Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Impossible weight,

hollowing out,
burning up,
leaving out,
blowing up.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Come, Lord Jesus, and heal my wife. Amen.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Dread and torpor--quite a combination for Christmas Eve.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Yes, and No

Wisdom knows
when to gaze,
and when to avert the eyes.

When to listen,
and when to muffle the ears.

When to touch,
and when to pull way untouched.

When to embrace,
and when to turn away.

When to ponder the past,
and when to inhabit the present fully.

Each thing, time, place
in its own measure.

Only God
can bear to know
all things
as they are--
and know them aright.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Holidays and Happiness

Holidays can be especially unhappy for many. The chronically ill may feel an intensified expectation to be merry and celebrate when they can do neither. This adds a sense of guilt to their already-miserable state. The spouses of those afflicted have similar feelings, and feel the sad weight of obligation placed on "the healthy one."

Consider these poor souls during the holidays. (1) Don't expect them to be happy. (2) Love them no matter how they feel. (3) Serve them in ways appropriate to their limits; that is, do not expect them to meet your conditions for gift. You may love to dine out, while they cannot do it. If so, bring them food or ask them what they need. (4) Pray for them, trying to put yourself in their place.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

It is somehow our lot to lament the avoidable and the unavoidable woes of a wounded world.

Friday, December 2, 2011

God, who owns everything, prevail on behalf of your impoverished servant who is in danger of losing his house at the holidays. He is working for your to educate the church on Islam. Come to his aid, Oh God of mercy and provision. Oh, God, restore, renew, and bless supernaturally. Amen.
· · 2 seconds ago

Sending hand-written cards to people is a way to personalize an increasingly impersonal world. "Love is kind."

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


On Thursday in Denver, the temperature will drop forty degrees. Many laugh at this, but those with chronic illnesses will suffer exponentially on account of it. Pray for them, try to show mercy when they are angry and sorrowful, and be thankful you do not share their miserable plight. If you want to begin to understand, read Psalm 88--slowly and repeatedly. There are many Hemans among us. Look for them, if you have the courage and compassion.

Friday, November 25, 2011

A Universal Lament for the Children of the Earth (corrrected; I first wrote this in a fit)

Oh God, our Creator, Designer, Law-giver, Revelator, Sustainer, Director, Judge
of all things, in heaven and earth and under the earth.

Oh Jesus, the Logos from Eternity, oh Jesus, Incarnate Logos in history,
full of grace and truth and virtue in perfection.
Light from light,
yet the darkness did not comprehend,
neither did it overcome

A singular Man, born to die
the death no one else every died or could die,
even death on a Cross,
not by accident, happenstance or impersonal historical necessity
(Hegel be damned).

A man of sorrows and permeated with grief,
crushing disappointment,
and lament upon lament for this wounded and wounding world
of his own making--and remaking.

Oh Holy Spirit, so present, yet so alien in this world of woe
and hidden.
Aching wonder, we feel it deep.
Spirit of often quenched and grieved by lies, ignorance, and

Triune God!
Triume God!
Triunie God!

Hear our prayer, whispered, screamed, signed from within our mortal frame.
Hear our prayer, when we can muster one or two, between signs, moans, and screams
and Silences too deep to express.

We lament our lot,
our loss,
our languishing between the ideal
and the real.

Between joy fulfilled
and hope deferred.

Between virtue tasted
and vice bitter and acidic.

Between restoration
and dejection.

Between beauty
and ashes.

Between the perfect notes
and the botched chords.

Between love lovingly offered
and love stomped on by self, ego, flesh.

Oh Triune God of compassion,
of patience,
of mercy,
of forgiveness through blood and body.

--and of Judgment.

We call out to you,
not in goodness, righteousness, or Christ-like faith,
but in sickness, lifelessness,
near dereliction, destitution, derangement.

We hope for a listening heaven
An open heart above
A future with more grace
more hope,
more love,
more trusting knowledge.

We lament to the bone.
We lament in the soul.
We lament in the moment.
We lament for yesterday and today and tomorrow,

but not for Tomorrow.

Yet we pray that all of our pained yearnings may find
their home in
The One True God:
more true than our lies.
More true than our fears.
More good than our evils.
More full of grace, than we are full of sin.

We lament our state
Our souls are sick and hungry and noisy and weary.

We offer this catastrophe to you,
in hope of an eventual apocalypse of

But not without the nail-driven hands,
the hole in the side
The God with wounds, resurrected, but remembered for eternity.
yet with joy set before him.

Darkness is so often our closest friend.
We bring this bitter friend before our better Friend.

Heal him, and us, of God of the scars, wounds, and resurrection.

Turn our laments into
benedictions, doxologies, and oblations---
soon, lest we die.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Let yourself lament.

Read Psalm 88, slowly.

Remember that it is a prayer.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Inner Holiday: Three Escapes

Those afflicted with chronic illness, and the ones who live with them, cannot "take vacations"--something most middle class Americans assume happens in everyone's life. I prefer the world holiday, since vacation means to vacate, while holiday means an edifying change of scene, pace, and mood. It originally meant "holy-day."

Since we cannot take two weeks away camping, skiing, clubbing or museum-visiting in New York City (my wish), or anything of that sort, we need to creatively find holidays closer to home or in the home--but without forsaking the needs of our selves or those we (attempt to) care for. One needs a nontoxic escape of some sort, since life is so terrible. Here are two such excursions:

1. Escape into understanding. This phrase is from Marshall McLuhan. We are often helpless to change our situation very much (for the better); however, through reading and reflection, we may come to fathom the way things are to a greater degree. We can know, and find comfort in knowing--specially in knowledge of the things that matter most: God, the soul, and immortality.

