Where is God when it Hurts?
In his Gold Medallion Award-winning book, Where is God When it Hurts, Philip Yancey brings forth the very realistic questions and dilemmas about human pain and suffering in this world. If there is a benevolent, loving God, why is then there such a substance called pain in this world? Do they have any specific meaning for human lives? Does God decree and orchestrate every heartbreaking and sobering tragedy in order to convey his divine message to people? Or is God unwilling and unable to cope with the ongoing havoc and chaos caused by evil in this world?
Despite nobody wants pain, there is pain. Are hands of God not long and strong enough to pull his people from the pit of pain? Where was God when six million Jews, God’s chosen people were dumped in the burning oven? Why did God not intervene when those children who did not know right from wrong were thrown into the oven and the surrounding atmosphere was full of human burning smell? Was he watching from the distance? Do these wicked acts of human beings, in fact, not make God the author of evil?
These are the questions that linger in every human mind which is trying to find the unfulfilling answer to these questions. Yancey looks at three distinctive areas of life where pain has affected – physical, emotional, and spiritual. By employing decent numbers of examples from the Bible and his own experiences in life, he helps us to look into this kind of scandalous topic like undeserved pain and suffering and why we suffer.
Yancey makes his main point by revealing the fact that undesirable pain is in the world, and the Son of God entered into human history and suffered in this fallen world just as all humans do. Pain and suffering is not an abstract concept for God. He knows our suffering through his own experience in the Cross.
Beginning with the abuse of the freedom of will by the first man and woman, the author makes cases; therefore, we suffer. However, the interesting stories he presents in this book seem surreal, and God and life do not make any sense for a man who is in such circumstance. There were no verdicts against those sufferers that justify them as being punished for their sins. In this sense, there is no plausible reason to exclaim why someone suffers. It is completely mystery and incomprehensible to human mind. And people who are suffering in their body do not only have physical pain but also go through emotional turmoil. An ounce of hope can bring a new life in them, but fear of loneliness and rejection also may rule out that hope and shake their faith. Eventually, they shrink together only to let them suffer more if a sufferer is searching for the cause of suffering.
Thus, the wise sufferer will not search of cause. Instead, he shifts his inward quest for meaning in his suffering to outward world where he finds other afflicted people. That helps him heal his scars sooner or later. Otherwise, he will always wander alone in search of cause and meaning of his suffering.
But there is Hope – unlike optimism and wishful thinking that deny the reality. Realistic hope provides dying sufferer strength to deal with reality of death. It brings to the realization that any form of healing is not a resolution of problem of pain and suffering but merely a postponement of suffering for a while. God promises to produce good out of infirmity; and he never fails. Jesus also suffered with us and became one of us. Our pain creates space for God to reveal his strength in our weakness. So, there is a final hope that through Christ Jesus we will have life hereafter without pain and suffering. Our trust in his promise of future home and hope for life hereafter affect how we die and how we live.
Where is God When it Hurts is more like a classical piece on the problem of pain and suffering. Yancey’s knowledge on the Scripture and his own enriched personal experience make this book very realistic and handbook for people who want to minister those who are in pain. His thoroughly researched data on pain nerves are also very convincing why pain, as usually defined as unpleasantness, is a great gift for humankind though nobody wants it. The sophisticated and intricately designed nerve cell and systems are one of the solid arguments for the design. The complexity of human pain nerve cannot be a byproduct of mere chance.
Regarding pain and suffering, the basic two principles that God established into his creation – consistent natural law and human freedom – are the main cause of suffering. Our erroneous freedom of will can distort God’s motion fixed laws into evil by defying all the rules of the universe, since these laws are not exceptionally barred from possibility of perversion. As Yancey states that the abuse of human freedom is the active factor for the increment of pain and suffering in this world. Having said, the falsified will and human freedom are solely responsible for many sufferings in the world. We are the cause of holocaust. We are solely responsible for inventing atom bomb, nuclear warhead, and weapon of mass destruction (WMD); it is NOT God.
