Hurting Yet Whole: Reconciling Body and Spirit in Chronic Pain and Illness

Reviewed by:

G. Connor Salter, Professional Writing alumnus from Taylor University, Upland, IN.


Hurting Yet Whole: Reconciling Body and Spirit in Chronic Pain and Illness


Liuan Huska


InterVarsity Press

Publication Date:

December 8, 2020




232 pages


For Liuan Huska, experiencing chronic pain in her bones forced her to reconsider how she viewed pain and suffering. Was God present in her pain? Is it possible to be a whole person in the midst of terrible pain? Huska considers the Bible’s view of personhood and the biases that keep many North American Christians from understanding people who experience chronic pain.

Huska covers several topics which other writers have considered, always bringing her own voice and angle. Like Lynne Ramsay in her book This Too Shall Last, she considers how often women with chronic pain are ignored or doctors downplay their pain. However, Ramsey mostly focuses on her own experiences, giving a memoir perspective. Huska combines some of her own experiences with an overview of the topic, including a philosophical overview of how Western culture has often viewed women’s bodies as strange or weak, which helps to explain why women’s maladies are often seen as imaginary. Like Alec Hill in his memoir Living in Bonus Time, Huska talks about trying to find space for lament in an American church context. Hill reserves this discussion to some comments about how his fellow white evangelicals have often downplayed lament, while Korean churches and African-American churches make more space for it. Huska makes this point more central, retelling stories from a friend who’s benefitted from attending African-American churches. Perhaps most notably, Huska openly talks about what might be described as “evangelical indifference.” Most books about suffering talk about this problem in some way, with authors describing condescending or apathetic responses that people have had to their pain, particularly people who come from a prosperity gospel perspective. Huska puts this out in the open, describing the problem as North American Christians not realizing that their culture presents an insufficient way of viewing the body. While Huska uses the term “North American,” it’s clear that she’s talking about the same evangelical culture that other writers have described, choosing to be explicit where they are implicit. These additions to existing territory reinforce what other writers have said, showing their points are valid, while also adding some fresh touches to the existing portrait.

Huska also offers some new territory, noting how the new transhumanism trend makes it hard for Americans to tolerate any kind of bodily limits. Leonard Sweet and Mark Chironna considered transhumanism’s dangers in Rings of Fire and some apologists have discussed it as well, but few memoirists have considered it or suggested it’s already affecting how everyday people are finding limitations less tolerable. Huska also considers how capitalism’s dark side is it produces people only interested in what produces material results; since people with chronic pain can’t work at “max capacity,” this makes them embarrassing to many Americans. This is a fascinating insight, and perhaps explains why many Christian authors who write memoirs about suffering are a bit critical of “Christian Right” culture. How far can we go down the stereotypical Christian conservative, totally pro-industrialism, totally pro-big business road before it becomes difficult to help the hurting? Huska poses that question without disavowing capitalism entirely, simply pointing out its natural downsides.

Huska also suggests some ideas about what role disease and perhaps death played in the Garden of Eden.  She argues that since scientists believe a disease-free world would mean a planet where only simple organisms could exist, and that Genesis 1 says creation was “good” not perfect, it’s possible that disease existed from Earth’s beginning. This allows people to develop a view of sickness which sees it as something God allowed and can use, not an aberration in God’s original design. This is an interesting idea, although it’s difficult to reconcile it with Paul’s comments in Romans 5 that death came from the fall (it’s hard to imagine a world of disease as we understand it without the possibility of fatal diseases). In addition, at least one writer has argued that Genesis 1’s description of creation being “good” means “ultimate in quality,” so that section of Huska’s argument may be discredited. However, since this is a debate over exegesis of Hebrew words (which is always complex) and Genesis 1-2 doesn’t give a detailed outline of what sinless creation looked like, it’s hard to say whether Huska’s argument is unorthodox. Even if it is an unorthodox idea, Huska only mentions it in two chapters, and it doesn’t impact the rest of the book in a significant way. So while readers may want to consider this idea carefully, looking at the sources that Huska cites and reading other sources on the subject, they can comfortably read the rest of the book without any problems.

A great mix of research and personal stories, breaking new ground in the discussion about suffering in the evangelical world.


Rating (1 to 5 stars)

4.5 stars

Suggested Audience

Christians seeking information about chronic pain and a theological exploration of why many Christians with chronic pains or illnesses find it difficult to get the community they need in churches.

Christian Impact

Huska cites a variety of religious scholars in her discussions about pain, most of which are quite orthodox. Her ideas about interpreting Genesis may or may not be orthodox, but as noted above it doesn’t affect the rest of the book.

Hurting Yet Whole: Reconciling Body and Spirit in Chronic Pain and Illness

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