A Signal Of Addiction

Avoiding guilt and shame

A Reason to Drop Out?

A church dropout may be a signal of addiction. In my first pastorate, one of my laymen stopped attending worship. Because we’d had conflict, I passed it off as unhappiness with me. As a result of my assumption, I failed to follow up. My passivity not only cost the congregation a member with his immediate family, it also rewarded me with some guilt. By the time I learned he had been using alcohol, he had dropped out for good. Any effort to reach out at that point would have, I believed, only alienated him and his family more. I had already demonstrated my lack of concern.

Reasons to Follow Up on Dropouts 

One reason I should not have assumed, but followed up, is my responsibility as a pastor. Because searching for lost sheep is part of the responsibility of a good shepherd, I needed to check out my assumptions. Out of concern for my parishioner’s welfare, therefore, as soon as I detected a potential dropout pattern, I should have investigated. But at the time, someone who drops out can signal addiction. Not only pastors and religious leaders, but  friends and family also need to suspect a signal of addiction. When a friends or family member drops from social gatherings, it may be time to mobilize to help our loved one or friend. A change in pattern can signal that someone we care about has begun to lose their way in life.

What’s The First Signal of Addiction?

When someone decides to use alcohol or other drugs, often one of the first things to go is church attendance. When, like Jonah, we’re running from God’s voice, who wants to hear about God? If  we’re keeping secrets from others and ourselves, who wants to be reminded of the power of sin? When we’re deeply unhappy, who wants to face seemingly cheerful people? “How’re you doing?” we’re asked. “Fine!” we lie.

Much like a sheep can be lost due to a broken leg, someone on drugs has a physical problem. Remember that an addicted person is physiologically “hooked.” His or her body now craves the substance.

Caring Enough to Confront

The addicted person still needs to take responsibility for their behavior. It’s important, however, to remember they have altered their body chemistry. As a result, in some ways, they can’t help themselves. They may need a specialist in interventions to mobilize family and friends.  The coach supports and helps the caring family confront the addicted. The interventionist will also have an out available, a space at a treatment facility and a plane ticket waiting for an immediate, “Yes, I’ll go!”

Do you have a friend or loved one with an addiction? What have you done to help them? What will you do? Do you have and addiction? What will you do to help yourself?

[ For Reasons to enter Recovery, see https://www.psycom.net/addiction-recovery-reasons-to-recover-in-2018/. For another story of Recovery read my blogs:  https://www.gordongrose.com/sarah-hepolas-alcohol-recovery-story-i-blackout/; https://www.gordongrose.com/sarah-hepolas-alcohol-recovery-story-ii-recovery/; https://www.gordongrose.com/sarah-hepolas-alcohol-recovery-iii-lessons/ Image: Public Domain]

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Recovering From Spiritual Depression

Recovering From Spiritual Burnout

Our Frayed Spiritual Nerve

Spiritual Depression

Some may be surprised to learn that spiritual leaders experience spiritual depression, or what we call “burnout.” After a period of faithful leadership, for example, these pastors and other leaders report they “hit a brick wall.” What causes such a failure in persistence, not to mention exhibiting a poor example for the people they lead? Bill Gaultiere of The Soul Shepherding Institute recently published some statistics to help answer these and other questions: “Why aren’t these pastors overflowing with the love, joy and peace of the Lord in their lives, families and ministries? What is the cause of their emotional problems and moral failures?” A major factor, he finds, is overwhelming ministry stress:

  • 75% of pastors surveyed report feeling “extremely stressed” or “highly stressed.”
  • 90% work between 55 to 75 hours per week
  • 90% report feeling fatigued and worn out every week
  • 91% report having experienced some form of burnout in ministry
  • 18% report they feel “fried to a crisp right now”

What is Spiritual Depression?

Spiritual depression refers to depression related to a person’s relationship with God. Although any believer may experience spiritual depression, as we see in the above statistics, spiritual leaders are also susceptible. Spiritual leaders need a spiritual way to recover. How the Lord helps Elijah recover from his depression (I Kings 19) shows how God treated His servant in depression. The account also serves as a model for how we also might help someone in spiritual depression or in any depression.

Immediately after he faces down Jezebel’s pagan priests, calls down fire on a water-soaked altar in a miracle display of the Lord’s power, Elijah executes Queen Jezebel’s false priests (I Kings 18). Jezebel’s oath of revenge, however, is swift; Elijah immediately  must flee for his life. Jezebel’s oath to hunt him down and execute him in retaliation forces his flight 50 miles from Mt. Carmel to Jezreel. Talk about stress!

