Why Is Empathy Important?

Empathy- seeing from viewpoint of the other

Which Side Is Right?

“That’s Why And Z Too!”

Why is empathy important? As a boy, whenever I didn’t want to do what my mother asked, like many kids, I’d ask, “Why?” Mom would inevitably come back with, “That’s Why and Z, too!” In other words, “Do what I say, or else.”  She’d had a hard life  growing up, so whenever I complained, she’d launch into her, “Well your mother had it hard, too!” speech. She’d then recount her story. Mom had little, if any, empathy. She seemed uninterested in my story, or in my feelings. A lot of parents do this, so it’s not abnormal. Except, she did this so much that I learned not to share my deepest thoughts or concerns with her. I didn’t believe she had empathy for me.

Why is Empathy Important?

Empathy, the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes, raises important questions. In my last blog, which you can read here, I recounted a salient experience that formed the beginning of my initial efforts to become a chaplain, later a counselor. Not everyone, however, is in the same position. You may wonder, therefore, why it’s so important to learn how others feel, think, or believe. You may have little or no interest in becoming a chaplain, counselor, or pastor. “Why must I learn this skill of empathy?” you may ask.

Another reason you may feel this is not something I need: Don’t we mostly want to know how we can get our point across? Isn’t it more important to skillfully amass facts, evidence, and logic in order to convince others of the rightness of our opinion?

Before I explain further the how of empathic responses, therefore, I want to explore some important reasons for learning empathy, the ability to put ourselves into the experience of another, the ability to look at the number above from the other person’s perspective. Why do we need empathy? We can see in the drawing that both parties look ridiculous. To avoid misunderstandings, to enhance communication, and to facilitate agreement, therefore, we need to learn empathy.

Doctors Need Empathy

Recently, one of my doctors reported that the medical profession is very interested in the issues of empathy right now. They want to learn how better to listen to their patients’ concerns. Your doctor needs to show empathy. That’s because you need empathy from your doctor. You will no doubt recall an incident when your doctor talked only diagnosis and treatment, with perhaps some history of your disease. He or she omitted any consideration of how your medical problem affected you as a person. They also never asked how hard it was to live with your condition. Or the time, when you had a complicated pregnancy and your doctor told you to go to bed! The impact of your plight eluded him or her. How would you manage your household (cooking, washing, cleaning for children and husband)–from bed? It seemed more comfortable to stay with medical facts, rather than talk with you.

Who Else Needs Empathy?

Why is empathy important for your boss? He has his expectations to accomplish the important task at hand. But he wants to steamroll your objections into the how you will impliment the new policies. He refuses to listen. He threatens you with firing if you persist. No empathy for you.

Your pastor needs to show empathy. If you come with a personal problem, but all he or she says is Bible verses or gives only instructions on prayer, you will leave frustrated. No empathy. Learning empathy is difficult. At least it was for me. In my previous post, I shared my early learning experience. That was not easy; I became painfully aware of my failure to cue in to the other person, and that I was preoccupied about how I perceived the lady’s depression. As a result, I minimized her suffering. This is a common error, at least for beginners.  To read a valuable article on how to develop empathy, click here.

My Recent Failure

I still need to work on empathy. A friend started to share with me about his declining mental ability and even hinted at his eventual death. I changed the subject. So even an experienced and skilled person can allow someone else’s hurt, struggle, or grief, to make us feel uncomfortable (anxious) enough to avoid their tentative message. When we fail at empathy, we fail our friend. I failed my friend.

[Credits: Illustration: See It From My Side: DZone.com                                                      Article: https://dzone.com/articles/agile-transformation-for-non-it-teams]

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“Life Can’t Be THAT Bad!”

Empathy helps us negotiate difficult conversations. As a beginning chaplain on a ward for patients with mental disorders, I encountered a woman who stood, while I sat to talk with her. “I want to die,” she cried. Trying to respond to her despair, I stated, “Life can’t be THAT bad!” Although I can’t recall what she said, I do recall her answering me back strongly. I remember also feeling stymied as to how to respond. Our conversation lasted only briefly. I later talked with my chaplain supervisor about my experience. He put her tears into perspective when he said, “The state just took her children away.”

I Had A Lot To Learn

What a jerk! I thought as a new chaplain I was smart, but in reality, of course, I was just ignorant. I didn’t realize how little understanding I had of how a woman crying might be feeling. Rather than inquire about the meaning of her crying, I immediately interpreted her behavior in terms I could understand. Blind to her sorrow, I had minimized her grief.

Such a blunder is easy to fall into. We see someone in deep distress. But our normal strategies for responding don’t seem appropriate. We therefore feel uncomfortable. This is our anxiety. We don’t really know what to say. We could remain silent. Sometimes that’s the best plan. But our friend looks for your response, too. And sometimes we feel compelled to say something. Usually what we say doesn’t help. Out of my awkwardness, I blundered.

Empathy Helps Difficult Conversations

Empathy helps us negotiate difficult conversations. But it takes hard work to leave our world in order to enter someone else’s frame of reference. This doesn’t come naturally because we’re mostly concerned with ourselves. Therefore, when someone expresses deep emotion (anger, sadness, joy), we tend to retreat behind our natural protective barrier of our own perception. We may  feel pushed, even attacked.

