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God and monsters

14 August 2015

Lavinia Byrne reads books about faith amid life’s difficulties and sufferings


When Faith Gets Shaken
Patrick Regan
Monarch £7.99
Church Times Bookshop £7.20

Playing with Dragons: Living with suffering and God
Andy Angel
Lutterworth Press £16.50

PATRICK REGAN’s book has received rave reviews from within his own constituency, namely the world of social action generated from Holy Trinity, Brompton. Interestingly, the author has also been recognised more widely with the OBE awarded for his 22 years of work for XLP, supporting young people in London and beyond. His track record is exemplary.

Rejecting the notion that this account of his struggle with physical suffering serves as “cheap therapy”, he steers a careful course between a triumphalist proclamation of the power of prayer/unwavering faith and the agony of feeling useless and abandoned by God. Nevertheless, this is the unenviable account of a man whose legs had to be broken at multiple points for reconstructive surgery. So there was bound to be anguish, and his honesty about this is revealing.

The result: a book that is light on theology, but heavy on good will and anecdote — biblical and otherwise. Deliberately inspiring in tone, it makes for a wholesome and edifying read.

From a different stable altogether comes the contention that “There be Dragons all over the Bible” as, starting from the earliest Hittite and Ugaritic creation stories, Andy Angel embarks on a delightful exploration of biblical monsters. These range from descriptions of God riding the storm clouds — seemingly in a divine manifestation of monsterdom — to those of the forces of chaos which shake the foundations of the world. The Leviathans were “created by God as a plaything, a toy”.

Ingenious stuff, but at the heart of his book lies the contention that we may have “outgrown the language of those sorts of myths but somehow we sense they still have power to speak”. Like the exilic prophets who reinterpreted early creation myths to assert that God alone made all that is, we need to revisit contemporary dragons such as pain and suffering, to “explore the messy space of divine discipline and our reaction to it”.

To do this is to discover how to play with these dragons: “to explore the spirituality of desperation at the same time as affirming hope”. This is a magical little book from a seriously able teacher whose treatment of the subject, and notably of the book of Job in chapter four, is exemplary.


Lavinia Byrne is a writer and broadcaster.

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