On the Lam

Elijah then spends the night on the lam from Jezebel’s oath– his death sentence. From Jezreel he flees to Beersheba, another 80 miles south– as the crow flies. “No better that my dead ancestors,” Elijah says: he also wants to die. Now we can understand from Dr. Donald Hall why Elijah wants to die (See my previous blog at https://www.gordongrose.com/brain-depression/). The price on his head, in addition to physical exhaustion from his escape, elevates his stress to the max. Cortisol overload! Though understandable, Elijah’s ability to think straight suffers. So does his relationship with God.

The Lord as Model Counselor

Fortunately for Elijah and for all of us, our God demonstrates the utmost compassion. How the Lord helps Elijah recover from his depression (I Kings 19), serves as a model for healing depression, including spiritual depression.

Physical Sustenance

The Lord urges Elijah to eat. After running the 130-mile length of Palestine, from Mt. Carmel to Beersheba, Elijah is not only exhausted, but hungry. A skilled pastor, loving family member, or caring friend will also help a depressed person take steps similar to those the Lord helped Elijah take. Our first lesson: Ensure the depressed person is eating and sleeping normally. After he sees to Elijah’s physical needs, the Lord takes some specific steps to help him address his plight.

Open Questions

After The Lord attends to Elijah’s physical needs, he twice asks the gentle question: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (vv. 9, 13)  Beyond the obvious prompting of Elijah to talk, the Lord’s focus is on how Elijah came to be in this present place. Elijah’s response reveals how he also came to be in his present state. He feels desperate, full of self-pity. Elijah talks, the Lord listens.  A depressed person needs someone to listen. A good friend listens a lot, especially at the beginning. A good friend also helps the depressed person reveal how the immediate problem developed.

Elijah goes over and over the same story of how bad he has it (vv. 10, 14). Before he will heed the Lord’s (or anyone else’s) advice, Elijah has to hear how he sounds–to himself. Our depressed friend may need to hear themselves talk as well. Notice the lack of guilt and shame in the Lord’s questions. “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (vv. 9, 13) the Lord asks. Each response provides the Lord an opportunity to reassure his servant.

Gentle Reassurance

Too often we rush to reassure someone in depression too quickly, without making realistic connection with their lives. As he counsels Elijah, however, the Lord demonstrates extreme patience. Only after hearing Elijah out, does the Lord provide reassurance that is believable for Elijah. Those qualities might well also guide us as we listen to our friend or family member discuss their depression.

  1. After the first “pity me!” (v. 10) the Lord reassures Elijah of his presence. God exists not in the wind, earthquake, or fire, but in the “still small voice.”  Even in depression, loneliness, and self-pity, God is still with us.
  1. After the second “Pity me!” (v. 14), the Lord reassures Elijah of others’ support: Hazael, Jehu, and Elisha. Oh, and did I mention “7000 in Israel–all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal?” (v. 18) People under extreme stress need our support.
  1. Then, He reassures Elijah that he has  important work to do: anoint those three others to carry on the work he began. Depression clouds our perspective: we are still important to God and to other people.

What We Learn From Elijah

Through Elijah’s encounter with the Lord at his greatest moment of despair, we learn that God’s spiritual leaders are also subject to depression. We also learn that God cares about his servants, enough to ask good questions, to listen, and to provide for our physical as well as spiritual needs. We also learn that we have more support than we realize. Just take the time to find it. Finally, we learn that our lives are important to the Lord. He has important work for us to do.

How have you experienced the despair of spiritual depression? Where was God in your experience? How did you resolve your dilemma?

[Resources: https://www.soulshepherding.org/pastors-under-stress/ Photo: deviant art.com No copyright infringement intended]

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What Happens To Our Brain In Depression?

Do I want to live?

Depressed Teen

A Teen Brain in Depression

What happens to our brain in depression? Pastor Johnson’s teen daughter became so depressed he brought her to Christian psychiatrist Donald Hall. Her softball teammates had “betrayed” her, she believed for example, an ex-boyfriend was “stalking” her, and, overwhelmed, she collapsed with thoughts of suicide.

In Breaking Through Depression, Hall puts his finger on brain changes in depression: “Like water cascading down a series of ledges,” he writes, “the chemicals that come with stress move to deeper and deeper levels of the brain on the way to depression. What starts as worries related to normal life challenges can lead to unhealthy levels of stress hormones and to brain cell injury. As large groups of cells become injured, chemical imbalances develop in the mood-control regions of the brain.”  Suicidal thoughts alert us to refer our loved ones, friends and ourselves for a medical evaluation.

Five years after beginning treatment with Dr. Hall, Pastor Johnson’s daughter no longer thinks about suicide. In fact, she is beginning a family of her own.

