Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Problem of Evil

I have a short essay, "Addressing the Problem of Evil," in The Christian Research Journal, Vol 32, No. 4 (2009).

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sickness, Prayer Sickness

Jesus said to pray and not lose heart (Luke 18:1-8). Paul said to pray without ceasing. But it hurts and feels stupid sometimes when you have prayed so long and so hard for the same things.
Of course, there is more to prayer than petition. We should also give thanks and praise and repent before the Lord. But when our loved ones hurt, and hurt, and hurt, and when we fear for their (and our) future, petition is central.

"God, please heal my loved one." Over and over, we pray it, along with requests for comfort, growth in Christ, or salvation. Jesus said not to pray in vain repetitions, and I wonder if I fall into that some times (Matthew 7:7). What to do?

1. Pray the Bible itself, especially Psalms, which are prayers expressing every human emotion.
2. Pray written prayers, especially from The Book of Common Prayer.
3. Try to pray with others instead of by oneself. There is a different dynamic in this, but it is difficult to find people who really storm heaven by Scripture.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Category Confusions

Many discount the physical and emotional and spiritual suffering of the chronically ill by ignorantly trying to level the playing field with cliches. "Well, everyone gets sick." "I have a chronic problem, too." And so on. These comments are made to get the sick person to buck up and deal with life--the way everyone has do.

This is completely wrong. It is a category confusion. It hurts people.

A chronically ill person does not just get sick once in a while. Nor are the problems minor irritations that come up more often than one would like. If we consider what actually plagues the chronically ill--chemical, environmental sensitivities, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue, lupus, chronic heart problems, and more--we must realize that these conditions are serious and deeply distressing. They consume people with pain and debility. They are not mere hassles and annoyances. They ruin lives, rob dreams, and bring all manner of woes.

You cannot level the playing field, you healthy ones. However, you can listen. You can even research the symptoms of these diseases and try to put yourself in their bodies. You can then weep with those who weep. Only then can you truly laugh with those who laugh.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


Loneliness and misunderstanding are the chronic companions of the chronically ill. They do not fit in because their bodies do not adjust to environments the way normal people do. They get upset over "nothing" because of the cumulative effect of an intolerable life. The "nothing" may not even be sensed by the normal, since they are normal. But "nothing," like toxic perfume, too much light, a food allergy, etc., is something real and painful to the abnormal.

The normal, so often lacking in empathy, may even attack the abnormal, since the chronically ill cannot be fixed and may not even benefit from one's good will. Changing someone's flat tire takes time and effort, but can be done. Making a chronically ill person happier is not the same. Good intensions often lead to bad results.

The normal may even exclude and marginalize the abnormal they supposedly wanted to help. The normal get frustrated when their brand of "help" doesn't help the abnormal. So, they turn on the subjects of their purported good will, thus further immiserating the already miserable.

What is the answer to this? There is no simple answer. The closest I can come to any advice is to lament with the lamentable, listen to their pain, find out what they think might help them, or be willing not to help, but simply be their friend, come what may. Then cry out to God to do something.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Pain of Prayer

Jesus called his followers to deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow him. This is the cross-life. It is the only entry into the abundance life Christ promised. Yet it involves suffering and hard work (not to earn salvation, but in following the Savior). Part of the pain is prayer.

Prayer, especially as praise and thanksgiving, can be joyful--communion with God as he reveals his goodness. But prayer can be hard and agonizing work. It often is for me. I must deny myself to pray over worries and concerns regarding myself, others, and this fallen and bleeding world, to keep praying when nothing seems to be happening, when my thought wander. Yet Jesus said to his disciples before his own supreme suffering, "Could you not pray for one hour?" How many of us in America today pray for one hour at a time, or even one hour a week? I mean time dedicated only to prayer, not prayer throughout the day or ten second prayer before a meal.

Jesus said we should not make a spectacle of our prayer, as did the Scribes and Pharisees, but how do we pray with feeling and intelligence publicly in a way that reveals our anguished yearning for the greater in-breaking of God's Kingdom? How often do we weep over the world's woes as we pray--in the manner of Jeremiah?In hedonistic American, where for so many, the principal values are personal peace and affluence (Francis Schaeffer), we tend to avoid the difficult and medicate the painful at all costs. Yet the gospel calls us to embrace certain kinds of pain--the pain of struggling against a sinful world and self--for the sake of the greater good of the Kingdom of God.