• Things to Say to Someone Who Is Suffering

    I’m so sorry you’re going through this.

    It makes me sad/angry to see what you’re going through. You deserve better.

    It won’t always be like this.

    It’s OK to be broken sometimes.

    Not everyone could handle this with as much grace/bravery/whatever as you.

    Sometimes all you can do is get through the day and that’s enough.

    I know it’s overwhelming right now, but I believe in you.

    Tell me how bad it really is.

    What do you wish someone would say to you right now?

    Can I pray for/over you?

    Obviously, use discretion, but these are all things that you can say to someone going through the worst life has to offer. When dealing with someone in that position, resist the urge to try to convince them things aren’t so bad, to look at them more positively or to practice gratitude. Sometimes life really is that bad and your efforts to convince them otherwise will only highlight how hopeless they feel and make them feel even more isolated by their pain. Pep talks and positive thinking have their place, but in a society where everyone’s supposed to be happy all the time, it’s a gift to demonstrate loving acceptance of someone’s pain.

    If you want to lift their spirits, distraction is your best bet. Crack jokes, tell a funny story, let them reminisce about better times or share a bit of harmless gossip.

    For more ideas on how to be there for someone going through a terrible time, check out my post What To Do When Someone Starts Crying In Front of You.

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    Three Sinful Paths

    Let’s say that you are a new Christian, earnest and eager to follow the narrow path and repent of sin and all its damaging consequences. Which is a good goal. Both the Greek and Hebrew words for sin mean to miss the mark. The mark being union with God. Since union with God is the full fruit of redemption and sin means missing that fruit, avoiding sin is a worthwhile goal. But how to do that?

    Well, in general, there are three paths you can take. One will take you to God. One will take you destruction. And one will get you somewhere between the two. Allow me to explain these paths and you see if you can pick out which is which.

    The first path is one favored by many in the church. It is to identify sin and target it for elimination. It may mean that you refrain from engaging in worldly activities like drinking, swearing, watching questionable movies, hanging out with friends who are up to no good and the like. Perhaps you get involved in a small group or pursue relationships with more mature Christians as a way of building accountability for yourself.

    This path does have its uses, particularly for those who are new to the faith. When a person converts to Christianity, it means adopting a new identity and with it, a new way of life. If your old identity was grounded in being a promiscuous partier who was known for your outrageous antics, it may be necessary to swear off those old behaviors in order to make room for your new identity in Christ.

    The danger of this path is that identifying and eliminating sin can become the way you live out your faith and the basis of your Christian identity. Those on this path are too often the public face of the church, defined by what it is vocally against. In fact, the church has no end of self appointed gatekeepers for whom a willingness to identify and target sin for elimination is synonymous with being a faithful Christian. They think they are protecting the church when really all they are doing is attempting to lock everyone in the nursery. Continue reading

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    Adam and Eve and When It All Went Wrong

    Well, it’s been a while since we dropped in on our friends Adam and Eve in the garden. So I figured I might as well make it a week of weird and tell y’all what I’ve been thinking/figuring out about them.

    For those of you who don’t know, I have a wee bit of an obsession with the creation stories and the story of the fall. In fact, if it were possible to make money off meditating on them, I would be writing this from a beach in Fuji instead of on a computer with vacuum tubes in a spare bedroom that looks it hasn’t been cleaned in 2 months (because it hasn’t).

    The reason I am so obsessed with these stories is because they seem to hold the key to understanding what is wrong with our relationships with each other, God and creation. Once you stop reading them as either the worst history book ever written or a fairy tale just-so story and taking them seriously, you discover that they are a lot like a puzzle. And I’m one of those people who plays soduku to relax. I like puzzles.

    Anyhow, last spring I wrote a short series about a vision/dreamy sort of thingy I was given about what happened at the fall. Which if you may want to check out. The big take-away from the whole thing was that the fall wasn’t actually our fault. It was more like the world’s worse act of abuse against a couple of kids. If you think I’m full of it or want to know more, you can go read the posts on the subject. They’re short, we can wait:

    What Was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil Doing in the Garden?

    The Fall Wasn’t Our Fault

    Does God Sit Around Monitoring Our Thoughts? And Other Pertinent Questions

    So What Happened to Adam and Eve Anyhow?

    Now if I haven’t scared you off, today I want to discuss the relationship between Adam and Eve. As I’ve said before (and as Ireneus and a few other early church fathers said), Adam and Eve were children. Little children.

    Adam was made first. Adam is the Hebrew word for man or mankind. It’s used thousands of times in the Hebrew OT to mean man or mankind. So when we talk about Adam, we are talking about a character who represents mankind as a whole, not necessarily about one specific individual. (Remember, mankind is one.)

    Eve is formed later as a subset of mankind. Still a part of mankind, but defined by her gender. Eve is like a little sister to Adam. Consider that it is Adam who named the animals, received instructions from God, went looking for a partner, etc. Adam even got to name Eve.

    So Adam would have been much like a big brother, showing his little sister around, telling her what things were called, explaining the rules, etc. Anyone who has ever seen a preschooler with a toddler sibling knows exactly what I am talking about here. A little kid enjoying being in charge and showing off what he knows for an admiring younger sibling.

