Sunday, December 27, 2009


Pascal, in one of his pithiest pensees, wrote,
"Respect means putting yourself out." Quite so.

Putting yourself out means:
putting yourself down: means
lifting someone else up.

The chronically ill need respect.
They need you to put yourself out,
to "go the second mile" (Jesus),
to put yourself at their disposal
(even if only for a few moments or hours).

"Respect means putting yourself out. "

Take the burden
to lessen their burden.
Don't flee the burden, but bear it with grace...
for others, for others.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Holiday for Outsiders

Holidays can extract much pain from those outside the system of the normal--those afflicted, wounded, lamenting, wondering how to cope with another day with yet another setback, insurance denial, anger from those who cannot--or will not--empathize. While others congregate to celebrate, the chronically ill often remain alone at home, or what's left of it. The contrasts hurt.

And yet, and yet... There are simple joys to be had. Memories to remember. Hope for the future. Grace to be grasped. One can always cast oneself on God, the God who came near and remains near in Christ Jesus. This God refuses no humble tears and has wounds of his own--healed, but still felt.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Fear of Illness

It strikes me that hypochondria is a kind of chronic illness, or the chronic fear of illness (real or imagined). It is the thief of joy and contentment; it tortures its victims; it maddens those close to the hypochondriacs.

Does anyone know of any good books, articles, or organizations that help people with this problem?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

How to Read a Book

As an owner of thousands of books and a reader of many of them, I offer a few pieces of advise on the art of reading a book. This is a lost art for many, given the dominance of image-oriented media today.

1. Read worthwhile books. These come in two categories: (A) Books that are in themselves worthwhile. (B) Books that are substandard but influential, nevertheless. I know nothing of "killing time" by reading. As Thoreau said, "You cannot kill time without wounding eternity." Be sensitive to the Holy Spirit as to what books you should read and when. I cannot separate my professional reading from my pleasure reading. However, I will not read books I profoundly disagree with on Sundays, since that is a day of rest (not torment).

2. Always read with a pen or pencil in your hand. Annotation is part of the art of reading. The book should become your own. I underline, make comments, and put notes in the front of the book pointing out important points. I also cross reference important points.

3. Write in the front of the book when you started reading it and when you finished it. This gives you a sense of intellectual history. (Don't ask how many books I have not finished. Some do not deserve to be finished, though.)

4. Recommend books to others on as many topics as you can. Be a walking and talking annotated bibliography.

Then, Forever

A blessed Eternity relativizes all present and future pain.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

One Word

Bewilderment: a common condition of the chronically ill and their weary care-givers.

Friday, December 4, 2009


There is much on addressing fear and cultivating trust in God discussed Isaiah, chapters 40-41. I encourage those weighed down by the fears and weariness of illness to read and meditate on these truths, as well as pray them through.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


In case you were wondering, I removed about twenty posts from this blog. It was not done by any outside source.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

One Sentence to Change Your Life

Listen to the pain of the chronically ill--until it hurts you, too.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Mutual Misery and Christian Hope

There is sad mutuality to chronic illness among couples. The sick one chronically needs special help from the healthy one. The healthy one wants to be loving, but feels put upon some times. The sick one feels terrible that he or she must demand so much extra from the healthy one and experiences self-hate. The healthy one wishes someone else could step in and help to alleviate some of the stress, but realizes that he or she is basically irreplaceable. This can lead to bitterness and deep unhappiness for both.

What is the answer? There is no simple, one-size-fits-all answer. Rather, in Christ, we must cultivate faith, hope, and love--and the greatest of these is love. Each partner must lovingly submit to the other, putting the other first, but without neglecting one's real needs (sometimes called "self care"). The healthy one can burn out and blow up if he or she is not careful, and this helps no one.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

From The Denver Christians for Biblical Equality

Dear Friends,

Please join us for the next meeting of the Denver Chapter of Christians for Biblical Equality.
We will meet Monday, September 28, 11:30-1pm in the Executive Board Room at Denver Seminary.
A complimentary light lunch will be served at 11:30am. The program will take place from 12:00 to 1:00pm.

Dr. Doug Groothuis, Professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary, will speak on “Egalitarianism and the Witness of the Gospel.”

