Inauguration Day Thoughts

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture on January 20, 2017 by jcwill5

It’s going to be quite a day.

My First Disclaimer

downloadDonald Trump wasn’t the candidate I voted for.

He wasn’t the person I expected or wanted to win the Republican primary.

And I certainly didn’t expect him to win the presidency.

Part of the reason is my life-long antipathy towards fads, celebrities, television personas, loud mouth talking heads, etc.

And he epitomized that kind of thing–and put it on steroids.

Which naturally made me ask, “How could that guy, of all people, have won the American presidency?”

My Second Disclaimer

Before I continue, let me say up front that I’m not a progressive but a values conservative, and loathe socialism and all its works.

I don’t share the Left’s dismay, have no sympathy for their vehement protests, and groan at the prospect of their beating their ideological drums for four years and their objecting to every single thing Donald Trump tweets for four years.

In fact, the last eight years have felt deeply oppressive and have been profoundly alienating to me and so many in my faith-group.

OK, all my cards are now on the table.

Humiliation Nation

What I think is going on is all about shame and humiliation.

And the election of Donald Trump wasn’t so much about policy or reasoned positions, or even about moral principles or deep values.

It was about humiliating people and groups whom, rightly or wrongly, were perceived as piling on humiliation upon humiliation under Obama’s reign.

When you lump people together, and call them a “basket of deplorables”, that’s a kind of shaming, a kind of sneering disdain that evokes the deepest kind of anger possible–the anger of humiliated, wounded pride.

When you constantly tell people who disagree with you what to say, what to think, and what they can or can’t do, it feels degrading.

They’ll view you as sanctimonious busy-bodies who seem incapable of live and let live, as officious meddlers who can’t leave well enough alone.

What we therefore are left with is an accumulation of wounded racial pride in white hinterlands, of wounded class pride in rural and blue-collar areas, of wounded religious pride among evangelicals and others holding to historic, biblical moral absolutes.

As Bill Clinton so well put it, “We thought we were changing people’s minds, instead we were merely silencing their opinions.”

All About Payback

For the humiliated half of America, Donald Trump is payback–a chance to turn the tables and elect someone so repugnant to those shaming them that it would send their adversaries over the edge.

Whether it was the beltway elite, or the urban techies, or the free-trade off-sourcing big businesses, or the disdainful media, or the strident minority activists, or the purveyors of political correctness, or the pro-gay lobby–the goal of not merely victory, but humiliation, has been fully achieved.

In greatest irony, the louder and angrier the protests, the more satisfying this moment is for the previously humiliated groups.

As long as Donald Trump confounds, offends, and keeps up his diabolical genius way of poking these shamers in the eye, the more unholy glee is felt by the newly liberated.

And as long as the progressive left fails to understand these deep feelings, the more it will only reinforce them and, sadly and ironically, become dominated by its own sense of humiliation and wounded pride as well.

Perhaps, for me at least, the second most shocking thing is how Trump-like so many on the Left have now become:  breaking precedents when it suited them, placing demeaning labels on those who disagree with them, etc.

A few years ago, someone noted that America has shifted away from a right-and-wrong based culture to a shame-based culture.

In our divided nation, we no longer want to see what’s right prevail, we want to humiliate the other side and rub their noses in it.

Questions We All Face

The questions that therefore face us all are these:

How do we heal and break this mutually-reinforcing cycle of humiliation and counter-humiliation?

How do we resolve this insatiable sense of outraged, wounded pride? in ourselves?  in our group? in our ideological camp?

And, as Christians, how do we avoid getting sucked into and dominated by our own wounded religious pride (the flesh) instead of living under the sweet control of the Spirit?

How do we dis-associate our faith from a sense of wounded religious pride, a sense of wounded class and racial pride, so we can serve and reach even those who perceive us as wounding their own or their group’s pride?

How can we repair the relational damage our wounded pride has done, make amends, and regain a surprising hearing for the gospel?

Instead of gratifying our wounded pride through politics and repaying humiliation with humiliation, the Bible commands us to “put to death the deeds of the flesh” and to “crucify the flesh with its passions and desires”.

