The Question that Never Goes Away, by Philip Yancy
Genre: Christian Living
Reason for Reading: A galley copy of this book was provided by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I wanted to read this book because I’m interested in theodicy, and I’ve been pretty impressed with the bits of Yancy’s writing that I’ve seen.
Synopsis: After over a decade of traveling the world giving lectures on Where is God When it Hurts, Philip Yancy has decided to revisit this subject in his most recent book The Question That Never Goes Away. I have not read his earlier book, so I can’t compare the messages of each, but I assume the newer book has a similar message to the older, with recent examples and insights that he has gathered since writing the first book.
He starts by describing two different types of disaster: the devastating 2011 tsunami in Japan and the horrifying 4-year seige of Sarajevo in 1992. The first example is a natural disaster, but the second is man-made. Such disasters beg the question “Why?” Why would a God who loves us allow such destruction?
Yancy points out that atheists have a field day with such calamity – using it as evidence that God doesn’t exist. For, clearly, a loving God wouldn’t allow such things to happen; therefore it is erroneous to believe in God. But Yancy counters: if, indeed, this is an impersonal universe of random indifference, why are the atheists so shocked and upset about someone else’s tragedy? Clearly, their morals are shaped by the philosophical framework of Christianity.
My thoughts: I don’t really think this is an adequate counter to the claim that God doesn’t exist. First of all, Christianity is not the only religion which is founded on the power of love. Second, there is no evidence that God created our revulsion to other peoples’ tragedy. Such revulsion can be explained by evolution of social behavior. Humans might simply have an instinct to protect our neighbors because we are better able to survive in a group than alone. On the other hand, I don’t think asking the age-old question “Why?” proves God doesn’t exist, either. To think so is a bit naive.
Yancy continues by explaining that there’s nothing wrong with asking the question “Why?” In fact, it is a question asked over and over again in the Bible. God expects such questions, and he understands our grief and frustration at getting no answer. BUT, He still doesn’t provide an answer. Not in the Bible. And not in the world.
Ours is not to reason why. Ours is but to do and die.
Yancy suggests that we shift our focus from cause to response. When disaster strikes, we should appreciate the outpouring of humanitarian aide that comes from individuals, communities, and countries. Yes – some of this humanitarian aide can be poorly planned, but notice what lies at the heart: love. We, as human beings, want to reach out and help those who are suffering. So where is God when it hurts? He is in those friends, neighbors, and complete strangers who reach out to help the suffering. God hates our suffering as much as we do – but he loves us so much that he sent his own son to suffer among us. Because we can relate to a suffering God.
Finally, Yancy criticizes the claim that God sends suffering in order to build character. He points out that Jesus healed the afflicted. He never once said to them “But think of how character-building this experience is!” Yancy points out that God has promised to redeem our suffering. This does not mean that God sends suffering, but that when tragedy occurs, He inspires and directs good to result from the evil. Thus, we do gain character from suffering.
My thoughts: Well, I know for a fact that good often comes out of bad situations in my life. I don’t know if that is only because I like to be optimistic and think of how I’ve learned from an experience, or become stronger, or had a good experience that otherwise never would have happened. I could just as easily dwell on the tragedy and what good that might have happened if tragedy hadn’t occurred. If I did so, I would certainly live a more miserable life. But would I be any more right or wrong? Regardless, it makes me happy to think that God redeems my suffering. I’d rather not be miserable, thanks.
My thoughts: This is a very difficult book to read because Yancy dwells on quite a few tragic events in detail. However, the book has a strong message and is written with a very humble and personal air. Yancy impresses me with his intelligent observations and powerful examples. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the question of why God allows suffering. I am eager to read more of Yancy’s work.