As a result,  we usually interpret other people’s emotions or behavior according to our perception. This experience, one among many that summer, helped me begin to understand how much skill it takes to get me out of my own frame of reference and into another’s. I had many such experiences, along with talks with supervisors – other chaplains and psychiatrists. They were experienced. I had a lot to learn. Such learning is painful: I felt humiliated, ashamed, and helpless. But it was just such experiences that launched me into my career as a pastor and as a counselor. Talking with supervisors helped me understand how others felt. It wasn’t always important how I felt. My task was to reach out to others with words of healing, to benefit them. This was not normal conversation, let alone discussion or debate. These were my beginnings of learning empathy.

Questions to Ask Yourself

How do you respond to another’s emotional pain? It’s easy to spot someone else’s blunders, but difficult to admit our own. If you are willing, I’d like to offer you some ways to help you learn these lessons. You can begin by asking yourself these questions:

When I hear someone else express hurt, loss, or anger, do I:

  1. Want to learn more?
  2. Try to evade looking at their eyes?
  3. Tell them in no uncertain terms that their emotions are misplaced?
  4. Quote a Bible verse that seems relevant?

Empathy helps us negotiate difficult conversations. If you’d like to learn the skill of empathy, join me in this exploration of what empathy means. If you would do anything other than #1, you need these important tips on learning to listen better. Even if you would do #1 (you think), you may need a quick refresher to learn why, and to improve your responses in relating to others in distress. If reading this and the following blogs on this subject can help you become a better listener, I will feel gratified. I will feel rewarded If I can save you the sense of failure I felt. If I can help you become a better friend, a better listening comforter for friends in grief, and even a better representative of Jesus’ love, I will feel greatly satisfied.

Looking for a place to start? Download my “Top 10 Tips on Grief and Loss,” by clicking:  gordon-grose.ck.page/grieftips

[Credit: Woman crying: Victoria Borodinova Images, Pixabay.com]

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Heart Attachments

Experiential connection with God

Heart Attachments by Bruce J. Hammond

Book Review: Heart Attachments: How What You Love Shapes Your Thinking, Behaviors and Destiny, by Bruce Hammond (2020). eBook and paperback.

Author Hammond wrote Heart Attachments from his and Jean, his wife’s, exploration of their dissatisfaction with their Christian lives. For one thing, “…we didn’t feel valuable unless we fulfilled specific standards,” he writes. “…There was an unsettled feeling,” therefore. Then, he continues, “…we were not accepted by God or people unless we lived up to certain criteria.” “We had so many questions for God,” he acknowledges. Finally, they wanted to know: “How would we positively change our thinking, heal our emotions, rightly align our beliefs, and change our behaviors?” This exploration led into an in-depth, personal, ongoing relationship with the living God.

Heart Attachments Well-written

This book shows good logic, well-crafted writing, and sound use of Scripture. It contains carefully chosen Scripture texts and stories to advance his argument. Using those insights that God gave Hammond and his wife, the author reports, has resulted in “countless people set free, delivered, and restored.” Through Heart Attachments, they share, “What we learned, how Jesus Christ transformed us, and how we’ve seen Him change the lives of others.”

Hammond identifies three “faculties” we possess as persons, spiritual, mental and emotional. These “come to knowledge differently, function uniquely, and have varying strengths and weaknesses,” he says. The goal is to engage each faculty so that they are “fully functioning in their proper boundaries.” This leads to “beautiful clarity, flow, and balance within us.” “Dysfunction exists,” he explains, “when a faculty is overused or underused.” He then takes the reader on a journey to explore each faculty in turn, showing from Scripture how dysfunction develops and how we may achieve a proper balance, neither under or overusing each faculty. The goal is to “Know [God] in a living and personal way,” in which we enjoy “an intimate, transforming relationship” with Him.

Focus on Emotion

One interesting note on Hammond’s view of human personality is his focus on the emotional faculty as primary. This contrasts with many contemporary schools of thought which emphasize primacy of the mental. “Generally speaking,” he says, “things start in the emotions and then move into our thinking.” Regarding how we know (what we know), Hammond says, “The mind knows through reason, the spirit through revelation, and the emotions through relationship.” I would add that the mind also knows through information. But his emphasis on the emotional life of persons needing relationship is a welcome relief from recent overemphasis on cognitive functions. He also deals at length with the crippling emotion of shame.

Heart Attachments: Case Studies

Hammond wisely includes case studies of people, alternating a chapter of instruction with a chapter devoted to the story of someone who illustrates the principles he previously explained. His stories may fail to grasp the reader, however, because they are related in the third person, and without dialogue. The subjects may well be real people and not someone devised as a literary device.  This very question, however, reflects my doubt. The reader must experience the truth of our writing. We cannot simply tell readers our information.

Well-rewarded

Hammond’s Last Chapter: “Practical Considerations,” I loved. It was indeed practical and helpful to show how we can develop that personal, intimate, transforming relationship with God. That’s what we all say we desire. I would have appreciated those practical suggestions throughout, but the reader feels well rewarded for reading the book to the end.

Intellectually stimulating, Heart Attachments is useful for personal and group study. It enables the reader to explore a deeper experience of the Living God through Jesus Christ. The book focuses more on deepening our understanding of what that living relationship with God involves. What the reader now needs is to apply that understanding. We need to learn practical ways to apply the instruction of Heart Attachments to our personal lives. I believe small group sharing would facilitate this.