In other words, the biggest need right now is personal and group repentance–confessing our sins and humbling ourselves before God is the only way to break the cycle of humiliation between people and groups.

It is a choice to be profoundly vulnerable and bear the price of others’ sins through forgiveness, through turning the other cheek, through repaying evil with unexpected, undeserved good.

It is the narrow and difficult way that leads to life, as opposed to “there is a way that seems right to a man, but it’s way is the way of death.”

This response, and this response alone, is what we most need to keep ever on our minds not only on this Inauguration Day, but on every day to come.

Moving Deeper

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 3, 2017 by jcwill5

p19a3cerqi1novcr51ejq1kvf1ikccMost everyone tries to make at least one change at the beginning of the year.

And it usually lasts less than 2 weeks–at least, that’s what I see at the gym.

Reasons for Not Changing

Part of the reason is inertia.

Isaac Newton is right–bodies at rest tend to stay at rest.

Part of the reason is equilibrium–we  are used to the balance and rhythm of our lives, and changing one thing changes lots of things around us–which all conspire to pull us back to doing what we’ve always done.

Change disrupts the status quo of our lives.

What I mean is we lose the easy way of living where we don’t have to think much in order to do what we’ve already done.

Change requires a great deal of thought and effort and constant attention–and so it’s exhausting, daunting, and unrelenting.

It means we stop doing, or do a lot less, of something we really like, take comfort in, resort to, prop ourselves up with, and cling to when life is hard.

Or it means we start doing, or do a lot more, of something we find difficult, adverse, disruptive, and threatening.

All Change Involves Pain

All the above is why change, by definition, involves pain.

A pain-free life will be a change-free life, a stuck life, a going-nowhere kind of life.

But, paradoxically, a pain-free, change-resistant life produces all manner of painful price-tags, increasing consequences, lost opportunities, and broken relationships.

Which puts us in a double-bind–condemned to pain if you change, condemned to pain if you won’t change.

The truth is none of us looks like we did ten years ago–our bodies are aging and our appearance has changed.

The truth is none of us is exactly what we were on the inside ten years ago–life has shaped us in positive and negative ways, whether we wanted it to or not.

The truth is families have changed–including ours.

The truth is society has changed–even the one we cherished.

The Truth About Change

We are all growing into someone better or worse, and growing away from the good or the bad in our souls.

This is true of individuals, of families, of institutions, of nations, and of societies.

We are recovering and gaining freedom, or we are relapsing backwards into bondage.

We like to pretend we can control all change, veto it when we like, and pick and choose whether or not we’ll change.

The shocking reality is the only choice we have is what kind of change not whether we’ll change.

A good, redemptive, upwards kind of change.

Or a bad, destructive, downwards kind of change.

The Truth About No Control

The truth is we have very, very little control but have this toxic need to pretend we control everyone and everything.

And having so little control frightens us.

It forces us to face our littleness in a vast universe, our  mortality in a time-bound world, and our self-destructive sinfulness in a God-made existence.

I don’t define me.

I don’t run the place.

I sit on no thrones.

The Need for God

Yet I need someone far, far above me to come down to where I am, and embrace me at my out-of-control worst.

I need Someone to change me in ways I simply cannot change myself.

I need Someone to empower me to continue to change in the face of stubbornness, fear, resistance, weakness, and proneness to relapse.

So do you.

Which is why the first and most critical change is to renounce the throne and entrust ourselves into the care of Another.

To let Him change us from a posture of humble need and desperation for love.

To let Him heal our ravaged, agonized hearts with a redemptive, life-imparting grace that converts us into His dear children.

There is a solution.

Joy for the Heart-Broken

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 16, 2016 by jcwill5

brokenHeartedIn Christmas we catch a glimpse of heaven.

A glimpse of reconciled loved ones and peace on earth.

A glimpse of joy and gift-giving and meaningful surprises.

A glimpse of gathering together and flowing abundance and reunions.

A glimpse of sorrows melted away, and routine meanness giving way to kind acts towards others.

Holiday Hell

But, in Christmas, we also see a foreshadowing of hell.