We hope to see you there,

Janet George
Mary Hanson
Vaun Swanson
Lindsey Widstrom

A Lament

Mysterious symptoms have a myriad of possible causes when one is on dozens of medications and is prone to endless side effects. This is another agony of chronic illness. One must guess, consult, and experiment with one's own body and at great expense (physically, mentally and financially) to try to alleviate or ameliorate strange, new symptoms.

This is just a lament, a sad wail aimed into the air.

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.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Hope for Liberia

This is off the topic, but a matter of great concern to me.

Many Christian ministries and churches are being hit by the economic recession. Hoever, many of them can absorb setbacks, given their resources. Some, however, cannot rest on acquired properties or large amounts of savings.One such ministry is a visionary outreach to a war-ravaged and struggling African country called Liberia. Tony Weedor, his wife, and young daughter survived the civil war and Liberia in the late 1980s and spent three years in a refugee camp in Ivory Coast. They later came to Denver where Tony received an M. Div at Denver Seminary.

Tony's vision is to start a study center in Liberia where the deep things of Christianity can be taught to those without theological and philosophical foundations. Tony is uniquely equipped to do this. They have purchased property and have received thousands of books to start a library, which would become the only functioning library in Liberia.

However, Tony has been losing support because supporters are losing jobs. The and his wife are struggling to keep up to support their four children and their aspiring ministry to bring truth and hope back to Liberia.Please visit the CenterPoint web page, pray for this vital ministry, and consider supporting it financially, as my wife and I do.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Staging the World by TV

Television is our culture’s principal mode of knowing about itself. Therefore—and this is the critical point—how television stages the world becomes the model for how the world is properly to be staged—Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985).

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Groothuis on Chronic Illness and Redemptive Suffering

On Wedenessay, May 27, I will be speaking in a class at Denver Seminary called Redemptive Suffering. I will address chronic illness and redemptive suffering. This is not a one-off public lecture, but part of a for-credit course, so the public is not invited. However, if you would like my lecture outline (which is substantial), please let me know. This will be the first time I have given a lecture dedicated to this issue.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

My Little Friend

Recently, I met a little boy named Aidan Perkins. Aidan is the three-year old son of one of my students at Metro State College of Denver. He is smart, fun, and very active. He likes to throw things, and proceeded to do that with the small stuffed animal I gave him when he and his mother visited my office at Denver Seminary a few weeks ago. He later drew a crayon picture for me and other for my mother (who gave him some frog stickers). I think he has impressionist leanings.

Aiden began his life with a chronic illness, a rare condition known as Happle Syndrome, which is a form of dwarfism with many complications. He is the only known male to survive past birth with this deformity. Aiden is three, but is about as tall as one-year old. I hope to see him again soon and pray for him and his parents.

His parents love him deeply, but have a heavy load of doctor visits, difficult decisions, and they must deal with social situations in which inept people single Aidan out of the crowd in rude ways. His brave mother, Amanda, refused the doctor's evil advice to abort him when his uniqueness was revealed during the pregnancy. I hope you will look at his other pictures and read his story.

There is a special place in God's heart for children, as Jesus showed us. Moreover, God exhorts us to care for and bless "the least of these," of which Aidan is one (Matthew 25:31-46). As we treat them, so also we treat Jesus. Please pray for Aidan and his family. May we all welcome and love little ones like him.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Ethics Panel

At the request of an MD and Ph.D. at Porter's Adventist Hospital, today I visited an Ethics Panel meeting to see if I would be interested in serving on it. This would give me some inside exposure to the moral world of hospitals from the side of the doctors, chaplains, and nurses. I am interested in them, but they need to decide upon me in light of some other community folks outside of the hospital. We did an exercise with the famous "life boat" case. I don't think crisis ethics is the best path to moral wisdom, but it was fascinating to see how people considered the value of various human lives.

It goes like this: There are ten spaces on a life boat, but fifteen people who want to get on. You are given a short description, then asked to decide who should be allowed on. I voiced concern with the method of moral reflection, but said that volunteers should be solicited who would give their seat up; then children should be picked; after that a lottery should be drawn. I had never done the exercise in a group before.