Heart Attachments is available through Amazon.com                                                 https://www.amazon.com/sk=heart+attachments+bruce+hammond&i=stripbooks&crid=SNXYX4W9M6G2&sprefix=Heart+Attachments%2Caps%2C458&ref=nb_sb_ss_organic-diversity_1_17

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Christian Action In Response To Pandemic

What is a Christian action response to the pandemic of Coronavirus? In my previous blog, I shared the perspective of  of three Christian leaders. A second way to explore this issue leads us to ask how, as Christians, do we act? How do we put our faith into deeds? As author Phil Yancey reminds us, the early Christians went into action, caring for the sick in the many Roman pandemics. So, “What is a Christian answer to the Coronavirus?” in action?  As a result of their faith in Jesus, what do Christians do?

Christian Action In Response to Leprosy

Phil Yancey’s experience is instructive. As a journalist, he says,  “I have traveled to some 87 countries, and in most of them you can follow the trail of Christian missionaries by the hospitals, clinics, and orphanages they founded. I wrote books such as Fearfully and Wonderfully with the esteemed leprosy specialist Dr. Paul Brand. Virtually every advance in the understanding and treatment of that disease came from Christian missionaries—not because they were the best physicians and scientists, but because they were the only ones willing to treat that misunderstood and dreaded disease.”

What made Christian caregivers unique? “Following Jesus’ example,” says Yancey, “they risked exposure by reaching out to the leprosy-afflicted.” The history of Christians in crises is that of stepping into the breach.

Christian Action In Response to Pandemic: Online

Christians also have responded on a church-wide level. Unable to meet in person, and with people, scared for their life, Christians have responded by strengthening their online presence. “I think we have an opportunity, actually, to engage at a deeper level,” Judah Smith, lead pastor of Churchome in Seattle and Los Angeles, said. “We’re finding that actually being home, engaging face-to-face is going to lead us actually to an interesting place in faith and I think will change how we worship going forward.”

To “join,” a person has only to download the Churchome app. Once logged in, you are now a “member.” The congregation, as a result of this, has grown by 110 percent. Attendance is up 139 percent, and “Pastor Chat” usage has increased by 40 percent. “This is an opportunity to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and learn to love your neighbor as yourself,” Smith said. “I think church at home and church in smaller settings is going to be a massive trend going for many, many years.”

An Alternate Christian Response: Doing Less; Serving Better

Esau McCaulley, assistant professor of New Testament at Wheaton College (IL), takes an opposite tack: serving better by doing less. “What did the church do in the year of our Lord 2020,” he asks, “when sickness swept our land? We met in smaller groups, washed our hands and prayed. Unglamorous as this is, it may be the shape of faithfulness in our time.” Our model for these actions spring from the same model as that which motivated the early Christians: Jesus.

“The all-powerful empties himself of power to become a child. Jesus as king does not conquer his enemies through violence, he converts them to his cause by meeting violence with sacrificial love.” “The church’s absence, its literal emptying, can function as a symbol of its trust in God’s ability to meet us regardless of the location.”

The Ultimate Christian Action In Response to Coronavirus Pandemic? Self-Sacrificial Death

Priest sacrifices life for another

Fr. Guiseppi Berardelli

Father Guiseppi Berardelli, 72, diagnosed with COVID-19 virus,  lived at the St. Joseph Retirement Home in Casnigo, Northern Italy. When he heard of a younger man, who suffered from the disease, but who was without a ventilator, he donated his. His parishioners had raised the money to pay for Fr. Berardelli’s life-saving equipment. The priest died March 15, 2020.

“Father Giuseppe Berardelli died as a priest,” said one of the healthcare workers at the Saint Joseph retirement home. “I am profoundly moved by the fact that he, as archpriest of Casnigo, freely renounced his respirator to give it to someone younger than him.” He died also, of course, as a Christian. Reports are that over 50 other priests died, assisting others during their illness. Able to confront their own death in the faith of Christ, these men sacrificed that others might live.

Christians have thought deeply about the reality of tragedy and what should be our response to it. Some Christians have shared thoughts which show profound depth in relating our tenuous life with the Eternal Sovereign God. But that has never been enough.  Jesus’ example in  his care for the sick and dying, has motivated Christians to put saving themselves second to caring for others. For his followers, his death on the cross has removed the sting of death. The impact of Jesus’ life on us is profound. How do you think about the Coronavirus pandemic? What will you do?

[Sources Images- Coronavirus: The Cleveland Clinic.                                                           Father Berardelli: Oratorio Casnigo/Facebook. Breitbart.com  https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/14/opinion/coronavirus-church-close.html https://www.breitbart.com/health/2020/03/24/italian-priest-dies-from-coronavirus-after-giving-up-ventilator-to-another-patient/#                           https://philipyancey.com/living-in-plague-times                                                                                       https://www.foxnews.com/faith-values/coronavirus-online-ministry-jesus-questions-search

 

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What Is A Christian Response To Coronavirus Pandemic? I Perspective

A Christian Response to Coronavirus Pandemic

Coronavirus

Coronavirus is not our first pandemic on our a planet. In their print Special Edition on the Pandemic, The Epoch Times identifies other pandemics we’ve experienced. Over four years during the 14th century, for example, the Black (bubonic) Plague took the lives of half the people in Europe, between 75 and 200 million. That plague also recurred roughly every decade for 200 years. In the Great Plague of London, in 1665, over one fourth of that city’s people died in 18 months. Other pandemics, such as the Russian Flu (1889), the Spanish Flu (1918), and the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) epidemic (2002) have also afflicted us. What is a Christian response to this Coronavirus pandemic?

