Friday, February 04, 2011

Where is God When it Hurts?

Book Review of Where is God When it Hurts by Philip Yancey

One of Philip Yancey's first books must be one of his best (I have only read 2 or 3, but this one was surely worthwhile to read). He sets out to find a message that we Christians can give to people who are suffering, an answer to the question asked by the title of the book. It's the classic conundrum, the problem of pain.

Part 1 of the book is spent defending pain. You read that right. Yancey believes that we have an inadequate view of pain. Without pain in this life, we'd be in a heap of trouble! Pain is a needed and built in warning system, as those who suffer from painlessness would attest. Pain can lead to good results (think athletes in training or, even better, women giving birth).

Part 2 reminds us that we don't live in the best possible world. We live in a world brought into chaos by sin. God allows this to continue for various reasons, but certainly one of them is that the brokenness of this world causes us to cry out, out of this world. Yancey believes that it is far better to ask 'to what end?' amidst pain than to attempt to locate the source of a specific circumstance. Until we realize that this life is not about 'being happy,' but about transforming our soul, we will not see the value of pain. Ours is not to reason why, but to learn to trust God to... no, simply to trust God.

Part 3 gets into specific cases of pain/suffering and overwhelmingly demonstrates that there are a myriad to responses to pain. Some give up on faith b/c of pain. Others find it! Some hope for healing while others resign themselves to their plight. Because there are so many actual responses, we can't rightly blame pain for our refusal to believe.

Part 4 deals with four key issues that need to be addressed in order to cope with pain: Fear, helplessness, lack of meaning & lack of hope. Yancey describes how we can best support those experiencing pain and suffering by helping them in these areas.

Part 5 focuses on how the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the ultimate answer to the problem of pain. One of the big questions people ask is 'How can God just sit up there in heaven and let this pain and suffering go on forever?' That 2-part question is addressed by the occupied cross and the empty tomb. God hasn't just sat up in heaven. He came and suffered with us. And it's not going to go on forever because, through Jesus, there is life after death.

I had started this book a couple of times over the years, but only finished it today. I did myself a disservice. It's a very good book. Yancey is, of course, one of the better Christian writers. I also think he is one of the most genuine thinkers, most thorough researchers, and most helpful teachers in the body of Christ. Highly recommended.