Podcast S1E5 - Philip Yancey

The next episode of the BioLogos podcast, “Language of God” has dropped. It features my conversation with author Philip Yancey. We talk about his fundamentalist upbringing and journey of faith, and some about science and its relationship to faith. Then we spend most of the time discussing his book, Disappointment with God. This is not about the more general problem of evil (that’s coming in a future episode!), but for those of us who already believe in God – not just believe that there is a god, but believe in and trust in God – how do we understand and respond to those situations when God doesn’t do what sure seems to us a good, loving, and just God ought to do? How do you like Yancey’s answer?

Find the episode wherever you listen to podcasts (Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher, etc.) by searching “BioLogos” or “Language of God”. It helps our discoverability when people leave reviews, so if you like the episode, please consider doing so.

We also have a page on our website where you can find this episode, and all the others.


I’m so excited. That is one of my favorite books.

1 Like

Is there a schedule or are the episodes dropping when they are done?

Great episode! (This is the first one I’ve had a chance to listen to all the way through, being in a season of life when I’m constantly being interrupted by little people.)

I appreciated the part where you briefly discussed the difference it makes when the question of pain is approached theoretically vs. emotionally. It reminds me of the point that came up in a thread recently about how some church denominations tend to view emotions in a suspicious, negative light. I think I’ve been trained so well to just jump right into a “spiritual,” theoretical answer, while perhaps being afraid to wade through the emotions that are simply part of life and don’t always have easy answers. On that note, I also appreciate Yancey’s willingness to say “I don’t know.”


There will be a new one each Thursday morning for the next four weeks (counting today). Then we’ll take a break to get the next batch ready.


For most of my adult life, from working as a teacher in an urban school, to working with immigrants as an ESL instructor, to working in Scripture translation in an indigenous community, I have been up close with people whose lives are marked by poverty, injustice, and violence. My takeaway from Disappointment with God, and from this interview is this: We cannot theologize away our disappointment with God’s silence and hiddenness and inaction. As Yancey said in this interview, there are many situations in the world today where the only appropriate response is disappointment. But that disappointment can either fuel our hope or fuel our despair. The beauty of Christianity is it gives us a framework for channeling our disappointment into mission, in light of the hope that all these tragic circumstances that pose unanswerable questions are not ultimately meaningless, and someday our hope that something better awaits will be vindicated.


Philip Yancey is a writer not a scientist but he shares his journey from the bigoted fundamentalist Christianity he was taught to a Christianity enriched by scientific discovery.

He begins by explaining about how he was taught the “curse of Ham” nonsense which was used to justify slavery and then to justify treating a sector of the population as inferior. I would suggest however that this is only the tip of the iceberg regarding how Christian theology has been poisoned right to the core by racism. Racism did not, of course, begin in America, so we should be wary of assuming that the poison is only to be found in that sector of American Christianity, even if that is where the worst and most recent distortions are to be found. I don’t think it is coincidence that the same Christianity which tried to justify racism is now the one that opposes evolution. I think it is because of the same association made between humanity/sin and genetic inheritance.

Yancey mentions the same observation that I have made that the most serious Bible believers of Jesus times was the Pharisees and yet it is this same group which Jesus criticized most as losing site of justice and helping those in need, because they made their religion more about legalism than faith. Indeed, I have even pointed out that it is among them which Jesus most see the devil at work.

Yancey tells the story of how he criticized and exposed the “flaws” of evolution and it was the patient response of his teachers that got him to dig deeper. He found much to learn from science writers such as Lewis Thomas, Oliver Sacks, Henri Fabre, and Annie Dillard. And Yancey’s first book, “The Problem of Pain,” was in response to the work with a scientist on Leprosy, which is a disease which destroys a persons ability to feel pain.

Yancey points out how important it is to realize that we have two different books from God: the one from revelation in the Bible and the one from nature in science. He says that one without the other is like trying to stand on one leg. For not only can Bible mislead us with regards to nature but there is a great deal that science cannot tell us, such as how to live our lives.

The discussion then turns to Yancey’s book “Disappointment with God,” which strangely enough, Yancey explains comes from reading the Bible carefully. The message is that instead of this absolute demand for obedience and faith, Yancey found in the Bible and God an encouragement to ask questions and challenge God – by which we can discover that our disappointment comes not from God but from our own unrealistic expectations. Yancey also observed that when God intervenes in human affairs in the OT, it usually meant “body bags.” But this seems to change with Jesus who instead lets Himself be killed by us. So perhaps this suggests a change away from God being in control to putting the work of God in the world into our hands.