A Christian Response to Coronavirus Pandemic

Our home pages and TV’s are filled with statistics and examples of how we can respond. I’m most interested, however, in how we as Christians responded to the current Coronavirus pandemic. What is a Christian perspective? I’ve share my view here and here. In this blog, I bring together the views of a number of Christians who have thought about our current experience from a Christian perspective. These views will give way in a later blog to how Christians have responded, not simply in thinking about the pandemic, but by their actions. How Christians are currently thinking about this experience can help put our lives into perspective through the lens of Scripture. This, in turn should allow our fear to give way to faith.

Our Delusion of Self-Sufficiency

With perhaps the best medical care in the world, with technology at our fingertips, and with the freedoms we enjoy in the United States, we may well convince ourselves that we are self-sufficient. What is a Christian response to our pandemic? Paul David Tripp, author of Suffering: Gospel Hope When Life Doesn’t Make Sense, reminds of the delusion of human self-sufficiency. Although he lives in Center City, Philadelphia, he observed, “It has become a ghost town: churches have been shut down, businesses have been shut down, restaurants are closed, families are separated from one another, friends can’t gather anymore. It’s an amazing thing, and it reminds us that we were created to be dependent—dependent on the Creator.”

We need each other, and we need God. No one of us can exist apart from others. This should teach us appreciation for the gift of life, the contributions of others to our well-being, both in our past and in our present, and our dependence on God. People are at present protesting the radical steps to shut down our social relations and our economic commerce. Pressure mounts because isolated, our businesses wither away, our social relationships hunger for others, and our souls crave nourishment in corporate worship.

A Christian Response To Suffering

Well-known Christian author Phil Yancey provides another Christian response to our pandemic. He urges us to “follow Jesus through the Gospels and watch his response to a widow who lost her only son, or even a Roman soldier whose servant has fallen ill. Never does he blame the victim or philosophize about the cause. Always, without exception, he responds with compassion, comfort, and healing.” From that model of Jesus’ love for people, his willingness to risk his life to touch even the leper, his self-sacrificial model of giving himself up to the cross to bring redemption from sin and provide forgiveness for the lost, his followers developed into a self-giving people.

Yancey points to sociologist Rodney Stark who, in The Rise of Christianity, wrote that “one reason the church overcame hostility and grew so rapidly within the Roman empire traces back to how Christians responded to pandemics of the day, which probably included bubonic plague and smallpox. When infection spread, Romans fled their cities and towns; Christians stayed behind to nurse and feed not only their relatives but their pagan neighbors. Their proffered comfort drew others to the God of all comfort.”

Our Lost Art of Lamentation

Noted British New Testament scholar and prolific author, N.T Wright presents another Christian response to the Coronavirus pandemic. He points to the Psalms of Lament as a resource for Christians during these times of physical and emotional separation, illness, death and grief. “The point of lament,” he writes, “woven thus into the fabric of the biblical tradition, is not just that it’s an outlet for our frustration, sorrow, loneliness and sheer inability to understand what is happening or why. The mystery of the biblical story is that God also laments. Some Christians like to think of God as above all that, knowing everything, in charge of everything, calm and unaffected by the troubles in his world. That’s not the picture we get in the Bible.”

People unable to accept the idea of a personal God, often ask, “Well, what’s your answer, Christian? How can God be present, and love us in this pandemic? How do you explain all this suffering?” In response, Wright says, “It is no part of the Christian vocation, then, to be able to explain what’s happening and why. In fact, it is part of the Christian vocation not to be able to explain—and to lament instead.” Like many around us, we go into mourning, calling upon God to intervene, calling on Scripture to lead us into the right words to verbalize our grief.

Perspective on Social Distancing

One area in which we now grieve, is the demand we practice social distancing. To defeat this virus, we must remain physically distant, by some accounts I’ve read, at least 13 feet. The virus can be transmitted nearly that far.  What possible good can come from “social distancing”? My wife has already noted the slower pace of life as an advantage. Kenneth Samples in his reflections on this crisis in historical perspective, shares this tid-bit:

“In 1665, following an outbreak of the bubonic plague in England, Cambridge University closed its doors, forcing Newton to return home to Woolsthorpe Manor. While sitting in the garden there one day, he saw an apple fall from a tree, providing him with the inspiration to eventually formulate his law of universal gravitation. Newton later relayed the apple story to William Stukeley, who included it in a book, Memoir of Sir Isaac Newton’s Life, published in 1752.” This reminds us that the providence of God is far more elusive that we think. What looks to be a disaster can turn out, in the end, to bless us.

Not Abandoned

One other Christian response to our coronavirus pandemic comes again from Paul David Tripp. He  reminds us of the potential for erosion to our faith. Reject thoughts of fear, he says, especially toward God. Tripp raises some of those pesky questions skeptics pose. And some we think ourselves. “Fight the lies of the enemy that would whisper into your ear, Where is your God now? What is he doing now? Why isn’t he here? Why doesn’t he answer? The Bible says, God’s near…Do not run away from him. Run to him. Sure, we’re going to wonder, Why? And maybe those questions won’t be fully answered here and now; but again, we know who God is… and we know that this moment points us to…one…who has greater power than us, who has greater control than us…”.

Instead of succumbing to fear, he writes, cultivate gratitude. “One of the most powerful defenses against fear is gratitude.” Where are you in your “lockdown” or “restart” process? If you’re still bewildered, I point you authors who have given our stressful time some thought. They provide us Christian responses to our pandemic. We needn’t remain in crisis mode.

