Category Archives: God

The Role of Faith

Some look to their faith in God in their happiest or awe-struck moments, or some lean on their faith in their lowest or darkest moments.  Some turn to their faith “just in case it’s true,” and some long for a relationship with a powerful God. Some “just know or feel” that He is real, and others have found “facts” which undergird their faith. Benefits exist for believing in God, and for not believing in God. Others would never go back to their belief in God.

Beyond one’s personal experience, spirituality can also be tied to science and history. One question that is explored from the scientific perspective is how do you get life from non-life? Also, the age of the earth is debated through the study of radiometric dating, the influx of salts into the ocean, the rate of decay of the earth’s magnetic field, the growth rate of human populations, and other examples. (One’s answer depends on one’s assumptions about the uniformity of natural law, uniformity of process, uniformity of rate and uniformity of outcome). Some assume there is a God and explain science and history from that assumption, and some assume that the existence of God cannot be determined.

Others look to the Bible for information on both the origins of our world, and their faith.  The Biblical account can be construed as an allegory or history. Hebrew expert Dr. Steven Boyd concludes it is history.  He writes, “For Genesis 1:1-2:3, this probability is between 0.999942 at a 95% confidence level. Thus, we conclude with statistical certainty that this text is narrative, not poetry. It is therefore statistically indefensible to argue that it is poetry. The hermeneutical implication of this finding is that this text should be read as other historical narratives . . . ” (Dr. Steven Boyd, Associate Professor of Bible, The Master’s College, Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth, Volume II, editors Larry Vardiman, Andrew Snelling, and Eugene Chaffin).

Some Bible-believers believe that the beginning of Genesis is an allegory or that a “day” in Genesis is actually a longer period of time.  A complication for those who believe that creation is millions of years old is that in the fossil remains of rock layers, there is evidence of death, suffering, and disease. This contradicts the Bible’s assertion that God’s creation before the first man Adam’s sin was “very good,” (Gen. 1:31), and perfect (Duet. 32:4) and that death came into the world through sin (1 Corinthians 15:21; Romans 8:20-22; Romans 5:12).

Others take a historical and a legal approach to look for the preponderance of the evidence in determining the existence and impact of Christ, or other figureheads. They ask questions about Christ, for example, who claimed to be God. Is Jesus crazy, a master manipulator, or stable? How did the Christian movement develop quickly, with its founders who quickly transitioned from fear to a willingness to die for their beliefs in Christ? Are the records trustworthy?

Faith will continue to be a source of comfort. Loss of faith is associated with distress. If God is real, and He offers a interactive relationship, such a relationship is attained through faith. Evidence can be found for the existence of God, or against Biblical claims about God. Evidence cannot be found against a god, but perhaps against a particular definition of God. Often the evidence found reflects one’s personal preference. The existence of suffering though, is not debated. Where the responsibility lies for the suffering though, continues to be debated.

No Pain, No Gain?

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

The anguish we encounter in life is immeasurable at times. It’s big. Too big. What do you do with anger and the impulse to express it without a satisfying outcome? What do you do with fear/shame that reveals our vulnerability at its core and that our worst fears can come true? What do you do with sadness so profound, so far-reaching that it drains our ability to cope?

Some things you will never get over in this life. Some things you will never get back.

No wonder numbness takes over and leaves one unable to think. Definitely, for a period of time nothing will help. Don’t try to make the feelings go away during this time and do not try to help others in this way. Grief is so varied that no one knows what it is like for another person.

This psalmist describes his experience this way: “My heart is sick, withered like grass, and I have lost my appetite. I lie awake, lonely as a solitary bird on the roof. My tears run down into my drink because of your anger and wrath. For you have picked me up and thrown me out. My life passes as swiftly as the evening shadows. I am withering away like grass” (Psalms 102: 4, 7, 10, 11). “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far away when I groan for help? Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer. Every night you hear my voice, but I find no relief” (Psalms 22:1-2). The psalmist then turns to his faith in God for comfort. Instead of seeing God as an absent or passive Deity, he relies on God to be transformed. Nothing is more transforming than pain, for better or for worse.

Is this how God works, complicit with evil, working to make good come out of it? God as portrayed in the Bible is about his thwarted intentions for mankind bestowed with free will and then God’s redemptive purposes. The culmination of God’s love and pain is the sacrifice of his Son, and the Son’s experience of abandonment by the Father. Yet the son chose “not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

God’s view of evil is not that it is required to accomplish his purposes. He is truly moved, angered and grieved by evil throughout the Bible. There is no remedy, other than “some day.” What He offers now, through his Spirit and the Church, is his Presence. Will the Church provide solidarity for those who suffer?

More on Grief.

Attachment Patterns and God

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

To say that a parent’s attachment to his or her kids is strong may be a negative statement. Attachment is described as secure and insecure, so it is possible to have a strong attachment that is insecure.

Insecure attachment descriptors reflect parental styles mentioned in the posts What is Attachment? and Disrupted Attachment These parental styles are associated with the types of attachment: secure attachment with parental flexibility and stability, avoidant attachment with dismissive parenting, ambivalent attachment with preoccupied parents, and disorganized attachment with overwhelmed parents. These relationship patterns are often reflective in one’s perception of God.

Avoidant attachment is reinforced from parental messages that emotions are not important in a child’s self-identity and in making decisions. Thus, the child (and as an adult) may feel like he or she does not really matter. An avoidant person may even believe that emotions steer one into danger or disaster and are not to be trusted. So emotions are left out of daily interactions. It may be hard to comfort or connect with an avoidant person. A second type of avoidant attachment seeks to please a significant other and downgrade one’s own needs because one can only accept emotions if they are not opposed by the significant other. This is a co-dependent relationship.

