We live in a pragmatic culture. Why do a thing unless you’re going to get something out of it? Why worship God unless you’re going to get something out of Him. And, of course, the false promises of the health and wealth gospel are a natural outgrowth.
We also live in a therapeutic culture. Promises about physical health aren’t enough. If you trust in God, you will also have perfect mental health. Are you depressed? Suffering from anxiety? Just trust in God! Darkness will melt into sunshine.
The problem is this. God never promised to give us health or wealth in this life. He promised he would take care of us and gave us many examples of how He does this. Some people like Solomon seemed to have a fairly easy life. God also cared for Jeremiah in his pit of mire, Job scraping his sores, Paul in prison, Jonathon dying on the battlefield, and Elijah hiding from Jezebel in the desert. Yes, he takes care of us, but it doesn’t match up with our American version of health and wealth. When He says He’ll take care of us, He means He will never leave or forsake us.
People can struggle with depression and anxiety even while they are turning to God. Christian may even grow weary in their struggle, and look on the outside like they are at the point of despair – like Jonah and Elijah. But to assume a person is not trusting God just because they are depressed is to assume God will give perfect mental health just because we are saved. Sometimes God allows a thorn in our flesh, and declares His grace sufficient. His strength is made perfect in our weakness.
There’s another problem with assuming a person is suffering from these things simply because they don’t trust in God. What if God is giving them e-motions to put them in motion? Anxiety can be for all kind of sinful reasons. A people pleaser can’t please. A perfectionist can’t attain. A controlling person can’t control. Understanding the reason can lead to real repentance. Trying to repent from anxiety without understanding it leads to a never ending hamster wheel. Simply saying “trust in God” is abstract, and therefore unhelpful.
Of course, one could say that all these sins are examples of not trusting God, but the person doing them may not know that. A codependent people pleaser is going to think that trusting in God means they should continue to be walked all over like a doormat, and God will bless their sacrifices. A controlling person is going to think they need to get a better handle on things so they can obey better, because God blesses obedience. Even if a person does understand they are people pleasing or controlling, they may not know where the compulsion is coming from or how to fight it. Understanding the specific details of a person’s core problem is needed to really be helpful.
People can also suffer depression and anxiety for non-sinful reasons. For example, I once read about a man who suffered from social anxiety. He remembered being a little boy, hopping from one barefoot to the other on the hot cement in his family’s backyard. He was not allowed off the cement until the 30 minute timer buzzed. His mother watched sternly through the window. He had been a bad boy again. He wasn’t sure for what, but he knew he was evil. In reality, his mother was an arbitrary tyrant, but the little boy’s mind protected him from this knowledge. If he was bad, then he could choose to be good, and therefore he could choose to be safe. If she were bad, the universe was unthinkably terrifying.
As he grew older, the boy began seeing everyone else’s anger and judgement as always being his fault. And these faults he was committing were unimaginably bad, bad enough to be punished severely. He worked hard to please people, and whenever he failed, the shame was unbearable. Every failure seemed to prove his mother was right about him. His constant guilt attracted the controlling guilt trippers of the world, and the problem snowballed.
Well-meaning Christian exhorted him to ignore his “pride”, and hang out with people more. They would remind him that being reclusive was selfish. Yet, the more he socialized, the more anxiety ridden he would become. He was then rebuked for not trusting God. But he was going to God! He constantly asked for forgiveness, but it seemed God didn’t care about him. He still felt evil.
This pattern can play out in many different scenarios. Take the emotionally abused wife. As long as she is the problem in the relationship, she can solve the problem. “He’s looking at porn because I need to work out more,” or “He wouldn’t have hit me if I had been more gentle in my tone.” If he is the problem, she might get hurt again, but if she is the problem, she can do better and be safe. She is completely unaware she is doing this. So, rather than admit it, even to her conscious mind, she internalizes it and it comes out as anxiety attacks. And of course, she goes to God in her anxiety. Every. Single. Time.
When people tell her, “Just trust in God”, she misunderstand and works out more to be a good wife so he won’t look at porn. She uses gentle answers and a soft tone even while he rages in drunkenness and addiction. God’s word doesn’t seem to be working, and anxiety increases and she is rebuked even more for “not trusting God.”
When abuse happens, over time the neurons in the brain become damaged, and the brain begins seeing the world with a skewed perspective. Some might say, “Yes, but Jesus frees us from all that.” There’s that pragmatic health and wealth gospel again! He often does heal us from all that. Sometimes He’s in the midst of healing and sometimes he doesn’t on this side of eternity. He sometimes allow frailty “to make His glory known.” And often, he heals us from “all that” with the help of people who understand how to untangle a paradigm twisted from abuse.