2. Escape into beauty. Reality contains some beauty--fugitive and rarefied though its presence may be. Thus, one may enter it and leave the rest behind (for a time). "Mood Indigo" may enter through the portal of the ears into the soul--over and over, and in different versions over many years. Luminous and liminal paintings may be summoned to mystify, massage, and manicure the wounded soul. Behold: Georgia O'Keefe, Georges Rouault, Mark Rothko.

3. Escape into service. Engage in good works outside of helping the chronically ill. Volunteer for a food bank or splurge on someone who is depressed by something other than chronic illness. You do not do this strictly for yourself, of course. But it may change one's soul for the better in the doing of it.

But one must return to the chronic, and hope for grace there, too.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self ?--Luke 9:25

Friday, November 18, 2011

What does our age of constant diversion, distraction, and dissipation lack? It lacks meaningful discipline: self-denial for a cause greater than the self. But this alone gives meaning and truth to the self, which is otherwise derelict in its own finite absorption

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Ways to Further the Ministry

Christian thinkers need to get out the word about the truth, rationality, and pertinence of Christianity. You can help me do this in several ways.

1. Become a Facebook friend to keep up with my talks, essays, views, etc. Warning: you will get a heavy dose of Groothuis views on just about everything: politics, culture, jazz, philosophy, apologetics, dogs, etc.

2. Follow me on Twitter for the same reason: @DougGroothuis.

3. Check my blogs: The Constructive Curmudgeon and Christian Apologetics (dedicated to my book of the same title).

4. If you think Christian Apologetics helps further the mission of God, you can support the book in several ways.

a. Review it on Amazon, Barnes and Noble or your blog, Facebook, and so on. “Like” it on Amazon.
b. If you are an aspiring author, review it for an academic publication or magazine.
c. Purchase a copy for your pastor, local library, or church library.
d. Teach from it in an adult education class or make it the book for a book discussion. Yes, this will take some time.
e. Recommend the book to opinion-shapers in the church and the larger culture.

5. Let me know how I might help you engage in apologetics and evangelism. I can speak to campus groups, churches, and in other public forums on all manner of apologetics and moral topics. I am happy to meet one-on-one or in small groups with unbelievers who have questions about Christianity.

6. I have a number of audio and video messages on line in various places, such as YouTube. Take advantage of these and let your friends know about them.

May it be done for the glory of God and the advancement of his Kingdom,

Doug Groothuis

Friday, November 4, 2011

Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent, for the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

How to Help: Nine Ideas

Most of us have no idea how to help the chronically ill. Here are a few suggestions:

1. Do not constantly ask her how she feels. She feels awful all the time, and would rather not talk about it much.

2. Do not say, "Are you feeling better?" That puts pressure on her.

3. Do not treat her as a terminal patient, but as a wounded human being.

4. Do not ignore her, but think through ways to bring some faith, hope, and love into her life.

5. Pray for wisdom for all involved in her life.

6. Repent when you do the wrong thing and bring further misery into her life. How many times I have done this...

7. Do small things to help, such as giving flowers, sending cards, giving hugs (if wanted and if they do not hurt the person).

8. Don't assume you know what helps. Ask her.

9. Fast and pray for her healing. Be ready to suffer yourself in so doing.

Ponder this

Here is a verse to ponder for those of us who get weary and impatient with our chronically ill loved ones:

And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone.--1 Thes. 5:14.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

From The Book of Common Prayer

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 hislife in thy fear, and to thy glory; and grant that finally 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, thathis 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.

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Problem of Evil

Dear Readers:

This blog expresses some of the concerns and feelings associated with chronic illnesses and other laments under the sun, east of Eden, and before the Second Coming. Some of you may be interested in my chapter on the problem of evil in my new book, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (InterVarsity Press, 2011). You can look over some of the contents of the book on Amazon and also on Google books.

Even despite my darkest laments, I remain convinced that Christianity is objectively true, rational, and pertinent to all of life--laments and the rest.

Doug Groothuis

Habakkak 3:17-19

17 Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.

19 The Sovereign LORD is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights.

Habbakak 3:17-19

17 Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.

19 The Sovereign LORD is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Love Hopes All Things

Smiles, distant.
Frowns, constant.

Life, lamentable.
Much, regrettable.

heavy with
past pain.

struggling with
the strain.

reaching ahead
to seek gain.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


How do you live with someone who is chronically ill and chronically depressed?

How do you keep your balance, not give up, not pull away from the one suffering so?

How can you embrace the pain, misery, and pathetic state of this fellow human being without being dragged into a pit in which you both drown?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Then I beheld all the work of God, that a man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun: because though a man labour to seek it out, yet he shall not find it; yea further; though a wise man think to know it, yet shall he not be able to find it.--Ecclesiastes 8:17-18.

One of the crushing burdens of chronic illness is the gnawing feeling that you do not have enough information or are not intelligent enough to manage the illnesses, to consider all the options aright, to make the right decisions.

Things are so damn complicated--and everything is connected to everything else. You make the best choice you can. Then you rue the day.

Then you rue the day--day after day...until another significant decision needs to be made.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Fog bank

The suffering of others clings to me
like the moisture of a thick fog.
But it will not dry off.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Lost, Losing

"The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost"--Luke 19:10.

Chronic illness often entails memory loss, which means that many common--as well as precious--items are lost. Some are lost temporary, some permanently, but the loss haunts one. Things are not as they used to be; things are not where they ought to be.

One feels displacement: the object is displaced; you are displaced--not at home, since home has become a haunted house of loss, losing, and lament.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Beauty and Suffering

It seems that no amount of aesthetic beauty (there are other kinds of beauty as well, I think) can compensate for the losses of physical suffering and moral regret.

At their worst, aesthetic enjoyments can anesthetize oneself from true moral guilt and the suffering of others.

At their best, these comforts can, for a short time, move our awareness to other things, pleasing things. But this is not true healing.

Only God can provide that--in his inscrutable timing.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Woe and Wonder

World of woe and wonder.
World of wonder and woe.

Both, equally,
it seems (at times)

Full of woe,
Full of wonder.

No woe
without wonder.

Both, equally,
it seems (sometimes).

All woe
it seems (oftentimes)

But Wonder First.
then woe and wonder



Friday, August 19, 2011

Black Place, III by Georgia O'Keefe.

Suffering and Remembering

However much you suffer in your role as a father, mother, brother, and so on, remember those who suffer because they cannot be any of these.

Friday, August 12, 2011


Georges Rouault, "There Are Tears in Things."

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Poison of Selfishness

Insensitivity is no virtue, since love patient kind and is not rude (I Corinthians 13). Being callous to people's pain only hurts them more. Some insensitivity is rather minor: it hurts a soul's feelings or frustrates the one who is not understood. The chronically ill face this repeatedly, since so few of the healthy can put themselves in their place. They lack the moral imagination for it.

Yet in some cases, a lack of empathy can have dire consequences, effectively ruining a human being's life. Consider Jane (not her real name). Jane is extremely and dangerously sensitive to a common household product. If her neighbor uses it, Jane cannot go outside and becomes imprisoned in her own home. Further, her family has had to buy expensive air filters simply for her to survive in her own home.

Jane and her family have kindly asked--not demanded--that the neighbor change brands, even offering to buy a life-time supply of a similar product that Jane is not sensitive to. Instead of believing Jane, the neighbors called the police and put a restraining order on the family, claiming that Jane was lying about it all. One with even modicum of empathy would listen and respond with concern, not wrath.

This kind of selfishness is not merely rude; it is criminal. Yet the law (thus far) has done nothing to stop the ruination of a chemically-sensitive person's life by an emotionally-insensitive and calloused neighbor. Please pray for Jane all those who suffer in a similar way. Also, look into your own heart to see if you, too, may be callous to the suffering of others. I must do the same, day after day.

Jesus commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves, and to treat others as we would like to be treated by them. This demands empathy and special concern for "the least of these." Without this, those insensitive to the chronically ill may sentence them to an even more horrible life than what they have previously experienced. We are called to be our brother's keeper, not our brother's enemy.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Doug Groothuis Sermon On Line

My sermon on the problem of evil is up at Scum of the Earth Church web page.

No Words

A memory from long ago visits me unbidden from time to time. I was almost twelve years old in my home town of Anchorage, Alaska in 1968. These were bad times. My father had been recently killed in an airplane accident at Point Barrow, Alaska, while volunteering for a state labor omission. My mother and I (and perhaps another person) went to the Safeway where we often shopped. My mother's eyes meet those of a female worker there. They immediately embraced, wept, looked at each other again, and went their separate ways. No words were spoken.

You see, the grocery worker was good friends with Violet Dodge, who represented the union of the grocery workers, who was in same plane that went down with my father on board. No words were needed; perhaps, no words were possible. I wish my mother were still alive so I could ask her about this event. I'm not sure we ever spoke it afterward.

How many sacred events do we sully with silly or needless words? Some lament needs no words, no words at all.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Apologetics Textbook

My book, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith is now available for purchase as an -e-book at Google Books. The hard copy just arrived in the warehouse at InterVarsity Press, so it should be available through Amazon, etc., earlier than anticipated.

I have often said that if I were not convinced intellectually that Christianity is true, I would not have remained a Christian through all the suffering of recent years. But it is true, so I continue to stagger through this broken world under the sun, knowing that there is more than meets the eye and that the New Heavens and New Earth await me and all the redeemed.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Dogs, Despair

Despair, you dog my days;
but dogs, you dispel my despair
(for a moment

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Empathy Machine: An Unfinished Essay

This is a thought experiment. Thought experiments have a long and checkered history in philosophy, and I cannot explore their nature or purpose in depth. (In fact, the protocol, propriety, and purposes of thought experiences are not entirely clear to me.) Suffice it to say that the features of a thought experiment need not be realizable, but they must be logically possible or at least imaginable. A thought experiment should also make some point not easy or possibly seen otherwise. Consider Plato’s myth, “The Ring of Gyges. It is unlikely anyone will ever become literally invisible, but we can well imagine what it would be like to be in this state and how it might affect one’s conduct.

The Empathy Machine

What if someone invented a device that could convincingly capture the subjective experience of a person and then transfer those experiences into someone else’s consciousness? A movie called “Brain Storms” described such a machine, but did not capitalize on the empathy theme, but rather (not surprisingly) experiences of sex and—more importantly—of death. The empathy machine resembles Robert Nozik’s thought experiment involving the famous “experience machine,” which he concocted in order to argue for the deficiencies of one type of utilitarianism. That machine enables one to experience all the happiness one desired—all without any connection to a real, objective, external world—the world of things, people, nature, and so on. If one would not be hooked up to the experience machine at the expense of participation in the world of sense and embodiment, there is something deeply wrong with the axiology of utilitarianism.[i]

But let us revise Nozik’s thought experiment—turn it on its head, so to speak. The empathy machine records what is otherwise nearly inexpressible or at least inarticulate in the mouths of most of us. It records pain—pain and distress of every kind under the sun. When one is hooked up to the empathy machine, there is a radical shift from the third-person and second-person to the first-person; from propositional knowledge to experiential knowledge (or Russell’s “knowledge by acquaintance”); from hearing about pain and observing pain to being in pain and thus knowing it from the inside out. It is a shift from being-near to being-there.

The empathy machine does not generate pleasure, as does Woody Allen’s fictional “orgasmatron” from his film, “Sleeper.” Quite the opposite; it produces pain, but not pain in the sense of actual torture. Torture produces pain, my pain. I can, though, in this state identify and empathize with others similarly tormented. The empathy machine allows one to participate in the sensorium of another’s distress without physical torture or deprivation. Moreover, one can leave the empathy machine at will. It is not inflicted on anyone, but it can be chosen. For example, a husband can enter the empathy machine to experience the full force of his wife’s chronic illnesses—from the inside out. For a set period of time, he will feel all the muscle pain, weakness, fatigue, depression, despair, confusion, self-loathing, and shattered dreams. He cannot, by entering the machine, log her long years of discontent, but he can taste fully what these years have brought to her consciousness, both mentally and physically. He retains his identity, but he takes on crucial aspects of her experience subjectively through a kind of inter-subjectivity. In a sense, he takes on a secondary first-person identity (or at least experience). To invoke something from popular culture, consider a “Vulcan mind meld.” The character Spock in “Star Trek” is capable of tapping into another’s mind and (if I’m not mistaken) even experiencing that person’s feelings to some degree.

None of the four classical virtues (prudence, courage, self-control, and justice) or the three theological virtues (faith, hope, and love) directly implicate empathy, although love comes the closest. In order to love, one must reach out of oneself and, to some degree, reach into another person. One imagines what (say) chronic illnesses or a terminal illness or the loss of a child must be like. Then one can attempt to express an informed and heart-felt concern (that is, love) for that person in that state—however foreign it may be to one’s own first-person experiences.

I have not found very much on empathy as a virtue in the literature of moral philosophy. Of course, I may simply have missed this. But it seems that those interested in virtue theory would be the more likely to reflect on this state of being than would those explicating deontology or consequentialism. William Frankena, who is principally a deontologist who gives place to virtues in a secondary sense, speaks of the need for “benevolence” to motivate one to duty. In this connection, he cites statements by Josiah Royce and William James. First, Royce’s reflections:

What then is thy neighbor? He too is a mass of states, of experiences, thoughts and desires, just as concrete, as thou art. . . . Dost thou believe this? Art thou sure what it means? This is for thee the turning point of thy whole conduct towards him.[ii]

William James writes this:

This higher vision of an inner significance in what, until then, we had realized only in the dead external way, often comes over a person suddenly; and, when it does so, it makes an epoch in his history.[iii]

Both Royce and James, then, attribute to these empathic experiences a kind of moral epiphany, a quantum leap forward in moral awareness and moral virtue. Time spent in the empathy machine would increase this kind of awareness astronomically.

If one decided to embark on a voyage into another person’s pain, one would set oneself up in antithesis to any hedonic theory of value. Inside the empathy machine, pain is multiplied, not pleasure.

The Metaphysics of Persons and the Empathy Machine

For the experience machine to work, a particular ontology of persons must be in place. Any worldview that denies the reality of persons as genuine substances who endure over time and who experience life in the irreducibly first-person singular mode cannot employ this thought experiment to any benefit. Consider nondualism and Theravada Buddhism. Nondualism denies the reality of individual, separable selves. The only reality is Nirguna Brahman (God without qualities). For nondualists, such as Sankara, first-person awareness is ultimately maya or illusion. Enlightenment delivers one from such experiential limits through a “cognition of the infinite.” That is, one knows oneself as infinite—an experience that transcends any of the limits and suffering of maya-ridden existence. On this ontology, there is no reason to enter empathetically into the illusions of others. One’s own illusions are sufficient to drive one to a supposedly higher state of ultimate awareness—one in which there is no “other” whatsoever. Mutatis mutandus, Theravada Buddhism also denies the reality of the individual self, but through another metaphysic wherein there is precisely no self at all (instead of the singular, impersonal, and all-absorbing Brahman).

So, it seems that the empathy machine is only desirable as an exercise in gaining moral knowledge given some substantial view of the self in world of other selves. Otherwise, one cannot stipulate the objective existence of irreducible others who become the subject of one’s own experience. The nondualist and Buddhist would only gain a first-person knowledge of the illusion of the first person experience in another. They would not gain knowledge conducive to moral growth in virtue.

Those holding worldviews that affirm the existence of individual selves which can grow in moral knowledge should consider the implication of the empathy machine. One would need courage to enter this machine, even for a brief period of time. Likewise, one would need wisdom, since gratuitous (or at least misguided) suffering is obviously not its purpose; nor is the perverse gratification of masochists.

Entering the Empathy Machine

Consider an example of someone who should consider entering the machine. John, a bright and intellectual adventurous fellow, is told repeatedly by close friends and his spouse that he tends to be impatient and rude with slow-witted or mentally retarded people. They are often the butt of his jokes and he steers clear of them, even those who are apart of his own extended family. But John experiences something of a moral epiphany through an accident. After checking out of the supermarket with his friend, he makes a disparaging remark about the bagger, who obviously has Down’s syndrome. To John’s surprise and horror, the female bagger hears his comment, loudly announces that she is quite competent at her job (“I’m a good worker, even though I’m not like you!”), and then breaks into tears and runs away. Several strangers observe the scene and stare at John with scornful amazement. For a brief moment, John inhabits a new moral world—that of the other. He begins to wonder what it would be like have a mental handicap, to know it, and to live in world where most others do not share this condition.

John is thus a good candidate for some time in the empathy machine, with the dial set to “mental limitation.” But not only would John experience the diminishment of his prized wit and intelligence, he would also experience memories of being taunted as a child, being left out of social gatherings, and the experience of being ridiculed by a bright and insensitive man (like John himself).

