myself relating very much to Job's experiences and responses."
He tried holding onto his pastorate, but eventually resigned from his church in 1999.
"It's hard to pastor a body of people when you are trying to keep your own head above water," Mrs. Sorge says. "It just came to a place where it became impossible at the relational end."
The family of five has since relocated to the Kansas City area to be close to a group of Christian ministries that specialize in worship. Mr. Sorge has continued to write books and speaks most weekends at conferences, his lips pressed to a microphone to increase the volume.
He can speak for an hour before pain takes over. But, judging from the busy travel schedule listed on his Web site (www.oasishouse.net), people are lining up in North America and Europe to hear what he has to say. One of them is the Rev. Wayne Clarke of Sabre Springs Foursquare Church north of San Diego, who invited Mr. Sorge to speak to his congregation last year.
"When he is speaking, even in that hushed whisper, there is an intensity that comes across that adds to his message," Mr. Clarke says. "Of course you can't be a worship leader or a pastor without your voice. I'm sure he's been pulled through a knothole backwards. He's had lots of advice. We Christians are good at that."
Like many writers on suffering, Mr. Sorge refers to God often. But unlike Rabbi Kushner, who maintains God is helpless in the face of evil, or evangelical Christian writer Philip Yancey, who advises people to learn to live with their suffering, Mr. Sorge has a different tack.
"The key word here is purpose," he said in a whisper during an interview at his home in Lees Summit, 20 miles southeast of Kansas City. "If you want to find purpose, you first have to find God. Without God, there is no purpose."
Even with God, life's answers are not easily forthcoming. There is a "profound perplexity" among many Americans today, he says, who wonder why they are afflicted with such intractable problems. "The conservative, evangelical Christian slant is that God is omniscient, sovereign and knows best, so we throw up our hands and just kind of hope," he said. "That particular approach doesn't satisfy people in crisis. I've had to seek after answers that satisfy me in my pain."
"A lot of writers will pull on the resilient nature of man to rise above obstacles. But that doesn't provide answers to me.
"A lot of Christians will say, 'Don't ask why.' I am not in that camp. I am strong in asking why. Jesus asked why. King David asked why. The psalmists asked why. The Bible is full of people who had questions.
"God is to be wrestled with. He has unfolded purpose to me. He's transformed the way I think, feel, everything about me," Mr. Sorge said. "The crucible of suffering causes you to be desperate for God and to press into Him."
What's behind ordinary human suffering, he suggested, is much like the divine drama shown in the first chapter of Job, in which God and Satan debate the patriarch's virtue.
"It's a spiritual gamble," Mr. Sorge said. "Satan is gambling he can turn you into a casualty and God is testing you to see if you will become a spiritual giant."
Job, he points out, is the first book of the Bible to have been recorded even before the better-known five books of the Old Testament known as the Torah. The Talmud (books of Jewish commentary) and many Christian scholars believe Job dates from before the time of Moses, writer of the Torah.
"That makes it a cornerstone of Scripture," he said. "That is important to me. From Satan's perspective, God is a tyrant. Satan's accusation is you have a tyrant for a father.
"The cynic will look at suffering and be bitter toward God. But the saint will be transformed by this. One of the cornerstones of my theology is the intervention of God."
The Sorges believe he will be healed at some point a different stance from famed Christian quadriplegic Joni Eareckson Tada, a California resident who has come to terms with being handicapped.
"That's only half of the message," Mr. Sorge says, with a trace of irritation. "So are you telling me God's purpose is to cope with this for the rest of my life?"
Americans, he added, always have a Plan B for how they will get by if their prayers are not answered. Elsewhere in the world, "people don't have a Plan B. They either get healed or they die.
"So basically I am unto death on this thing," he said. "I have assurances from Him that He will heal me. I am waiting on Him to fulfill His Word."
Mrs. Sorge is also holding out for the miraculous.
"I believe we will have a good end in this life. 'Many are the afflictions of the righteous but the Lord will deliver them out of this all,' " she said, quoting Psalm 34:19. "That's my hope. That's what keeps us going every day."

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