One of his final points was not one which I appreciated or agreed with, however. It was the idea from Revelation that the rules of the world will be different and the conclusion that God Himself is not satisfied with nature. I do not agree at all. That suggests a serious ineptitude on the part of God. It is one thing for God to regret creating man who has free will, and quite another to have God regret the laws of nature which are only what God made them to be.

1 Like

@mitchellmckain gives a helpful summary here… but don’t let it substitute for actually listening to the podcast!

I’ll take issue with your taking issue:

Genesis 1 gives no hint of regret on God’s part, but does show that things weren’t created originally in the form God ultimately intends for them. God’s first command was to fill the earth and subdue it. Why didn’t God just create it filled and subdued if that’s what God wanted??

And will bodies resurrecting (which is an instance of the rules of the world working differently) show that God regrets creating us mortal? No, I don’t think so.

1 Like

Genesis 6:5 The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.

Genesis 8:21 And when the Lord smelled the pleasing odor, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done. 22 While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.”

Genesis most certainly does say that God feels regret for creating man, but has no problem with the rest of creation and the way it works!

Not according to Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, where it is not because things operate differently that the spiritual/resurrected body is imperishable and powerful but because it is made of different stuff – rather than being of dust and the stuff of the earth like the physical/natural body, it is of the stuff of heaven.

1 Corinthians 15:35 But some one will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” 36 You foolish man! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 And what you sow is not the body which is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. 38 But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. 39 For not all flesh is alike, but there is one kind for men, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. 40 There are celestial bodies and there are terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.

42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 But it is not the spiritual which is first but the physical, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. 50 I tell you this, brethren: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.

Perhaps it is because I am a scientist that I am not buying into this idea that God is going to change the laws of the universe. I think God created them for a reason to make life possible and I don’t see that reason changing just because of events in human history. The universe is much much much bigger than our problems and preferences. So I think that is absurd.

Furthermore, all the laws of nature and evolution show that death is part of life and life cannot exist without death, so no, I don’t think God regrets creating us mortal and I don’t even think this will change. I think the physical universe will remain a place where children are born and grow and die to this world in order to be with God and the rest of us in our resurrected spiritual bodies, just as they leave their mother’s womb to live in the greater world of the earth and physical universe.

OK, there are legitimate disagreements about whether eschatology involves different “laws of nature” (whatever those are), so I’ll continue to disagree, but let that point go.

I don’t think I can let go of your not addressing my point from Genesis 1. Did God create things the way God ultimately intended for them to be?

God created some things like the laws of nature as a matter of design, for the purpose is that of supporting the existence of life, which is a self-organizing process. With living things His role is that of a shepherd, teacher, and parent to participate in their lives, influencing their choices. But whole point of life is that it grows and learns to become more. so God certainly created them to have this nature of life to grow and learn and thus become more and to be something He could have a relationship with.

I hope that addresses your query, though to be sure it is a little more complicated than a yes or no. Certainly your reference in Genesis 1 is that God intends living things to do some of the work on their own and I suppose you can also extend that to other processes in the evolution of the universe to say that some of the work is also given to the laws of nature.

I too appreciated Yancey’s salutary humility - expressed in his willingness to declare “I don’t know” and leave it at that. There are many (including myself here!) who have not written nearly so many books - or any at all - but who nonetheless pronounce confidently on many such matters. Yancey draws on quite the well-traveled life experience and exposure to many great people for his work. We all have many giants to help us along. He models such attentiveness well.

As somebody who has also read the late Paul Brand’s work (some of it co-authored with Yancey), I have also enjoyed much benefit from my exposure to Brand. Truly a giant of the faith.


Yes, I greatly appreciated this podcast, and shared it with my YEC pastor today. In fact, his message today in church was “disappointment with Christ,” and may tie in to his own deep thinking. We need humble communicators who empathize and model Christ’s love, or all the knowledge in the world won’t help (as in I Cor 13)

I enjoyed this episode and has inspired me to read some on Yancey’s books! But, I do take issue with his take on the problem of evil. It simply doesn’t satisfy the intellect or emotions. We need to do a better job at addressing this issue. Does BioLogos have many resources on this?

Hi Austin. Yes, there is a fair amount of conversation about the problem of evil on the website. There is another Forum thread (at the moment, right below this one on the Open Forum page) on evolution and the problem of evil. You might also look at the resources tagged with with Death, Evil, and Suffering

You might start with Bethany Sollereder’s Did God Intend Death? and watch for the video of her presentation at our conference to become publicly available.

Then, we plan to publish some resources on the problem of evil in June. So stay tuned!


This topic was automatically closed 3 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

This is a place for gracious dialogue about science and faith. Please read our FAQ/Guidelines before posting.