God in the Dark: Rebuilding faith when bad stuff
Wild Goose Publications £13.50
Church Times Bookshop £12.15
Encountering Depression: Frequently asked questions
answered for Christians
Andrew and Elizabeth Procter
Church Times Bookshop £8.10 (Use
The Five Wounds: Sanctuary for the sick, balm for
the wounded spirit
Church Times Bookshop £6.30
PETER LONGSON's God in the Dark is an exquisitely
written exploration of the problem of suffering - the biggest
question about faith for many people. His daughter was sexually
abused as a young child, and then, just as she was getting her life
together as a teenager, she was raped.
Longson's style is relaxed and poetic, with just the right
amount of personal information within his carefully argued search
to understand why "bad stuff happens". I particularly liked his
work on science, building on some of the work of John Polkinghorne,
and linking the Big Bang and evolution into a section on "the way
the world is".
The book is utterly honest, and his section on the things we say
to people when they have had their world rocked by tragedy is
essential reading for any who try to care for those who are
suffering. "It could have been worse" and "God was with her" don't
help, because of the deep pain that this kind of statement can
cause. Everyone who has suffered and has had this kind of trite
nonsense told them will identify with the author's hurt - and then
with his exploration of why humans deliver this kind of glibness,
seemingly unaware of the grief caused.
With a mixture of science, theology, and philosophy, Longson
pulls off an astonishing, deep, and coherent argument - by far the
best and most life-affirming book that I have ever read about the
problem of pain. It has a profound conclusion that is deeply
The Procters' book Encountering Depression is divided
into 20 shortish chapters, each one answering one of the questions
that Christians frequently ask when their lives are devastated by
depression. For example, "Does my depression stem from my lack of
faith?" and "Why do I keep thinking of ending it all? It scares
My first impression of the book was that it looked daunting. The
publishers have chosen small, feint print, and, with the authors'
long paragraphs, the book wasn't at all inviting - and, I thought,
unsuitable for depressed people. But, once I started reading, I saw
that my first impression was quite wrong.
The text has a light touch, with sensible and creative advice
from the authors. Andrew is a priest and a counsellor, and
Elizabeth is an experienced psychiatrist. They use a huge number of
quotes to pull together a very useful resource for Christians
suffering depression, and those who care for them.
Each chapter has four short sections, "for information", "for
inspiration" (often stories from their wide experiences of working
with depressed people), "for meditation" (making the book just for
Christians: I can't imagine my depressed agnostic friends coping
with these), and "for perspiration". The last was always my
favourite bit of each chapter: some excellent ideas for a huge
range of things to do to chase off the dreaded depression.
As with most books on depression, it would not suit someone
deeply depressed, but it is a really valuable resource book. It can
be read in any order, making it a dip-into book. It is such a shame
that the publishers did not see the need for larger, bolder print
to make it seem less overwhelming.
Ann Farmer's book The Five Wounds is a meditation on
the five wounds Jesus suffered when he was crucified. This is
written for a Catholic readership, and could be especially helpful
for disabled people or those with terminal illness. It covers
issues such as the betrayal and humiliation that some disabled
people feel, and there is a discussion against abortion and
assisted suicide. The text moves quickly in and out of a range of
different issues, images, and quotes, making it quite hard to
follow in places - but that is sometimes the style of meditations.
The tone feels a bit "headmistressish", and, with the prayer
section at the end in the language of "thee" and "thy", it has an
Sue Atkinson is the author of several books, including
Breaking the Chains of Abuse (Lion, 2006).