A foreshadowing of angry, tormented souls at each others throats.

A foreshadowing of misery and disappointed hopes and nasty surprises.

A foreshadowing of isolation and want and estrangements that defy all good will.

A foreshadowing of sorrows intensified to the breaking point, and routine meanness erupting into domestic violence, suicide, and downright viciousness.

And that is what makes the holidays so precious and so disturbing, so good and so awful, at the very same time.

It’s why suicides spike, and depression skyrockets, and domestic violence surges, at this time of year.

Truth be told, the holidays can be positively dangerous in very real ways.

The Intruder on Joy

Last year, I celebrated a Thanksgiving away from home with a dear relative and her family.

But it was hard not to think about my dad’s absence, and my mom’s stroke-induced silence.

It was hard not to think about my adult children’s misadventures, troubles, and soul struggles.

It was hard to feel the distance between us, a distance that didn’t used to be there.

And, most of all, it was hard to escape the reality of my own oft-broken heart, and my perpetual inability to heal myself.

Facing the Heartbreak

It’s a sad but true fact of life that those closest to us have the greatest power to break our hearts, and will break our hearts.

It stuck me last year that my heart is still deeply broken over the events of several years ago–and the resulting, ongoing damage to people I love.

And it’s because I cared so much that it still hurts so much.

On the other side of acute betrayal, slander, rejection, and cold-shouldering, I’m dining on the leftovers of a chronic broken heart and self-reproach.

Somehow it’s helpful to come right out and say it.

And when we have a cluster of heart-breaks all happening close together, the heart can shut down under the load.

We emotionally flat-line.

We are there but not there.

We go through the motions but we’re not in it.

Which then, in turn, creates a whole new set of heart-breaks.

We need someone far and above us, to stoop to us and pull us out from the pit, and make our hearts whole again.

A Love We Cannot Arrange

God didn’t sent the Christ Child on that very first Christmas to be featured on merchandise.

Or to create a false, tormenting pressure to be happy that only makes miserable people worse.

Or to give us a once a year medicating escape from life’s painful issues.

No, He sent His Son to carry the accumulated heart-break of the world, to suffer for the suffering so the joy of heaven would reign in them.

He allowed His Son to be supremely wounded for our sake, and to carry our crushing sorrows and our multiplied griefs.

He gladly over-supplies a most desperately-needed love we could never arrange or control.

He bends events in order to grace us where we are most broken and vulnerable and powerless, so we could really know Him and be set free.

And He did it all so His joyous power would enable us to risk a broken heart, to risk being vulnerable again and having our hearts broken again, for the sake of others.

The Original Christmas

So as I continue my long, winding, often ugly journey out of the land of multiple heartbreaks, this version of Christmas gives me hope.

All of earth was sighing, tormented, and groaning under the misery of sin.

And God had compassion on us and sent His Son to overthrow the regime of sorrow, horror, and evil.

Refusing to delegate or palm off the task, He Himself came to us–well disguised as a vulnerable newborn lying in a feed box and wrapped with dirty rags.

He especially came for the broken, the miserable, the estranged, the failures, and, above all, the sinner.

He came for you. He came for me.

He came to enter our misery, take it upon Himself, and invite us to enter into His everlasting joy.

Not by changing our circumstances or even by fixing other people.

But by transforming us.

That’s why the angel called it news of exceeding joy “which will be for all the people”!

Antidote for the Christmas Blues

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 13, 2016 by jcwill5

hi5There’s a dirty little secret about the holidays:   the very time of year we Americans are supposed to be the happiest is when we’re the most depressed.

How can this pit be avoided?  

And what can each of us do to help those afflicted with the holiday blues?

Some will answer, “Don’t eat so much sugar and start exercising!”.

And there’s some truth in that advice.

Bulging waistlines and a pattern of lethargy don’t help anyone feel great about themselves.

Yet I think the problem, and the antidote, is far deeper.

We have a problem with inflated expectations during Christmas and so we practice a lot of magical thinking.

Higher Expectations to a Greater Letdown

We expect folks to treat each other better at this time of year.

