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.

Spoken:

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).

Written:

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

[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]

We treasure the Book of Job, in fact, because Job protests. Without Job’s honesty, we’d lack a biblical voice for our disillusionment. Like Job’s colleagues, we often believe that if we’re faithful to God, he will protect us against misfortune. And, as a rule of thumb, that’s generally true. Psalm 91, for example, affirms this as does Deuteronomy, the historical books, and the prophets. But we also know that’s not always true. Job was written to help God’s faithful servants, in Bible times and today, as they struggle with the exceptions.

“Oh, Job is so powerful!” said a man I had just met. We had found common ground discussing the congregations where we worshiped. After sharing what we did for work, I told him I had written a book on Job, and he was excited to talk to me about Job’s importance to him: “After all he suffered, Job says, ‘Though he slay me, yet will I trust him.’ ”

Others have quoted those well-beloved words to me to demonstrate that, in spite of severe losses, Job continues to trust God. A longtime friend and professional colleague once told me that what he loved about Job was that very statement. Unfortunately the common translation of that verse, Job 13:15, misrepresents Job.

I did not consider it appropriate to challenge these men in either situation, but I cringe when people cite those words from Job. They reflect a mistranslation of Job’s words that has led some to misunderstand the entire book.

Challenging long-held ideas about a well-beloved verse can make believers feel uneasy or like Scripture itself is under attack. But every Christian should want to know the truth of Scripture. Even if it disturbs us, knowing what Job says should engage us all. A careful look at the wording will show why this is important, how various Bible versions translate the text, and how this text fits into its context to give a new appreciation for the full message of Job.

Job’s Protest

Contrary to how many people remember the Book of Job, throughout most of the book, Job articulates a strong protest to God against his undeserved suffering. In chapter 3, for example, in defiance of God’s gift of life and in deep depression, Job seeks the peace of death over the suffering of his life. His speech triggers vehement responses from Job’s three wisdom colleagues. In speeches defending his innocence to them (affirmed earlier, once by the narrator and twice by God, in verses 1:1, 1:8, and 2:3), Job complains bitterly about the unfairness of his experience.

At first in reply to his colleagues, Job focuses on his miserable life and wishes God would crush him. In fact, he says, God has already begun. Weightier than the sands of the sea, Job says of his suffering, for which he holds God responsible: “The arrows of the Almighty are in me, my spirit drinks in their poison; God’s terrors are marshaled against me” (6:1–4). Job argues that it isn’t fair that he, a righteous man, should suffer catastrophic loss. He pursues God to learn the charges against him. Without just cause for such losses, God shows himself unfair.

We treasure the Book of Job, in fact, because Job protests. Without Job’s honesty, we’d lack a biblical voice for our disillusionment. Like Job’s colleagues, we often believe that if we’re faithful to God, he will protect us against misfortune. And, as a rule of thumb, that’s generally true. Psalm 91, for example, affirms this as does Deuteronomy, the historical books, and the prophets. But we also know that’s not always true. Job was written to help God’s faithful servants, in Bible times and today, as they struggle with the exceptions.

[In my next blog I discuss the different English translations and the meaning of Job 13:15]

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How Do We Transform Tragedy? Conclusion

[For the full interview recording with Pamela Q. Fernandes, see my August 17, 2018 blog.]

Pamela: Would you have any names of books that people could also can read if they want to do an additional commentary or study the book of Job?

Gordon: Let’s see. There’s a book by Habel, H-A-B-E-L in the Old Testament Library series. It’s very scholarly, but it’s also very stimulating, 1985, that’s a one-volume. But there’s another one by Wilson. It’s a little bit more popular, a major commentary by Gerald Wilson, New International Commentary, based on the New International Version of the Bible. That would be good. It was Habel’s book that I read that later just turned me on to the book of Job and reawakened my love for it. There’s also a three-volume series of books by David Clines, which is, as you can imagine very technical, as Habel’s is as well. And then the other book that affected me and stimulated me by Jack Kahn, K-A-H-N. He wrote, “Job’s Illness: Loss, Grief, and Integration. A Psychological Interpretation.” That’s the book that gave me the idea of a progression or a transformation, or the change in Job. Usually if you look at the book it’s all talking, without seeing Job’s movement through it all. I’ll give you one good example, at the beginning of Job talking with his friends, he talks about, “He,” meaning God: He, He, He. Kahn explains around, I think it’s in Chapter 9, that Job changes the person dramatically from He to You. Now, some people have interpreted this as prayers. Well, they’re not really prayers in the technical sense; they are addressed to God, but the same anger is there. And they’re not worship…anyway, that gives you an idea that Job is not static. That the process of talking with friends brings about changes within him, and leads him through these kind of negative stages which I mentioned. So those are the major books  that helped me.

