On a recent trip to Washington, D.C., I met up with a friend and together we spent a memorable afternoon perusing the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. I had visited concentration camps in Europe before, but the focus was more on the human toll. As I began my tour I was given a “passport” that told the story of one victim of some four million who perished during World War II. It was a very emotional experience. At several points my stomach was in knots.
On the plane ride home I was able to get a copy of one of my favorite author’s new books, The Question That Never Goes Away by Philip Yancey (Zondervan, 2013).
The book is neatly divided up into five parts: (1) Where is God? (2) “I Want to Know Why!”, (3) When God Overslept, (4) Healing Evil, and (5) Three Extreme Tests.
For those familiar with Yancey’s warm and winsome style, this book is a sequel to his earlier work Where is God When It Hurts? Yancey begins by telling the story of his family. His father contracted polio when he was just a boy to visit him in the hospital in a noisy iron lung machine. Some friends convinced him that he could be miraculously healed. Instead, he died.
Yancey argues that “all suffering is suffering” and should therefore not be minimized or ignored (40). The Bible does not promise us a life without suffering. Our only hope is radical intervention when God puts an end to sin and suffering (47). Instead the Bible does focus on our response rather than seek to explain the cause of suffering (49).
A society shows its true strength, says Yancey, by the way we treat the most vulnerable. So how do we relate to those who are suffering around us? The only true way is to fully embrace grief and to assure the person who is suffering that God is more grieved (63). Any attempt to answer “why” is like rubbing salt in an open wound. Christians need to be a loving and sympathetic presence.
Jesus is with those who suffer. He is on the side of all who suffer. Some times we are more concerned with how things turn out; instead God’s focus is on how we turn out (105). Some times those who observe suffering are tempted to reject God, whereas those who experience suffering cannot. Thus only a suffering God can answer whether it is worth the cost (125). Nothing can make up for the absence of someone we love.
In conclusion, we live in a world full of death and evil. Some times the two come together, such as in school shootings, or as I recently was reminded, of the unspeakable evil of genocide. Christianity does not lessen human suffering. Instead, it reminds us that we serve a God who suffered to save us. The Bible describes the origins of evil as a mystery, but as Christians we celebrate the death of death itself. This is a message the world needs to hear!