Huge wave

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In 2010 an earthquake in Haiti caused utter devastation. Many Haitians had experienced disasters on a smaller scale, so although they were traumatised by this much larger event they knew how to grieve and move forward. The church was a haven, providing both spiritual and practical help, and was possibly the main reason why a mental health epidemic didn’t happen.

This story is a highly condensed version of one told by an NGO leader in Sharon Dirkx’s 2023 book If there’s a God, then why are there natural disasters and diseases? As in her previous book, Why? Looking at God, evil and personal suffering, she has invited people to share their own journeys, and how their faith has helped them or those they have served in difficult times.

This is clearly a book by someone who speaks regularly on this topic, as well as experiencing suffering herself. Dirckx has had to think through all the questions people usually ask, coming up with answer that she can defend rigorously and compassionately in a public forum. Her scientific training has given her the ability to gather all the arguments, sorting and sifting, presenting them in a logical order and making it clear when she is expressing her own opinion. She doesn’t remain totally aloof, however, sharing her own heart and empathising with the people she is writing about, as well as any in her audience who have experienced disasters first hand.

The author asks some penetrating questions of her own. How can we feel suffering is wrong unless there is genuine morality and meaning in the world? Natural events such as earthquakes and volcanoes make the earth fruitful – is this perhaps the way things are meant to be? Why does most of the damage from these natural events seem to be caused by human selfishness – particularly that of the wealthy and privileged? How can anyone say that a disaster is judgment from God when Jesus directly challenged this idea?

Dirckx goes on to explain that God intervened in human history when Jesus came to live, die, and live again among us, beating the power of sin and death. Healing today, and the Church’s frequent demonstration that everyone is valuable and worthy of medical care, are a sign of something to come. God has heard our cries of pain and set events in motion that will result in an end to selfishness and suffering. In the meantime, there are things we can do to help relieve the suffering of others.

This book is a thorough exploration of the topic, providing enough depth to help the reader think about the potential objections to the arguments presented, but in an accessible way. Notes provide pointers for further reading and investigation.

Book coverBroken Planet: If there’s a God, then why are there natural disasters and diseases? by Sharon Dirkx (IVP, 2023), is available in paperback and e-book. 216 pages, £10.99