I may not be asked to be on this panel, but I hope that I am. (I may have been too vocal at the first meeting.) God willing, I could contribute some analytical insights to the moral questions that they address and rub shoulders with some concrete moral issues on site. Let me know what you think of this.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Spiritual Loneliness

Ever since Eden, mortals have suffered from alienations: from themselves and from others. This estrangement from the good, from benevolent relationships, traces back to our first parent's rebellion against God. Instead of resting in perfect love, they sought out more than enough. The result was banishment from the garden and the immiseration of women and men, boys and girls down through the millennia.

We are, thus, lonely--among other ills. What is the ontology of loneliness, it being and essence? Perhaps loneliness is the mode of being inadequately alone, of being apart when we should be together, of incompleteness aware of its state. We are separated from needful company and harmony. We are poor in ourselves and can find no one outside of ourselves take away our misery.

The chronically ill and their partners often suffer from an acute and aching kind of loneliness. It is both physical and spiritual in nature. Physically, those weighed down and laid out by one or more chronic maladies simply cannot have much fellowship outside of medical and physical necessities. You may visit a doctor (or three) this week, but you will not attend a play, see a film, or have a leisurely dinner with your husband. There is no time, no energy, and too much pain--or too high a cost to any outing. You may make it through, but you will pay for it for days or weeks. When I first met Sherri Connell (of The Invisible Disabilities Advocate ministry) it was outside and in the sun in downtown Denver. We talked for only about twenty minutes. She was pleasant and not bitter, but she said, "I'll pay for this for weeks." Sadly, I knew what she meant.

The partners of the chronically ill face their own separations. They are alienated from normal life, from vacations, from expected forms of life. They stay home when home is not where one may want to stay. They feel guilty leaving home alone, their loved one left behind. Yet they must do so from time to time. But even then, they are alone, for their loved one is not by their side. And even if he or she was there, this could bring its own frustrations: fatigue, sensitivities, arguments, curtailed expectations...

Lonely, lonely, lonely
Loneliness is such a drag!

So said a celebrity in his mid-twenties in the midst of a meteoric rise to fame in which he redefined rock music and the vistas of guitar playing. A man who was nearly worshipped by the masses, who had as many women as he wanted, who was the envy of guitarists worldwide, wrote that lyric. Jimi Hendrix, who would die from a drug and alcohol overdose not long after (1970) also said, "Everyone thinks I'm free; but I'm just running."

Running from loneliness often generates more of the same, just experienced at a faster pace. The wind may be in your face, but the ache remains in your heart. But I am not concerned about celebrities in this post, but those wounded by chronic illness. How can loneliness be met with grace and courage for us?

I really do not know. Some benefit from support groups of those facing similar problems. Others hate that. Why be around people with just my kind of problem? How depressing! Moreover, they do not find much within to offer others. Yes, thank God for friends who will offer sympathy and even empathy--listening to your woes although they have not experienced them and praying for you in ways that others cannot because they have never listened.

I do take heart that God himself understands. Jesus was utterly alone on his Cross, forsaken by both God and man. "My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?" He was more alone, more afflicted than anyone else ever has been or will be. This Jesus endured this for us. He knows from the absolute inside what loneliness is--utter separation of all that is good and life-giving. He died that way.

Yet Christ every lives for those who caste themselves on his matchless mercy. "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted." We must bank on that promise, no matter how lonely we may be or stay. The one forsaken and alone is now with us--now and forever.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Ministry to the Chronically Ill

As was made obvious to me yet again from a short telephone conversation yesterday, the chronically ill are often chronically misunderstood and chronically lonely. Why is this and what can be done about it?

First, many do not understand the unique ravages of diseases that neither kill nor heal (apart from God's intervention). I speak of chronic fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome, lupus (although complications from this can be fatal), chemical and environmental sensitivities, and (sadly) more. Those who so suffer may not always look ill; they are not disfigured or depending on wheel chairs, necessarily. Thus, they often fail to solicit sympathy, given that people judge by mere appearance and do not attend to the words of those sore afflicted. This lack of sympathy can translate into outright cruelty when people infer that the chronically ill are not really that bad off, that they should just "buck up" or that "it is all in your head."