Ambivalent attachment patterns are derived from close connections that are not stable. The parent could be hot or cold. When cold, the parent may be preoccupied; it does not mean that the parent’s love wavers. So fear may develop associated with closeness and connection, because the closeness and connection could be lost. The child or adult in this case may crave intimacy but not want to ask for it because of fear that it could be lost. If intimacy does happen, this person may eventually find it stifling. The child or adult may then experience anger and would distance from the significant other, but then fear would overtake from being alone. The pattern then becomes hot pursuit, but then cold distancing.

Disorganized or dysregulated attachment patterns stem from parents who are ruled by the “fight or flight” autonomic nervous system. Parents tend to be aggressive or controlling, stemming from fear. On the other hand, parents could be overwhelmed or a victim, again stemming from fear.

Secure attachments are stable patterns but do not have to be perfect. They stem from a parent’s capacity at a particular place and time to recognize and value the emotions of a child or connect with what the child is doing. When the child comes to the parent, the parent in effect says to the child that the child is okay even when the child or parent is having negative emotions. The child is allowed to be separate from the parent, with the child’s own set of valid emotions and self-confidence that comes from faith. The concept of grace found in Christianity opens up a growth process that does not depend on performance to gain acceptance by God, and thus creating the capacity for a responsiveness to God.

Emotions Versus Actions

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

Many present a split between emotions and actions. In this way we tell ourselves that we are not able to change our feelings but that is acceptable as long as we do not act on them. Examples would be fear, anger, or desire. So acting right becomes more important. Similarly, if one does not feel enough joy, hope, or love, one may put more emphasis on actions, focusing instead on doing what is right instead of what they are feeling.

Using love as an example, is it possible, to act right but not actually love? In this verse the writer supposes that actions could be good, but inadequate. “If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3). Love appears to be more than just actions.

Some focus on doing what is right and leave the emotion out of it, though the Bible indicates that right emotions are important along with doing right. “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him” (Philippians 2:13). The risk is that too much emphasis on acting without feeling may leave one feeling empty inside, or may even lead to more negative emotions like guilt. Or, acting and finding one’s worth in one’s actions can lead to hypocrisy and self-righteousness. What is God’s view of the self-righteous? “They say to each other, ‘Don’t come too close or you will defile me! I am holier than you!’ These people are a stench in my nostrils, an acrid smell that never goes away” (Isaiah 65:5). Instead, God may be looking for a change of heart. For example Jesus told the religious Pharisees “First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean” (Matthew 23:26).

Are Emotions Commanded?

The Heart in the Bible

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

God works through the heart (Jeremiah 31:33). It is out of the heart that we connect with God (Romans 10:10). We are told not to lose heart (Galatians 6:9). What does the heart represent in the Bible?

The definition of the heart in the Bible includes the conjunction of emotion, knowledge and the will. Each of these parts has an effect on the other parts; each part cannot be separated from the other parts.

In the story of the prodigal son, the father’s love for his wayward son was one of emotion, and not just from reasoning or just his commitment to his son.  The father did not respond to his son just because it was the right thing to do, or because he was forcing his will to comply.  “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him (Luke 15:20).”  It was the combination of all three parts – emotion, knowledge, and the will, that serves as a model for the love of God for us, and as a model for the love we are to have for others.

In contrast, in the description of a religious sect, Jesus describes their knowledge and their commitment, but questions their motivation. He compares them to white-washed tombs, beautiful on the outside but dead on the inside. He compares them with a dirty cup, again presentable on the outside, but the inside is corrupt (Matthew 23:25-27). Here again, rationality and dedication are insufficient if not corresponding to honest emotions. Paul also points to the knowledge of God alone being insufficient (Romans 1:21). The rich young ruler also attempted to gain favor by performance.

What if our desire, knowledge or will is lacking? God builds desire in us (Philippians 2:13), and for that we have to turn to Him.

Follow Your Heart?

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

The Bible says the heart is deceitful. Mental health practices, however, often encourages one to listen to the heart. “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23). Perhaps the heart is deceitful, and God works to change the heart. “The wise in heart are called discerning, and gracious words promote instruction (Proverbs 16:21).

How might God work through the heart? There are many accounts in the Bible. Knowing truth and one’s experiences of emotion seem to be primary ways God works through the heart. For example, knowing the truth can change the way one feels. It may not eliminate unwanted human emotions, but positive emotions are added, like hope, gratitude, or joy. When Jesus foretells the destruction of Jerusalem, He tells his followers to not let their hearts be dulled by the worries of this life (Luke 21:34). In the Old Testament, for another example, when the Israelites were desperate it was an occasion for God’s intervention. “The Lord Himself will fight for you. Just stay calm” (Exodus 14:14).

God also works through these experiences of both positive and negative emotions.  The Israelite’s faith was founded on the fulfillment of God’s promises.  Another example in the Old Testament occurred when Jonah was angry that God spared the city of Nineveh, God changed Jonah through an experience of emotion. When Jonah felt a loss when the plant giving him shade died, he understood how God would feel if He lost the city (Jonah 4). This experience changed his emotions. God may even direct one to have such an experience: “Don’t sin by letting anger control you. Think about it overnight and remain silent” (Psalms 4:4).

Changing one’s heart, in which the Bible includes knowledge, emotion, and will, always involves not only Truth, but an encounter with Truth. “I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the LORD” (Jeremiah 24:7).