Tag Archives: God

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.

Arresting Anxiety

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

“Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10a).

The same emotion can either be positive or negative in the Bible. The Bible may command an emotion in one place and prohibit it in another depending on the context. For example, “In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” (Ephesians 4:26). Sorrow has its place but also has limits. Likewise, fear is appropriate in particular circumstances but a state of prolonged fear becomes problematic.

The direction to not fear is one of the most common proscriptions in the Bible. You could read one reference a day for over a year!

Emotions are signals and send messages that are sometimes misread. In that case the signal gets stuck and the emotion is prolonged excessively. If warning signals on the dashboard continue to light up one may develop anxiety about “driving,” especially if the signals represent danger. Some may cover the dashboard, avoid feeling, and make some reckless decisions. Others may learn to devalue the signals. Still others may overanalyze the signal.

Signals to be properly interpreted need to be felt without fear. God provides a healthy option otherwise not available: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). Christ has come to “bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.” Like a parent who grabs a child from falling, Christ is saying, “I got you!” Even when we can’t see light at the end of the tunnel, Christ is saying, “I got you!” “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you (Isaiah 43:2).

Christian Mindfulness

Grace Over Judgment

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

When you have been wronged it can be hard to consider mercy, but when you are the one who has done wrong, mercy can be what saves you. Certainly looking at truth about yourself can be unacceptable without grace. The Bible is essentially stories of redemption, and how a living and interactive God intervenes in the lives of regular people. Due to the graphic nature of man’s offenses in the Bible, one is left with the impression that God can redeem anything.

Without grace, we cannot grow. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me” (Jeremiah 29:11-13). God, time and again, takes unfortunate circumstances and makes them lead to something better for those that seek Him. The concept of grace, knowing that one is fully accepted by God, disrupts the shame cycle that perpetuates sin.

While grace is essential for growth, the Bible uses cutting down a tree as a metaphor for judgment. Some treat the Bible as a legal document used to condemn. The religious order of the Pharisees neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. “They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. (Matthew 23:4). Religious people can turn people away from God. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are” (Matthew 23:13-14). These are strong words from Jesus.

So grace is preferred over judgment because grace is the way to grow while judgment is used to destroy. Judgment is growth-producing when accompanied by grace, and thus is a pruning process. So one’s Biblical interpretations are to be interpreted with a goal of redemption and hope, and not oppression.

How Relationship Leads to Change

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.