If my argument is sound, anyone in reasonably good health and with the appropriate worldview (see above) and who lacks empathy should consider entering the empathy machine. Short of having such a machine, one can use one’s imagination to enter into the subjective pain of others. This is profoundly anhedonic; it is not done for any immediately felt pleasure, but for the purpose of growing in moral awareness, knowledge, and character growth.

[i] See Robert Nozick, “The Experience Machine” in Louis Pojman, Moral Philosophy.

[ii] William Frankena, Ethics 2nd ed. (Prentice-Hall, 1973), 69.

[iii] Ibid.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Benefit of the Doubt and the Chronically Ill

Misunderstanding destroys or injures relationships. We need knowledge in order to love others wisely. We also need to trust people's judgments--even in some cases when we do not understand their reasoning. This is especially true for the chronically ill.

The normal person cannot fathom why a plethora of "normal" things bother someone with chemical and environment sensitivies, for example. So, the normal person assume that the ill person is just fussy or hypochondriacal. But remember: the sick person tends to be an expert in their sickness. They have studied it, lived with it, wanted to die from it. Therefore, when they give you advice or ask for you to not wear perfume or use a particular soap or even shaving cream: Believe Them. Please, in the name of the God of all compassion, do not get angry or judge them or question them. Do you think they would make this up when it causes themselves and others so much difficulty?

Listen to the chronically ill in love and with patience. When you fail them, ask for forgiveness. Amend your ways and go out of your way for one of "the least of these" (Matthew 25). "Love is patient. Love is kind"--I Corinthians 13.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Loss of Friendship

Several years ago, a group of my students wrote a letter of affirmation for me and to me. It used a number of superlatives, which, I take it, expressed the sentiments one lead student.

Now, years later, I read that statement with divided emotions. I am grateful that these students expressed their thanks to me in this endearing and enduring way, hyperbole aside. Yet, as I look down the roster of names, I find a few close friends; but only a few of these students are still in contact with me; some I have not heard from in years; and at least one, I'm sure, would like to remove his or her name from the letter at this point, largely because of disagreements with me that emerged over the years.

Friendship is fragile. Affirmations of praise are easy to give, if one has the facility. Effusion is easier than commitment. The Bible speaks of a friend who is closer than a sibling. But this is so rare nowadays. How can it be recovered?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Bereavement: Thoughts on Missing My Mother

Bereavement feels the presence of absence,
and the absence of presence.

My loved one is gone,
but here, with me (in absence).

What an odd sensation,
invoking loneliness (she is gone),
fondness (I loved her),
and disorientation (I am not the same without her),
all at the same time.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Hard Options

Christians who are chronically ill and those who love them must often feel stranded between two options: to pray more earnestly and constantly (I am not doing enough) or to give up on prayer entirely (it does not matter what I do; things don't get better). This cannot really be resolved existentially in a world that is still groaning.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

A Well-Instructed Tongue for the Weary

4 The Sovereign LORD has given me a well-instructed tongue,
to know the word that sustains the weary.
He wakens me morning by morning,
wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed. --Isaiah 50:4.

This passage is from one of the servant songs, which presage the coming of the Messiah, Christ Jesus. Since his followers are called to walk in steps, we too should learn how to be instructed by the Sovereign Lord to have a "well instructed tongue to know the word that sustains the weary." We need to learn this from God, considering the perfect example of Jesus, who comforted the afflicted.

The chronically ill desperately need a word that sustains the weary, for they are so terribly weary--weary of doctors, tests, medicines, the misunderstanding of friends of family; weary of broken dreams, broken relationship ships, bodies that betray them, weary of life under the sun and east of Eden. Instead of hearing words from "well instructed tongues," they too often her from tongues on fire with anger, impatience, unkindness, and simple ignorance. This compounds the chronic misery and tempts them to despair.

Here is a word to the well: Consult the Sovereign Lord for words that sustain, nourish, and encourage the weary. This is a skill that needs to be learned in the crucible of other's suffering. It is neither fun or easy. But it is necessary to show love to those suffering in ways that most of us can scarcely understand. "Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one shares its joy" (Proverbs 14:10).

Instructed words to "the least of these," the brethren of Jesus, are words of love, from the God of love. As such, they are patient and kind, neither rude nor self-seeking; they persevere under pressure and do not fail (I Corinthians 13).

Please ask God, the God of all comfort, the Sovereign Lord, to give you a "well instructed tongue that sustains the weary. This requires heart-work, since out of the heart, the mouth speaks. But God can enter deeply into the hearts of the meek and humble.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

No Let Up

For the chronically ill and their loved ones there seems to be no let up. You dodge one bullet--a good blood test, or an infection beaten--and then there is more heavy fire, more fear, more hassle. It seems that it never ends. Endurance is hard to find; and despair looms large.

For the Christian, the long term (the world to come), may offer the only real hope.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Chronic Illness and Chronic Residence

One dimension of the suffering of chronic illness is being constrained to live in a location that makes one's illnesses worse. Because of a lack of money or the inability to find work elsewhere, many chronically ill people must live where the weather torments them.

For most folks, the weather is a matter small talk, but not of major concern (unless one is a farmer or similarly connected to land and weather). But if you suffer from chronic illness, a sudden weather change is dreaded and endured as a punishment unavoidable--unless you have hope of moving or taking a holiday.

But they cannot do that. Holidays are demanding in their own ways--ways that healthy people do not notice. Nor can they move to a healthy climate. They are imprisoned in two ways: in their sick bodies and in their inhospitable environment.

