Archives For suffering

9 Coffins

September 29, 2015 — Leave a comment

As I approached the roundabout I could see the helicopter through the top of my windscreen. It was hovering, purposefully, keeping a keen eye on something yet unseen by me. I next caught sight of the police bikes. Two of them, both with their riders with their hands in the air bringing the oncoming traffic to a halt. I sat in my car, waiting, and with the other drivers around me wondered what was going on.

9 Coffins

Would there be a glimpse of someone famous? A dignitary, perhaps royalty, or a senior politician maybe

The sirens came next and more police bikes sped through the gap before fast-response cars followed. It was then that I saw the first hearse. It took the roundabout at speed, and was followed in quick succession by eight more. With only a length between them it was like watching an ominous race.

They sped off followed by more chase cars, all under the eyes of the men in the sky above.

9 hearses; 9 coffins. 9 of the victims from the Tunisia beach attack. I was suddenly only a few feet away from this shocking episode of evil.

One moment the victims were holidaying on a beach and now under comprehensive escort they were travelling the A40 at record pace. The hearses caught me by surprise. But I remember thinking that no one would have been more surprised than the victims themselves.

In a world where atrocities seem to take place at an alarming rate, the horror of evil actions remains shocking when observed by those near to them.

We all feel the wrongness of these situations. We think of the pain of those caught up in the events. We mourn.

When the immediate grief subsides, those caught up in suffering move from looking for comfort to looking for answers. ‘Why?’ And, ‘how?’ And, ‘could it have been prevented?’ And so on.

In this tragedy – as in many – there are tales of heroism. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things. The acts of evil, punctuated with humanity’s finest qualities. The good right alongside the bad.

Humanity, it would seem, has the capacity for incredible acts of love and at the same time the capacity for incredible acts of violence.

Everyone who lives has to face the suffering of this world. It is a worldwide problem; it is a human problem.

What we believe about the reality of the world goes a long way to how we answer the problems that we face. Diagnosing the malady correctly is the first step on the road to health.

The Christian understands the world to be full of both happiness and suffering. Good alongside evil. Human beings have the ability to create, bring life, love well, and serve others. But at the very same time the heart of humanity, of each one of us, has been corrupted and all kinds of wrong happen to us, stay with us, and come out of us.

The Bible says that humans are valuable because they are made by a loving God. They are not a random collection of atoms. We are not accidents. And like tarnished silver, our value is not lost when our appearance has been marred.

At the very same time the Bible does not shy away from the reality of evil. Its pages are full of brokenness and hurting people.

And the God of the Bible did not remain distant from the suffering of the world, but entered into it and suffered himself.

This world, we know, is far from perfect. So how do we fix what is broken? Is it more knowledge? Is it a greater collective human effort? We will do anything: work harder, sacrifice more etc. Human history is full of marvellous efforts to this end but while they may have bandaged some wounds, they have not brought lasting health.

We have tried so much and we are left collectively exasperated and worn out. Who or what can we trust to bring us hope?

The problems that we face have proven to be huge. The answers that we require will need to be bigger still.

When we have exhausted the search for answers from within perhaps we should turn to answers from afar and when we do we can look, searchingly, at the life of a man who lived 2,000 years ago who suffered greatly for the people he loved and then astonishingly, after a brutal death, was raised to life once more. Invasive resurrection power at once affirms the value of human beings and offers a hope through a power that beats death and all its friends.

It’s preposterous. It’s extravagant. It’s utterly different. But isn’t this exactly the sort of solution we need for the problems of the world today? When all that is obvious to us has been tried perhaps it’s time to look beyond our own horizons. Perhaps we should consider placing our hope in our Maker who knows our blueprint, understands our weaknesses and our pain, and offers a plan for our redemption.

Sorted Magazine - September/October 2015This article first appeared in the September/October edition of Sorted Magazine.


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.

For ten years Bill Watterson entertained the world through his cartoon series, Calvin and Hobbes. In these cartoons Calvin – an intrepid little boy – is always off on some grand adventure with his faithful sidekick, Hobbes.

Calvin’s father – a hybrid of Watterson’s own father and himself – is often seen trying to help little Calvin “build character”, usually in the middle of a camping trip gone wrong. Yeah, you may have been there too.

Calvin regularly fails to see the point of this character building exercise, often noting how the lessons in life his father so eagerly dishes out seem to save his father some expense.

For many of us, we can relate to little Calvin when we experience suffering. It may be personal and felt, it may be trivial and inconvenient, it may be grotesque and life-altering.

Calvin felt left alone to suffer without meaning and without support.

There is a difference however between the world of Calvin and Hobbes and this life. His name is Jesus. Christianity says that there’s nothing man can do to make it to God. Instead, God came to man. His name is Jesus.

When it comes to suffering Jesus suffers alongside us. We do not have a God indifferent to the human condition. He has been there. And he is with us in our pain, no matter the circumstances.

More than that too, Jesus suffered for us. He willingly, lovingly and purposefully laid down his own life to pay a price that was around our necks. He suffered in agony, alone for hours and he did it thinking of each of us.

There is a present, felt reality about suffering in this world. Some of us will go through more than others but all of us will suffer and all will die.

Jesus’ suffering wasn’t pointless. It had a purpose. More than that, it had ultimate purpose that speaks into this life as well as the next. And there’s more good news: Jesus can use your pain and your suffering and turn it for good.

Suffering and pain can devastate joy, tear up hope, bring the strong to their knees and cause us to cry out, “Why?” In this world gone bad Jesus came to bring healing. He came that we might be saved out of despair and into a living, lasting hope. He’s done it all for us.

Jesus suffered and died that we might see him through our suffering and live.

For more Calvin and Hobbes go here: