By "human problem," he doesn't limit himself to medical, philosophical, or theological aspects of pain. It's not just "why" and "by what means," but "what now" and "what next." And the reason I say it's a "fascinating" topic is that the questions of what now and what next need to be answered, not just by those who suffer from chronic or acute pain, but by their medical caregivers and by their families and friends.
Though pain is only experienced as pain by the person in pain, it affects all those in close contact with the person, in important ways differently than other, more visible, medical problems do. No one would say to someone whose legs are paralyzed, "Can't you just, you know, climb the stairs if you really think about moving your legs?" It's not nearly so unthinkable to say to someone in chronic pain, "Can't you just, you know, take a painkiller or something?," or even, "Come on, it can't be that bad!"
A Catholic who specializes in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Hurley reads the miraculous cures of the Gospels in the light of his experiences as a doctor who daily works with patients in great pain. He's a good enough doctor to know that pain is not merely a physical phenomenon, and a good enough Catholic to know that it is in Jesus that the spiritual dimension of pain can best be come to terms with. He quotes Nicholas Wolterstorff's Lament for a Son:
Suffering is the meaning of our world. For Love is the meaning. And love suffers. The tears of God are the meaning of history. But mystery remains. Why isn't Love-without-suffering the meaning of things? Why is suffering-Love the meaning?
This leads Hurley to muse on the mystery:
With the arrival of God into the very history of humanity, good and evil manifested themselves around him as they do around every other person in the world.... Our Lord did not eliminate injustice or cruelty or death as entities unto themselves. He preached against the evil in men's hearts that lead to these things. The Scriptures indicated that his name was to be Emmanuel, "God with us," not "God instead of us"... What of our own laments to God? When we pray and search for him with all our hearts, feeling helpless, can we look back on the heartbreaking search of Christ's own earthly mother? If she was told she would suffer a sword of sorrow and was confused in her own direct searching for her son who was God, how can we expect to escape suffering? And do we trust that he is fulfilling the "business" of being God for us, even though we cannot see him doing so?
This comes toward the end of the book, in the chapter, "'A sword of sorrow shall pierce your heart': The Mystery Called Suffering." Several earlier chapters look at different healing miracles, accommodating them to Hurley's own present-day experience of patients, their families, and their doctors. (He shows, too, that these experiences were ever thus.)I've got some bookmarks in my copy* on various specific points, and hope to get around to posting on them.
In the meantime, I'll just say that Hurley has a lot of intriguing things to say about problems many of us do or will one day face. I don't agree with everything he writes, of course, but he does a good job showing how the miracle stories can speak to us today, with a meaning deeper than, "Jesus, being God, cured some people."
* Yes, my copy was sent to me by the publisher, Loyola Press. Will I write about your book if you send me a free copy? Try me!