Let us lament this double incarceration.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Now and Later

God keeps all our tears in bottle. For the redeemed, the New Heavens and New Earth will be a place where God takes away every tear; the curse will be no more; and God's dwelling place will be with his people in a renewed universe.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Death and the Loss of Memory

Our loved one are associated through the bonds of memory. We remember departed relatives and friends often through the memories of others as well as our own. We may reminisce over a lost father or mother with the surviving spouse or with one close to that parent.

I often asked my mother about the life of my father, Harold Groothuis, who died when I was eleven. Of course, I had many memories of my father, but many had faded from my mind, given how young I was when he was killed in an airplane crash. Thus, whenever I wanted a detail about Dad's life, I would ask Mom. Or, we would simply discuss events we both remembered about Dad.

Now Mom is gone, and with her departs these conversations about my father. There is no one left who knew Dad as well as Mom--although some relatives remain with their memories of Dad. So, in a sad way, I have lost both my mother and many of the memories of my father as well. This is life "under the sun," East of Eden.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Ecclesiastes 11:7-12:14

7 Light is sweet,
and it pleases the eyes to see the sun.
8 However many years anyone may live,
let them enjoy them all.
But let them remember the days of darkness,
for there will be many.
Everything to come is meaningless.

9 You who are young, be happy while you are young,
and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth.
Follow the ways of your heart
and whatever your eyes see,
but know that for all these things
God will bring you into judgment.
10 So then, banish anxiety from your heart
and cast off the troubles of your body,
for youth and vigor are meaningless.

Ecclesiastes 12

1 Remember your Creator
in the days of your youth,
before the days of trouble come
and the years approach when you will say,
“I find no pleasure in them”—
2 before the sun and the light
and the moon and the stars grow dark,
and the clouds return after the rain;
3 when the keepers of the house tremble,
and the strong men stoop,
when the grinders cease because they are few,
and those looking through the windows grow dim;
4 when the doors to the street are closed
and the sound of grinding fades;
when people rise up at the sound of birds,
but all their songs grow faint;
5 when people are afraid of heights
and of dangers in the streets;
when the almond tree blossoms
and the grasshopper drags itself along
and desire no longer is stirred.
Then people go to their eternal home
and mourners go about the streets.

6 Remember him—before the silver cord is severed,
and the golden bowl is broken;
before the pitcher is shattered at the spring,
and the wheel broken at the well,
7 and the dust returns to the ground it came from,
and the spirit returns to God who gave it.

8 “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher.
“Everything is meaningless!”

The Conclusion of the Matter
9 Not only was the Teacher wise, but he also imparted knowledge to the people. He pondered and searched out and set in order many proverbs. 10 The Teacher searched to find just the right words, and what he wrote was upright and true.

11 The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails—given by one shepherd.12 Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them.

Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.

13 Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the duty of all mankind.
14 For God will bring every deed into judgment,
including every hidden thing,
whether it is good or evil.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

No man is a success who fails his own wife.

Friday, April 8, 2011

How is (Your Chronically Ill Spouse?)

The healthy one who is married to a chronically ill person is often asked, "How is so-and-so?" This shows concern, but it sometimes puts the spouse in a troubling position. First, there is usually no short answer, since so many things are wrong; it is difficult to summarize. Second, one may not want to rehearse the misery yet once again. Third, the healthy one would often like to talk about something else, since so much of home life is taken up with the vicissitudes and exigencies of suffering: doctor visits, medications, emergencies, depression, and so on. When the healthy one goes out, he or she may want to temporarily forget all this--at least for a few hours.

Added to his, the healthy care-giver suffers terribly as well. Life becomes a puzzling ruin of dashed hopes, endless frustrations, and relational challenges (to put it nicely). The healthy husband or wife might rather hear this question, "How are you doing in light of all this?" But the one who asks should be prepared for an honest answer, one that may be hard to take given the rawness of suffering involved.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Coping with Chronic Illness

Please visit the "Care Corner" of "Where is God? Ministries," concerning how various people advise you on how to deal with chronic illness.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Misfit, mutant,
unrequited, unrelenting.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

How to escape from a frozen, shrunken kingdom of static nouns?
Chronic illness means chronic uncertainty.

Saturday, March 26, 2011


Some of us need to lament our lack of lamentation,
our desire to "move on" without
dwelling in
and reflecting upon
the pain that so grips the world.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

No Title

Compounded pain.
Pain upon pain upon pain.
Diversity of perversity.

Pain beheld.
touched, felt, smelt.
Pain all around.
Compounded anguish.
Anguish all around, within, without.
Compounded, confounding, convoluted.
Pain and Anguish.

Who will extinguish,
relinquish the grip,
the grasp, the wringing of the neck,
the piercing of the heart,
the wild, weird weariness in the bones and soul?

Tears counted.
Blood shed.
Pain felt in marrow and mind
by an all-feeling, if maddeningly illusive

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


When the human body betrays its occupant in radically painful and untreatable ways, the sufferer her friends, family, and others encounter the steely stare of raw futility. Nothing can be done, except cry out to a seemingly empty or inactive or even sadistic heaven.

Futility evokes many futile responses: anger, despair, desperate actions with little chance of ameliorating anything. The encounter with futility, vanity, the inexorably painful is the ultimate test of Christian existence. Can one obey in the silent darkness of unrelenting groaning, moaning, lamenting existence? Words fail; prayers fail; natural means for relief fail. Life itself fails. God is hidden; life is ridden with radical sickness.

The whole universe groans unto its redemption; we, too, groan; the Spirit groans, and groans for us in our groaning. We hear and feel groaning within, groaning without, and groaning Above. A three-fold chorus of lament and hope deferred it seems. We would rather close our ears our eyes our heart, but God pries them open. The roar is deafening, calling out to a silent void of unhelpfulness--for now.