Then there’s the biological depression, which has nothing to do with abuse. I knew a lady who struggled with debilitating depression for years, only to find out she had imbalanced hormones. Two weeks of hormone therapy and all her “sin issues” suddenly disappeared.
Depression is a symptom. It has many causes. Brushing a depressed person aside with, “Trust in God” is the same as brushing an overwhelmed cancer patient aside with the same.
Job’s friends were pretty sure they knew what they were saying. They had their theology down. They knew there was only one possible reason why Job lost his health and his wealth. He must have done something wrong. It must be a sin issue. He must not have been trusting in God like He should.
Elihu, on the other hand, listened carefully and waited to speak. He was the only counselor of whom God approved. I think he would have agreed with Solomon’s proverb: “A man who answers a matter before he knows it, it is a folly and a shame to him.” Elihu still rebuked Job, but his rebuke was accurate, humble, and gentle. The other men rebuked inaccurately and Job became defensive. They then took this defensive attitude as more proof of his guilt. This conversational pattern still happens today.
-Solomon (Proverbs 20:5)
“And why are you special?” The teacher smiled encouragingly.
The young girl proudly lifted her, dimpled arms wide, “Because I have strong muscles!” Satisfied with this empowered answer, the teacher turned to the next child, “And how about you? Why are you special?”
“Because God made me!” He looked up expectantly, waiting for the teacher to praise him as she had the others.
Instead, she corrected, “Oh, we don’t talk about that god stuff here. You can talk about that at home, OK?” The boy stared down confusedly at his feet.
Turning her attention from him, she continued questioning and praising the class.
I was the co-teacher, and after the circle time was over, I leaned over to that little crestfallen boy, who had just been led to believe he was the only non-special kid in the group and whispered, “I love Jesus too! And I’m glad he made you. You are special!”
That teacher had been so afraid the other non-Christian children in the circle would feel judged, she immediately judged the one who didn’t fall in line. She saw “falling in line” as being neutral, but then, if it was, there would be no need for rebuke.
The above scenario didn’t surprise me. It fit in nicely with all I had been taught while working toward my teaching degree. The thing I remember most from my college days was the severe lack of diversity. I don’t mean there were no minorities or alternative relationships going on. I mean there was no diversity of ideas. It seemed like it was decided long ago that the best way to get different races and classes together was to teach them to all believe the same thing. As long as we all believe the basic politically correct premises, we could stand strong together. I won’t say what type of government this reminds me of. I don’t want to be shocking. It is ironic, though, that anyone who questioned the one way to believe (affectionately called the Coexist Religion in my home) no matter how politely, was exhorted to hush up their own unique ideas and embrace what everyone else believed. I mean to say, they were exhorted to embrace diversity.
This is one reasons I home school. I don’t want my kids growing up in a politically correct bubble, assuming any idea outside of that bubble is invalid. I want them to really understand what embracing diversity means. I want my kids to wrestle with ideas that directly and subtly attack all that they love and believe. But I want them to go a step further, to learn to love these people who are attacking their ideas, to see through the rhetoric and comprehend their underlying motives. I want them to love and honor them while understanding exactly why they disagree with them and to be able to winsomely and lovingly share their own beliefs. This is true tolerance. And it’s the kind of educated tolerance necessary for a healthy republic.
“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain an idea without accepting it.”
Dazed, I set the phone down. Tina, my step- sister, had just turned 23. Learning of her death was like reaching the middle of a book only to find The End emblazoned in bold print.
Lying in bed that night, I began questioning. “Why God? Why does this make you happy? What kind of a God are you that this makes you happy? You knew her. You know how she was neglected, how she was molested by her own father. And now she awaits the judgement throne, waiting to be sent to hell! You saw how her trust was broken. How could she trust You?”
A memory – Tina was talking with that bored, superior voice she used sometimes, “I know I’m like supposed to be praying or something, asking God to help me and doing good or whatever, but I just want to have fun. I like my life, doing things my way.” How could I have forgotten all the times she had spoken like that, all the times God had reached out to her with truth and mercy, and how out of pride, she had rejected him. I was also reminded of how she often used those around her, manipulating, using her life story as an excuse to be selfish. I was rewriting the story so that she was good, so that all humans were good, really, and God was unjust. I had made my sister into an innocent victim. But God was not judging my made-up sister.
