Where is God When It Hurts? By Phillip Yancey. Zondervan Publishing House: Grand Rapids, Mich., 1977. 187 pp. $6.95.
“Does God reach down, slightly twist the wheels of school buses, and watch them crash through guardrails? Does He draw a red pencil line through a map of Indiana to plan the exact path a tornado should take? Does He jostle the earth, playing with tidal waves, earthquakes tremors, and hurricanes … squashing men out like ants? Is that how He rewards and punishes us, His helpless victims?”
Questions like these have troubled Phillip Yancey and many, many other Christians. In a sense, they are harder for believers to handle than for unbelievers. The latter looks at bus crashes, etc. as a matter of chance, but if you believe in a world ruled by a loving, all-powerful God, then there’s a world of difference in your outlook.
Phillip Yancey’s book is a treatise on suffering, and in it he tries to find out just what difference it makes to be a Christian in such a world. His opening chapter is entitled, “A Problem That Won’t Go Away.” He then develops his thoughts along three main lines: I. Why Is There Such A Thing As Pain?; II. How People Respond to Extreme Pain; and III. How Can We Cope with Pain?
A key statement quoted from C. S. Lewis as he watched his wife die of bone cancer arrested my attention in the opening chapter: “You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life or death.”
The author writes, “Pain, then, is not God’s great goof. It is a gift —the gift nobody wants.” He struggles with the problems of pain and its relationship to pleasure, and in his treatment of this profound and often baffling subject he does not come up with pat or easy answers. Rather, he faces the issues head-on.
Yancey probes into many aspects of suffering, and in so doing he draws upon the lives of such people as Joni Eareckson and Brian Sternberg. As Joni Eareckson herself says of this book: it “offers encouraging and strengthening testimonies as well as an understanding look at some of the problems involved in suffering. Phillip Yancey makes clear the sustaining grace and hope that are available to us from God in our time of need.”
Actually, this is an easy book to read. In fact, I could hardly put it down once I had started it. But that’s the only easy thing about the book. Nevertheless, facing the hard problems related to suffering, the author has provided us with valuable lessons and much food for thought in dealing with problems that go all the way back to Job and his experience.
No single book on suffering has enlightened me more than this one. Its contents represent some of the most thoughtful, honest and incisive reading I’ve come across in more recent years. Perhaps the best sincere compliment I can pay it is that it’s the kind of book that a lot of us, having read it once, will want to reread it.
The book is now available in a paperback edition.