One of the most sensitive subjects, one of the issues that marks any human being without exception, is that of suffering, of pain and loss. Many people have tried to explain this topic and many books have been written in order to offer, if not a solution, at least some relief. In fact, this problem only exists for those who believe in a God who created the world. The dilemma follows: if God is good, why does He allow pain and suffering, even among those who declare themselves His servants? This is a real concern and many times we feel powerless before it.
Philip Yancey, a famous Christian author, tries to offer a new perspective on the issue. In his bestselling book, “Where is God when it hurts?”, he describes what suffering means and how it affects us individually.
You can categorize this book as a mini-encyclopedia, because it analyzes the issue of pain from multiple angles and responds to various preconceptions, assumptions and interpretations. Its main focus lies with a human and personal problem. Claudia Claxton, a good friend of Yancey’s, has just been diagnosed with a terminal illness, so he visits her at the hospital. Seeing her in a dehumanized condition, he can’t help but ask himself where God is when someone suffers.
Thus begins Yancey's fascinating journey into the world of pain. Alongside the author, we notice how pain surrounds us at every step of the way - we each have it in our lives, and, all around the world, people are devastated, their lives completely changed by some tragic event. Visiting a leprosy in the US, joining support groups for terminal patients, or interviewing people who have experienced suffering, Yancey gathers different conclusions that he shares in his book with the skill of an experienced author.
The book has a positive and encouraging tone. It tries to show that, despite all the tragedy in the world, people who rely on God can find encouragement and support, and, at the same time, become a support for others who are in pain.
Another aspect that the author analyzes is God's reaction to this problem. At several points, he explains how the Bible presents God in the context of suffering. First, in the detailed story of Job, and, later, through the presence of Jesus, who saw and experienced more suffering than anyone else, not least in the church that He established on earth. Yancey attempts to remind Christians of their mission to do well, and to encourage those who are suffering with more wisdom and empathy than before.
Finally, the message of the book seems to deeply resonate with the explanation given by God to Job. Although the patriarch faces terrible hardship, in the end, God doesn’t excuse suffering. Instead, He does the one thing that can comfort Job - He reveals himself.
God is God, He has power over the world, and a plan for the eternal good of all humans. Our final destination is not a hole in a cemetery, but a home in an everlasting city, as Yancey reminds us at the end of the book. Until that time when all pain vanishes, we must live with it, and do our best to remain strong, to encourage and inspire each other.