[Image: The Cleveland Clinic www.myclevelandclinic.org Sources: Yang, Catherine, “Past Pandemics and Epidemics,” The Epoch Times, Special Edition, March/April 2020, p 16. https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/reflections/read/reflections/2020/03/31/historical-reflections-on-the-pandemic.                                                    https://www.crossway.org/articles/5-ways-the-covid-19 pandemic-…pel&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_0275bcaa4b-c2cb067094-284436989.  https://time.com/5808495/coronavirus-christianity/        https://philipyancey.com/living-in-plague-times]

 

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Finding Hope In Despair: Peter’s Story II

Finding Hope in Despair

Despair

In my last blog, I told the story of Peter’s despair. But in the midst of that despair, however, Peter found hope. I want to share now how the happened, how Peter found    hope in despair.

You recall how, in the process of the movers taking away his wife’s belongings after his divorce, Peter saved the hose to his sump pump.  “I made a decision to keep the hose to a sump pump just in case,” Peter says. “It fitted the tailpipe and extended long enough to reach into a car window.” Prepared, Peter’s losses culminated in one particular night of despair. “Suicide became a real possibility,” he says. “I planned a dress rehearsal to see what suicide would be like—if I could do it. All I wanted was to end all the pain. I saw death as a welcome relief.” Continuing to live seemed a lost cause.

How Peter Found Hope in Despair

“I am really, really sorry, Pete.” Surprised, Peter first recognized the neighbor friend who had just opened his garage door. But then, when he saw the two police officers, one on her right, the other on her left, he worried. O Man, I’m going to spend the night in a seventy-two hour hold, he thought.

Although Peter reassured his unexpected visitors he was okay, he wasn’t and returned to his garage once more that evening. Nevertheless, after that dress rehearsal, he says, “I didn’t attempt it again. I decided not to stay in a dark place.” Although not immediately, Peter found his way from despair to hope.

What Peter Learned

In that friend’s intervention, Peter says, he saw “an incredible demonstration of love. She took that risk, and I told her and her husband how significant that was for me. She touched my heart.”

Peter’s story reminds us of the tenuous nature of life. Given the shattering of dreams, the successive losses we can experience, and the circumstances of life which we can’t control, we are all vulnerable to suicidal thoughts, or, as in Peter’s case, an attempt. No one is immune from feelings of despair, but Peter’s story of finding hope in despair also reminds us how important every relationship is, every loved one, every friend, and–every neighbor.

A Good Neighbor

Peter’s neighbor wasn’t just any old neighbor, someone you say “Hi” to and go on about your business. First of all, this neighbor was observant. She knew what was going on in Peter’s life: the divorce, the wife gone, the movers. Then, this woman also cared enough to call the cops. That’s risky. You could get yelled at, or lose a friend calling the police on them. Concerned and, finally, caring; rather, very concerned and very caring.

How observant, concerned, and caring are we? Afraid of being nosy, we often back off something that doesn’t look, feel, or seem right. We play it safe. But Peter’s story also reminds us of potential tragedies that lurk undetected every day. And it reminds us to Be A Good Neighbor. Better yet: God’s instrument to help someone we observe, are concerned, and care about find hope in despair.

[Source: From Chapter 4, Tragedy Transformed: How Job’s Recovery Can Provide Hope For Yours (2015). This book is available on this website and at Amazon.com. From April 15-May 15, 2020, I am offering a Giveaway on Goodreads.com Scroll down to 2nd image of book, click: Enter Giveaway.]

 

 

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Finding Hope In Despair: Peter’s Story I

                                               Who Owns My Life? – Peter

Pain and anguish tear at my heart, the only relief from this world to part.                            Knife at wrist, mind’s relief—it does send the thought of pain soon to an end.

These opening words of Peter’s poem express despair about his life. I share them because Peter’s story may at some point link with yours. In this time of world-wide pandemic from the coronavirus, especially as death statistics mount, businesses remain shuttered and normal social relationships are limited, you also may be tempted to despair. Here we’ll look at Peter’s despair. In a future blog, I’ll explain how Peter found hope in despair.

Despair

Despair

How Did Peter Arrive At Despair?

Setbacks piled up. Peter had dreamed he and his wife would teach together in a Christian ministry. But after his marriage ended, so did that dream. Another factor: “I never resolved my divorce,” he said. One reason for that failure—the church. “At that time,” he said, “churches didn’t know what to do with divorced people. I felt church people abandoned me. I determined never to be part of a church again.” As a result, Peter turned to drinking, partying, and having a good time. But after his second marriage also ended, “divorce devastated me,” Peter said.

“From childhood, my father taught me responsibility for myself and for my family. As a result, I worked hard to provide for and to protect my family.” He worked decades for a company with a recognizable brand name. He looked forward to a comfortable retirement. But after his second divorce, “I thought I would have to work the rest of my life,” he said. “I paid alimony. I no longer dreamed of retirement.” That divorce required division of his property. Forced to give up a home in suburbs, their vacation home on a lake, two motorcycles, and two luxury cars, Peter felt little hope. “The vacation home,” he said, “meant a place of retreat not only for my family, but also for important friends. With my divorce, I lost that. I lost friends, even one couple who had been in our wedding.” As losses to Peter mounted, he needed to find hope in despair.

Peter’s Despair

Peter faced the loss of dreams of a comfortable retirement, possessions, and relationships. At first, he recommitted himself to his job with a six-figure salary. “I felt proud of providing my wife and family financial security,” he said. “But after divorce, my previous need to protect and provide meant nothing— a huge loss. The job didn’t matter.” Having to give up cars, houses, and dreams created “a lot of loss,” Peter said. But after the divorce, he also feared losing another important family relationship.