Losing Things

The chronically ill often suffer from mental debilities, some call it brain fog: a lessening of memory, a loss for words, and a slowness of reasoning. This often causes disorientation, especially through the breakdown of normal thought and action. A common result is losing items of great importance and losing more pedestrian things.

"It just disappeared," they often say of some needed things: a medication, doctor's note, a glass of water. The mundane becomes maddening, perplexing, frustrating. They are lost; things are lost; all appears lost, out of control, a torture chamber of new and excruciating circumstances.

Yet Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. Those in Christ are--all appearances to the contrary--not lost, however lost they feel, however much their caretakers let them down.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Avenues of Access

"Love is patient. Love is kind..."--I Corinthians 13:4.

Healthy people have their tastes and preferences, but they usually fall into fairly normal categories when it comes to communication (whether they are entirely wise in their choices or not). Some are more talkative to others, but they do not recoil from speaking in public. Some dislike the telephone; some like it; but few find it painful or impossible. Some may not like email, but will send and receive it. And so it goes.

This is not true for the chronically ill. Given their limitations, they do not engage the world of human contact and communication in the same way as the healthy of body. This is obvious in the case of the blind or the obviously physically disabled. We do not expect a blind person to read a letter; nor do we expect one sadly limited to a wheel chair go for a jog with us during which we will catch up on our lives. But those who look fairly healthy, but who are chronically ill (and usually depressed as a result), appear normal. So, many assume that their communicative avenues are just as open as the rest of humanity. They can call, write emails, visit our homes, go for walks, and all rest, can't they?

No they cannot; and it is the better part of compassion to realize that all those who are chronically ill are painfully limited in their avenues of access to the larger world. Public meetings are out for those with environmental sensitivities; or, of one braves them, she pays for it for days or weeks or recovery time. Some find phone calls very tiring. Others may use Facebook as the easiest way to interact with others, despite its limitations.

The point is simple: If you truly love a chronically-ill person, you need to find what avenues of access are best for them, given their limitations and possibilities. Please do not heap shame on them if they cannot play your game. Perhaps you love talking on the phone, but your friend tires quickly and would rather send an email or use Facebook. Then adjust to it--in love. Listen to your friend's pain; then try to put yourself into their wretched situation. This is called "loving your neighbor as yourself," as Jesus himself commanded.

This is not easy, but love requires it; and love is often not easy. Yet Spirit-led love will endeavor to find a godly and life-giving way into the lives of the miserable.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Lecture on Suffering On-line

The audio form my lecture, "God and Human Suffering," is now on line.

Character Revealed

Our response to chronic illness may say more about our character than anything else. As for me, may God have mercy.

Where there is anger, bring empathy.
Where here is peevishness, please bring compassion.
Where there is despair, bring hope.
Where there is doubt, please bring trust.
Where there is impatience, bring the love that covers a multitude of sins.
Where there is self upon self, bring, I pray, the presence of the Savior from self.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


Being in this world.
Being alone.

Being with others.
Being with suffering others.

Being with one's own suffering over the suffering of others.
Being with suffering, suffering, suffering.

Yearning for release from the burdensome
being in the world suffused with suffering.

Waiting, alone, suffering but with others suffering...

for the Being-unto-Resurrection
to come again.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

God and Human Suffering

I spoke for about two hours today on "God and Human Suffering." to about seventy folks at Fellowship Denver Church. If it goes on line, I will post the lecture here. I can also send you the outline if you would like one.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Art of Condolence Writing

As I read cards and Facebook posts and emails of condolence, I wonder over the art of writing a condolence message. What, exactly, makes it apt? A few elements come to mind.

Of course, one should express genuine sorrow, which may or may not be captured by a prefabricated card. But if one used a set text from such a card, one needs to add a few of one's own words in one's own handwriting. The sorrow should not be despairing (which is the sin of giving up on God), but respectful and tender.

Another aspect of condolence is remembering and appreciating the life now over: a few words about the deceased smile or laugh or kindness. This sparks bright memories that dispel a bit of the harsh darkness of death.

The better condolences also offer hope for the bereft, the bereaved, the grieving; they offer some non-cliched reason to believe your sorrow will lighten, your life will move into brighter places, that this death will one day be swallowed up in victory (if that can be honestly said of the newly dead).

Other condolences are less wise; their vices include overused phrases robbed of meaning through overuse: "earth's loss is heaven's gain," and so on. Better to use your own faltering words than to steal such stock phrases. Yes, "its the thought that counts"--but why not try to match the right words (one's own words) with such sentiments?

Perhaps the most grievous failure in words of condolence is silence--no words at all. Those close to you and your beloved deceased write nothing. Why is this? Perhaps these souls are overwhelmed by the prospect of writing such weighty words. Instead of failing (after all, how many of them are professional writers or pastors or counselors--people who are supposed to know how to do such things?), they succeed by doing nothing, claiming an inability that renders them mute, thus making the bereaved even more lonely in their losses.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Arrest: Illness Unbidden (Corrected)

I read in Solzhenitsyn of the inimitable horrors of "The Arrest," the first chapter of The Gulag Archipelago. A scant ten pages in, and I had to stop reading. Imaging that kind of world was too unsettling. Although I live in America, I felt some pangs of paranoia. Might I be so arrested, taken as a political prisoner? Innocent civilians could be arrested at any time--even during an operation, even while taken on a date by a supposed suitor--and for any (or no) reason. This is how communism works: pure tyranny and pure terror. One's entire life, way of being, could be arrested, nullified--by that ruthless and heartless State playing God (and thus aping Satan).