Pamela: Tell us a little bit about your own book. Because I read the book and there’s so much personal stuff in it. You know, your own personal experiences, your own personal tragedies. So tell us a little bit about your book. Where people can find you if they want to contact you, what do they do?

Gordon: I had a personal motive as well, in all of this writing. And that is my son and daughter-in-law have been treating for chronic fatigue illness for over 30 years. And it’s been very tragic. They’re both highly talented people. Musically, they were both graduates of the Wheaton Conservatory of Music at college, and yet have been, as far as life is concerned, on the shelf. So I began the book with my first experience of being confronted with our daughter-in-law’s illness, which changed our son’s life and changed our lives as well. So there’s a personal motive for wanting to get their names and their story into people’s minds, so that they not be forgotten. And that their lives mean something. Juli’s father has also written a book about them. And so we’ve been able to devote our time to helping people be aware of their lives and be a witness for Christ during this time.

Yes, it’s available on, amazon.com in both paper and in eBook. Or, I have a website tragedytransformed.com which offers my book for sale. I also have a blog that I write for regularly, www.gordongrose.com, that’s my name G-O-R-D-O-N- G-R-O-S-E.com. And I deal with subjects related to the book of Job, and related to hope, addiction, recovery, hope in death and dying, and hope in mental illness. I’m on Google Plus, Gordon Grose. I’m on Facebook.

Pamela: Any last words that you have for people who are dealing with tragedies?

Gordon: Sure. When I wanted to write the book, I wrote it in a way which lays out the story of Job according to how we experience life, and I made it in a way that people can grasp because we go through these experiences and stages. It’s not exactly the way the book of Job itself is laid out. So it should appeal to people. The chapters begin with the story of somebody I interviewed, a number of people with different experiences. I have a story about a lady in Chapter 8 who lost her husband suddenly through an automobile accident, for example, who fell asleep at the wheel.

I have a story in Chapter 6 of a former mental health client, who was very, very disturbed and who gave me permission to write his story in my book. And when I preached my launch sermon at my home church, I called and invited him, and he was there. So that was very exciting. But that deals with mental illness. I have a story of a man who went through depression after he lost his wife in divorce and he lost his job the same year. He wanted to die. He tried to, he planned it, he rehearsed it, and I write what happened to him. I have a story of a natural disaster, and I have my own son and daughter-in law’s story as well, the beginning of it. Each chapter begins with a story of someone I interviewed, and then ends with self-help suggestion how we can work through these painful experiences, and in the middle, of course, I deal with Job and his similar life experience.

I hope my book will be a handbook of healing to help sufferers navigate that suffering and hope it would even accelerate their healing, their recovery and their coming out the other side of the grief. So I’m hopeful that the book will have a healing effect on people, and bring them hope and encouragement, bring them closer to a personal experience with God, if they don’t already have one. And if they do, it will draw them even closer.

Pamela: So thank you so much Gordon for spending time and talking about this.

Gordon: I welcome the response from people as they hear me, and as they perhaps are motivated to read the book for themselves.

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How Do We Transform Tragedy? Interview Part III

[For the full interview recording with Pamela Q. Fernandes, see my August 17, 2018 blog.]

Pamela: As we talk about this transformation, are there any steps to doing this transformation? Let’s say somebody is going through something really difficult, what are the steps that can take them through this transformation of their tragedy?