As movers removed his wife’s belongings, Peter says, “I made a decision to keep the hose to a sump pump just in case.” It fitted the tailpipe and extended long enough to reach into a car window. Prepared, Peter’s losses culminated in one particular night of despair. “Suicide became a real possibility,” he says “I planned a dress rehearsal to see what suicide would be like—if I could do it. I focused on ending all the pain. I saw death as a welcome relief.” But how will Peter find hope in despair?

Despair in Job

It sounds trite to say that we’re not the only one to face such a momentous, fearful, and life-threatening decision. For one thing , knowing others have faced similar struggles, however, and have come out the other side, can encourage us to hang on just a little longer. For another, our delay provides opportunity for longer-term help—and our survival. Faith didn’t protect several major Bible figures from despair, either, yet they survived temporary feelings of hopelessness to serve God and others. Although Elijah asks the Lord to take his life, and Jonah and Jeremiah ask to die, Job expresses the most intense, prolonged despair. His words in chapter 3 reveal someone who, like Peter, lost all hope.

Finding Hope In Despair

After the reports of devastation, Job remained steadfast in God’s defense—at first. “Shall we accept good from God and not evil?” he asked his wife in chapter 2. Stunned, unable to respond on an emotional level, initially Job clings to what he knows: he trusts God. Perhaps some painful experience has you stunned. You don’t know what to say, what to think, or how to feel, let alone what to do. So you hold on to what you already know. You stick with what you already believe. That helps hold you together—for now. Eventually, however, in a delayed response, as you begin to feel your distress more, like Job, an inner volcano rumbles. Soon, you may be unable to hold back. Like Peter and Job, we are all prone to despair.

With the aid of friends, time, and silence Job finally begins to feel his tragedies. In Job chapter 3, he erupts with a blast of red-hot verbal magma, the lava of despair. He speaks for many who’ve lost hope. What he says doesn’t sound pretty—or spiritual. He may speak for you.

From Chapter 4, Tragedy Transformed: How Job’s Recovery Can Provide Hope For Yours (2015). This book is available on this website and at Amazon.com.

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What Good Is A Virus?

"What

If you’ve ever had a cold, or a flu (Influenza) you know a virus when you see it. Misery for days, weeks. Sinus, fever, congestion, coughing, sneezing. Has it ever occurred to you to ask, “What good is a virus”?

What Good Is A Virus?

We are engaged in a fight for our personal and national survival. The threat from Coronavirus extends world-wide.  COVIDn-19, the official designation (for Corona Virus, New, 2019) easily transmits across all human interactions. Touching, especially the face, coughing, sneezing, or blowing sprays droplets, which unless washed promptly, create an bronchial infection against which we have no immunity. Our body marshals our immune system to counteract the virus’ intrusion through the respiratory system. But given any underlying physical condition such as heart disease, diabetes, chronic obstructive respiratory disease (COPD), or cancer, and we are vulnerable. So, we may well ask, “What good is a virus?”

We now have a wealth of information about this virus (Latin: poison). But before we look more deeply into what we have learned, I want to share some basic information to help put our current crisis into some perspective. Our ultimate goal will to look at our pandemic through the lens of God’s creation and His perspective. Already I have reflected on the perspective of the Book of Job.

In Subsequent blogs I will look at the origins of the Coronavirus, How to see our Crisis from God’s perspective, and How Christians have responded to this crisis. Now I want to back up to the beginning to answer: What good is a virus? Let’s begin with understanding about viruses, and their place in the cycle of life.

What is a Virus?

A virus exists on the border between a living and a non-living thing. Compared with bacteria, we can see the nature of a virus better. Bacteria are true living cells. Bacteria use nutrients as fuel to energize them and expel waste. But viruses cannot perform these functions. Strictly speaking, it is non-living. In order for one to grow, to produce more, they must attach themselves to another living cell. Tobacco growers identified the first virus in the late 1800’s, the tobacco mosaic virus. The word comes from the Latin meaning poison. 

Are They Necessary for Life?

According to Anjeanette (“AJ”) Roberts, microbiologist at Reasons To Believe, it’s difficult to explain the existence of viruses in relation to the origin of life. Without living things, such as bacteria, there can be no viruses. Life as we know it, then, didn’t just “happen”  “somehow,” or “accidentally.” A virus cannot exist until something living exists. Bacteria, able to reproduce up to double their numbers in under 1/2 hour, take inorganic material and make it useful for other living things. Left to themselves, however, single-cell bacterial growth would create a massive ooze, smothering all other forms of life. Viruses, however, outnumber bacteria by a factor of 10:1. They feed on bacteria; that keeps bacteria under control.

When a virus breaks open the bacteria, they release the stored organic materials, making them available to other living organisms. Yet they cannot replicate by themselves. They need other cells to infect in order to reproduce. “In 2012 there were over 200 identified viral species,” says Roberts, “infecting humans and an estimated three to four new viral species discovered every year.”

What Their Benefits?

What good are viruses? In addition to what AJ Roberts has told us about the value of viruses to complex forms of life, Hugh Ross identifies other benefits of viruses. They make possible significant growth in population and enable complex societies to form.  In the cycle of water they provide necessary microscopic seeds to atmospheric moisture, enabling droplets to form in the way of rain, snow, sleet, hail, and mist. The widespread distribution of precipitation, then, enables vegetation, growth of food, and the feeding of large numbers of people around the world. This enables complex human societies to survive and flourish. “While dust and particles of soot can also serve as seeds or nuclei for the formation of raindrops and snow flakes,”says Ross, “viruses and bacterial fragments allow the initial ice crystals to form at warmer temperatures.”