John’s “Burned Out” Brain

“Something chemical was going on,” John said, “adrenaline or something… it was out of my control.” Although chronically depressed, after he recovered from feeling “burned out” this time, he reported his sensation just prior to his depressive episode to Dr. Donald Hall. John’s body had signaled a need for help. John described the physical sensation of too much stress to Dr. Hall.

Under stress our brain changes. With normal levels of stress, for example, we perform well: nail a job interview, pass a test, weather a conflict. When stress persists over longer periods, however, high levels of the hormone cortisol begin to affect us. Headaches, ulcers, and neck pain can indicate that we live with too much stress. With raised levels of cortisol in our blood and in the fluid which surrounds our brain, our brain’s system of messaging breaks down. Some delicate brain cell branches break off; others die. As a result, some areas of our brain cannot communicate with other areas. That, in turn, reduces the amount of serotonin, a hormone which promotes a sense of well-being. Losing serotonin increases our risk of depression.

The Dangerous Cascade

Dr. Hall describes how the dangerous cascade works in which cortisol can create problems for our brain cells: cell branches break – that reduces serotonin – that blocks cell growth – cells die. These changes can also create changes in our personality: we feel agitated, excited (manic, over the top), enraged, depressed, and experience suicidal thoughts. Unlike most people, when John felt “something chemical going on,” he recognized a clue to brain cell injury and depression.

If you experience changes in your mood (feelings), actions, or thoughts (e.g., of death or dying), it may be time to consult your doctor, counselor, or psychiatrist. If you have consulted any of these professionals, what have you discovered? Have you or someone you know ever thought about or attempted suicide? What was the outcome?

More from Dr. Hall next week. See Breaking Through Depression: A Biblical and Medical Approach to Emotional Wholeness. Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2009, pp. 36, 38-40. For more information on suicide prevention, see https://www.gordongrose.com/preventing-suicide/. Photo: pxhere.com. No copyright infringement is intended.

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Remember Sandra Parks

Gun violence victim Sandra Parks“Mom, I’m shot!”–Sandra Parks

Remember Sandra Parks. One of the more recent tragic episodes in gun violence highlights inner-city crime with this heart-breaking story. Just this past week, for example,  sitting in her home in Milwaukie, Wisconsin, a stray bullet took Sandra’s life.  As a 6th grader Sandra penned an essay in a city-wide school competition. The annual contest honors the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Beside her tragic death, what makes Sandra noteworthy: She received 3rd place for her essay on gun violence!

Remember Sandra Parks for the tragic irony of her death. In an effort to keep the memory of Dr. King alive, Sandra challenged her generation to uphold his goal: we shall overcome. Sandra wanted to see faith and hope for a better tomorrow. But, she admitted, she fails to see it. Instead, she sees “examples of chaos almost every day” and “little children” who become victims of “senseless gun violence.”

Two Truths

Remember Sandra Parks for her two truths:

1. We must care about each other. We can do this, she says, through empathy, reducing nasty comments, and loving ourselves and those around us.

2. We have to have purpose which she saw as education, the means to making the world a better place. “We will become the next President, law enforcement officers, teachers, doctors, lawyers, and law makers.” Therefore, she concludes “it is our responsibility as future leaders.”

“I miss her a lot,” says her mother. “I can’t go anywhere without crying.

Cold Facts

How did this happen? we wonder. How could it? One man was charged with several counts. But cold facts don’t matter. What counts is remembering Sandra’s young life and her effort to make a difference in reducing gun violence.

Sandra deserves our attention and our memory, even our grief, both for herself and as representative of the many young people whose lives are lost each year to gun violence. A Go-Fund-Me account exists to help the family with funeral expenses.

How To Remember Sandra Parks

  1. Read Sandra’s 6th grade essay: “Our Truth”
  2. Pray for Sandra’s mother and family for God to comfort
  3. Donate to Sandra’s Go-Fund-Me Account.
Sandra Park's Essay

Sandra Parks’ Essay

[Source: https://www.foxnews.com/us/teen-who-wrote-award-winning-essay-on-gun-violence-was-shot-and-killed-by-stray-bullet]

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Terror In God’s Name II

Stern explains why terrorists kill in God's name

Review Continued: Terror In The Name Of God: Why Religious Militants Kill, Jessica Stern, NY: Harper Collins ECCO, 2003. For the first installment of this review, see https://www.gordongrose.com/why-terrorists-kill-gods-name/

Why Do Terrorists Kill in God’s Name?