However, human wickedness is not always the causative factor to bring about unbearable suffering in the world. Yancey gives some examples about tragic accidents of Yuba City, California and Toccoa Falls Bible College, Colorado. He draws distinctive parallel line between the traffic tragedy in California and a dam break in Colorado with two biblical events where eighteen people were killed by accidental collapse of tower and Roman soldiers slaughtering religious minority group in political oppression. The reasons behind those tragedies had nothing to do with their actions. By which means, their behavioral actions were not the effect of the cause. Rather Jesus points toward the eternal truth that no one man is innocent than those were killed in the accident. The perceptive observation of the events is to convey wakeup call to everyone to repent for their sins.
The book also touches the area of misconception about Christian faith. Faith in God neither guarantees that we will not have any pain and suffering in this world nor does it insurance that we will never have feelings of doubts and betrayal. In this regard, pain and suffering are the integral parts of our fallen world. No Christian is off the hook with pain. These tragedies simply point toward the vulnerability and disorder of this world. In the same way, suffering also can prove to be an effective instrument in “accomplishing God’s goal for human being”. Thus, the Bible consistently avoids answering “WHY” questions about pain, but it always gives valuable insight about cultivating and fashioning Jesus-like characters in us.
Yancey fairly treats the topic of Sovereignty of God throughout the book. He also critics Rabbi Harold Kushner for his screwed view of all-powerful God in his book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People. He borrows words from Elie Wiesel that if God is not all-powerful, then he ought to be released from his dominion of the world and let someone more competent and capable than him should take his place and govern the world. Thence, the author spends amount of time and space on God as not the cause of the suffering but a faithful and comforter who reveals himself to people. In return, he only wants a genuine admission and response even in the midst of hardship and pain.
The Biblical character Job is the epitome of an innocent sufferer whose faithfulness is antithetical to his positive response to God. The author has made the story of Job a solid base to present his arguments how one should respond in the face of suffering. Though Job does not deserve that horrible fate; yet he does not cease to be faithful to God. In addition, one who does not chase after cause but responds positively has positive impact in life. What matters in our lives is how we respond and how we react in our suffering, because “God is not in the things that hurt but He is in us”. Therefore, we have confidence to say that God can turn evil into good according to his plan in our life for his glory.
Yancey’s treatment on poverty along with suffering is another mechanism that drives us to be dependent upon God. When we talk about poverty, hunger, famine etc. in the world, it seems God is only watching and not doing anything or he had no redeeming power to transform those pandemics to make a world better place to live. The book does not talk much about it, except a lesson from Apostle Paul’s battle “against a “thorn in the flesh,” – an unknown ailment”. Nevertheless, the point, author is trying to make, is that we don’t know WHY, but one thing is for sure how we respond in the time of tormenting affliction. And the punch line is that God’s power is made perfect in our weakness.
Here is the example of productive and creative suffering by Reger, the Holocaust survivor and colleague of Dietrich Bonheoffer – “I learned to know the Who of my life. He was enough to sustain me then, and is enough to sustain me still”. This statement tells us that how philosopher like Nietzsche can be inaccurate and vague in his idea of suffering, as he teaches that “a man can undergo torture if he knows the Why of his life”. Saints and believers of Christ throughout history persevered affliction and execution not because they found the answer of their question WHY, but they found WHO He is.
Yancey digs out suffering as a buried treasure. He writes that one should look forward direction – the result of suffering – instead of hanging on the past and looking for a cause of suffering. No matter what the cause of suffering, our responsibility as a Christian toward sufferer is to dispense grace and be a partaker in his suffering. “The shared meaning of guilt is not judgment, but forgiveness.” states Yancey, “The shared meaning of suffering is restoration, and union with the sufferer”. No sophisticated educational systems in the world can offer such a tremendous lesson of meaning of suffering that one can learn from being alongside with sufferer.
