Growing up in Decatur as a self-proclaimed Opie Taylor from the Andy Griffith Show and working for 40 years as a family physician taught Dr. J. Lee Valentine, D.O. a lot about the human body and even spirituality, but his wife Helen’s one question following her cancer diagnosis sent him looking for an answer to a question many ask.
The result of his search to answer both his wife’s question and his own about the will of God, spurred Valentine to write his first published book Where Was God When My World Was Falling Apart? The book is currently available online through most book sellers - notably Amazon.com, Iuniverse, Barnes & Noble, and Target. Valentine said the slim volume is not meant to provide all the answers or even some of the answers. It’s a “journey of discovery,” he said.
Valentine grew up in Decatur during the 1950’s where his dad Hubert served as sheriff and his mother worked in the courthouse. It was an idyllic childhood, but 40 years in medicine has taught him that horrific things happen and questions about God often come up.
“This isn’t about me having a book,” he said. “This is about having a book that hopefully is helpful. That’s my goal. My whole purpose is not to glorify my wife or me. It’s designed to help people who are suffering.”
“It’s not designed to be a textbook or treatise on God’s will or anything like that, but I was hoping to give a concept that maybe would help people understand why things happen. I just felt like, if I put the information in book form, I knew it wouldn’t help everybody, and it’s not designed for everybody. I want it to be a book that someone could read in an afternoon or a night or two and it helps them put in perspective a tragedy they may have faced or are facing.”
As Valentine tells it in person and in the book, he has worked with patients and patients’ families through varieties of terrible tragedies and witnessed physical suffering — and even death — labeled as God’s will. He said he also went to many funerals where the phrase was uttered, especially funerals of those that involved sudden unexpected loss or the death of a child.
“People just had a hard time understanding what to say, and many time they would say, ‘I guess it was God’s will,’” Valentine said. “I just can’t believe that God would want a six-year-old to be killed on a bicycle. That just didn’t register with me. I thought that was a little bit different. Then all of a sudden it hit home. It’s not a problem until it hits you.”
The question of God’s will hit Valentine deeply when Helen received a diagnosis of multiple myeloma that he had already suspicioned but had confirmed in a local doctor’s office. As he and Helen were making their way to seek treatment in Little Rock, Arkansas, Helen, who Valentine said had done all the right things health wise, turned to him and asked, “Do you think this is God’s will?”
“When that happened, I started wrestling with why her and why now, and when she asked me if I thought it was God’s will, I didn’t have an answer,” he said. “I talked to our pastor. I started doing research, talking to other ministers, and reading books. Things became a little clearer as I began reading and studying, and I put together a Sunday school class on where God was when bad things happen. I kept amassing material. I think eventually this was just an answered prayer of putting this book together.”
With a heavy emphasis on Romans 8:28, Valentine said he hopes to give insight and perhaps some comfort into how things happen in the world and that God is not some aloof video game player sending hurricanes to one person or car accidents to another.
“I really feel like that verse helps people say that when bad things happen things will work out for the best, but we might not know it right then,” Valentine said. “I hope (the book) gives them insight into how things happen in the world and in the end realize that God is mourning with them and is there with them. No matter how bad the tragedy is, there will be something good from it at some point.”
While chronicling the journey to Little Rock, in each chapter Valentine tackles the weighty topics of prayer, God’s intentional will and self-limiting will, and faith. Valentine even writes about how prayers are answered even when they may not be answered in the way someone asks God to answer them.
“I don’t have all the answers,” Valentine said. “This is not an expert’s opinion. This is a process of thinking through concepts. It is up for debate. People will have their own opinions. It’s just food for thought.”