Michael Bray, pastor of the Reformed Lutheran Church near his home in Bowie, MD, explains why terrorists kill in God’s name. Stern asked Bray if Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount doesn’t supersede teaching on violent retribution in the Old Testament. “Christians tend to be opposed to violence,” Bray acknowledged. “Some oppose capital punishment,” he continued. “But there is nothing in the Scripture to support this view. Violence is amoral—its moral content is determined on the purpose of the violent act…There has been a progression of understanding, but there is still judgment of sin. The grace of God was manifested in his sending His Son to earth. But God did not change His standards.” (p. 162)

Bray seems to say he is God’s instrument to judge sin. I would then challenge Bray with St. Paul’s Old Testament quotation, “Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord, I will repay.” (See Romans 12:17-21) But, as with any cultist, he likely will have another rationalization.

Organizational Structures

At one extreme some terrorist groups lack organization. Here, the leader inspires lone-wolf attacks. At the other end of the spectrum stands Al Qaeda. “The Ultimate Organization,” Stern calls them. With their Networks, Franchises, and Freelancers (Chapter Nine), they show great recruitment, training, and deployment. Stern, however, expresses one regret. “It’s too bad that the terrorists’ revelations, including about the organization’s vast businesses holdings, its detailed planning of operations, its emplacements of sleepers, and its attempts to acquire weapons of mass destruction, didn’t receive more attention.” (p. 237) We continue to ignore Al Qaeda at our peril.

Common Motivation

In her final chapter on why tourists kill in God’s name, Stern provides her summary conclusions and policy recommendations. “As a result of my interviews,” she says, “I have come to see that apocalyptic violence intended to ‘cleanse’ the world of ‘impurities’ can create a transcendent state. All the terrorist groups examined in this book believe—or at least started out believing—that they are creating a more perfect world…purifying [it]…of injustice, cruelty, and all that is inhuman…all of them describe themselves as responding to a spiritual calling, and many report a kind of spiritual high or addiction related to its fulfillment.” (p. 281)

Muslim Vulnerability

Stern singles out the Muslim world as particularly vulnerable to terrorism. She mentions the United States’ support for Israel. Also, Middle Eastern regimes successfully suppress terrorism within their borders. But they ignore terrorist organizations as they shift focus outside, to more vulnerable targets. Egypt successfully shut down Egyptian Islamic Jihad, for example, members of which are exceptionally well-trained. But the group then shifted its target from its “near enemy” to its “far enemy”—the United States and the West. (p. 286)

Muslim militants, humiliated by the “axis of envy,” the result of our economic and military might, globalization, and the New World Order, also respond to our hypocrisy, perceived and real, in our dealings with Middle Eastern nations. Also, allowing failed states, such as Afghanistan and several Latin American countries, to continue, creates a safe haven “for a variety of terrorist groups.” (p. 294)

Terrorism: Ancient As Well as Modern

Terrorism is as ancient as it is modern. National policies lead one tribe or nation to conquer another to enslave their neighbors. The ancient story of Job, in addition to natural disasters, identifies two unprovoked attacks on Job’s holdings and murder of his servants, requiring of him a lengthy road to recovery. (See my Tragedy Transformed: How Job’s Recovery Can Provide Hope for Yours, 2015The violence which befall terrorists’ victims creates tragedy in personal, family and national life now as it did then.

For anyone interested to learn how terrorists today think, organize, and how they can be thwarted, read Jessica Stern’s Terror In The Name of God.

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Why Terrorists Kill In God’s Name

Review: Terror In The Name Of God: Why Religious Militants Kill, Jessica Stern, NY: Harper Collins ECCO, 2003. Photo: Flickr.com

Why Do Terrorists Kill in God’s Name?

Although published over 15 years ago, Stern’s work on why terrorists kill in God’s name provides a unique window into the motivation and organization of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim militants. They all believe that their killing of their enemies (in their minds, God’s enemies) rids the world of evil. Stern’s method: empathize with the terrorist during interviews but short of sympathy toward their cause.

Stern taught “Terrorism” at Harvard University from 1999-2015. She conducted first-hand research into the motivations and the organizational patterns of terrorist networks. That research resulted in this book. She has since published other important works on this subject of compelling interest. Currently she teaches at the Fredrick S. Pardee School for Global Studies at Boston University.

Why Do Terrorists Kill? – Grievances

Terrorists derive justification for killing in God’s name from a number of grievances.  Leaders exploit feelings of alienation and humiliation, for example, to create their warriors. Demographic shifts, the selective reading of history, and territorial disputes (e.g., Kashmir) also contribute. What do terrorists achieve? They receive material, emotional, and spiritual benefits, she reports. When a small group of warriors gives money or take up arms, others in the group benefit from this payment of a “tax.”

Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a mastermind of the September 11 attacks, explains this idea of “tax.” “It is imperative to pay a price for Heaven, for the commodity of Allah is dear, very dear. It is not acquired through rest, but [rather] blood and torn-off limbs must be the price.” He reminds Muslims that the moral “obligation of Jihad” is as important as prayer and the giving of alms. He also warns Muslims that “painful and harsh” punishment awaits those who neglect to pay their “taxes” by failure to wage jihad. (p. 4)

Reward and Threat

Leaders motivate followers through the promise of heavenly reward or the threat of heavenly retribution. “All the terrorists discussed in Part 1,” says Stern, “claim to be motivated by religious principles, but most pursue a mixture of spiritual and political goals.” (p. 6)  The Covenant, the Sword, and the Arm of the Lord (Christian) and the Jewish Underground seek eternal, spiritual goals or aim to bring in the Endtimes predicted in Scripture. Others, like Hamas, seek political power to control Israel.  Some indigenous Indonesians created intense religious violence in their aim to take control of their region’s natural resources.

Part 2 explores how leaders run successful holy war operations. Inspirational leaders motivate lone-wolf avengers.  Some groups organize loosely, while others, like Al Qaeda, are highly organized and disciplined. Leaders inspire leaderless-resistance individuals to take individual action, without communicating their plans to others. Terrorist ideologies and personal grievances motivate lone-wolf avengers, such as those who kill abortion doctors in the name of Pro-Life. Using euphemisms, they call these “defensive actions” against “baby butcheries,” i.e., killing doctors, their staff, and bombing abortion clinics.

Next Week: Part 2: How Terrorists Organize, continued.



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Does The World Make Sense? II

Does world make sense?Given our experience with unjustified suffering, does the world make sense? Can we find a rational explanation for our suffering, or must we live with despair? Moral philosopher Susan Neiman raises the question we all struggle with. The Book of Job, she finds, maintains all three assertions put forth by Epicurus. (See previous blog) Epicurus asked,”If God is omnipotent and benevolent, how does Evil exist?”

Searching For An Answer

Job’s friends move from a position of compassion in Chapter 2 to argument to stating their opinions in Chapters 4-5. But they begin attacking Job in Chapter 15. Because God is omnipotent and benevolent, they insist, Job’s suffering derives from his sin. Although they sacrifice understanding Job’s experience, their world is rational. Neiman notes the similarity between Eliphaz’s reply to Job and the Epilogue. “When disaster strikes [God] will rescue you…”, Eliphaz promised. “You will see your family multiply, your children flourish like grass. You will die at the height of your powers and be gathered liken ripe grain.”

How does The Lord Answer?

If the Friends can’t provide Job an answer, what about the Voice from the Whirlwind? God speaks from a tornado in Chapters 38-41. Is this an effort to get Job to shut up!? He is only mortal, after all. What right does he have to question God? Neiman prefers a different slant: “If grave justice (sic) occurs, is there no order/meaning/ reason in the world? Then God’s answer can be read as saying…You want order, I’ll show you order. ” (italics hers)

Neiman understands that the first part of God’s answer (on Creation/animal life, Chapters 38-39) may well satisfy Job. But then she asks about the elaborate description of chaos monsters in Chapters 40-41. God’s creation includes the chaotic? But, Neiman asserts, “Job is not simply asking for evidence of order in the world, he is asking for evidence of moral order.” This, in fact, God denies Job. Perhaps Job (and all of us) must live in a world with unjust suffering and with uncertainty about moral order. The animal flees to escape, or succumbs as food for the predator. Only humans bother about moral order.

Does The World Make Sense?

Although Neiman does not say it, perhaps this is part of what makes us human. We have self-consciousness, the ability to reflect, and to communicate abstract, complex thoughts. In theological terms, what makes us human is our relationship with God: we are created in His image, the creature who names the animals, i.e., has dominion over them. Neiman calls attention to the Lord’s assertion that Job has rightly spoken, as against the Friends–three times. But she also questions the meaning of the Lord’s question to Job, “Am I wrong because you are right?”

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)

This question Neiman answers by discussing Immanuel Kant’s essay, “On the Impossibility of All Future Attempts at Theodicy.” According to Kant, towering thinker over all of philosophy, the friends represent “pure reason,” free of experience. The Voice from the Whirlwind provides a clear-eyed view of reality. It is Job, then, who represents the need to bring the two together. She concludes, “On this reading, God himself asserts the need for human moral vigilance, and action: ‘Am I wrong because you are right?'” Neiman concludes her lengthy essay with these words: “Viewing Job’s claim as the claim that reality should become reasonable is one way of seeing how both God, and Job, could speak the truth; the one a truth about the way the world is; the other a truth about the way it should be. It is this that we call moral clarity, when we have the good sense or good fortune to achieve it.”

