Where Is God When It Hurts? (1977, 1990) by Phillip Yancey
When my friend, Aderus Helen, died on 28th February 2018 due to lung cancer, I was devastated. I know him since he was a student and were there with him in and out of the hospital. The night after he died, I wrote this on my Facebook post [now already deactivated]:
"Knowing him first at TCS CF, I'm a staff and he was a student. Naturally, he was a quiet person, but when we became a friend I considered him as talkative. To shut him down, sometimes I challenged him with hard questions. During studies and after, he was very active in the ministry. Sometimes he joined me and Peter to camps and trips. And then, to cut the story short, he was diagnosed with bone cancer. It ended up with painful chemo and imputation of his right leg. I was there when he received his artificial leg. We who know him will no doubt recognize his amazing faith, this is his obvious gift (1 Corinthians 13:9). He was a simple preacher, ordinary, in fact, but an amazing encourager and motivator. His stories and experiences inspired his hearers... Growth!
"...Years later, he has to be admitted again. Cancer cells recurrence again. On hospital bed again. Lung cancer. Fluid-filled his lungs. He still can smile, talk and have a set of wish-list-after-discharged (he wanted badly to watch Black Panther!). His faith never wavers. When I and Steven came to visit, our topic was not about mortality but Monopoly. But once in a while, he inserted faith-statement: ‘I'm ready to be with my Father.' He doesn't want to bring his laptop because he said, ‘I want to read the Bible' during his time in the hospital. Once I asked him, had he thought about getting married, he replied, ‘There is one girl who takes an interest in me... But I have to reject her, for her own good, because I don't want her to feel sad after I'm gone.' Wise but sad.
"When it was just both of us, we played chess. I never pretended to be a looser, I tried hard to defeat him, but he was so good with chess that he wins every time! After a week, he transferred to Radiotherapy building. It was hot there, so I bought him a fan. One night his nose was bleeding. Then the next day his back hurt, so he couldn't really sit properly. The next day he was in a very painful state. His stomach hurt, probably gastric. A few days later, he was using oxygen cylinder by his side. The night before he couldn't breathe properly. Many times, I told him to tell others that he is in the hospital, but he refused. Sad faces, unnecessary words and healing prayers (in front of him) are not helpful. He did tell his pastor, some other Christian leaders, and friends. Basically, he wanted to be unnoticed. We respect that. But the immediate implication of that is loneliness (his mother only came after he changed wad).
"One day he texted me, ‘When are coming to visit me in this filthy place?' Jokingly, I replied, ‘Tonight, this filthy man will visit his site!' There was this moment when I and Steven came, and about to open Monopoly games cards, he said, ‘Tonight I can't, maybe tomorrow after I'm getting better.' After few days, he was not getting better. He speaks less, he kept himself awake but once in awhile his eyes will close, and I saw his sad face. Before I went to KL, my last meeting with him was on Monday morning with Ibi. ‘Next week I come back,' I said, ‘we go watch Black Panther.' He knew that I knew that it was impossible. ‘I'm going back to Sibu tomorrow if the doctor allows me,' was his last words. We went back, he sleeps.
"This morning, I (and some others who frequently visited him) received a painful news. Everyone shocked. I'm speechless... From beginning to his end... I suspect his faith waver a little bit, but I know, sure as I'm alive today, that his hope was unshakeable. Here is a man who faced death once, used all his energy and passion to preached Jesus his Saviour until he faced another battle, facing death again, but now forever alive in the Saviour! As for all of us, we are alive, but are we really living? Don't waste your life! Aderus is our example of faith, hope, and love. I'm sad, but at the same time - rejoices!"
So you know, I asked God the exact question: Where is God when it hurts? This book (and my other meetings with colleagues) helped me during those dark moments. I underlined and meditate on this book, struggle with every statement, rejoice with every pearl of wisdom, and checked all the Scripture quotes which slowly restored my faith. Although most of my questions are remain unanswered, I gain trust in the goodness of God. "Everyone will face a crisis of doubt in his entire Christian life," Bishop Hwa Yung once told me. Yancey words resonate with me when he wrote at the conclusion of this book: "My anger about pain has melted mostly for one reason: I have come to know God. He has given me joy and love and happiness and goodness. They have come in unexpected flashes, in the midst of my confused, imperfect world, but they have been enough to convince me that my God is worthy of trust. Knowing him is worth all enduring."
[P.s: This is not a book review after all. I just want to say that this book helped me in my struggles. I recommend this book wholeheartedly.]
THINK BIG. START SMALL. GO DEEP.