We expect feuding family members to suddenly stop arguing and be kind instead.

We expect shopping for presents and singing Christmas songs will somehow transcend the unhappy realities of our lives.

And when the magic doesn’t work, we end up feeling worse than we otherwise would have felt had we expected life to be ordinary and people to be the same.

Magic, in many ways, is the cruelest master of all.

It only makes us more miserable.

And magic is the opposite of true faith.

So the first step to avoiding the build-up and crash is to surface unspoken expectations about Christmas, and honestly ask ourselves, “Am I being realistic?”

Giving Up the Magic

It’s letting go of our self-comforting delusions and coming to terms with the realities we don’t like.

There are things in our lives which hurt us over and over again.

Things we can’t stop.  Things we can’t change.

What if, instead of practicing magic, we brought all these sorrowful realities to the Person whose birthday we are celebrating?

We simply, quietly let our hearts bleed in His all-kind presence, and He points to His cross and takes our sufferings upon Himself and relieves the crushing burden of our selves.

He ministers His compassion to us as only a fellow sufferer can.

Stepping Outside Our Selves

The Messiah born on Christmas seldom removes pain, but He specializes in transforming it and redeeming it if we’ll allow Him to do so.

This holy transaction takes place when we come to the end of ourselves, admit we’ll never fix our lives, and find in Him the love that broken humans all around us can never give us.

In other words, it’s time to hand over control and give up on the magical thinking that says, “This time it will be different!”

Magic doesn’t work.   It lets us down.

And it’s not worthy of our trust.   Only Christ is.

And, speaking of that Person, He shows us a way out of self-absorption and self-pity and self-sickness.

And that path involves taking us out of ourselves and immersing us into who He is and what He’s doing.

The phrase, “beside myself with joy,” captures the essence of the matter.

It’s when we step outside of ourselves, forget ourselves, and are absorbed in giving happiness to God and others that our joy is the greatest.

On Christmas day, try something different:   look at the face of the giver instead of the face of the recipient whenever a gift is opened.

Can you guess who is feeling more joy in that moment?

And does not the giver’s joy not explain a side of God so many people don’t get:   the kick He gets out of being shockingly generous to the most unworthy and the least capable!

Generosity is God’s Kind of Fun!

He’s got too much goodness for just Himself, so He liberally shares it and literally wants everyone to join the party.

Then He invites us to have fun along with Him!

It’s why Christ said, “It is even more blessed to give than to receive!”

There are lonely children who need a hug–why not give them one?

There are discouraged people who need to be told they’re still loved–why not tell them?

There are unemployed families that have no money for gifts–why not give them some?

There are soup kitchens and homeless shelters full of people who need a meal–why not serve them a meal?

There are lonely elderly people who have no families to spend Christmas with–why not include them at your table?

So strike a blow against Christmas depression in others and inoculate yourself against it at the same time.

Do something radical:  Try giving others joy instead of trying to suck happiness out of everything and everyone else during the holidays!

A Grim and Joyless Christmas?

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 9, 2016 by jcwill5

UnknownLittle did I realize when I first wrote this blog a year ago the turn that events would take!

A year ago I wrote:

Perhaps I’m imagining it, but it seems that an already-nasty society is getting even more vicious.

There is precious little “good will to men” or “peace on earth” happening right now.

It’s as if the angels are now saying, “I bring you tidings of great anger which will be for all the people.”

As Nasty as We Wanna Be

Hearts are harder, disagreements are more vehement, refusals to accept difference of opinion are more strident, and reactions and counter-reactions are more quickly escalating.

Activists on the left and on the right are increasingly angry at each other, increasingly uncharitable and voicing ever more extreme positions, and “going after” anyone on the other side.

Both sides keep pushing and pushing and pushing, and monitoring and monitoring and monitoring, and condemning and condemning and condemning, and posting and posting and posting it, for all the world to see.

Then they receive lots of congratulations and validation and applause from hard-core people in their own camp, who are quick to come to their champion’s defense.

But, like the Grinch, our hearts are shriveled.

We are becoming Scrooge-ified.