Shortcomings to Neiman’s Analysis

We owe Susan Neiman a debt of gratitude for her philosophical writings and for this essay on Job, “Does the world make sense?” Her thinking represents the best philosophy, and perhaps Judaism, can provide in an attempt to “solve” our problem of evil. That this problem is universal is reflected in not only the formulation of Epicurus in Greek life, but also in Indian Buddhism, and, of course in Hebrew thought. But Neiman’s analysis has some flaws.

  1.  Neiman in this essay quotes only very limited thoughts from Eliphaz. Chapters 4-5 contain a steady stream of advice, personal experience, cursing of the wicked, observation, promises, assertion and commands. Eliphaz also represents only the first speaker of the three. Neiman is perceptive to note the similarity between one of Eliphaz’s thoughts and the Epilogue, but only one of Job’s Friends’ many thoughts.
  2. Neiman entertains what she calls “a Jewish tradition that denies God’s omnipotence.” For example in her concluding statement, she says, “Abandoning traditional claims of divine omnipotence will be problematic for many, but that many be what facing reality requires.” In the end, then, Neiman also eliminates one of the three basic assertions of the Problem of Evil. This weakens her tribute to the Book of Job for not doing so. Neither the Friends nor Job question God’s omnipotence. God, it seems, created a world of chaos as well as order for Job and for all of us to deal with.
  3. A third critique involves Neiman’s disregard for the religious dimension of the book. Job serves God with scrupulous righteousness only to experience loss of nearly everything. Job’s quarrel with God permeates the book. It is not to be avoided, or interpreted as simply representing something else (e.g., reality). This God is a Person, with a name (the Lord) who hears, responds to, and who challenges Job’s perspective. What helps Job survive is that this God of awesome majesty speaks with him to answer him, and provides him a unique perspective on questions we all ask.                                                                                                                                                            [Source: Does The World Make Sense? A Philosophical Reading of the Book of Job http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2014/09/03/4080571.htm]
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Does The World Make Sense?

When we suffer unjustly, does the world make sense? In an important analysis of the Book of Job, noted moral philosopher Susan Neiman, raises this question. She approaches the Book of Job from the standpoint of philosophy, rather than religion. “The experience of inexplicable suffering and basest injustice,” she writes, “forces us to ask whether our lives have meaning, or whether human existence may be deeply incomprehensible.” In other words, if philosophy seeks to show that the world is “or can be made rational,” then “it must address the presence of evil.”  Although I approach Job from the perspective of religious faith–how does a believer maintain trust in a personal, loving God in the face of unexplained suffering–Neiman’s analysis deserves a wide reading. As a philosopher, she exhibits astute thinking.

This issue is not academic or merely philosophical. In fact, it is intensely personal for millions of people who suffer from war, natural disaster, disease, and accident. It is also intensely personal for me. Members of my family have endured over 30 years of chronic illness and medical misinformation.

Does The World Make Sense With Evil?

First formulated by the Greek philosopher Epicurus (341-270 BCE), Neiman reminds us of the classic statement of the problem of evil:

1. God exists, and is omnipotent.                                                                                                       2. God exists, and is benevolent.                                                                                                        3. Evil exists.

On the one hand, many reject the notion of the existence of a Supreme Being because of the presence of evil. On the other hand, some like the philosopher Leibnitz (1646-1716), deny the presence of evil. Neiman, however, praises the Book of Job: “matchless because it is unwilling to make the problem easier by dropping any of these claims, and makes us feel the force of all of them.”

The Problem of Meaning

Neiman’s lengthy summary of the argument of the Book of Job grapples with the issue. She discusses how different is the book’s body (of dialogues and monologues) from the Introduction and Epilogue (Chapters 1-2, 42): Does a “different” Job (submissive, pious vs. uncontrollable rage) and a “different” God (who makes a petty wager with the Devil vs. Master of Creation) lead us to conclude we have different authors? she asks. In the end, however, she treats the book, as we find it, as a unity.

Neiman summarizes much historical commentary on the book of Job. “A brief survey of the immense literature on Job,” she writes, “reveals that Job’s world is much closer to ours than the world of intervening centuries; for every earlier interpretation sought to deny some piece of that picture we find undeniable.” Some Medieval texts leave out passages in which Job expresses rage. Others viewed Job as the problem for Judaism which Jesus solved, for example. Judaism failed to develop an adequate view of the afterlife.

