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Striking A Nerve

September 15, 2015 — Leave a comment

What is the one thing about you that is off-limits? Even your closest friends know not to talk to you about this. It’s personal and it’s private and it is not open for discussion.

It’s not that you’re ‘closed off’. Just careful with certain parts of who you are. After all, it is wise to be careful, isn’t it?

One area we tend to cover up contains the things in our lives that we don’t like. Perhaps this is what we call shame. You could be in debt, or you messed up at work, or there’s emotional pain from things long ago that prevent real relationship with those persons involved.

But equally, our hopes and dreams, those that are left, are often cocooned in emotional bubble wrap. We store them like the wedding china, unused for fear of breaking them and not being able to find a replacement.

Like a squirrel buries their nuts before the coming winter, we can bury our deepest thoughts and feelings, and like some of those squirrels, often forget all about them.

We think that they’re safe, deep down, out of the way. We’re unaware though, of how these emotions seep through us, like unsecured toxic waste. We think we’re immune to their presence because they’re buried deep, but every now and again they become exposed.

Sometimes it’s someone else doing the digging. Maybe it’s our wife, or a friend prodding a little too deeply. It’s amazing what people find when they get under the surface (just ask the Crossrail guys who have recently finished the new train tunnels below London).

More often than not however these things are exposed by complete accident. In the fields of Flanders after WWI, the frosty winters were known to bring up unexploded shells to just below the surface. The Belgian farmers knew all-too-well about this annual menace and the problems they posed to their ploughing.

Sometimes it’s a friendly, unassuming conversation that touches something of us we had forgotten about long ago. And sometimes it’s something with a little more bite.

At the beginning of the year Stephen Fry was interviewed on Irish television channel RTE and when asked what he would say to God were he ever to visit the pearly gates of Heaven, he replied vehemently, “Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?”

Of course Fry isn’t the first to voice this age-old problem in such strong terms. But the response seemed unnaturally large. Newspaper articles and blogs were published in reply and the clip from the show went viral on YouTube.

For many people Fry touched on a nerve. His words shattered the flimsy structures constructed around such buried thoughts like, ‘why did I have to experience that horrible thing?’

There are some big questions in this world that aren’t easy to answer. There are also big parts of who are that we’d rather leave unquestioned. But it was Socrates who told us that ‘an unexamined life is not worth living’.

Sometimes the thought of sifting through our inner person feels about as fun as receiving a do-it-yourself-molar-extraction kit for Christmas. Thankfully, we’re not left to our own unskilled hands to do this. In an ancient Hebrew poem a request is made of God: “Search me, O God, and know my heart!”

The God of the universe, who made you and knows you and loves you and has complete skill in all matters, wants to work with you to uncover who you really are. If you let him he will deal with your unexploded ordinance and he will unearth your buried treasures.

God’s love frees us from the fear of tough questions, from the pain of deep memories, and it frees us to be the person he created us to be. Life is too precious to live it in avoidance of who we really are, so why not, as the Good Book says, ‘cast all our burdens upon him.’ It’ll be a load off your mind.

Incidentally, if you are interested in the problem of pain, might I recommend ‘Why Suffering? Finding Meaning and Comfort When Life Doesn’t Make Sense’ (Faith Words, 2014) by Ravi Zacharias and Vince Vitale as an excellent starting point on the subject.

Sorted Magazine - May/June 2015This article was first published in the June/July edition of Sorted Magazine.


'Why?' is out now.
‘Why?’ is out now and available from The Book DepositoryAmazon

When I first heard about this book I was in the middle of thinking about suffering myself. I was writing an essay on evil and was consumed with the topic. So it was with great interest that I watched from a distance the last few months of the book’s production.

Of course, it’s easy to sit back and isolate the ‘problem of evil’, treating it purely intellectually. Pub chat, blog posts, academic essays – they go some way to examining the issue but all the talk falls short of actually confronting the full scope of this topic which seems to be as an 18-tonne truck, poised to run any one us over at any moment.

Yes, we can philosophise and wax lyrical about Hume, Epicurus etc. etc. but as we are told by Leonato in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, “there was never yet philosopher that could endure the toothache patiently.”

It is with great sensitivity that Sharon Dirckx delves into this age-old problem. The genius of this book lays not so much in the answers given – which are presented clearly, concisely, and reasonably – but the manner in which the answers are wrapped up in bite-sized reality.

