When Gavin Hooks' parents divorced, his Christian faith faded.
"I felt like God had left me, or I felt like my faith wasn't sufficient to work through this problem," he said. He didn't stop believe in God, but for about a year, he "dropped out" of his faith walk.
Eventually, he returned. He'd worked through the issues of his parents' volatile split – or so he thought.
Fast forward 20 years. Hooks' mother died, and he realized something: He still had deep issues that he hadn't dealt with.
“The pain, the conflict, was all under the surface and influencing me in ways that I didn’t realize it was influencing me,” he said.
Since then, he's learned a thing or two about pain – and how to work through it. His new book, "The Message of Pain: A Whisper of Hope," explores spiritual pain and healing from a Christian perspective.
The book includes parts of his own spiritual journey, along with research and evaluations of Christian thought. He also brings in insight from his professional life. No, he's not clergy – he's a veterinarian. He earned a doctorate from the University of Missouri in the late 1990's, and he now runs a clinic in the St. Louis area. But as a veterinarian, he's seen a lot of animals in pain, and also watched the healing process. Throughout the book, he mentions physical and psychological pain, in addition to the spiritual.
Hooks sees a problem with contemporary American culture: A lack of regard for moral responsibility.
“We’ve abandoned moral absolutes, not realizing that they are there, and they exert their influence," he said. When you "free yourself" from those absolutes, "you become bound in the consequences of ignoring them."
Those consequences are where pain comes in. "Pain tells us that something is wrong," he said. That's the message.
From a Christian perspective, he said, we live in a fallen world, so of course, some pain will happen because of that, whether we like it or not. We can't escape it, he said. However, some pain we bring on ourselves, because of a disregard for moral law.
"Whenever you try to subtract from it the guideposts that God has given us, you're naturally going to run into dangerous areas, harmful things," that harm causes pain.
Pain is also connected with good and evil, which are important to acknowledge.
"If we don’t acknowledge the fact that evil exists and that good exists, life becomes random and meaningless," he said. "If we acknowledge that they do exist and try to pursue good, our life gets a greater context than our own personal life."
Hooks defines good in terms of God. From Hooks' perspective, God is the creator and definer of all things, so he's the creator and definer of good. And the qualities often associated with good – love, life, light and truth, for example – are attributes of Jesus Christ. Truth is also something that we, as humans, are intent on finding: "Humanity as a whole, if you look at the extent to which we've gone to find the truth, I think it's just an innate quality that God has given us to seek the truth and find it."
Just as cold is the absence of heat, and dark is the absence of light, Hooks said evil is the absence of good – or of God.
But pain, when properly dealt with, can be healed.
"There are a thousand ways to inappropriately respond to pain," Hooks said. He used to turn to alcohol to deal with pain. Others put up emotional "walls," of find other tactics to avoid the root of the problem.
From a Christian perspective, the ultimate key to appropriately dealing with pain, he said, is "accepting what's happened to you, and realizing that God can do something amazing through what's happening to you."
That, he said, is where healing begins.
"God is sovereign," Hooks said. "And he's working in your life."
For more information, go to themessageofpain.com.