There is a simple solution to this problem, but it requires a sacrifice: Listen to the wounded, really hear what they are saying and why. Do not prejudge their words because they do not resonate with your experience. The world is more wounded than you life may know, so, for God's sake, listen. The walking wounded are among "the least of these" who Jesus tells us to care for as both a duty and privilege. If you do not understand the condition or situation, keep listening and ask real questions.

Second, even if some understanding is reached, many shrink back from helping in any concrete way. "I'll pray for you," we may say, but do we do so in any consistent way (see Luke 18:1-8)? The chronically ill do not have short term illnesses. Those are easier to minister unto: you simply bring over meals, do housework, take people to the doctors, and so on--knowing that the duration is limited: the broken leg or arm will heal, the operation will be recovered from. Chronic illness has no limited duration. Nor is it a death sentence, but a life sentence (should God not intervene). In a way, terminal illness is easier to cope with: there is a finish line. Chronic illness, is, well, chronic--interminable and often unbearable. Ministering to these folks requires patience and kindness. It requires the creative love described in 1 Corinthians 13. It requires an infusion of grace from the Holy Spirit to reach out to those who may not be able to "pay back" your efforts, those who are not cheerful after years of pain and crushed dreams, those who are weary and skeptical of real help after so many have faded out so quickly.

There are no easy answers on how to help the chronically ill, even if you have fathomed something of their fate. But one can put oneself in their shoes, in their compromised bodies through sympathetic imagination. Then one may contribute acts of kindness, no matter how small, to help alleviate the loneliness and frustrations. It may simply be a phone call or an email to provide fellowship and alleviate loneliness. Most importantly, ask the ill person what she or he needs. It may be other than you think. They probably know better than you do, so please consult them! And if you tell them you will pray for them, do so earnestly and seriously (1 Thes. 5:17). Otherwise, your words are empty.

The chronically ill in our midst want and need to heard and helped. Ask God to make you a listening ear and a helping hand.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Prayers for the Sick

Let me offer these beautiful and biblical prayers from The Book of Common Prayer to my readers who struggle with chronic, acute, and even terminal illnesses. Notice that they call out to God for healing (they are not fatalistic), but they also ask for grace through the process.

Prayers for the Sick

For a Sick Person

O Father of mercies and God of all comfort, our only help in time of need: We humbly beseech thee to behold, visit, and relieve thy sick servant N. for whom our prayers are desired. Look upon him with the eyes of thy mercy; comfort him with a sense of thy goodness; preserve him from the temptations of the enemy; and give him patience under his affliction. In thy good time, restore him to health, and enable him to lead the residue of his life in thy fear, and to thy glory; and grant that he may dwell with thee in life everlasting; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For Recovery from Sickness
O God, the strength of the weak and the comfort of sufferers: Mercifully accept our prayers, and grant to your servant N. the help of your power, that his sickness may be turned into health, and our sorrow into joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

or this

O God of heavenly powers, by the might of your command you drive away from our bodies all sickness and all infirmity: Be present in your goodness with your servant N., that his weakness may be banished and his strength restored; and that, his health being renewed, he may bless your holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Do Not Fear

My wife has compiled a list of biblical verses on resiting fear by faith in the God of the Bible. If you would like this, send me an email and I will send you an attachment. These have been very significant to us.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Modes of Coping

One of my dear students spent several months in South Africa, ministering to the poorest of the poor. While stopped at a street light, her car was broken into and all three women were robbed. Thank God nothing worse happened. It wasn't until they got to the police station that they realized that they were also bleeding from the glass that cut their faces when the front windshield was smashed.

Our minds and bodies switch into emergency gear during emergencies. This is how we are designed by God (not mindless evolution). But when the crisis wanes a bit, other items come into view. For us, this means thinking about how an acute problem that required radical treatment will affect the previous chronic problems. Healthy bodies bound back after trauma. Unhealthy bodies are another story. So, we are fairly confident the infection will be mastered by the drugs and that therapy will bring back proper functions. We continue to pray to that end, as do many others. But what will be the long term consequences of six weeks of infusion antibiotics, a pic line and the rest? We do not know. But we will hope and storm heaven with Scripture, pleading the promises of God on our behalf for healing and restoration for God's glory and our good.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


Little Max is out of the hospital, having improved for 24 hours straight. It was anticipated that he would have to stay another few days. Thanks for your prayers. He is still very sick, but his blood oxygen level is normal.