The book starts with the story of Millie, a little girl with a rare brain abnormality. The pain and anguish of the parents is conveyed through the pages as we watch their little girl fight for life. The story of this family retold frames the focus of the book as the search for meaning in the midst of pain and suffering.

The philosopher William Lane Craig has said that the question of suffering is, “undoubtedly the greatest intellectual obstacle to belief in God.” Perhaps in part the obstacle is so large because it is heard so loudly. It is of course a question that is common to all people. As Philip Brooks, quoted in the foreword by Ravi Zacharias, says, “If you preach to a hurting heart, you will never lack for an audience.”

Through the five stories of people coping with suffering the book positions the answers given as answers to real questions, questions any of us may ask. Far from an abstract treatment of the issue, we are tenderly coached to answer the questions honestly, in the face of reality.

However, it is the final narrative – that of the author’s own experiences – that provides the book with the proper tone to tackle this question. In sharing the suffering of her own family, Sharon Dirckx is able to treat this thorny subject with great care and sensitivity. Sharon’s shared experiences presents the text with a voice that resonates with the prayer, searching, and questioning that has been a part of her and her family’s life.

The stories of Sharon’s family, the other five stories, the answers from Christianity (alongside answers from other religions), and ultimately the portrayal of a deeply caring God, in Jesus, offers the reader a true hope.

I have already been happy to send copies to friends seeking answers in this world that can hold much pain, inevitably – or so it seems – coupled to confusion. Why? gently offers an accessible peace by placing suffering into a context of meaning, and ultimately hope. Sharon shows how Christianity – a relationship with Jesus Christ – makes sense of this broken world. And more than that – because knowing about something is never enough – we are shown how Jesus enters into our world and suffers for us and with us.

Buy this book, read it, and then think about whom you can give it to.

Why? is published by IVP and is available to buy from The Book Depository and Amazon.


February 10, 2009 — 2 Comments

For the past 5 years I have more or less been living in the United States (yes – Hawaii is in the US, and has been for over 50 years). My tastes and influences have inevitably been shaped by my location. Aside from wondering if I’ll actually survive in a part of the world that doesn’t understand the importance of fresh Ahi I also consider that many of my theological influences have been rooted in my choice of location.

By far and large the single greatest influence on my Christian faith has been YWAM Maui, and specifically the School of Biblical Foundations and Missions (SBFM). Through the sacrifice of many people who serve as missionaries to students coming through the base I have been discipled in the ways of my faith. The importance of truth, as revealed through Jesus and the Bible have been embedded in my life. The spiritual disciplines have been enforced. Critical thinking and reason are celebrated here. A rich faith that has space for questions and reasoned thinking (which is, in part, obedience to the Greatest Commandment) has been promoted.

In short, I am thankful to Jesus for leading me here and to the faithful leaders who are now good friends and colleagues, for taking the time to invest in me. The New Testament’s analogy of discipleship being like taking a new-born from milk to solid foods (see 1 Corinthians 3:2, Hebrews 5:12, 1 Peter 2:2) makes so much more sense now that I’ve been around small children. The process is never clean, constantly frustrating and most of the time the kids don’t know what’s going on! But thanks to the patience of many I have progressed and several changes of attire later I can say that, yes, slowly, maturity has been gained.

As well as leaders here on the island I’ve been introduced to the teachings of, and in turn influenced by, great men and women of the faith such as: Francis Schaeffer, Ravi Zacharias, Norman Geisler, C.S Lewis, G.K Chesterton and more. I’ve stumbled upon people like Mark Driscoll, Timothy Keller, Dinsesh D’Souza and found there contemporary voices lighting up a dying world. Os Guiness and Nancy Pearcey, with people like Chuck Colson are continuing the message of the importance of truth. For these and so many more I am extremely grateful.

Over the next few weeks I will be examining some of these people – and others – in more detail, sharing some of what I have learned so far. I’m looking forward to it!

Rushing Around

May 21, 2008 — Leave a comment

So finally, after racking up the air miles in the last few weeks, I’m back in one place for a good amount of time. Once more I have the opportunity to be reading. Currently I’m reading Recapture the Wonder, by Ravi Zacharias, as well as finishing out Schaeffer’s Trilogy for my NeRDS reading plan.

It’s funny, I’m not that old but already I’m noticing certain habits that I can’t avoid. Such as much preferring to read light novels whilst traveling, but not that much at home. And when I’m at home I much prefer to read weightier books of the type mentioned in the first paragraph.

With my feet and head now much more well situated I should be able to get back to my blogging too.