Midrashim – Jewish commentary on problem Scriptures

Speaking of her fellow-Jews, Neiman states, “Jews don’t cut texts, we write more of them.” She explains various Midrashim (texts written to explain problematic passages of Scripture) about Job. In one, God punishes Job because Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, believed the Jews should be liberated from Egypt, Pharaoh believed they should be annihilated, but Job remained silent, i.e., undecided and neutral. Thus, she says, God punished him. In the other Midrash, Job, occupying Satan’s attention, suffers so Israel can escape. Job’s suffering serves a higher purpose.

Does The World Make Sense?

These interpretations assume: “there must be reason in the world, or Creation itself is unbearable.” I would say, “human life” is unbearable. What modern readers focus on, however, is the “apparent and absolute meaninglessness of Job’s rage.” A careful reading of Chapter 3 reveals Job’s desire to obliterate his birth, at least, and, possibly, reverse the order of Creation.

But Job moves beyond his own suffering to address the unjustified suffering of others. Neiman notes that “the wicked prosper, secure in their houses; not even their cows miscarry, and their grandchildren play like lambs.” The poor, on the other hand, “shiver, picking up scraps for their children, and breaking their backs for the rich.” Job’s ability to move from his suffering to that of others, says, Neiman, gives his speech such power.

Modern Critique

A modern critique of Job points out that Job bases his outrage on “misguided assumptions about reward and punishment.” Although this statement is true, reality, Neiman says, is more complicated. It may be that the origin of Job’s rage (and ours) comes from such notions, but that does not invalidate Job’s argument. Many thinking theists (including Job) do not move from a naive notion of God as a rewarding father. Even when Job’s friends speak in such terms, at other times they admit God’s ways are mysterious.

In addition, Neiman says in response to the modern critique, “You do not need to be a theist to expect justice from the world.” Just because we understand the reason for a particular belief  does not invalidate the truth of that belief. Citing philosopher Immanuel Kant, she reminds us that reason “has a need to find, or create, a connection between happiness and virtue.” This need forms the basis for “our despair when innocent people suffer, our indignation when wicked people flourish” and “presuppose reason’s need to find a connection between virtue and happiness.”

Next week: The Answer

[Source: Does The World Make Sense? A Philosophical Reading of the Book of Job http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2014/09/03/4080571.htm]




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“Yet Will I Trust In Him” What Does Job 13:15 Mean? III

[The following first appeared in the September 2018 issue of Christianity Today: https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2018/september/job-13-15-though-he-slay-me-translation-original.html]

Job 13:15 Commentary on Context

If we’re still uncertain how to translate Job 13:15, the context can help us. Below are two versions of 13:14-15. The first translation follows the Spoken, the second the Written.


Be silent before me so that I may speak; Then let come on me what may.                             Why should I take my flesh in my teeth, and put my life in my hands?                                     Though He slay me, I will hope in Him. Nevertheless I will argue my ways before Him (NASB).


Keep quiet; I will have my say; Let what may come upon me.How long! I will take my flesh in my teeth; I will take my life in my hands. He may well slay me; I may have no hope; Yet I will argue my case before Him (JPS).

Which translation better fits the context? I believe it’s the JPS. Job silences his colleagues, determines to take his life into his own hands by daring to bring (legal) charges (“my case”) against the Almighty. Anticipating the sentence of death for his challenge, Job acknowledges God may well slay him, and that he may have no hope. He determines, nevertheless, to pursue his case to God face-to-face.

Choosing the positive nuance of “hope” or “trust,” as some English translators do, introduces an idea alien to the flow of Job’s argument. In fact, the written Hebrew text states, “I have nohope”! Most evangelical commentaries support this reading. Gerald Wilson, for example, in his Job(New International Biblical Commentary, 2007) discusses both readings, after which he concludes: “Rather than expressing monumental faith, Job is instead indicating just how hopeless his circumstances really are.” David J. A. Clines, who wrote a three-volume commentary on Job (Job 1-20, Word Biblical Commentary, 1989) states, “The traditional translation of AV [Authorized Version], ‘Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him,’ must regretfully be set aside as out of harmony with the context.” In his determination to confront the Almighty with the injustice of his suffering, therefore, Job accepts the risk of death.

Job 13:15: Commentary in the Book of Job as a Whole

How does translating 13:15 “He will surely slay me; I have no hope” fit the context of the book as a whole? In chapters 4–27 of Job, he gradually develops a lawsuit to arraign the God of justice over his unjust suffering. Then, in chapters 29–31, Job presents his defense to the Almighty. After Elihu speaks, God finally responds, confronting Job with his awesome presence and unleashing a barrage of unanswerable questions (chapters 38–40).

