Tuesday, November 16, 2010


     With Christmas less than six weeks away the subject of this book, namely pain and suffering, is quite relevant today. Philip Yancey's WHERE IS GOD WHEN IT HURTS was first published in 1977 by Zondervan Publishing House. The copy I read was a revised and expanded edition put out in 1990.
     Yancey writes: "Many suffering people want to love God, but cannot see past their tears.  They feel hurt and betrayed. Sadly, the church often responds with more confusion than comfort." Some have rejected Christianity because pain and evil exist.  Some see pain as 'God's one mistake.'  I like the following quote: "I have never read a poem extolling the virtues of pain, nor seen a statue erected in its honor, nor heard a hymn dedicated to it."  Suffering calls into question our most basic beliefs about God. Nietzche said: "It is not so much the suffering as the senselessness of it that is unendurable."
     The author believes that pain is valuable in that it tells us something is wrong and thus, is a doorway to recovery.  Much suffering he believes, is a result of the fall of humankind. In the Bible, both God and Satan cause suffering.  In addition people in Scriptures have to endure painful consequences for their sinful actions.  There are times in Scripture though when people suffer and it is not because of something they have done.
     Yancey proposes that we need to focus less on why we suffer and more on our response to suffering.  James 1:2-4 makes it clear that we are to count it all joy when we face trials. You don't have to be joyful about what you are going through, but rather, be joyful about what it can bring about in your life-things such as perserverance, strength, and character.  Yancey writes: "Where is God when it hurts? He is in us-not in the things that hurt-helping to transform bad into good." We can have hope in the midst of our trials: "Hope means simply the belief that something good lies ahead.  It is not the same as optimism or wishful thinking, for these imply a denial of reality." Hope is more like courage than cheerfulness.
     Yancey says there is no avoiding pain and suffering in this world: "The cross of Christ may have assured the final outcome, but battles remain for us to fight."  Christ took on all our pain at the cross and we should take comfort in that: "The surgery of life hurts.  It helps me, though, to know that the surgeon Himself, the Wounded Surgeon, has felt every stab of pain and every sorrow." When Christ ascended into heaven after rising from the dead, He left us the Holy Spirit to comfort us. 
     On a practical note, Yancey makes a strong case that we are to bear each other's burdens. This is something the modern church needs to make a priority.  John Donne said: "No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main."  Yancey writes: "Today, if I had to answer the question 'Where is God when it Hurts?' in a single sentence, I would make that sentence another question: 'Where is the church when it Hurts?'  We form the front line of God's response to the suffering world."
     Christians can be encouraged by the fact that pain and suffering are temporary.  Yancey reminds us: "This is a groaning planet, and Christians expectantly await a world where every tear will be wiped away." We shouldn't be embarrassed to believe this.  Our bodies will be transformed to 'be like His glorious body.'  A secret to handling suffering is to nourish your spirit.  St. Teresa of Avila said "from heaven the most miserable earthly life will look like one bad night in an inconvenient hotel."
     In this book you will find an examination of the suffering people endured during the Holocaust, as well as the story of Joni Eareckson Tada, who was paralyzed in a diving accident when she was a teenager.  You will also learn how to redeem your pain.
     At Christmas, pain and suffering and loneliness come knocking ever the louder at one's door. Christians need to learn how to minister to those with physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs, rather than ignoring them or distancing themselves from them.  When Jesus walked upon this earth, He did not embrace pain with great joy. Rather, he healed many, and sought to relieve suffering.  This is the example we should follow.