Remember Sandra Parks

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

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

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

Two Truths

Remember Sandra Parks for her two truths:

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

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

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

Cold Facts

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

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

How To Remember Sandra Parks

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

Sandra Parks’ Essay


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Terror In God’s Name II

Stern explains why terrorists kill in God's name

Review Continued: Terror In The Name Of God: Why Religious Militants Kill, Jessica Stern, NY: Harper Collins ECCO, 2003. For the first installment of this review, see

Why Do Terrorists Kill in God’s Name?

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

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

Organizational Structures

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

Common Motivation

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

Muslim Vulnerability

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

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

Terrorism: Ancient As Well as Modern

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

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

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Why Terrorists Kill In God’s Name

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

Why Do Terrorists Kill in God’s Name?

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

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

Why Do Terrorists Kill? – Grievances

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

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

Reward and Threat

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

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

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



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Does The World Make Sense? II

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

Searching For An Answer

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

How does The Lord Answer?

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

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

Does The World Make Sense?

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

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)

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

Shortcomings to Neiman’s Analysis

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

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




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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:]

Job 13:15 Commentary on Context

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Misreading 13:15 Matters

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

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

[The following first appeared in the September 2018 issue of Christianity Today:]

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:]

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, in both paper and in eBook. Or, I have a website which offers my book for sale. I also have a blog that I write for regularly,, that’s my name G-O-R-D-O-N- 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.


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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