I first read Where is God when it Hurts as a young 20-something agnostic. Yancey’s delicate and thoughtful exploration of the reasons behind the presence of pain in the world spoke to many of the questions that had left me questioning the existence of a loving creator. Intrigued by what I read, I devoured the rest of his books, my other favorites being Disappointment with God and Soul Survivor: How my Faith Survived the Church. Unlike other books I’d read, these were not apologetics as much as they were simple admissions of hard-questions and honest reflections on how he’d walked through them.
While I have slowly returned to faith in the years since my agnostic angst, the questions that Yancey addresses in his writing have never fully gone away. Why do horrible things happen? Is God unfair? Is he silent? Is he hidden?
These questions simmer behind every tragic headline or heart-breaking story I encounter. For awhile, I considered the fact that I couldn’t reconcile a loving God with a tragic world a distinct lack of faith. So I understandably grinned when I came across Yancey’s newest book, The Question that Never Goes Away: Why. A sequel to Where is God when it hurts, his new book examines the questions that the recent tragedies of Newtown, the Japanese Tsunami, and the atrocities of civil war in Sarajevo raise. Because of the relevancy of his book Where is God when it hurts, Yancey was invited to speak in the aftermath of each of these places.
He speaks of these tragedies tenderly and gently, acknowledging with brutal honesty their unimaginable losses and heartbreaking consequences. I’m not much of a crier, but it didn’t even take me 5 pages to tear up. These situations were unspeakably horrific, and their realities left the whole world’s souls aching.
What I appreciate most about Yancey’s writing is his commitment to brutal honesty, willingness to admit that sometimes the answers elude, and conviction that we play a piece of God’s plan to renew and restore the brokenness in our world. He writes,
“Optimism promises that things will gradually improve, Christian hope promises that creation will be transformed. Until then, God evidently prefers not to intervene in every instance of evil or natural disaster, no matter how grievous. Rather, God has commissioned us as agents of intervention in the midst of a hostile and broken world.”
Here’s another gem that captures well his willingness to face the difficulty of pain head-on:
After spending time in Japan and Newtown, I have adopted a two-part test I keep in mind before offering counsel to a suffering person. First, I ask myself how these words would sound to a mother who kissed her daughter goodbye as she put her on the school bus and then later that day was called to identify her bloody body. Would my words bring comfort or compound the pain? Then I ask myself what Jesus would say to that mother. Few theological explanations pass those tests.
Finally – someone has the guts to admit the theologians don’t always have all the answers. Drawing from a rich knowledge of literature and philosophers, Yancey wades through the muddy waters of unanswerable questions with an intense level of equal parts faith and doubt. At one point, he writes about the final question he received in an audience following the Newtown tragedy, calling it the one he most “did not want to hear”: Will God protect my child?
“No, I’m sorry. I can’t promise that.” None of us is exempt. We all die, some old, some tragically young. God provides support and solidarity, yes, but not protection – at least not the kind of protection we desperately long for. On this cursed planet, even God suffered the loss of a son.
The questions never go away, he acknowledges. However, in the closing chapter of the book, he explores several answers to the question ‘Where is God?’ I highly recommended spending a few hours with this tiny-pack-a-punch (and a kleenex!) book to read more about his conclusions. They’re well worth the consideration should these questions never leave your soul either.