In the carbon cycle of the earth. Viruses “and the bacterial fragments they create are carbonaceous substances” continues Ross. “Through their role in precipitation, they collect as vast carbonaceous sheets on the surfaces of the world’s oceans. These sheets or mats of viruses and bacterial fragments sink slowly and eventually land on the ocean floors. As they are sinking they provide important nutrients for deep-sea and benthic (bottom-dwelling) life. Plate tectonics drive much of the viral and bacterial fragments into Earth’s crust and mantle where some of that carbonaceous material is returned to the atmosphere through volcanic eruptions.”

In addition, Ross adds, viruses provide medical researchers with tools to fight cancer and cure genetic diseases.

What’s So Bad About This Corona Virus?

In the official World Health Organization (WHO) designation of COVIDn-19, the small letter n represents the word “new,” meaning that it’s a new mutation for which we, therefore, will have no experience–and no immunity. We all understand that any virus we encounter is met with our body’s aggressive counterattack through our immune system. With COVIDn-19, however, we are, helpless. As humans, with technologies at our fingertips, we can develop vaccines, and antidotes. We can also repurpose medications, as well as initiate mitigation measures and use medical equipment to aid our fight against this painful and deadly virus.

Next: Understanding Our Pandemic.

[Sources: Image: Zika Virus. Purdue University/Kuhn and Rossman research groups.  Why Zika, and Other Viruses, Don’t Disprove God’s Goodness: A microbiologist reflects on the problem of evil in human diseases. Interview by Rebecca Randall, Christianity Today, August 14, 2018                                                                                                                                Ross, Hugh. https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/…ays-new-reason-to-believe/2020/03/30/viruses-and-god-s-good-designs                                                       Ross, Hugh, https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/tnrtb/2009/11/26/viruses-and-god’s-providence-revisited]

 

 

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Where Are You, God, In This COVIDn-19 Disaster?

Steven Nash's grandparents

Steven Nash’s Grandparents

“Lost both of my grandparents in the past 24 hours to covid-19,” wrote Steven Nash on Twitter. I sent him my sincere sympathy. I couldn’t do much else, except to ask, “Where are You, God, in this COVIDn-19 Disaster?” In the midst of a three part series on Loving Our Enemies (found here and here), I want to take time out to reflect on our current crisis.

How can God allow the unleashing of a pandemic affecting the whole world? So much tragedy; so much death; and so much suffering. Where are You, God, in this COVIDn-19 outbreak? Where are you, God, in our disaster? To ask such questions in times of tragedy, in this case, not simply personal or national tragedy, but world-wide tragedy, is normal. We can’t get our heads around the idea. It’s taking time for us to adjust to the stark news on our TV screens daily. Here is what I found on Fox News today, Tuesday, March 25, 2020.

Where are You, God in our COVIDn-19 Disaster?

Cornonavirus Pandemic March 25, 2020: US Figures

Social Distancing

So many new cases, so many deaths, boggle our mind. Two weeks ago, I volunteered to set up chairs at the counseling ministry where I volunteer. “Three feet apart,” the leader of the meeting after mine insisted, to my irritation. “Social distancing,” she explained. Well, okay, I thought. Maybe this is a new type of experience for the members assembling later. Instead, I eventually learned, this was illness prevention protocol that would change the behavior patterns of our whole country.

“Unexplained tragedy, unspeakable suffering and inconceivable circumstances of all kinds have marked humanity down through the years,” wrote Jim Daly, President of Focus On The Family. He reported that he’d received many questions related to, “How can an all-powerful God allow the coronavirus?”

Not A New Problem

As we all ask, “Where are You, God in this COVIDn-19 Disaster?” I have also pondered that question at some length. Daly is right: this is not a new problem. Periodically we face  circumstances in our personal, family, or national life that stops us in our tracks. In this case the whole world reels from the impact of this highly contagious virus. I’ve looked at this issue of tragedy from the viewpoint of seeking to understand the message of the Bible Book of Job. The author of Job had these issues in mind when he created, collected and penned the series of speeches in dialogue and monologue form that led to our present Bible book. Few people read the story of Job from cover to cover. But to do so helps provide a spiritual and emotional experience as we encounter God through a catastrophe.

Perhaps a brief overview of Job’s story will refresh our memory. For our purpose, I deal only with Job’s life. Beginning with a story of material success, coupled with a righteous life, we trace Job’s experience of multiple major disasters. From grief upon grief, including losing his businesses, employees and children, Job sinks into abject despair. Pouring out his feeling that he prefers death to a life of suffering (Chapter 3), Job engages with three colleagues who attempt to straighten out his view of God as unjust (Chapters 4-27). They insist Job’s disasters resulted from his sin.  “Where are You, God, in this disaster?” Job asks.  For Job, God was silent, absent, and even at times seemed hostile. We entertain those same questions, thoughts, and feelings.

Where is God in Chaos?

Job is important for us because he speaks for us. In a disaster beyond our control, we also question God’s presence and goodness. Halfway through, the structure of the book shifts from dialogues to monologues: On wisdom (28), Job’s climatic defense (29-31). Elihu, a fourth friend (32-37), who attempts to bridge the gap between Job and the other friends, urges him to repent after his healing, and to admit his sin of pride.

God responds (finally!) to Job’s outcry (38-41) with a new perspective on his suffering. He describes two monsters, not amenable to human control (40-41). Behemoth and Leviathan, perhaps depictions of a hippopotamus and crocodile, and/or, perhaps also mythical creatures represent massive chaos, life run amok, out of human control. But not God’s: “… his Maker can approach him with his sword” (40:19).

