Rebuilding faith when bad stuff happens
by Peter Longson
What becomes of faith in God when bad stuff happens? How do we react when we realise that, for all its glories, this world can be a dark, dangerous and disappointing place?
We may decide that God is no longer to be trusted, or continue with a form of belief that is at odds with our experience of life. Or we may choose the most risky and difficult option: trying to build a Christian understanding that looks the facts full in the face whilst holding on – for dear life – to belief in a God of love.
Half-wishing that he had never known the spurious comfort of a religion that promised so much and seemed to deliver so little, the author sets out on the lonely road of re-examining his faith. He discovers early on that we must seek God first in the mess of life, in whatever most perplexes us – in short, we must look for God in the very place where he is apparently absent.
This rock which is the earth is a hard place, in all senses. In sharing his experiences to encourage other ‘battered Christians’, Peter Longson’s honest, unflinching exploration of the nature of evil and its consequences for life and faith leads him to some surprising and liberating conclusions about the nature of God.
Do we need yet another book on a God of love and the problem of evil? Christians certainly need this one! It is written in response to a devastating personal experience of evil. With ruthless logic, deep compassion and a pastoral heart Longson beats a scholarly path through science, theology, philosophy and literature questioning much of conservative Christian understanding of theodicy. Out of the wreckage he builds something where the world as it is, human life as we experience it and a God of love can reside together. It is essential reading for all who seek to bring the love of God to a world which groans under the weight of suffering and evil.
The Revd Dr John Searle OBE
Review by Sue Atkinson in Church Times, July 6th 2012:
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 like 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 satisfying.