And it’s terribly, terribly sad.

Little of Christmas Cheer

We’re not having much of a Christmas, are we?

Oh, the shops are full and the lines are bigger.

Our advertisements are cleverer and cuter.

But there’s a sterility to it all.

Something’s missing.

And that something is repentance-fuelled compassion.

Where Joy and Love Are Found

Paradoxically, nothing evokes care for others more than coming to God as a weakling failure and being loved as a rank sinner.

Self-righteousness loves to judge and label and monitor and call out and blast and rage and even crucify our opponent.

Those who are truly loved as sinners at the bottom of their lives find themselves saying, “That could be me” and “That used to be me!” in the presence of another’s sin.

They are compassionate and see the problem behind the problem and the person behind the issue.

They use gentle and patient words, and give the impression they are on our side against our evils instead of being against us.

They keep the main thing, the main thing, which is Christ.

They see their job not as a moral policeman, but as an unworthy escort who points to the One born in Bethlehem.

Getting Christmas

In other words, they really get Christmas in a way that few others do.

They hear the triumph of God’s grace, join the angelic choir in celebration, and exclaim, “Glory to God in the Highest!”

Their dearest wish is for the peace of God to reign over troubled, tormented, conflicted hearts at war with God.

They are full of good will towards others and towards all mankind–part of the building crew not the wrecking crew.

They get no joy from pointing out the sins of others, but don’t mind publishing their own sins and how forgiven they now are.

They love Jesus–plainly, openly, and simply.

Others taste Him in them, and catch a glimpse of Him through their words, their attitudes, and their life.

Joy follows them and marks them out.

They know the source of all joy and return to the fountain of joy within them Christ put there.

My point is nobody needs to have a joyless Christmas.

Nobody needs to be sour and bitter despite the tragedies of a fallen world and the follies of fallen people and the wrongness of fallen society.

Time to Dump Our Control Worship

But we’ll have to lose something most of us find too precious to give up.

And that something is control.

Instead of trying to dump a candidate, the truth is we need to dump our worship of control, and ditch our membership in the “personal control religion” congregation.

Worshipping control is what makes us nasty, and what gets us into control battles with other groups, people, and events.

It obsesses us with questions like, “Who has the power?”, “Who’s going to do what to whom?”, “How will we break their control and establish ours again?”

Voluntarily surrendering control to Christ, yielding up what we never had in the first place, and coming under His redemptive love, is what releases joy.

The people who need the least personal control, and who are the most under the control of Christ and His love, are the most joyful.

We ask new questions, “How can I bless others today?”, “How may I serve you?”, “Whose joy can I increase through word and deed?”

There is a solution!

Free But Priceless Christmas Gifts

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 6, 2016 by jcwill5

heartinhands-660x400Black Friday and Cyber Monday are now over.

But many of us are still feeling the pressure and have people that are difficult to please.

And some of us, like myself, are at the place in life where we’re content and really don’t need/crave much if anything materially.

Which raises the questions:

Why do we feel such pressure to spend money we don’t have in order to give gifts to other people who already own too much?  

Why do we ourselves create Christmas lists when we already have so much more than we need?

During the Great Recession when I pastored in a rural, low-income area, I’d receive questions like,  “I feel bad because I’ve got little money to spend on gifts, but everyone else in my family spends $50+ dollars on each other.   What does the Bible say about that?”

A good place to start is 1 Tim. 6:6-10, which talks of being content and of giving what lasts forever to others.

In other words, some of the greatest gifts we can ever give are free or cost very little money.

Here are a few ideas:

The gift of time 

Many lonely people are out there.  We normally rush by them.  They’re inconvenient.

But spending an afternoon, or a whole day, listening to and being with someone in a nursing home, or a widowed parent, or a divorced friend, or a forgotten neighbor, is quite a gift!

Lonely people can be suffocating, talk too much about themselves, and are crying out to be heard.

Yet this gift costs no money.

We can give it during prosperous times, and impoverished times as well.

Unhurried time would mean more to many such people than piles of money.

And, quite frankly, a day away from our own busyness won’t hurt us, either.