Gordon: Overcoming negative emotions is important. And you notice in my book, I identify Job’s depression in Chapter 3: He wants to die and he’s very angry with God. He goes through fear, he has five major images of God as hostile to him. “The arrows of the Almighty are in me…My spirit drinks their poison.” Job sees God as an archer, and his body is pierced with poisoned arrows, and his life is seeping out. So he has to go through all of this very, very negative and painful emotions and finally gets to grieve. He doesn’t grieve until Chapter 29: And that’s over half the book. With 42 Chapters, 28 divides the book in two, but Job doesn’t begin to grieve until Chapter 29. And very often that’s true with people: they feel angry. But if you notice, some people will sue the doctor because the doctor operated on their loved ones, and the loved one didn’t survive. They blame the doctor. And it’s easier to get angry and focus all of your energy on the anger toward a specific person, than actually to simply grieve and let go, and realize that your loved one has gone and you could never have done anything to change the outcome.

Grieving

To grief is very difficult, but sometimes it comes later rather than right away. And of course, all of these feelings can be mixed up. So there’s not a clear-cut, step-by-step process. I heard Elizabeth Kübler-Ross discuss her so-called, “Stages of Grief.” But she says there’s no such thing. “Publishers preferred me to put my ideas into some form which they could organize. But anger and denial and acceptance and depression are not something you bolt from one to the other and you never pull back,” she said. By overcoming negative emotions, walking through the pain and not avoiding it, we find transformation. Also, maintaining social support. People can’t do anything and yet they’re very important. Many times I have sat with a widow who lost their husband, and they poured out their heart at the funeral home or at their own home and after an hour of non-stop grieving, I have felt totally helpless. “What am I going to do to help this person?” I wonder. And they say, “Thank you so much, Pastor. I don’t know what I would have done without you.” Well, I’ve helped them by listening, caring and sitting with them for a long period of time and hearing all the pain. Everything they can think of, that’s so painful.

That takes a little practice and a little training on my part, but it’s worth it to offer that kind of listening ear if you are a person that has some empathy naturally. So decide the time and let people pour out their heart. Maintaining a spiritual life also helps. I think it’s important as a foundation towards transformation because it gives you some stability. If you read my book there’s a passage from Boethius, who lived many centuries ago, and who tried to deal with suffering. The people at that time were dealing with slavery. Each culture would attack and control, and eventually enslave the people next to them. People endured slavery, death, and plague. He wrote The Consolation of Philosophy in order to bring comfort to Christians. He likened life to a big wheel, and at the center is God. The closer we get to the center of the wheel, to the heart, the less change there is, the less circular ups and downs of life. So maintaining a healthy spiritual life is important, a buttress against the vicissitudes of life, personal discipline in reading Scripture, along with a church and small group.

Social Support

Pamela: Do you think people who have a spiritual life do better than people who don’t?

Gordon: Well, I think so. That’s kind of my own opinion. I certainly think people who go to church also receive a lot of social support because they’ve got a Bible study, they’ve got a prayer group, they’ve got a pastor, they’ve got elders, who, when they learn of your difficulties, will come and support you. So the spiritual life leads to a lot of just plain human contact and support at a time of crisis.

Pamela: Also, I wanted to ask because when I read your book, I was wondering why you picked Job. I mean, there are lots of people who’ve gone through plenty in the Bible. You’ve got Paul, and you’ve got Peter, and you’ve got Stephen, and you’ve got Jesus Himself. But why did you pick Job, of all the people that you could pick as an example of dealing with tragedy? Why did you pick him?

Why Job?

Gordon: Well, I’ve had a life-long love for the book of Job. In 1960 and 1961 I took a course at Brandeis University a Jewish school in Waltham, Massachusetts, and it got me into the book of Job. I just got so excited especially reading it for myself. Well, it lay dormant for many decades, until I gave a workshop on the book of Job at a pastor friend’s church. “You need to write a book on Job,” he said. “No, no, no, I’m not…”, I said.

And after that… Anyway, one thing led to another and I retired from my counseling  ministry at Western Psychological in order to write. And, by the way, the book took me 12 years. So from 2003 to 2015, I was engaged 5 days a week, 3 hours a day in the library putting this together. Again, my life-long love for the book of Job, a difficult book, but I wanted to make the book understandable to modern readers. The structure is complicated, with three friends, each of whom give a speech. Job responds after each speech. Then they do this three times. So it’s very complicated and it’s so easy to get lost. Each of the friends had a different perspective on Job’s suffering, although they share the one assumption that he’s done something wrong. But they also approach it in a different way.