Then, in light of the chronic suffering of several loved ones, I realized that illness is an "arrest." One is taken away from the familiar, the taken-for-granted way of life. We presuppose health as a condition for being: for walking, sleeping, even thinking. Then...we are arrested by illness--and often without warning, often during the best of times, or, at least, when our fears of this arrest have waned. The arrest comes unbidden: a loud and rude rap on the door in the middle of the night; as an interruption of a pleasant event--when we least expect the suddenness and sadness of it.

To where are we being dragged away? We know we are taken from the familiar, the usual, our homes, our loves, our likes, our boredoms. But to where? What will the prison will like? Who are the guards? What are the terms of release--if any? What will be left of my ties to friends, family, strangers, work, rest?

One have been arrested, and arrests are never pleasant or polite. They are rude, rough, unsettling--full of dread. One is taken captive, passive, yet required to do all manner of new and unmannerly things--tests, treatments, long sentences of waiting for test results, therapies that may bring more pain than relief, which may cause new symptoms, new maladies.

This arrest--the arrest of illness--is not accompanied by thugs of the state, as was Solzhenitsyn's arrest. No; loved ones try to offer help and hope. But they, too, have been arrested (I have been thus arrested), for their lives with the afflicted will not be the same. Routines change; hopes are deferred or will die; plans are scattered; the future stares back with opaque malignity.

Jesus Christ was arrested. He was arrested only after he healed the sick of manifold ills, raised the dead, loved the most unlovely, and preached the truth of good news of God's grace, forgiveness, and restoration--and the bad news of God's inescapable judgment of the unrepentant. This rebel with no weapons, this dissident with no death squads, was arrested, ripped away from his disciples, by a clutch of thugs led by a traitor in his midst, whom he had loved. He was taken away, to be punished for crimes he did not commit, to be spit upon, struck, and mocked by creatures he had himself created. He was tried without reason and sentenced without evidence. But that was the least of it. This arrest, trial, and conviction was unto a Cross, a torture stake: the cruelest invention of man's sadistic mind.

Yet he came to be arrested, taken away to injustice, torture, torment, and death. It was no surprise to him. It was foreordained for him to be forsaken, betrayed, rejected, sickened, dejected, desolated.

Our arrests come unbidden. His did not. While he absorbed the pain and despised the shame, he did it for those who authorized his arrest. This blood-work was wrought from eternity and endures for posterity.

Let all who are arrested by illness (or any of life's all-too-varied tragedies) remember that arrest, that prisoner, that Cross-bearer...who while taken down dead from the Cross, rose alive from the dead, scars remaining, but with life unending. The lamb who was slain has begun to reign: a more arresting thought cannot be thought.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Someone should compose a universal lament, that bewails all the major categories of this cracked earth's woundedness, and which does so before the face of God.

Monday, February 7, 2011


My lament for all Denverites who suffer from chronic illnesses made far worse by extreme weather changes, of which we will experience tomorrow--again. Those not effected should pray and show kindness to those who will be devastated.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Prayer for One Grieving Over the Loss of a Pet

I said in mine heart, God shall judge the righteous and the wicked: for there is a time there for every purpose and for every work.
I said in mine heart concerning the estate of the sons of men, that God might manifest them, and that they might see that they themselves are beasts.
For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity.
All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.
Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?
Wherefore I perceive that there is nothing better, than that a man should rejoice in his own works; for that is his portion: for who shall bring him to see what shall be after him?
Ecclesiastes 3:17-22.

Oh Creator of all living things, and Giver of every good and perfect gift, we thank you for the gift of living creatures. You have made each thing according to its kind, each finds its place in your creation. You have given us dominion over the earth and put living things into our care, including our pets. We thank you for these animal friends, and while we know they cannot provide the fellowship given by members of our own kind, we thank you for the love and joy that comes from these fellow creatures.

We ask you now to comfort the master of a beloved pet who has gone the way of all flesh. All the living will likewise die, and the death of one of your image-bearers is far more consequential than that of a dog or cat. Yet the master grieves the loss of an animal companion, one put in his or her care. Fond memories of pet’s can last a lifetime. We ask that the manifold sorrows of this veil of tears not overwhelm the master, that life without their beloved pet would find healing and that the memories of this unique creature would bring happiness and consolation even in light of the bitterness of loss.

In the name of Jesus Christ, the Great Shepherd of the Sheep.


Monday, January 17, 2011

Objects of Grief

We grieve the loss of loved ones to death and debility. They are, in that sense, the objects of grief. Yet there are others: anything closely associated with that person in our minds. For example, for the several months during which my mother was sick, declining, and eventually dying, I dreaded phone calls, because they were often bad news. The phone calls from mother, which had been often, eventually ceased. After her death, the phone has a different meaning to me. It can no longer give the bad news. The bad news has come. She is dead. And the phone can no longer bring me the voice of my mother. (She never took up the computer, saying, "I'd waste too much time on it if I had one.")

Mother lived far way, in Anchorage, Alaska--the land of my birth. The distance (and other factors) made it difficult for me to visit her or for her to visit me. She stopped traveling a few years ago. However, we often spoke on the phone, an almost always on Sundays. It was a kind of ritual. And mother was a champion talker. Now Sundays are silent in that way, and lonely.

So the phone has become something very different than it used to be (as have many other objects: photographs, gifts form her and more). The telephone is motherless, as am I. Yet I am not without a loving wife, caring friends, and a faithful God who promises to one day take away every tear from this people. But not yet...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


When you need to weep,

When others need to weep,
let them weep.

When the world weeps,
weep along with it.

Not all our tears will
be unrequited.

Friday, January 7, 2011

If this bleeding, broken, and groaning world does not repeatedly break your heart, then you know nothing of yourself, the world, or of God.