The following is a conversation from the podcast, Behind the Message, hosted by Ben Fleming and Evan Earwicker (audio of the entire conversation is embedded at the end of this post).
Evan Earwicker: Welcome to Season 3 of Behind the Message. We’re here with Pastor Steve Mickel and, Steve, you’re releasing your new book, Walking in the Dark.
Steve Mickel: My sister said, “You must be so happy that your name is on a book.” And I was like, “Actually, I’d rather be on a different one.” You know? This one was not fun to write, not fun to live through. I’m glad it’s done. And I just I hope it’ll help a subset of those who are going through tough times.
Ben Fleming: So why do you do it then? It’s obviously a huge, difficult area of your life. Why jump into it even farther and write a book about it?
Steve Mickel: To be honest, Ben, it was my own healing process, initially. I had to write, and I’m not a huge writer. I don’t spend every day writing something but I hit a wall and I wasn’t processing things very well verbally. I just feel like I had to get I had to start writing stuff down about what I was feeling and the questions I was asking God and in the answers I wasn’t getting initially. That kind of formed into a sermon series that I did and back in 2017 or 18 and then and then out of that sermon series came this book and that’s when I realized that through the sermon series, I realized people need this message. There’s a lot of people that I heard from when I was preaching this series, of their own loss – not just of a child but every in every aspect of life. That they didn’t know how to how to reconcile the God of the Bible with the suffering in the world.
Evan Earwicker: Let’s catch people up. If you’re new to the podcast or you’re not familiar with Steve and the process that He’s gone through. The book is called Walking in the Dark: Trusting God When Life Happens. It chronicles your process after the death of your son, in coming to grips with what you believed about God, and you ask these three questions. Could you share those three questions?
Steve Mickel: I have a great friend, Stephen Hacker, who does a lot of trust assessments with businesses and organizations around the world and he uses this assessment regarding trust in organizations: are the leaders and the people around you capable? Can they do what they say they can do? Are they consistent? Do they do what they say they can do? And are they committed? Do they want to do what they say they can and will do? And so he and I worked on an assessment to actually put that toward God. Is God trustworthy based on those three Cs? Is he capable? Can he do what he says he can do in the Bible? Does he do what he says he does in the Bible? Another word for that is faithfulness. And as does He want to? And so I wrestled those three questions through my own journey about God and came to a place that was probably still familiar to me from growing up in the church, but it meant more now after wrestling with those truths.
Ben Fleming: It is really relatable, when I read through the book, it comes off a lot more relatable than I had anticipated because I have not experienced anywhere close to the amount of loss that you’re talking about but you’re right – there were still questions that I’ve had for God or things that I have walked through that I am still mourning. It raises the same questions even if the level of grief isn’t the same.
Steve Mickel: And everyone has the same questions I think because of all the suffering in the world, whether it’s my suffering or somebody else’s suffering, we see it, we hear about on the news and it’s like ‘is God still around? Is he?’ People have left their faith in God because of suffering in the world. And so we have to wrestle with these questions. As I encouraged the church in this last message, last weekend, stay in with God. Stay in the ring with him and work this out. Don’t tap out too quickly because I think so often we just check out way too fast. Then we live the rest of our life wandering without answers to any questions that we have. We just kind of say well this is just the way it is. And I refuse to believe that. I refuse to believe that this is just all there is: the suffering. And then we die. And then it’s done. There’s no way there’s gonna be purpose in our lives today. And when we’re done here on Earth what’s next and so this book kind of wrestles with all of that in some way.
Evan Earwicker: I’ve seen that there’s a real wrestling and a grappling with, ‘is this real?’. Is God trustworthy? All the questions that you asked… I’ve noticed a lot of people are coming to those questions without major grief. It’s sometimes, “I didn’t get the job I wanted. I don’t think God is real.” I’m looking at your story now and how life pushed you completely to the edge. You had to decide, “will faith hold up or not?”. And it really contrasts for me. People who, when the slightest thing goes wrong, say “Well, God’s not real”.