Pray for Sick Baby

Dear Friends:

I want to preserve the family's privacy, but a good friend of mine's four-month old boy is very sick in the hospital with influenza and other complications. Please pray for little Max.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Unbidden Lessons

Illness always intrudes; it never ingratiates. It comes unbidden, without invitation. But as Christians, we can become more humble and faithful through it in several ways. Let me give an partial list.

1. We can realize we have not thought through out theology of sickness and healing, of God's Kingdom in relation to illness. We can change and seek the deep things of God on this by immersing ourselves in the Bible, prayer, and books on the topic.

2. We can embrace virtues we have never developed and shun vices we have identified with our very personalities. Illness requires great love and faith and patience to deal with. Anger and bitterness, while things to work through before God, are not the answer to this crucible. We may submit to lessons otherwise unlearned: love is patient, kind, and gentle. Remaining faithful to God, come what may, is a staple of the Christian life, as is lamenting the losses and crying out to God for liberation. The Psalms have so much to teach us in this.

3. Illness also opens up areas of other people's lives we may not normally see--in both the sick and the well. Unexpected kindnesses are expressed by unlikely souls. Those smitten with illness may show strength and resolve in surprising ways. And, of course, inner darkness can be revealed through chronic and acute illness as well. It is, after all, still a world groaning in anticipation of its final redemption.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Inner Language of Sorrow

Chronic and acute illness may call forth a bevy of emotions--or, perhaps, a paucity of emotions. Some of us are emotionally undernourished, ill-equipped to "weep with those who weep and laugh with those who laugh." Our affective vocabulary is attenuated; our passional repertoire is minuscule. We are stunted.

The palate of the soul should be multicolored, with the proper colors brought to bear on a whole range of situations associated with illness and recovery and healing. For many men, anger and impatience may nearly exhaust the range of response. Every since high school, I have relished words, learning as many English words--and some foreign phrases to throw around--as possible. In college, I began to note and define all the new words I was learning. This stared in 1976 and my last entry was in 1994, covering well over 100 pages. I mastered quite a few sesquipedalians, in fact. (This blog's spell check does not even recognize this word.)

When it comes to emotional vocabulary, I sit at a much lower level. Yet just as higher education evoked a mastery of words, health crises evoke--or should evoke--a mastery of emotions: learning to find and experience the proper emotion to the proper degree. For some of us, this meaning learning how to weep. Consider all the weeping of godly people--not just women--in the Holy Bible. Jeremiah was "the weeping prophet." Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus. One could go on. The Hebrew people knew how to mourn, lament, and to do so before God and with each other. Consider all the emotional range of the Psalms, I have much to learn from them and through the Holy Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5) concerns healthy and apt emotions, not just actions.

Lord, teach us to feel the gamut of feelings that fit the facts at hand.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Not Reading

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven--Ecclesiastes 3:1 (KJV).

Ever since I started college in 1975, God has granted me large periods of time to read, study, and write. Not long after my conversion in the summer of 1976, I sensed a call to become learned, to study as a way of life. Reading Schaeffer's The God Who is There that fall was pivotal in this discernment. The call was further crystallized by my reading of Kierkegaard's Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing about a year later. I have not always used my time wisely, but I have never deviated from a desire to develop a knowledgeable and Christian mind about the things that matter most (see Romans 12:1-2).

About thirty years later, having become a professor and an author, I am learning how not to read, not to study, and not to write. You see, life "under the sun" has gotten in the way. Sickness takes time and requires assistance. I am the primary assistant. Study time is what is left over after doctor visits, administrations of medicine, weeping, praying, and general care taking.

Most people in our overly-busy, nonstudious culture need the disciple to read, to take time away from other distracting things and be alone in a room with a good book (which would probably be a form of torture for many if extended beyond a few minutes). I often publicly exhort people unto such things in the name of God.