Now seeing his case from God’s perspective, Job silences himself (40:4). He then must withstand God’s withering critique: “Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself?” (40:8). Job finally acknowledges God as master of all creation, including humanly uncontrollable chaos (the “Behemoth,” or “Leviathan,” mentioned in chapters 40–41). After Job acknowledges his ignorance of God’s perspective, he withdraws his case (42:1–6).

Throughout Job’s struggle, God’s absence frustrates him (23:3–9). Yet God waits patiently before responding. And, although God’s answer was not what Job expected, God demonstrates respect for his servant: He honors Job with his presence, he speaks personally to him (38:1; 40:1), and he hears Job’s complaint (40:2). God, in fact, later commends Job for his honest words. “I am angry with you [Eliphaz] and your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has” (42:7).

Why Misreading 13:15 Matters

Misreading Job 13:15, therefore, involves more than an academic dispute. It minimizes Job’s anguish and lessens his fierce determination to bring his case to God. It hinders us from expressing the anguish we feel when confronted by hardship and tragedy. As a result, it reduces the power of the book to help the sufferer. Job’s words give us voice when we suffer intensely, yet dare not express how we feel. If Job protests what appears as injustice from God, whom he trusts to be just, should we hold back our tears, cries, or grief over our tragedies? Can we not, like Job, worship God both as master of creation and as the one to whom we can express our deepest hurts?

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Yet Will I Trust In Him: What Does Job 13:15 Mean? II

[The following first appeared in the September 2018 issue of Christianity Today: https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2018/september/job-13-15-though-he-slay-me-translation-original.html]

In my last blog, I discussed Job’s protest. In this commentary on Job 13:15, I explain  how the different translations came about.

Commentary on Job 13:15: Translations 

Much of the difficulty arises from our dependence on scholars who translate the text of Job into English. Let’s look at how some of the modern translations deal with Job 13:15. We already know the familiar King James Version (KJV) reading: “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him.” The New International Version (NIV) translates, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him; I will surely defend my ways to his face.” This NIV rendering agrees with the KJV and with our popular remembering of Job’s words. On that same page, however, the NIV footnote reads, “Or, He will surely slay me; I have no hope–/yet I will.” Note that the footnote reads opposite of the text translation: “I will hope in him” vs. “I have no hope.” How could the same Hebrew words be translated to mean the opposite of one another?

The Footnote

Other versions, however, choose the footnoted reading. The Revised Standard Version (RSV), for example, reads: “Behold he will slay me; I have no hope; yet I will defend my ways to his face.” The translation published by the Jewish Publication Society of America (JPS) renders the verse, “He may well slay me; I have no hope; Yet I will argue my case before Him.” And the New English Bible (NEB) Oxford Study Edition reads, “If he would slay me, I should not hesitate; I should still argue my case to his face.” Their study note on v. 15 reads,  “An older (and traditional) translation incorrectly renders the verse as expressive of unflagging trust in God: ‘Though he slay me, I shall wait for him.’”Some translations translate one way, but others with the opposite meaning. How do we account for the difference? And how do we decide which is correct?

The Text

How we translate Job 13:15 centers on whether we read with what is written, (called in Hebrew the Kethiv, “Written”), or we read with what is spoken, (called in Hebrew the Qere, “Spoken”). Describing the scribal process of hand copying sacred manuscripts, J. Weingreen, author of a Hebrew grammar states, “corrections of recognized errors are retained in the text…due to the extreme reverence felt [for the text] and acts as a safeguard against tampering with it.”

But the scribes may “speak” not only for errors but also for an objectionable written word. If such a word conveys “an offensive or indelicate meaning,” though written in the text (Kethiv), [it] is “often replaced in reading (Qere, footnote) by another word—usually a euphemistic one.”Although not a mistake, he provides an example of substituting the spoken for the written text in the divine name, YHWH. Too sacred to speak, when encountered in written text, the reader speaks ‘Adonai(Lord). As we have seen, KJV and NIV translations of 13:15 generally follow what is spoken. The NEB translates “hesitate” instead of “hope,” but nevertheless chooses the written over the spoken by retaining the “not.”

“A Mistake”?

Was the written text a “mistake,” or an infelicitous, offensive, or indelicate word? The scribe may have encountered Job’s vehement protest, allowed the text to stand, but added a note for the reader to say (Qere) “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” to avoid Job’s hopelessness. If so, that could have led some modern translators to also soften the impact of the text. As a result, they reverse the meaning of the written text.

[My next blog examines the context of this verse within Chapter 13 and within the book as a whole.]


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