The gift of forgiveness

Are you in a feud with someone in the family?

Any “former friends” in your life that you “haven’t spoken to” in months or years?

Is there an “ex”, or an absent parent, you despise?

Have you been hurt by another’s injustice, and you won’t let it go?

This is an emotionally expensive but free gift.

It does cost one’s pride, it costs sanctimony and bitterness and the addiction to needing to be right all the time.

Forgiveness does involve some personal risk, but the gift of forgiveness and reconciliation can do wonders for their soul… and your soul, too.

Notice it costs no money.

But our poor, resentful world desperately needs more of this mighty gift.

BTW, if you’re a Christian, Christ says, “Do it for My sake–it will help people believe I’m real.”

He also says, “Look how much I’ve had to forgive you!  Now, out of gratitude to Me and as a follower of Me, do the same for others by giving them undeserved, self-costing forgiveness!”

The gift of something precious you already own 

An old book given by a deceased parent, a memento from some special trip, an item with sentimental value… these are precious things to give, and to receive.

And because we already own them, they cost no money.

Yet, they cost a part of us, a part that we give along with our treasure to a person we treasure even more.

“My dad gave me this, but I wanted you to have it” is a kind of gift even someone who “already has everything” would receive with grateful wonder.

I’ve done that several times with my adult kids–here’s something my dad owned that I want you to have as well.

It’s a no-cost but priceless gift of heritage, of memory, of a cherished connection to a former time.

The gift of an encouraging letter

Corresponding is a dying but powerful art.

What if you wrote a two page letter to someone, listing all the reasons you’re thankful for them, all the ways they’ve blessed you, and all the things they’ve done right in their relationship with you?

Few people take the time to commit their words to paper these days.

But words have enormous power, and written words may long outlast us and can be re-read over and over again.

There are very few people who have too much encouragement in their life.

Most of us have received far too much blame and criticism.

Redress the balance.

Spend an hour writing someone a “blessing letter” for the nominal price of a postage stamp.

The gift of something personally made 

It’s funny, but of all the gifts given to me by my grandma Mabel, it’s her little ceramic angels with broken off arms that mean the most to me decades later.

Part of the reason is because she made them herself.

Her hands fashioned it and glazed it and so they reflected her artistry.

She put herself into it, and, though she’s been gone for 25 years, I think of her every time I get out the Christmas decor boxes and hold her little angels in my hand.

Funny enough, hand-made stuff is usually pretty cheap to make.

That’s why it’s devalued by affluence-sickened people today.

But because we put a little bit of ourselves in it, it takes on a life of its own– a life of recalled memory and love.

Putting Our Self Into It

There’s many other good ideas out there for free or low monetary cost Christmas gifts.

But one rule of thumb stands out:   if we have merely given a material thing, but not our selves, then we’ve really given nothing of lasting value.

But if we give ourselves along with a item, however meager its cost, we have given the greatest gift a human being can give to God or others.

The old saying is true, “The gift without the giver is bare.”

Merry Christmas!

Damaged Trust, Part 2

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 2, 2016 by jcwill5

downloadTrust can be eroded slowly over time.

In this case, we slowly develop other loves, other interests, and other directions without formally quitting the relationship.

Until there is no relationship left.

The damage to our trust is self-inflicted by a series of small, daily choices to not cherish, build up, or protect our trust in God, our spouse, our church, etc.

We let go of the anchor and drift away with the tide flowing away from the shore until we are far out to sea.

Traumatized Trust

Or trust can be shattered and overthrown by trauma (or group of traumas).

This is where our life is shattered and our normal is now gone, perhaps forever.

We are left reeling and gasping for air.

There are no explanations, and nothing makes sense.

The pain is so intense we ask, “Why?!” and “How could…?!”

Strong emotions buffet us–anger, protest, blaming, depression, despair.

In the “cluster of griefs” scenario, we did not see it coming.

There was no indicator light, no early warning.

We were moving along in stability, in security, in predictability.

Our deepest assumptions about life, our formulas for good living, were operating nicely.

We were comfortable and settled.