Now, I need the disciple not to read, study, and write--and not be bitter about not reading, not working on my magum opus (an apologetics textbook). I have need of patience and endurance, Christian virtues available through prayer, repentance, and the power of the Holy Spirit.

From The Book of Common Prayer (1926)

41. For the Recovery of a Sick Person.

ALMIGHTY and immortal God, the giver of life and health: We beseech thee to hear our prayers for thy servant N., for whom we implore thy mercy, that by thy blessing upon him and upon those who minister to him of thy healing gifts, he may be restored, according to thy gracious will, to health of body and mind, and give thanks to thee in thy holy Church; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Softening or Hardening?

15 For this is what the high and lofty One says—
he who lives forever, whose name is holy:
"I live in a high and holy place,
but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly
and to revive the heart of the contrite."--Isaiah 57:15

Illness, whether chronic or acute (or both at the same time), can make one more tender and receptive to the Spirit of God or harder and more rebellious against the Lord. Or, it can do both, at various times. But what matters is the general direction of your soul your very life.

Illness comes unbidden--against our will, our dreams, our hopes; it invokes fears, even terrors; it can bring out the worst in us. However, under God and in God, we can take this as an occasion to learn of more our creatureliness and fallenness. We are agents and patients in a world that is groaning amidst the groaning of God himself (Romans 8:18-24). East of Eden we are, yet still under God's heaven.

The world is, in one sense, out of kilter, out of alignment--a bent and broken world. When we cannot escape this systematic brokenness, we may hate the world and its Maker, cursing the darkness as well as the Creator. But if we come under the authority of Scripture, if we take up and dwell within a biblical worldview (which takes a lifetime), we can see the disease and despair of the world as a result of human sin in the beginning and sin ongoing. When we hit the granite wall of illness, we can realize the reality of the space-time fall of humanity and our incorporation into it (Genesis 3; Romans 3). Yet, we do not stop here, but God does not stop here.

Jesus Christ came to redeem the world, all of it. That takes time, of course. One may be forgiven, justified, and set right with God in an instant, if we simply entrust ourselves to his grace by faith alone. Yet our own sanctification and healing is incremental and episodic. The End of all Things is future and unchartable (yet certain). When illness strikes us or a loved one, we--still beset by the proclivities of sin--may strike out at God. I often do. But, God in Christ offers forgiveness to his disciples (1 John 1:8-10). Our hardness may, through repentance (Matthew 4:17) turn to tenderness and genuine humility before God Almighty. We realize that illness indicates the fall of humanity and the cosmos: it is not right. But we can seek God for deliverance from illness and that we might learn what we need to know through the process, whatever it may be. We can be both contrite and earnest seekers of God's healing power, which is so evident in the Gospels and Book of Acts.

But we must not turn against God, for that means alienating ourselves from our only sure hope, our only consolation, our only true friend in trouble (see Psalm 91:14-16). We may lament; we may weep. But let us do so before God, knowing he is at our right hand with his strong right hand (Isaiah 41:10). When we do turn on God, let us turn back t God. God is ready to forgive and restore. The biblical pattern is simple: submit and draw near to God; resist the devil (see 1 Peter 5; James 4). If we reverse this pattern--resisting God and submitting to the bitterness and hatred of Satan (who came to steal, kill, and destroy)--we only grieve the Spirit and wound ourselves and others.

May we become tender and teachable before the Lord in this groaning world--not ceasing to groan, not ceasing to exercise faith (even a mustard seed's worth), not ceasing to hope, not ceasing to passionately pray through the promises of Scripture; but never giving up on God, our Creator, Redeemer, and Friend.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Coping with the Substandard

6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.8 Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your fellow believers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. 10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 11 To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen. 10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 11 To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen. --1 Peter 5:6-9

When health slips, everything else slips with it. Things don't get done, or get done poorly. Plans are laid aside; new plans take up time, but must be done: doctor visits, infusions, tests, etc. The break down of the body also means the break down of one's personal world (umwelt). One has to cope with the substandard for an indeterminate or indefinite period of time. But how?

We can focus on eternal things such as our relationship to God and others. We can try to do a few things well and not resent all we are not doing well, not doing it all, or could be doing. We can be thankful for what we have taken for granted. We can let friends serve us in new ways and make new friends who are eager to serve us. We can learn more of desperation for God.