The tone of the book is also very argumentative and people don’t like to read something in which they talk past each other, and they’re angry. Well, for all those reasons people today, I think, just avoid the book of Job. They read a little bit at the beginning and the end. I wanted to make the whole book understandable. It’s much less well-known than say Jesus, or Paul, or Peter. And we have these 42 chapters for the book of Job. So that’s a sizable amount of material that seems to me needs dealing with. And then too, it has have such a powerful, compelling life story. The story in this case  is a compelling drama, this conflict with God, “Will he or won’t he?” Is the big question in the book of Job, will Job curse God and die, like his wife wanted, and like the Satan said he would, predicted he would, “If you take it all away from him. He’ll curse you to your face.” Well, does he or doesn’t he? And the book has Job on the edge all the time. He’s just so close to doing that, and yet he never does.

And finally, the experience of meeting God, in which Job unexpectedly meets God when God decides to confront him. And Job had tried every trick, every means possible to bring God face-to-face with him, all to no avail. Then God speaks! Isn’t that the way God will work as well for us? We try our best human efforts to manipulate God and other people; we love to manipulate circumstances, to control our life, and nothing works. But when we give up and yield and surrender, then God moves in an unexpected way in our life.

So those are the reasons that it was a very personal choice on my part, but basically, because I’ve had a life-long love for the book of Job Job since 1960-1961.

 

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How Do We Transform Tragedy? Interview Part II

[Note: to hear the entire interview with Pamela Q Fernandes, see blog for August 17. In next week’s blog, I’ll publish Part III.]

Preparing to Face Tragedy

Pamela: Explain to people, how do you go about transforming a tragedy in your life, especially when you’re so upset, you’re broken down, and you can’t see the light ahead of you. You can’t see God’s grace, nothing. So how do you transform that tragedy in your life?

Gordon: There are some things that we can do, some practical things we can do to prepare ourselves. And then I’ll answer the idea of transforming. For one thing, attend funerals. Somebody in your life dies, go to their memorial service. Go to their funeral. Go to the visiting hours, if there’s visiting of the body. This is something which we tend to avoid. And we console ourselves with, “I want to remember them as they were. I don’t wanna see them dead.” But we have…and I grew up, my early days in ministry which I performed and attended many funerals. They were dead, they were in a casket in front of the church. And, yeah, it is painful, but that is something that a person can do because that’s part of life.

Visit the dying. You know somebody is critically ill, go to them in the hospital. Visit them at home. Kübler-Ross wrote a very important book on death and dying in ’60s and ’70s. And she says this, “When we care for the dying, they give us a gift.” The gift is the ability to accept your own death. So visit the dying and the critically ill. Listening to others’ pain is something that we can do, too. Ordinarily, we change the subject. Somebody starts to choke up and grieve over the loss of a loved one and we want to cheer them up. Instead, what we can do is learn to listen to their pain, and say, “Honey, just talk to me. And I’m just gonna sit here and listen.” You don’t have to raise their loved one from the dead in order to comfort them, to help them. You do need to show that you care, and that you understand what they’re going through at least. So those are some things that we can do to prepare for our own tragedies when we depend on other people to come and support us.

Transforming Tragedy: Perspective

Now, you mentioned about transforming tragedies. Tragedy usually leaves us different than when we began the experience. Some people go down into bitterness because of what’s happened. And some people blame God, it’s a major source of atheism. “If God can allow children to die of cancer, I can’t believe in that kind of a God.” So they become very bitter and irreligious and reject a God who’s worshiped because of the suffering that people go through.

On the other hand, a lot of people, after they go through suffering, are transformed into a greater trust in God. And Job was bitter for much of his book. His anger is palpable. He is just inconsolable, and the friends try and they try to reason with him and nothing works. I think Job is a good example of transformation because he comes to a new perspective on life. I mentioned earlier the struggle with control over life, and this was the import of the Lord’s message to Job at the end of the book, in which He confronts him with nature, with the clouds, with the rain, with ice, and snow, over which we have no control. He confronts Job with the animals who give birth and who die, and they are not in man’s purview. They are completely apart from human beings. They have nothing to do with the city in which we live. And yet they live and they die. Learning that perspective, you know, we are divinely created but we’re also human and part of the natural world as well.

