It's sometimes easy to forget that pain has a human face. Sure, we hear about terrorist attacks, AIDS victims, tsunamis and wildfires, but until someone close to us is affected we dismiss them with sterile language—"tragedy" or "disaster" or "calamity." None of those terms reveal the immediacy and horror of suffering. When your wife is diagnosed with cancer or your son dies in a car wreck or you lose your job right after you take out a mortgage on a new house, then you understand what it means to hurt.
Christians ought to have the best perspective on pain, but too often we produce pat answers or try to identify the sin that is supposedly the cause of hardship. Philip Yancey aims to guide us toward a more biblical view while also encouraging us to accept pain without ignoring it or trying to understand its purpose. The fact is, we live in a fallen world where bad things happen to everyone, and often there is no reason behind it that humans can know or comprehend. It may not be a pleasant or neat answer, but it's the one Scripture offers, and developing neat systems to explain it away won't do anything to assuage its effects on earth.
Yancey begins with a discussion of the biology of pain, it's effect on our lives and the different forms it takes. Next he looks at the universality of suffering, the relationship of God to suffering, and whether it's a divine mistake or all part of the plan. Finally (and this is the most practical, and in many ways, the best part of the book), he suggests the proper Christian response to suffering, how we ought to reach out to those in pain and how we can comfort them.
This isn't a philosophical treatment. Yancey's solution to the problem of theodicy (how can suffering and a good God coexist?) is biblical, but some of a more analytical bent or who are familiar with the history of Western thought may be unsatisfied on an ethical and rational level. That isn't the point, however. Yancey admits the validity of philosophical investigation of such matters, but here his concern is to demonstrate that God is present in our suffering and that often His comfort is mediated to those in pain through the service of others. Easy to read and filled with compassion, Where Is God When It Hurts? is an excellent practical response to one of mankind's most enduring and troubling questions.