Steve Mickel: It’s added to so many other things, Evan, it’s not just “I lost a job”. I think people add everything up against God and the weight of that, in their opinion, weighs more than the goodness of God in our lives. By the way, you mentioned that it pushed me to the edge; I would say that it didn’t push me to the edge of my faith, it knocked me over the cliff and it was like hanging on for dear life. On on the edge of a cliff where I had to actually crawl back up to the face of whatever that cliff was to find God again. And that’s why I would encourage people: don’t check out on God too fast. I mean wrestle with the old truths that maybe you heard in Sunday school or whatever and come to some resolution there. Wrestle with that one for a while and see where you land. Don’t just take the easy road of saying, “my pastor or my Sunday school teacher told me this, so it must be true.” I’d rather people wrestle it out themselves and come to that conclusion or a different conclusion.
Evan Earwicker: Don’t people feel the pressure that they can’t admit if they have any doubts about what their Sunday school teacher said or their pastor told them? They feel like they have to leave and they’re not welcome to even be in the conversation if they’re wrestling at all.
Steve Mickel: Yeah, we have churches saying, “The Bible says it, that does it!” And we don’t give any space. I had a couple of people (it wasn’t a lot, thankfully) when I was going through this, come up to me and say, “You’re in sin. You can’t say these things about God. You’re wavering.” And I’m like, “Yeah, I am wavering and I’m going to figure this thing out”. I’m just so grateful for a community like our church that gave me space to do that. And I think more churches are wanting to do that. I think the definition of faith includes doubt. If you don’t have a little bit of doubt then it’s not faith. Faith is faith because you got a little bit of doubt. I might be wrong you guys; I might be wrong about this whole Jesus thing. And as I say in the book – I’d rather find out that I was wrong in believing than to not believe in God and find out I was wrong.
Ben Fleming: Through all of this, you didn’t try to put a happy face on everything. You faced it in a very personal way and in a very public way, and you faced it through the process of writing the book and asking all the questions and digging into it as hard as you could. Has that been good, and what is it like on the other side of it?
Steve Mickel: Yes I looked into the abyss and I found Jesus there. He’s not absent from those dark places. We think that we’re alone. I know I felt that way. I felt like I was alone through a lot of that journey. Suzanne just posted something on Facebook my wife about how she thought she lost me and at a certain point in the journey, but what I found in the abyss was Jesus. If I can help other people find Jesus in the abyss that’s enough for me for this book. You know that that’s my deepest desire, that they would find Him there. And I’m quick to say that He doesn’t solve all of our problems. I still don’t have my son here. Everything doesn’t just go back to normal. We’re not as happy as we were before. You know it’s not as easy as it was before to find joy, but I know that he’s with me and I would say it’s good enough.
Evan Earwicker: You’re always going to miss your son. It’s like losing a limb. You never get over it. But do you ever fatigue of the public processing?
Steve Mickel: Yeah, I’m kind of tired of that. To be honest, this series that we’re now in again is rough. Part of me wants to just like steal away during this season and not talk to anybody about it for a while you know? There is a point where it’s just me and my wife, and my kids as well. And my Lord. At the same time, I recognize that there are some people that don’t have all of that support as they walk through their own dark night.
Evan Earwicker: You quote C.S. Lewis a lot in your book. One of the quotes you use is from A Grief Observed. “My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time.“
Steve Mickel: I thought I had God all figured out. I really did. He shattered my view of him and put some pieces back together. I wasn’t left stranded without knowing who he is anymore. But now the picture is it’s almost like broken glass. There are gaps – I don’t have everything figured out still. But you know there’s a couple of things I have figured out. And I hope what I believe is right. Like when Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you where you can be with me.” I hope I’m right on that one. I hope he was telling me the truth, not just for me but for Chase.
Ben Fleming: Will you write another book?
Steve Mickel: Yeah. I want to write. I need a cleansing book. I need to write a book that’s really happy. One that’s full of joy.
Evan Earwicker: Maybe Water Parks of the Western United States?
Steve Mickel: That’s not a bad idea.
Walking in the Dark: Trusting God when Life Happens is now available on Amazon and Audible.