As I am writing this post, I am also watching a TV special on the 1st anniversary of Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) which ravaged the country on exactly this same day last year. Videos of that tragic day were shown again and my heart is crushed each time I see people crying about their losses and traumatic experiences. There was the man who was able to save a co-worker from being washed away by the flood but lost his 3 children. Another man was shown carrying his dead daughter on his arms. A woman was crying and pleading for help from relatives who might get to watch the video. Footage caught during the height of the storm and the resulting storm surge were replayed and it felt as if it was only yesterday when the deadly calamity made a ghost town of almost all of Leyte.
One year later, survivors are trying to rebuild their lives but the pain lingers and the memory of the tragedy continue to haunt them.
Where is God in the midst of this pain?
What is God up to in the face of this tragedy?
Where is God when it hurts?
In The Question That Never Goes Away, Philip Yancey revisited these questions which he attempted to answer in his classic book written 30 years ago, Where Is God When It Hurts? The Question That Never Goes Away was written on the face of the tragedy that befell Sandy Hook Elementary School when a gunman killed 20 elementary pupils in 2011. Although written before Typhoon Yolanda, the book still contained examples on unspeakable and unexplainable tragedies similar to it. There was the said Sandy Hook shooting, the earthquake and tsunami in Japan in 2011, the Saravejo siege. Suffering is always present, always exists, never stops. It can be a person’s personal tragedy, or a nation under sorrow. But the question lingers. If there is really a God, why does He allow these things to happen?
What I loved about this book is that it did not attempt to preach or editorialize on the reasons why God allows suffering. It did not dwell too much on the why of the tragedy. The author himself wonders why God meets questions of why with silence. Philip Yancey says God does not respond to the why when Job, in desperation, cried out to him. Instead, God explodes and declares that He, the creator of the universe, knows what He is doing. What is important, Philip Yancey emphasizes, is that we know that God is present in our suffering. He is Immanuel — God with us.
Unlike Job’s friends who reasoned that Job’s suffering is punishment, Philip Yancey encourages Christians not to reason but to respond. What are we to do when faced with tragedy like this? Should we blame each other? Blame God? This book says, no. What we have to do is to act. To show the sufferer that God cares. Through our hands, people should see God’s compassion at work.
“Virtually every passage on suffering in the New Testament deflects the emphasis from cause to response. Although we cannot grasp the master plan of the universe, which allows for so much evil and pain (the Why? question), we can nevertheless respond in two important ways. First, we can find meaning in the midst of suffering. Second, we can offer real and practical help to those in need.”
It is this basic practicality that made me really love the book. It depicted illustrations on how Christians and churches work together to respond to the needs of the people who suffer: building shelters destroyed by the tsunami, cooking food for the hungry in Sarajevo, offering physical and psychological counseling to aggrieved parents whose children were killed.
The Question That Never Goes Away recognizes that human as we are, we are vulnerable to doubts and we are prone to abandon our faith in the midst of suffering. But it also provides deep theological and biblical basis sufficient enough to make us stand firm in the face of adversity and to reach out in love to those who are hurting around us. More importantly, it gives us hope that in due time, God will make everything new.
This is such a powerful book. Philip Yancey is a thorough and masterful writer. He challenged me and taught me how to put my faith into action. Definitely, this is one of my best non-fiction reads this year.
“Followers of Jesus get no exemption from the tragedies of evil and death, just as Jesus himself did not. Instead, trials can become occasions for the work of grace, by wakening dormant reserves of courage and love and compassion that we may not have been aware of.”