Thursday, 27 June 2013

Why? - Sharon Dirckx

Sharon Dirckx is a friend of a friend and because of this I have met her a few times. She is, like me, a scientist and is currently a tutor and lecturer at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics. So when I heard that she was writing a book about suffering, I was interested to read it. Apparently it is well up on the Christian bestseller lists.
The first thing I would say about this book is that it is extremely readable. I read it from cover to cover at one sitting (maybe 2 hours), and I don't remember the last time I did that. I have to say that I was a little disappointed when I got to the end, that the book didn't go into more depth. Upon reflection, I realised that I was probably not the intended audience and that this book is not intended for people will a fairly well-developed spiritual life and a certain level of intellectual formation. If you have read and understood Salvific doloris (or at least attempted to understand it) this book will leave you cold. It is a book written for people who are who find themselves crying out to an unknown God in the midst of personal suffering, for people who won't or can't let God in and for those who have taken a few steps towards God but don't then know where to go.
However, this book does look at questions which are commonly asked about suffering as a way of disproving God's existence. Dirckx begins with the time-honoured 'If God exists, then why is there so much evil and suffering in the world?' and moves onto discussing whether this God actually cares. She compares Christianity, Atheism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism in their attitudes towards suffering and (not unexpectedly) concludes that only Christianity has anything sensible to say on the subject.
I don't think I'd recommend giving this book to someone who was suffering and starting to ask the bigger questions. It is, after all, written from a Protestant perspective and while it is general enough for this not to be an issue there were a few bits which I didn't think were particularly helpful (and one short part which I don't think is handled very well at all). Having said that, if you knew someone who was in this position it might be a good book to read. The question and answer format, as well as the 'human element' in the form of stories, in addition to the way 'popular' answers to difficult questions are dismantled might well be a helpful basis to supportive apostolate.
As I said, for a person who already has a relationship with God, practises their faith and has already reflected deeply on their own suffering this book would not be useful on a personal level, except to remind one that not everyone is in the same place as you, and that very small steps are necessary when leading another by the hand.

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