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Well-known Christian writer Philip Yancey wrote the best-seller Where is God when it Hurts? This is one of the most troubling questions of all. Because when we hurt, it’s immensely personal. If I feel pain—whether that be physical, mental or spiritual—no-one else really knows what it feels like.
You might say to me, Oh Chris, I know what it’s like. But how can you? You don’t know my deepest feelings. I realise we say trite things like that all the time, but they are not really helpful reactions. Pain is very personal. So when Philip Yancey wrote the book, it touched a nerve with many people. It’s a tremendous book, and I thoroughly recommend you buy a copy.
I think a lot of people don’t go to church anymore, or have given up their faith, because of this question. They say, I’m a good person. I don’t hurt anyone. But my good friend died of cancer the other month, and he didn’t deserve it. Where was God when he needed him? This is typical of thousands of different questions. I know of a good man who recently was diagnosed with a brain tumour. It came from nowhere. How come?
He is a devoted Christian and a good man who loves God. You see how these issues just pop up out of nowhere. The complaint against God is often, How could God do this? This suggests a God who sits on high, throwing suffering at an innocent human race. Another common question is, Why him? The victim was such a nice person. Is God unjust? I’m sure C.S. Lewis explains the dilemma quite well:
Meanwhile, where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms. When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing him, if you turn to him then with praise, you will be welcomed with open arms. But go to him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away.
That’s part of his excellent book A Grief Observed—a collection of reflections on his wife’s suffering and death due to bone cancer. It’s a very honest book worth reading although a bit dated now.
Throughout the Bible there are stories that give us a glimpse of a God who is seemingly slow to respond when disaster strikes. Consider the words in Psalm 22:1-2 (ESV):
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
and by night, but find no rest.
There’s also the familiar story of Jesus and Lazarus, which tells us that upon learning that Lazarus was gravely ill, Jesus,instead of immediately going to see him, remained where he was for two days, and in that time Lazarus died. His sisters were beside themselves with grief. They couldn’t understand why Jesus did not intervene earlier. Why doesn’t this God in Jesus Christ seem quicker to help people in need? Why does God seem to let bad things happen when they could be avoided from the beginning? That, you might say, is the million-dollar question.
Nicholas Wolterstorff, a professor of philosophy at Yale and a Christian, lost his son in a mountain-climbing accident. Like C.S. Lewis, he wrote about his struggle, and his pain, and his questions in a memoir entitled Lament for a Son. He wrote:
“There is a hole in the world now. In the place where he was, there’s not just nothing…I cannot make sense of it by saying, God did it, but neither can I do so by saying, There was simply nothing God could do about it.”