And then of course, there were the two huge chaos monsters over which Job has no control. Human beings have no control of Behemoth and Leviathan. Reading Job with understanding can help to transform us through perspective that we begin to see our frailty, accept it, and then gain perspective. Leading the lives of Godly people can be a help to transform our own suffering. Bible characters who endured great difficulties and overcame them, faced difficult circumstances, with a positive attitude that they had to learn can be positive models for us.

Others’ Support

And then I would say social support. We need people. We cannot go through a tragedy on our own without people to talk to, to listen to us, people who understand, who care about us. And this was, in fact Job’s experience, because he had three friends who didn’t understand everything, but who never left him. And so he was able to find them at the beginning, and yet they were there at the end as well, as was his wife. So he had social support of those who listened to all of the ups and downs of his complaints, chapter after chapter.

And so I think social support is quite important: friends, family, church, small groups, neighbors. We have to learn to live with a new normal; the person is gone, or we’ve lost our home, I’ve lost my job. And so it takes time, and it takes support from others, and it may take some personal growth, inside as well, we are social creatures. I’ve been noticing how much horses are social creatures. And they kind of race together, you know, we got five or six horses and we have some not too far from where I live, you see them and they keep an eye on each other and they feel comfortable being close with one another.

Pamela: And I think this is very important because in today’s world, people have just isolated themselves. In the sense they’re with their social media, or they’re with Facebook, or they’re with Twitter, but they have no real, you know, connections. So a lot of people are depressed, a lot of people are dealing with their own tragedies where they’re not seeking the comfort of their churches, or the social support. So I think social support is really something that people should look at more carefully.

Gordon: That’s a very good point. I’ve went to the mall a few months ago, and there’s a young man and this young woman were holding hands, and he was on his cell phone texting. So that really got me: someone truly was focused elsewhere.

 

 

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How Do We Transform Tragedy? Interview Part I

Below is my 2017 Soundcloud.com interview with Pamela Q Fernandes, doctor, and author, about my book Tragedy Transformed: How Job’s Recovery Can Provide Hope For Yours (2015). The transcript of Part I follows.

Gordon: Well, first, Pamela, let me thank you for your kind invitation to join with you today on this podcast. My name is Gordon Grose, G-R-O-S-E. And I’m a pastor and counselor, and now recently an author. I pastored 3 congregations over a period of 25 years, different places in the United States. I did counseling with Western Psychological and Counseling Services in Portland, Oregon, where my home is, for about 11 years. And I’m now counseling on a volunteer basis at a place called Good Samaritan Ministries, which offers counseling without a fee, and the whole ministry is supported through donations. By the way, this is a worldwide ministry, with locations in 23 nations and 18 in Africa. Two years ago, I published my book the first one I’ve written on the subject of recovering from tragedy based on the book of Job in the Bible. I’ve been married 57 years as of next month, July 9th. We have four children, eight grandchildren, two great grandchildren, and one great coming.

Pamela: So you’ve actually had a very long career in counseling? You’ve also experienced lots of people with tragedies and things like that, right? You’ve met these people, you’ve seen this happen.

Gordon: Well, in pastoring, you certainly see it all the time. There’s constant funerals as there are weddings and births of babies. So you get an experience of ministering to people in deep grief. And as a pastor you have a great privilege of being essentially in the front lines, seeing firsthand how people respond, and working with them to bring about comfort and resolution, and trust in God in spite of the loss which they are experiencing.

Preparation for Facing Tragedy

Pamela: So do you think that there are some people who, you know, are better equipped for tragedy? I mean, is there a way that somebody can be better prepared for tragedy? Or it’s just that when it hits us, that’s the time you come up with whatever defense or coping mechanism you have?

Gordon: That’s a good question. One of the things I struggled with in the book, and I noticed that a very well-known author, Timothy Keller, struggled with it as well in his book “Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering,” and that is denial. The subject of death, or grief, or loss is something we prefer not to think about. It’s not easy to promote something to get people to face when they don’t want to. And grief is denied because it’s very painful. People, including me, have things to do in preparation for after my death, with the funeral service suggestions that I want to make and with the ways that…well, I have take care of one issue. But it’s something which I delay and it’s in my iin-box, but I never get to it, because it’s something that it’s easy to put off. There’s a French author, I think it’s Michel de la Montaigne who wrote a book called “Divertissments” and it’s the French word for diversions.