Where Are You, God, In This COVIDn-19 Disaster?

As circumstances stand now, we are still out of control with COVIDn-19. We need ventilators, hospital beds, a vaccine, and medications, some of which have been found effective in the treatment of the disease. We also need money to tide us over until we can restart our economy and get back to work. In addition, we need leadership from every level of government. And, finally, we need God’s perspective. God spoke to Job; perhaps he will speak to us. One Twitter picture showed empty shelves no longer of toilet paper–of Bibles! God had a perspective different from what Job expected; perhaps his perspective will be different from what we expect. We need to live lives, so that, like Steven Nash’s grandparents, whatever happens, we love each other, and we love Jesus.

 

 

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Is “Love Your Enemies” Unrealistic? II

Is 'Love Your Enemies' realistic?

Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand

Christians have achieved notoriety as the most persecuted religion in the world. In a May, 2019 article, the BBC published announcement of a report commissioned by British Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt. The Right Rev. Philip Mountstephen, Bishop of Truro, led the report, entitled, “Christian Persecution At Near Genocidal Levels.” It found that, as a religious group, Christians suffered the most persecution. One result: Christians have fled middle east nations. In fact, Christianity faces being, in their words, “wiped out” from parts of the Middle East. How can we love those who threaten, attack and kill us? Can Christians love their enemies? How can we obey Jesus? Is “Love Your Enemies” unrealistic?

Political Correctness

Rev. Mounstephen felt that “political correctness” had played a part in the failure to confront the persecution of Christians. The report concluded, therefore, that Christianity “is at risk of disappearing” from some areas of the world. Christians in Palestine, for example, represent less than 1.5% of the population. And in Iraq, the Christian population dropped from 1.5 million before 2003 to less than 120,000 today. The report noted that persecution of Christians has grown in its geographic reach and in its severity.

Loving your enemies is, perhaps, one of the most difficult teachings of Jesus on which to act. In Matthew’s account of Jesus’ Sermon On the Mount, Jesus teaches many difficult lessons. This challenge, however, may be the most difficult. So, is “Love Your Enemies” unrealistic?

Is “Love Your Enemies” Unrealistic?

In my last blog, I explained that the Greek word “love” in Jesus’ instruction, doers not have the “feel-good” connotation it has for us. Instead, it means to treat kindly those undeserving of it. It is, therefore, a gracious act of kindness. This, in spite of how others treat us.

The Roman Emperor Domitian, had declared Christians enemies of the empire. Recall how Phocas of Sinope treated all travelers, including those sent to execute him, to his food, garden, and rooms. Learning their mission, but keeping his identity secret, however, he chose not to escape. Instead, he worked in his garden. In the morning he revealed his identity and faced his executioners with a heart of love. He was buried in the grave he had dug in his garden throughout the previous night.

A Modern Phocas

“Well,” you may say, “We know all those early Christians were ‘weird,’ or ‘unusual,’ or ‘consummate witnesses.’ But what about people today?” I want to share a relatively recent example of someone who believed “Love Your Enemies” applied to him. Richard Wurmbrand’s story can help us answer if “Love Your Enemies” is unrealistic.

A Coward For A Husband

Lutheran pastor Richard Wurmbrand watched as the Soviet Union invaded his native Romania in 1944. The Soviets sought the active participation of the Lutheran Clergy to support them in their quest to control the population. They even promised a pay raise to the assembled crowd of pastors! But, after a pointed challenge from Sabina, his wife (“I do not need a coward for a husband”), Wurmbrand decided to speak. Under the watchful eye of a portrait of Joseph Stalin (“Stalin”, Russian for “steel”), Wurmbrand stood his ground. He publicly denounced cooperation with the occupation government and called his fellow clergy to follow Jesus.

Treating “Enemies” With Kindness

Is “Love Your Enemies unrealistic?” Like Phocas, Wurmbrand loved the invaders. He spoke fluent Russian, so he patiently befriended Russian soldiers, eventually sharing the Good News of Jesus’ love in secret. In small, carefully guarded groups, they became Brothers in Christ. Until his arrest, Wurmbrand’s love for Jesus led him to risk his freedom to love his enemies.

Tortured For Christ

For Wurmbrand’s willingness to stand publicly against the Communists, he endured surveillance; for his ministry among Russian soldiers, the authorities arrested him, and imprisoned him 14 years. The first two years of his sentence he spent in an underground solitary cell. He also experienced hunger, cold, torture  and the maiming of his feet. He eventually lost the ability to walk normally. But, in spite of guards’ relentless attempts to brainwash him, they failed. Only after supporters in the Free World paid a ransom of $10,000 did the authorities release him and his family. Tortured for Christ, his memoir, inspired Christians of his day, and continues to inspire Christians today.

Voice Of The Martyrs (VOM)

Wurmbrand’s testimony and biography also inspired “Voice Of The Martyrs” (VOM). VOM ministers to persecuted Christians in Communist and Islamic nations.  Tortured For Christ also presents his story in film. (You can purchase the DVD for a gift to VOM.) Like Phocas, Pastor Richard Wurmbrand’s example of obedience to Jesus’ to “Love Your Enemies” challenges me today.  How do you answer Jesus’ command to ‘Love Your Enemies’?”

[Sources: Image persecutionblog.com. https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-48146305. https://www.gordongrose.com/is-love-your-enemies-unrealistic/ https://www.persecution.com/founders/]

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