When Heaven Is Silent by Ronald Dunn

When Heaven Is Silent is a poignant book written by Pastor Dunn in the wake of his son’s suicide. Writing many years after his son’s death (and wisely so), Dunn communicates that he has known the full force of great loss, shattered dreams and the depression that often accompanies such an experience. He writes with compassion, humor and depth about a common struggle shared by many people, Christians not excluded.

At his best, Dunn draws from Scriptures such as Job and the Psalms to show that depression has been a regular visitor even to the most godly. Dunn details many causes for depression and offers insight for dealing with it. What he does not offer are easy solutions. Pain, disappointment, sin, false expectations, loss and suffering have all been ordained by God. As Augustine said, “God judged it better to bring good out of evil than to suffer no evil to exist” (p. 181). And, since we live in a corrupt and painful world, we can expect depression, at least at times, to raise its ugly head. Depression, then, is a force to be dealt with to the glory of God, not an emotion to be dispensed with altogether. Depression can be managed and can even prove beneficial, but in many lives it will be a frequent guest. In all of this Dunn’s book is extremely helpful.

There are a couple of areas, however, in which I take exception to Dunn. First, he leans strongly toward the medical model, as opposed to the biblical model. Dunn’s manic depressive son was diagnosed as bipolar and, therefore, mentally ill and “had no more control over his death than a terminal cancel patient” (pp. 60ff, 140). While I agree that there may be many physical causes behind depression, mental illness as described by Dunn is far from proven. How hopeless a reader diagnosed with the same condition might feel if he accepted physiology’s hypothesis on this subject.

Secondly, I was disturbed by some of Dunn’s references. He quoted from a number of mystics: Richard Foster (p. 125), St. John of the Cross (p. 125), Teilhard de Charden (p. 114) and Henri Nouwen (p. 203). These men, along with liberal church historian Martin Marty (p. 128), have done much to undermine the faith and are surprising entries in a book that for the most part is biblically sound.

If the reader can ignore these out-of-place quotes and not accept at face value Dunn’s medical model of mental illness, they will find When Heaven Is Silent an excellent addition to the literature on the subject of depression.

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