    I’ve written before about a small detail from the story of the fall which is normally overlooked, but I think is important. When Adam and Eve were standing by the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the snake approaches them, Eve says something untrue. She tells the serpent that not only can they not eat the fruit of the tree, but they are not even allowed to touch it. It’s a little detail that points to the fact that perfection, as we think of perfection, did not exist even before the fall. Which makes sense; God had declared the earth “good” and Adam and Eve “very good”. We’re the ones who made up this idea that it was perfect.

    So, where did Eve get this idea that they weren’t allowed to touch the tree? Perhaps she made it up and was just lying. Or perhaps it was what her big brother Adam had told her. It’s totally the sort of thing a big brother would do. (I once had my little sister convinced that clouds moving across the sky showed how fast the earth was turning. Because I wanted to impress her with my great understanding of the workings of the earth, of course.)

    God had given Adam one little rule to follow. It’s very easy to imagine that as a big brother, earnestly taking his responsibilities very seriously and feeling very important, he had instructed Eve, “see that fruit over there? God says we can’t eat it or we will die. We can’t even touch the tree it’s so dangerous!” He exaggerated a bit. Who doesn’t exaggerate from time to time? (My computer does not have vacuum tubes, by the way.) Especially when we’re trying to impress someone?

    So Adam and Eve are standing by the tree. Maybe Adam’s showing off how brave he is to get so close to the dangerous tree. And the snake, who knows damn well that he has no business messing with them comes by to chat. And let’s just say that perhaps, as they are talking a breeze goes by and a branch moves and a bit of fruit brushes against Eve. Who doesn’t die.

    And the snake says, “You will not certainly die. For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

    Eve at this point is perhaps aware that her brother may have been doing what big brothers do and scared her in order to impress her. She didn’t die from touching the fruit. Perhaps eating it wasn’t so scary either. It was pretty. What little girl doesn’t like pretty things? And God had given the garden to them to eat from. Plus, the fruit was useful for gaining wisdom. If she was wise, then she wouldn’t be the little kid her brother could trick.

    Adam is standing there silently. Perhaps he heard Eve repeat his harmless lie and had some idea that he had made a mistake in telling her they couldn’t touch the fruit. Perhaps he had some vague awareness that he had been caught; that Eve knew he had lied to her. But I have had a child tell me “I didn’t stand on the coffee table” while they were standing on the coffee table. Little kids aren’t exactly know for their willingness to admit that they did something wrong.

    So Eve eats the fruit and hands it to Adam. Adam has just watched his Eve, who God made just for him, who would be the mother of all adam, sign her own death sentence. All he had meant was to keep Eve safe and maybe impress her a bit. He was the big brother and being a big brother comes with responsibilities. So Adam does just what a good man would do in that situation and bravely took a bite of the fruit Eve handed him. If she was going to die, he would go with her.

     

  • Creative Suffering

    Today, a friend posted this quote from the book Don’t Blame God- A Biblical Answer to the Problem of Evil, Sin, and Suffering by John W. Schoenheit, Mark H. Graeser, John A. Lynn. I haven’t read the book, so I have no idea if the rest of the book is any good. Probably 99% of what Christians write on the subject of evil, suffering and sin is unhelpful in my experience, so I’m always a bit wary of those claiming to explain it. However, this quote captures perfectly my own ideas and understanding, so I thought it would be worth passing on to y’all.

    In the early days of television in the USA, a children’s show featured an artist whose creativity was astounding, and illustrative of God’s resourcefulness. This artist would sit beside an easel with a large pad of white paper. Randomly he would hand a piece of charcoal to one of the children and have him make any sort of scribble he wanted. He would then ask the children what they would like him to make out of the scribble. It might be an animal, a clown, or anything that appealed to the children’s imagination or seemed to pose a big challenge to the artist’s skill. The artist then went to work transforming the scribble into the requested image with amazing ease and skill. It didn’t seem to matter what the scribble looked like or what he was asked to make out of it—he could do it.

    We must see God in a similar light, and appreciate His creative genius. He can take any set of circumstances and, with a few master strokes of grace and mercy, bring a new picture into view, one that shows His love and will. There is nothing that Satan and sin can introduce into our lives that God cannot transform into something that will glorify Him. There is one important difference between the artist and God, however. The artist took the charcoal from the child and drew the picture himself. God works with us to guide us as we and He draw the picture together. He asks us to work together with Him to achieve His will—by praying, trusting Him, obeying Him, and speaking His Word. As the English proverb well expresses it: “God supplies the milk, we bring the pail.”

    Richard Rice points out that such thinking may seem to some as though it compromises God’s “sovereignty,” and leaves Him at the mercy of what people do. He then gives two ways to answer this objection.

    In the first place, God has voluntarily limited His sovereignty over the world in order to leave us free to choose. When He created morally free beings, He, in effect, shared with them the power to determine what course history would take. So whatever limits there are to God’s power, they are limits which He voluntarily set when He decided to create the kind of world He made.

    In the second place, the ability to respond creatively to events as they happen, so that they contribute to His purposes, takes, if anything, a higher kind of power than the ability to plan to the last detail everything that happens.