I had done this with others as well. I had wondered about tribal people who have never heard the gospel, about children who have been taught and acculturated to love Islam, Buddhism or Agnosticism. How could a good God punish them? But, then, how could I understand these people better than the One who made them? The One who knows their every thought and motive?
I felt God was being unjust by giving a punishment much bigger than the crime. The thing was, God knows all these crimes inside and out and he understands the weight of eternal death in exact measure. If I’m humble, I have to admit, I don’t know enough about either to judge whether the punishment fits the crime or not. And why was I trusting God on the verses about hell, but not the verses on His justice and mercy? How much did I really know about hell?
I had become like one of Job’s friends. They didn’t understand what God was doing, so they conjectured. It’s so easy to do, but it’s naive.
At times, I had even entertained the idea that the problem of evil was the Achilles heel of the Christian faith. I came to realize, though, that the “problem of evil” is not a logical dilemma at all. It is a perception problem. I struggled with this concept for years, but that night I became more aware of how limited my understanding was. I grew slower to question God and quicker to question myself. My mouth was stopped, so to say, and I began searching and listening rather than judging the Judge.
“I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?”
-Lewis in Till We Have Faces
Reason’s last step is the recognition that there are an infinite number of things which are beyond it.”
A few books that helped me with my journey toward seeing God’s goodness in an evil world:
C.S. Lewis -A Grief Observed
C.S. Lewis-Till We Have Faces
C.S. Lewis- The Problem of Pain
Peter Kreeft- Making Sense Out of Suffering
The Reason for God – Timothy Keller
Fyodor Dostoyevsky- The Brothers Karamazov
An article by Ralph Woods-Ivan Karamazov’s Mistake
And, of course, the book of Job
This is our Thanksgiving Box. Throughout the year, we insert bits of thankfulness and read them all on Thanksgiving day.
I remember the first year we did this. I was smiling and cooking and going through the motions, but I wasn’t feeling it. I was the mother of five, seven and under, had a lot of health issues, and I was tired.
Distractedly, I opened the box and began reading. I smiled at the sweet thank yous the kids had dictated for me over the months, but my mind still buzzed with all I had to do. Then everything grew quiet as the last paper I read came into focus.
Thank You Eva’s lips turned pink again.
How could I have forgotten? I gathered my little Eva onto my lap and remembered how, six months previously, she had climbed on top of the dining room table and jumped as far and high as her little toddler legs would allow. Landing on her head, she almost passed out, and stayed in a state of semi-consciousness, while her face paled and her lips faded to blue.
The nurse told us to keep her awake for awhile and then check her every half hour through out the night. I did not sleep that night. It wasn’t long before her healthy pink color returned and nothing ever came of her fall. She was fine, but it sure gave me a scare.
Thinking about this made me realize something. If I had forgotten a big thing like that, how many smaller blessings had I forgotten? So the Thank you Box became a confirmed tradition in our house. For us, saying thank you in the abstract only reaches one inch deep, but as we remember the details, dozens and dozens of them, smiles grow wider, kids lean forward laughing, and everyone is joyful about the goodness of God. They don’t always think about it that way. But they’re being trained toward thankfulness. And I have found, so am I.
“Trust him. And when you have done that, you are living the life of grace. No matter what happens to you in the course of that trusting – no matter how many waverings you may have, no matter how many suspicions that you have bought a poke with no pig in it, no matter how much heaviness and sadness your lapses, vices, indispositions, and bratty whining may cause you – you believe simply that Somebody Else, by his death and resurrection, has made it all right, and you just say thank you and shut up. The whole slop-closet full of mildewed performances (which is all you have to offer) is simply your death; it is Jesus who is your life. If he refused to condemn you because your works were rotten, he certainly isn’t going to flunk you because your faith isn’t so hot. You can fail utterly, therefore, and still live the life of grace. You can fold up spiritually, morally, or intellectually and still be safe. Because at the very worst, all you can be is dead – and for him who is the Resurrection and the Life, that just makes you his cup of tea.” -Father Capon
“So I think it is pretty clear that somebody has to die. Somebody has to die for the way we treat our black brothers and sisters in this country. Somebody has to die for the way we treat our brothers and sisters in uniform. Someone has to die for the way we treat the elderly, the way we slaughter the unborn, and the way we despise and marginalize the disabled. Someone has to die for our hatred, someone has to die for our selfishness, someone has to die for our envy, someone has to die for our bitterness. That is the bad news, and it does seem to be most of the news right now.
But there is good news too – The Good News.
Someone did. Someone took all this sin we see – the only person in the history of our world who did not deserve to die – and he died with our sin in His arms. He took it to the grave and He left it there when He returned.