The apex of the book is very interesting and insightful, as Yancey has to offer realistic hope in knowing Christ who also suffered and went through all sort of temptations like any other men do. Hope is a prop that produces potency to cope with pain and suffering. Our faith and trust upon the Lord is the hinge where our ultimate hope clings. The mark of the Cross in Christianity is the undeniable truth for humanity to look back into human history to know that God cares about our pain and suffering. This is very comfortable to know that God’s Son also absorbed horrifying pain of the world and fully identified with suffering humanity. He is not foreign to our awful pain, suffering and injustice in this world. He cares about us.
Furthermore, Yancey concludes that our faith really matters. The only inflaming hope in Christ can offer a new meaning to suffer and bestow a new life to the sufferer. “Christians have hope that God will someday restore this planet to its proper place under his reign”. And Christian faith is not about straightening our life and making us happy in this world. Instead, it offers “way to overcome death. Christ stands for Life, and his resurrection should give convincing proof that God is not satisfied with any “cycle of life” that ends in death”. Our belief in Life that comes from Christ and our future hope for resurrected body will change our whole perspective toward life and death. Certainly, it affects how we live in this world. For this very reason, it is worth to know Christ who deserves our loyalty and endure all sufferings till death.
I agree with the main point and conclusion that Yancey makes in this book. People demand verdict for their indictment why they suffer when they suffer. The whole world seems collapsed before a sufferer and life does not make any sense in pain. But there is good news that God really cares about him, and God himself has tasted pain and suffering and death. It is worth, however, to suffer if greater good comes out of our suffering. And that greater good is an eternal life in God’s Eternity. Thus, any sort of pain and suffering makes sense only when we come to know the truth that we are living in this fallen world where the Son of God also suffered to the death but at the same time he resurrected to offer new hope to the world.
I recommend this book for people who wanted to minister those who are going through suffering and they do not find meaning and purpose of their lives. This book can be a great help for ministers too in their ministry. I found that Yancey’s experiences are not any different than our own experiences in our daily life and ministry. So, this book is very helpful for me in my ministry.
We are acquainted with the contemporary situations like untimely death, accidents, natural disaster, and genocide like systematic ethnic cleansing. Someone gives birth to a mentally retarded child. Some people lose their beloved ones in accidents, and they will be often leave without any explanation “why he or she, but not someone” had to die. There are various issues, like automobile accident, natural disaster, and other form of accidents that made people to be completely dependent on others who wanted to die but cannot die on their own, being addressed in this book. And Yancey has written about real life situations where we, as Christian and church, are called to minister but we do not know how. This book has insightful chapters to learn from other people’s errors. The sense of urgency and sensitivity toward the suffering people is one of virtues we should foster in our personal life, ministry, and church.
We have been ministering among Bhutanese refugees here in Grand Rapids. Last year, one of refugee women had a baby diagnosed with mental retardation. Her family members wanted her to abort the baby. On the other hand, she was very determined to give birth to that child once she heard the heartbeat of the baby in her doctor’s appointment. Church sponsors helped them to get connected with other parents who have the same kind of babies. The whole family was preparing for the baby to come, but all at sudden baby had to be given birth prematurely because of some medical complications on fetus and mother. Unfortunately, the baby was not fully developed and had many dysfunctional systems. He lived for or kept alive for 48 hours in the hospital and passed away.
The whole point of this story is: Where was God when a woman was so determined to have a malfunctioned child and take proper care of him knowing that even a not fully formed fetus bears the image of God died in the Butterworth hospital? What greater good will come out from that shocking news to all pagan non-believing refugees who had been preached that Jesus loves them and cared for them? I do neither know what God has for them nor why that happened. But with much assurance in midst of loss and suffering, I can say that God was right there ministering them through his people and church. My wife and I lacked words to express our grievance on that loss except we could listen to them and be at their side with prayer. That proved much comforting than babbling too many words. Yancey also advises his readers and the church to minister people who are in pain and suffering and warns not to give any possible explanation why they are suffering.
 Where is God When It Hurts, 67
 Ibid, 78
 Ibid, 91
 Ibid, 107
 Ibid, 111
 Ibid, 150
 Ibid, 163
 Ibid, 163
 Ibid, 203
 Ibid, 207
 Ibid, 231
 Ibid, 233
 Ibid, 251