We can wait on the Lord and hope and pray and build up our faith for restoration, of both body and soul. We can make our peace with the substandard--for now. We can resist the dark thoughts driven into us by the devil. We can grow in grace and truth--in the mess.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


20 Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, 21 equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (Heb. 13:20)

Scripture exhorts us, enjoins us, encourages us to bless and not to curse. I have assembled many of the benedictions in the Bible and sometimes pray them over my wife. I did so tonight as she was resting during a treatment.

We must train ourselves to bless and not curse. We have lost the art of benediction in our glibness, our superficiality, and our ignorance. We should wish God's best on all, and say so. Many services lack a concluding benediction. This is sad and a great loss. "Have nice day," does not do it. It is a humanistic benediction, lacking theological and spiritual power.

Pray benedictions over your loved ones who are ill, over the loved ones who are healthy; have others pray them over you. Bless and do not curse. This is not magic; it is biblical. We have lost the skill in many ways. Let us return to the living and active word of God: the benediction, the invocation of divine blessing beyond what we could possibly ever do.

I will send you my list of benedictions--which may not be complete--if you email me.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


"They that wait on the Lord shall renew their strength..."

How do you wait when you are ill or are caring for the ill? The Bible emphasizes that the waiting itself can be strengthening. It is not that you wait until you get strength, but that in waiting before the Lord, calling our to Him, hoping in Him, one finds strength. As Andrew Murray pointed out, waiting on the Lord also means refusing to act in the flesh. We wait on God's wisdom and power and do not race ahead of God's wise ways.

We are waiting to find out how my wife will heal. She is getting better, moving in the right direction; but she has not yet reached the destination of freedom from a staph infection. We are waiting on the Lord. One way to not wait on God is to project a future where God is absent. As John MacArthur once preached, God does not does give you grace for tomorrow today, but tomorrow.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

New Year; Same Problems

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, But desire fulfilled is a tree of life.--Proverbs 13:12.

How can one cope with chronic illnesses and still have faith in God and not lose hope? Here are a few ideas to ponder for this new year.

1. No matter how anger or disgusted you may get with God, do not stop praying, reading the Bible, attending biblical worship (if you can get there), or having fellowship with serious Christians. You have have seasons of disengagement or disgust with God--as I do--but don't let them last very long. If you cannot attend religious services, some churches will send ministers to pray and celebrate communion with you at your home.

2. Be open to, but not naive about, new medical possibilities. Yes, that thing you never new about that might really help you may be out there or something new may have just come out. On other hand, who knows? And, of course, beware of the snake oil.

3. Try to be patient with people to just do not get chronic illness. Explain your situation and give them some literature to read. Pray they will have eyes to see and a heart to feel your situation and that of so many others.

4. Never forget that the sufferings of this world are not to be compared to the glory to be revealed in the Kingdom of God at the sound of the Last Trumpet. Look ahead; it is not escapism, but realism. The resurrection of Jesus assures Christians of that (1 Corinthians 15).

5. Be on the look out for mature Christians who have faith to pray for healing. Don't rush into this, but consider praying with these folks. Some have this special gift and have pray in ways that you and those close to you cannot.

Friday, January 2, 2009

When small is not small

Each heart knows its own bitterness,
and no one else can share its joy. --Proverbs 14:10

Small problems are not small to the chronically ill. Why? Because their entire lives are defined by and lived within physical and psychological and spiritual problems--that do not go away. So, when a new ailment breaks in, or a little thing goes wrong, or someone misunderstands them, they may breakdown and curse the day of their birth.

For normal folks, this seems uncalled for or absurd. Why the temper tantrum? It only seems absurd to you because you do not live inside that person's body. You have not experienced the aching pains of their soul. Things may bounce off you; they stick and prick the chronically ill.

Keep this in mind next time you are tempted to lecture your Lupus-enfeebled or chronically fatigued, or chemical and environmentally sensitized friend or family member when they "lose it over nothing." It is not nothing to them. "Love is patient and kind," writes the Apostle Paul.

How I need to learn this lesson!