There is only one way out of this kind of tangle of resentment and hate and bitterness and it is through the grave, in the arms of Christ.
Christians, there has never been a better time to share this good news. Lay down your grievances, lay down your accusations, lay down your hashtag fights, lay down your drama. Share the good news of salvation to a world that needs it more than anything.”
A while back I nannied a little girl. She was a cutie. Brown ringlets spiraled over her large dark eyes. Her cheeks dimpled adorably whenever she smiled. Every Monday she would arrive bright and early and leave around dinner. Sadly, I rarely saw her smile, at least not for the first part of each week. She screamed if she couldn’t go outside exactly when she wanted to. She howled when she couldn’t eat cookies for breakfast. She would cry and fuss, kick and hit and carry on for pretty much everything all day long. This only happened on Monday. By Wednesday her tempers had died down a little. By Thursday she was happy much of the day and Friday evening I would send her back a sweet, little angel for her parents to enjoy over the weekend. The next Monday we would begin the pattern again. Her parents were convinced she was just going through the terrible twos.
This little girl’s mind matured and she began to understand the rules. She could effectively throw tempers at her parents’ home, but not at mine. She began throwing non-stop tempers with her parents all week long, while playing cheerfully all week at my house. Her parents began noticing the discrepancy. I had been waiting for them to do this, to wonder about it out loud. When they did, I gently suggested what I had been thinking all along.
There’s no such thing as the terrible twos! The whole “reverse bonding” fiasco is non-sense. Children do develop quickly during their toddler years and this does present challenges, but it is not just some stage they must grow through. They now have a great attention span. This is a challenge. A mother can’t just distract them with a shiny toy like she used to. They have seen the world and they know their options. Who wants green beans when cookies exist? They are ready to be brought to a greater maturity. If the mother does not do the work necessary, the child will continue to have the maturity of a baby while having the cognitive and physical abilities of a small child. This is what we call the “terrible twos”. It doesn’t have to be that way. Two year olds can be so much fun! They just need gentle, but firm boundaries, and much higher expectations.
So, I will be blogging over the next several weeks about some basic principles and methods I used, not only with that little two year old girl, but also with my own five. I’m starting with a principal that may not seem to be pragmatically the most important, and it isn’t if you’re looking for a quick fix. But if you really want to nurture a long lasting relationship, I believe this first principal is foundational.
Grace Based Foundation
Every home has an atmosphere. I remember, as a child, visiting a classmate’s house for a full week. I was so excited! Two days in I changed my mind and desperately wanted to go home. The house was thick with arguing. I was always on the defense and my energy felt drained. That same summer I visited another friend’s home. The atmosphere there was peaceful and cheerful. It was a home where I felt energized to say kind things and help anyone who needed it. Teaching obedience without unconditional love creates a terrible atmosphere. It breeds insecurity, which in turn creates contrariness, tempers and sibling conflict.
There are two ways to avoid raising an insecure child, and all the problems that grow out of it. First, as you train your two year old, make sure you don’t set up an antagonistic relationship! If they feel it’s you against them, they will need to win to keep their dignity. Hence, the contrariness. Think of how you would like your husband or friend to rebuke you, and use the same careful and empathetic gentleness with your toddler. Come along side them, not against them. This produces an atmosphere of peace.
Say the above little girl had a temper because she wanted a forbidden item. First I would pick her up, hug her and empathize. “You want that don’t you? I know.” And sadly, “I can’t give it to you. I’m so sad, but you are having a temper and now you must go on time out.” I would give her a kiss on her head and gently put her on time out. If she was screaming too loudly for me to talk to her, I would just give her a hug and a kiss and set her in a baby gated area till she calmed down. Once she was done crying, I would talk to her and give her a time out. If she decided to scream in the room for more than a couple of minutes before calming down, I’d go in once in awhile and give her a quick hug to make sure she knew my love was still there. Then I’d walk away.
Love and authority go together. I was setting up a relationship with her where I was her authority, but I also loved her very much no matter what. She always knew I was sad for. She knew I was disciplining out of love because I was on her side. Sometimes she would attempt to rewrite the story about what was going on. She might say, “You mean!” But I would just smile and hug her, “How silly! We know that’s not true. I love you!”
I know some might think, “I could do that with my kid all day and she wouldn’t even notice. I would just be talking to a screaming child.” But parenting is like a tapestry. Unconditional love and empathy are only one thread. If that’s all you have, then yes, you will just be talking to a screaming child all day. There are many more threads, but I do think unconditional love is the most important.