“Where is God?” is the question many Christians and unbelievers ask when evil occurs. Where is God when a child dies? Where is God when Christians are killed? This problem of suffering and evil is often a stumbling block for believers and an argument against God’s existence for unbelievers. In this book, Philip Yancey tries to address this issue not to defend the existence of God with intellectual arguments but to relieve the heart of those who are genuinely suffering.
The book is divided in two parts. In the first section, Yancey browses the Bible and reflects on people’s disappointment with God. I did not find this part very compelling intellectually or emotionally. The main takeaway is that biblical characters also experienced suffering and disappointment with God. It is especially true of Israel during the time of the OT prophets: how can we explain that God’s people – though wicked – were punished by worse people?
The second section is much more relevant. Yancey draws pertinent lessons from the book of Job.
- First, God answers to the problem of evil and suffering, but not the way we would like. Some of us may wonder why there is suffering if God is all loving and all powerful… Or we may wonder where evil comes from if everything was perfect at the beginning. Or again, why can a good God create evil? Yancey does not seek to answer those intellectual & philosophical questions. Instead, he suggests a better and healing answer:
“Knowledge is passive, intellectual; suffering is active, personal. No intellectual answer will solve suffering. Perhaps this is why God sent his own Son as one response to human pain, to experience it and absorb it into himself. The Incarnation did not ‘solve’ human suffering, but at least it was an active and personal response.” (p. 225)
God did not give an intellectual answer. We would not know what to do with it anyway – if we are suffering. But He reaches us by sharing our pain in Jesus Christ. The perfect Son endured injustice and cruelty for our reconciliation with God. How can we still blame God for being unjust?
- Second, the problem of evil and suffering will be solved by Heaven. Now we may argue and yell “why me? why am I in pain? why!?” and God seems to be silent now, but eventually, “heaven is the last word.” I know this argument sounds a bit “childish,” but it is actually very relevant. We did not create this idea of “Heaven” to find consolation. If God exists, then Heaven exists – doesn’t it? So it really comes to a problem of faith. As Christians, we have the confidence that God will erase evil and suffering. If we don’t believe this truth from the depth of our hearts, then let us repent from our unbelief, and preach the Good News to ourselves. Because of what he has done, we have hope. Sufferings will end. Joy will be ours.
“In any discussion of disappointment with God, heaven is the last word, the most important word of all.” (p. 297)
“If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” (1 Cor 15:19)
“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Rev 21:4)
- Lastly, why are we – all of us whether Christians or unbelievers – so prone to blame God for evil and suffering? Why do unbelievers even consider evil and suffering as a problem? If you think about it, evil implies moral standards – and what are they? And even if evil is defined as whatever opposed to the survival of the human race, why would suffering be a problem? It should be considered necessary – to filter out the weak for the survival of the fittest (principle from the evolution theory). For Christians, Philip Yancey asks: what is the alternative to disappointment with God? Would it help us to go through the pain – and his answer is clear: absolutely not.
“The alternative to disappointment with God seems to be disappointment without God. (‘The center of me,’ said Bertrand Russell, ‘is always and eternally a terrible pain—a curious wild pain—a searching for something beyond what the world contains.’)” (p. 311)
These lessons are not mere intellectual to the challenge of suffering and evil. Instead, they are true healing lessons for the soul of the hurt, struggling, disappointed. To conclude this book review, I would use two quotes:
“The point of the book [of Job] is not suffering: Where is God when it hurts? The prologue dealt with that issue. The point is faith: Where is Job when it hurts? How is he responding?” (p. 190)
“Job teaches that at the moment when faith is hardest and least likely, then faith is most needed” (p. 200)