Caught Off Guard

Then it’s all overthrown.

We find ourselves living our worst nightmare and there is no end in sight.

The pain is unrelieved, and is far bigger than we are, swallowing us alive.

Others, finding our plight so disturbing they can’t handle it, distance themselves.

Still others spout off bromides, empty cliches, and pious platitudes–subtly asserting that, if we had only taken their advice, we could never have found ourselves in the situation or could quickly escape it.

It adds insult to injury.

We end up terribly alone, with unanswerable questions, questioning our long-held beliefs and harboring serious doubts about God’s justness, goodness, and compassion.

The Job Scenario

This is the scenario Job faced.

Losing all his wealth to plunderers and natural disasters, and losing all his children in one fell swoop, evoked worship.

Losing his health and enduring months of unrelieved physical suffering, evoked outward silence and inward seething.

Having his friends blame him for his suffering produced a round of furious arguments with them.

They all shared a reward-punishment view of God–good people are blessed and bad people are afflicted.

Job had taken his religious system as far as it could go–and had done everything right to position himself on favorable terms with God.

Then his life was shattered inexplicably and without warning.

His friends, voicing the viewpoint he himself believed, came to the wrong conclusion:  all suffering is the sufferers’ fault.

It infuriated Job.

He knew he hadn’t done what they accused him of doing, and his conscience was clear.

False, Premature Conclusions

So God must have changed the rules and moved the goalposts.

Upon reflection, were there not many wicked people living in affluence, security and peace?

Why would God do good and show kindness to sinners?

And were there not many righteous people enduring suffering, hardship, and sorrow?

Why would God so deeply afflict the most loyal, highly performing people on His own team?

Interestingly, it turns out that it wasn’t the infinite Person of God that had failed, but a simplistic and one-dimensional view of Him that needed to be outgrown and discarded.

As the later part of the book makes clear, God has many reasons for doing what He does–perhaps we can understand 3 or 4 of them, and perhaps a lot of what happens to us isn’t about us at all.

Perhaps God wants to take us deeper with Himself than we’ve ever gone before, and our facile, juvenile views of God are standing in His way.

Damaged To Be Better Built

So God is introduced as the ultimate Teacher.

And Job finally gets the mano-a-mano encounter with God he had been demanding–and gets far more than he bargained for in the exchange.

God first demotes Job’s ego–reminding him in a series of questions that Job is tiny, severely limited in perspective, and minuscule in his capabilities.

God then shows Job how much he doesn’t know, causing Job to withdraw his harsh accusations against God and ask to be taught by God instead.

He is satisfied with seeing God face-to-face at a level his nice little system couldn’t do.

In other words, there is an intriguing possibility that God makes us worse in order to make us far better in the end.

We go from a child-like initial faith to a childish magical faith to an adult, tested, reality-based faith of beholding a surpassing majesty and unfathomable mystery, which leaves us in a state of astounded worship.

Faith Triumphant in the End

What God is trying to damage and destroy is false trust.

What God is trying to purge out are the other, hidden idols mixed up with and mistaken for Him.

He uses extreme means to bring us out of a magic that leaves us in control, so we can be brought into an awed trust that rests in God’s unfathomably good control in ways we had no previous eyes to see.

The cluster of traumas that so deeply damage our comfortable faith expose the deficiencies of our faith, our shoddy, underlying view of God’s goodness and how we relate to Him.

They force to the surface our unspoken deals, our hidden bargains, our comfortable self-centered assumptions where we work a religious system to get what we want out of God and stay on His good side.

We discover in the end, if we hang onto God despite seasons of shattering, that we are not in the hands of an aloof, heavenly torturer stabbing us for no reason.

Instead, we are under the care of a heart surgeon who plunges the knife deeply to correct hidden heart defects and trust disorders that would kill us if left untreated.

A surgeon who died on the Cross for us, who suffered unimaginably for us through no fault of His own, who knows far better than we do about unrelieved, senseless suffering, and of what deepest trust when all Hell breaks loose really is.

And, most importantly, a trust that took Him all the way through to the resurrection and glory on the other side of Hell.

There is a solution!