Yancey P, 1990, Where is God when it hurts? (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, Michigan)
Subject: Christian living
Philip Yancey discusses the question many of us ask when we suffer or when we see others suffer, namely, “Where is God when it hurts?” In parts one and two of the book he examines the biological nature of pain and considers, largely through the example of Job, the biblical approach to suffering, stressing the importance of our response. In parts three, four and five he uses uses real-life examples to demonstrate how different individuals have dealt with suffering and gives practical advice how we can support those who suffer. He ends by emphasising the hope that our Christian faith gives us, that indeed, “human suffering remains meaningless and barren unless we have some assurance that God is sympathetic to our pain, and can somehow heal that pain. In Jesus, we have that assurance.”
Yancey begins by discussing the merits of being able to feel pain in that “pain demands the attention that is crucial to… recovery.” He uses the example of leprosy patients, who do not feel pain and therefore cause serious injury to themselves, to show that pain can be a good thing and demands a response from us. Our response to pain and suffering is a recurring theme throughout the book.
He discusses the question of why there is suffering in this world, namely because of human freedom. Yancey argues that by giving us this freedom; God has given us the ability “to choose to love him freely, even when that choice involves pain, because we care committed to him, not to our own feelings and rewards.” He frequently refers to Job as an example of someone who did not get the answer to his questions, but rather God responds in such a way that displays his greatness and shows that he is a God who can be trusted. God wants from us what he wanted from Job and that is “simply an admission of trust.” Yancey emphasises that the important issue for Christians who face suffering is not one of causation, but rather of response. He states that “in the bible the problem of pain is less a philosophical riddle than a test of human response and faithfulness.”
Yancey discusses the different human responses we can have to pain; either we “turn against God for allowing such misery… [or]… pain can… drive [us] to God.” Yancey discusses how suffering in our lives reminds us that we are not self-sufficient, but utterly dependent on God in every circumstance. He also considers how pain in our lives can be transformed and that “periods of sharpest suffering [have] been the very occasions of spiritual growth”. Indeed, he considers the connection between pleasure and pain and uses the example of Christian service, where “happiness will come upon [us] unexpectedly as a by-product, a surprising bonus for something I have invested myself in. And, most likely, that investment will include pain.”
Yancey uses real-life examples of people who have experienced suffering. This is something that I appreciated about his approach to this subject in that he does not present us with a magic formula in answer to this question, but rather acknowledges that suffering is real, that Christians ask these questions of God and that God is big enough to deal with them. He describes how he met Joni Eareckson Tada, who explained that after her diving accident gradually her focus changed “from demanding an explanation from God to humbly depending on him… I will never reach a place of self-sufficiency that crowds God out.”
The part that really struck me in Yancey’s discussion was that even when it may feel to us that God is silent in the midst of pain, we still see God when we see his people acting with care and compassion as they “bear one another’s burdens” and act as the “body of Christ” towards each other. Yancey discusses how people who are suffering need our love. He explains that they will struggle in four main areas, namely that of fear, helplessness, meaning and hope. Yancey discusses the importance of simply being available for people and the power of prayer, which “cuts through the sensory overload and allows me to direct myself to God.” We also need to be brave enough to talk about the eternal hope that we have, despite the fact that often the explanation that hope of “eternal life, ultimate healing, and resurrection [can sound] hollow [and] frail…” to those who are suffering.
One of the most poignant themes for me throughout this book is that time and time again Yancey encourages us to look to Jesus. He states that “the best clue we have into how God feels about human pain is to look at Jesus’ response.” He emphasises that often our response to suffering is that we want to know the answer to the ‘why?’ question – why is this person suffering? Rather what we should concentrate on and what Jesus directs our attention to is, “to what end?” because “in every case, suffering offers an opportunity… to display God’s work.” Yancey uses Jesus’ reaction in John 9, to the disciples question of “… who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” to demonstrate this.
At the close of the book Yancey questions how the Christian faith can help us come to terms with the question of “Where is God when it hurts?” He states that all of our questions must be “filtered through what we know about Jesus.” We know that he cared when people hurt and had compassion on them. We know he reacted in a similar vein to us when faced with pain, for example in the Garden of Gethsemane. We know that he did not try to avoid the pain of this world, he did not “give us… theories on the problem of pain [rather] he gave us himself.” And now because of his death and resurrection “we can confidently assume that no trial… extends beyond the range of his transforming power.” Yancey emphasises that because of the cross God understands any pain we go through and encourages us with the words of Hebrews 4:15, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet… without sin.” If I were to recommend any chapter to read, as a stand-alone chapter, it would be chapter 18. It will do your heart good to be reminded that “because of Jesus, God understands, truly understands our pain. Our tears become his tears. We are not abandoned.”
 Yancey P, 1990, Where is God when it hurts? (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, Michigan), 173.
 Ibid. 38
 Ibid. 98
 Ibid. 114
 Ibid. 78
 Ibid. 81
 Ibid. 63
 Ibid. 150
 Ibid. 192
 Ibid. 236
 Ibid. 89
 Ibid. 93
 John 9:2 (ESV)
 Yancey P, Where is God when it hurts? 173
 Ibid. 246
 Ibid. 252
 Ibid. 255