And in life we use a lot of diversions. We are heavy into sports; we are heavy into entertainment and movies and televisions, and everything helps us pass the time and diverts us from some of the real issues that face us such as health and illness, and death. We don’t even talk the word death anymore today. If you notice, we always say “passed” or “passed away.” And one of the things I’m going to instruct my pastor, is to please indicate to the congregation that Gordon has died, that he has not simply passed on, or passed away, but that he is actually dead. And I feel quite strongly about that. I’ve worked with people to help them face their suffering and face their death with God’s strength. And I find that is the best way to help people.

Job’s Most Important Lesson

I think the biggest lesson that I learned about  life, that I learned from the book of Job about which I wrote. If you recall the story, Job was a magnificent success. And he had enterprises in every direction, and a large family. One day he lost it all. Well, what was it he had to learn? He had to learn, which he didn’t until the end of the book, that there are some things in life over which we have no control. And they’re truly tragic. We can think of natural disasters that come upon us: earthquakes, and tornadoes, and floods. And people have done nothing wrong, but they have to suffer and they have to go through these things; there are times when we don’t have control over our own lives. And it’s something that is very difficult to live with, but if people can get their mind and heart around the fact that I cannot control a lot.

Pamela: Cannot control, yeah.

Gordon: That’s, I think, about the best they can do. So that when it happens and they realize, “Oh, that’s right. I remember now, somewhere somebody told me that you can’t control everything.”

Next Week: Part II

 

 

 

 

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Slavery In America (Concl.)

In his dialect, preserved by Hurston, Kossula, 86, describes the slaves’ brutal treatment in the barracoon. “When we dere three weeks a white man come in de barracoon wid two men of de Dahomey. One man, he a chief of de Dahomey and de udder one his word-changer [translator]. Dey make everybody stand in a ring—‘bout ten folkses in each ring. De men by dey self, de women by dey self. Den de white man lookee and lookee. He lookee hard at de skin and de feet and de legs and in de mouth. Den he choose. Every time he choose a man he choose a woman. Every time he take a woman he choose a man, too. Derefore, you understand me, he take one hunnard and thirty. Sixty-five men with a woman for each man. Dass right” (53).

Cudjo also describes the anguish of separation. “Den de white man go ‘way. I think he go in de white house. But de people of Dahomey come bring us lot of grub for us to eatee’ cause dey say we goin’ leave dere. We eatee de big feast. Den we cry, we sad ‘cause we doan want to leave the rest of our people in de barracoon. We all lonesome for our home. We doan know what goin’ become of us. We doan want to be put apart from one ‘other” (53-54).

The history of world empires, from ancient times to now, can be seen as the desire of one people, tribe, or nation, to dominate their neighbors. And their neighbor struggling to remain free. Such domination throughout history often resulted in the enslavement of the weaker party. We often admire the “winners” success stories (e.g., Genghis Kahn). That the Dahomey, richly rewarded by white slave traders, willingly massacred rival tribes is part of the tragedy of human history. Cudjo’s story, though not unique, still creates anguish for him and his people in the retelling. We cringe in reading his story.

The Bible book of Job also reflects such human history. In his depression Job (Chapter 3) calls on the image of slavery to describe his longing for relief from suffering through the peace of death: “Captives also enjoy their ease; they no longer hear the slave driver’s shout. The small and the great are there, and the slave is freed from his master” (vv. 18-19 NIV. For a contemporary practical treatment of the book of Job, see my Tragedy Transformed: How Job’s Recovery Can Provide Hope For Yours, 2015).  Slavery also continues in some societies today, where Christians in particular have been singled out for domination. The desire to exploit others through subjugating people conquered in warfare reflects a widespread human tendency, eradicated only with great difficulty, as we see in the “one more trip” story of the Clotilda.

For a first-hand experience of what it’s like to be captured, deported, and enslaved, the reader can do no better than Zora Neale Hurston’s Barracoon.

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