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Now will you just go away?

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Phillip Yancey has titled his book “Why? The Question That Never Goes Away,” and the cynic might say that the reason the question never goes away is that writers like Yancey never let it. Yancey wrote his first book, “Where Is God When It Hurts?” (which he manages to plug on this book’s very first page), when he was 27, and the formula has been a cash cow for a quarter-century since then. According to the book jacket of “Why?”, four of Yancey’s books have sold over a million copies each.

The “why?” in the question is, more or less, Why does God allow bad things to happen? Yancey admits that it’s a puzzler, but says that we can’t just negate it by saying there’s no God. He brings up the story of Job, and cites another writer who says “God doesn’t reveal His grand design. He reveals himself.” Leaving us even more in the dark than before.

In the absence of an answer, Yancey says, we have to fall back on hope. “Christian hope promises that creation will be transformed,” he writes. “Until then, God evidently prefers not to intervene in every instance of evil or natural disaster. Rather, God has commissioned us as agents of intervention in the midst of a hostile and broken world.” So where’s our commission fee?

“Our only hope is radical intervention,” he goes on, “that one day ‘the creation itself will be liberated’ in a sort of cosmic rebirth. Until then, no answer to suffering will satisfy, even if we had the capacity to comprehend the answer. Like Job, we can only attend to the small picture, clinging to belief against all contrary evidence while trusting God with the big picture. Faith, I’ve concluded, means believing in advance what will only make sense in reverse.”

This humble attitude notwithstanding, you have to be pretty sure of yourself to write a book whose title promises to answer a nagging question, and then not attempt to answer it at all. And Yancey is sure of himself, indeed. Who wouldn’t be, when he’s invited to speak all over the world, wherever catastrophe rears its ugly head, and give his non-answers to the big questions?

God is non-committal, in Yancey’s scheme, and it’s a good thing for him, or there’d be no more books to write. The burning question for us non-believers is: Why bring God into it at all? When the faithful dig themselves a hole – 1) God is all-good; 2) God is all-powerful; 3) Why does he allow evil -- the rest of us want to know: Why?

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