|How Reading a Bible Story Can Help Soothe Your Doubts
Posted: 02 May 2019 02:00 PM PDT
Doubts plague our feelings and thoughts. Often these have to do with whether or not living is a good thing at all. Can we count our lives as good and worthwhile, given the deep and various kinds of suffering we endure?
It’s not just our own afflictions that generate doubts about the goodness of life and ultimately the goodness of God. We can’t escape the painful realities of friends who are dying, grieving relatives, animal suffering, and even the lamentable condition of people we only see online.
Struggling to believe
These all add up to suffocate beliefs about God, his goodness, and his trustworthiness.
In fact, widespread evil and seemingly senseless suffering seem to argue against the likelihood that there is a good God who is involved in our world. Superfluous suffering seems to justify religious atheism or agnosticism, with a fitting sense of spiritual malaise.
When we state these intuitions clearly, the argument that the existence of a good God is unlikely only seems stronger. A defense against its parts and cumulative force would have to provide strong counter-arguments against the following claims:
These claims resonate with some of our most profound and unresolved experiences. They also seem to validate atheism, agnosticism, or—at the very least—spiritual apathy. I have struggled with these as I have tried to reconcile classical beliefs about the Christian God.
Reading Bible stories
I have found the best way to deal with the questions generated by horrors is by working through stories of God’s involvement in the world as it is. Matthew’s Gospel has helped me generate relevant responses to these claims.
My approach to Matthew explores the ways by which God the Trinity relates reparatively with people who have been traumatized by horrors in order to heal the relational, moral, and creative aspects of his own images. Because God is the Trinity, he is uniquely able to provide humans with a new life as Christlike people. These gifts help us to begin to recover from horrors and trauma in this life and expect full healing and profound renewal in heaven with God.
The blessed perspective on the story of God’s involvement in the world, as recorded in Matthew’s Gospel, comes to light in the story of God’s work to enable Peter’s confession of who Jesus is (Matt 16:13–20). This is one of the most important stories in Matthew because it serves his aim of providing a powerful and life-changing answer to Jesus’ question “Who do you say that I am?” (16:15). It powerfully demonstrates a change in perspective.
Though we can’t argue that Peter has a trauma perspective in the same way we can about people today, his perspective would have been shaped by the difficulties involved in Roman occupation, a corrupt temple system, and the struggle for a livelihood. When Jesus asks this question, Peter answers by saying, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (16:16).
This response indicates that Peter did not interpret Jesus as his contemporaries did, as merely a wisdom teacher or a sage or a prophet. This answer is also surprising given Peter’s failures of perspective on a number of occasions throughout the Gospel.
Something has changed; Peter has been freed from his previous misperceptions and misconceptions of Jesus. A life-giving shift has occurred. But how did this change within Peter’s perception occur? Why does Peter have this perspective?
We may never know all the reasons why the shift occurred; however, a key part of this includes a gift from the “Father who is in heaven.” The invisible Father’s actions lie behind Peter’s new and accurate perspective. Jesus says to Peter, “Blessed are you, for flesh and blood have not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in the heavens” (16:17).
Peter’s reoriented perspective on Jesus is the proof of God the Father being interested in Peter and able to secure an attentive relationship between himself and Peter. This is because Peter’s perspective is drawn into God’s focused attention and hence into a temporary yet deeper mind-to-mind communication with God. This is not to say that it was permanent before the indwelling of the Spirit. The Spirit gave Peter an insight rather than coming to dwell within Peter. Indeed, Peter reverts to his confused state throughout the story and even denies Jesus, so this episode is only a temporary suggestion of what may be a convincing and enduring shift of perspective for mature Christians. It is a goal toward which we can move and grow in grace.
This post is adapted from God of All Comfort: A Trinitarian Response to the Horrors of This World by Scott Harrower, available now through Lexham Press. The headings and title of this post are the additions of the editor.
The post How Reading a Bible Story Can Help Soothe Your Doubts appeared first on LogosTalk.
|Bonhoeffer and a Prison Reflection
Posted: 02 May 2019 10:00 AM PDT
Today marks the beginning of the Days of Remembrance, the United States’ annual commemoration of the Holocaust.
Between 1933 and 1945, the Nazi regime systematically persecuted and murdered an estimated six million Jews, as well as millions of others it deemed “politically, racially, or socially unfit.”1 Though well documented, the horrors of the Holocaust remain unfathomable.
Amid those dark days shine innumerable stories of courage and humanity, some told and some known only to God. (Who knows every prisoner who gave away his last piece of bread to a weaker brother? Their memory is precious in the mind of God.)
One told story of valor is that of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Christian, pastor, pacifist, and Nazi resister. Though living safely in the United States in 1939, Bonhoeffer felt compelled to return to Germany:
I must live through this difficult period in our national history with the people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people.
He boarded the last scheduled steamer to cross the Atlantic and soon joined resistance efforts, for which he was eventually imprisoned and executed.2
In the below excerpt from Letters and Papers from Prison, Bonhoeffer offers a beautiful reflection on sharing in the sufferings of others.
The Holocaust has passed, but its memory remains, and similar evils are repeating. Will we have the Christian courage to enter into the suffering of our neighbors?
We have to consider that most people learn wisdom only through personal experiences. This explains, first, the astonishing inability of most people to take any kind of preventive action—one always believes that he can evade the danger until it is too late. Second, it explains people’s dull sensitivity toward the suffering of others; sympathy grows in proportion to the increasing fear of the threatening proximity of disaster.
There is some justification in ethics for such an attitude: one does not want to interfere with fate; inner calling and the power to act are given only when things have become serious. No one is responsible for all of the world’s injustice and suffering, nor does one want to establish oneself as the judge of the world. And there is some justification also in psychology: the lack of imagination, sensitivity, and inner alertness is balanced by strong composure, unperturbed energy for work, and great capacity for suffering.
From a Christian perspective, none of these justifications can blind us to the fact that what is decisively lacking here is a greatness of heart. Christ withdrew from suffering until his hour had come; then he walked toward it in freedom, took hold, and overcame it. Christ, so the Scripture tells us, experienced in his own body the whole suffering of all humanity as his own—an incomprehensibly lofty thought!—taking it upon himself in freedom.
Certainly, we are not Christ, nor are we called to redeem the world through our own deed and our own suffering; we are not to burden ourselves with impossible things and torture ourselves with not being able to bear them. We are not lords but instruments in the hands of the Lord of history; we can truly share only in a limited measure in the suffering of others.
We are not Christ, but if we want to be Christians it means that we are to take part in Christ’s greatness of heart, in the responsible action that in freedom lays hold of the hour and faces the danger, and in the true sympathy that springs forth not from fear but from Christ’s freeing and redeeming love for all who suffer. Inactive waiting and dully looking on are not Christian responses. Christians are called to action and sympathy not through their own firsthand experiences but by the immediate experience of their brothers, for whose sake Christ suffered.3
This excerpt has been lightly adapted for readability. Learn more about Bonhoeffer and his works.