Saturday, January 8, 2011

PaRDes Approach to Leviticus 19:28 (Tattooing)

You shall not make any gashes in your flesh for the dead
or tattoo any marks upon you: I am the Lord.

Since the Bible is a “living text” it is appropriate to consider contemporary impacts of the law on modern believers and visa/versa. I’ll question and consider, “What is God’s divine and practical purpose for human skin? As someone who has a tattoo, does this mean that I am forever condemned to be unclean? How do modern Jews view tattooing?”

Since God gave humans skin, we can assume that His purpose for flesh is indeed to cover and protect the inner essence of human anatomy and physiology. In addition, I contend that skin symbolizes a spiritual protection. Wikipedia defines the integumentary system’s functions to, “waterproof, cushion, and protect the deeper tissues, excrete wastes, and regulate temperature, and is the attachment site for sensory receptors to detect pain, sensation, pressure, and temperature.” Not only is it our first line of natural defense, but it is also the main way humans distinguish one another and perceive the outside world. Anyone who’s treated a burn victim will tell you that infection and dehydration are life-threatening concerns. Someone recovering from third degree burns can think of little else beyond the pain they experience. Furthermore, anyone who bears major scars can explain the impact the marks have on their self-identity and how others relate to him/her. My focus in highlighting the importance of skin is to emphasize that by disfiguring the skin, an individual is tainting one of God’s basic and important means of protection, identification, and perception.

The laws of Leviticus and Deuteronomy describe what it is to be clean/righteous or unclean/unrighteous. Throughout the text the importance of being physically clean, spiritually righteous and socially responsible intermingle without any particular order of importance. In part this lack of hierarchical ranking is due to the Hebrews not separating body, mind, and spirit. It was the Greek philosophers who conceptualized the distinctions between the physical and moral self. Dennis Bratcher elaborates, “the whole di- or tri-chotomous idea is not a very good conceptual category for talking about God’s work with human beings. Even though it was used extensively in the Early Church and has been popularized in some circles today, it is not a category used in Scripture. That simply says that it is not a category that reflects how the ancient Israelites, or even by and large NT writers, conceptualized human beings.” Keeping the Hebrews concept of the spirit and natural world being inextricably interrelated, reading the Torah doesn’t seem so haphazard. In short, the holiness of the spirit is manifested in the external, physical body.

If humans are made in the image of a Holy, Perfect God—then in order to enter His presence or remain among His chosen people one should be as whole as possible. Furthermore, the New Testament also elaborates on the physical/spiritual connection, “…your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Therefore, Hebrews needed to study, discern, and apply His commandments to their daily lives.

The first part of the verse “gashes in your flesh for the dead” can be interpreted as a ban against marring the flesh as a sign of morning. It was common for the Hebrews to rent their clothing as a sign of despair or grief as in Genesis 37:29, “When Reuben returned to the pit and saw that Joseph was not in the pit, he tore his clothes.” Thereby, one could conclude that ripping flesh would be the ultimate show of anguish. warns parents that self-mutilation among American teenagers has become alarmingly common. They explain the reasons why someone would mutilate this or her skin, “Cutting is a way some people try to cope with the pain of strong emotions, intense pressure, or upsetting relationship problems. They may be dealing with feelings that seem too difficult to bear, or bad situations they think can't change.” Returning to the idea that unblemished equates with righteousness, it is understandable that God would not approve of intentionally scarring the skin. Not only is the individual at risk for pathogens by literally making the flesh incomplete; but also, he or she is forever marred/blemished. Once again, consider the conclusion Mary Douglas reaches that the common threads throughout the laws are completeness, order and whole-ness.

Moreover, skin is a means of identification—genetic attributes distinguish one as an individual as well as being a member of a family, clan, and race. Since the word HOLY means to set apart, the Jews needed to distinguish themselves from the heathen. Deuteronomy 10:12-18 illustrates this principle, “So now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you? Only to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the Lord your God and his decrees that I am commanding you today, for your own well-being. …the Lord set his heart in love on your ancestors alone and chose you, their descendants after them, out of all the peoples, as it is today.” Therefore, an essential part of being “the chosen people” was to look different and not assimilate with the surrounding cultures.

In the ancient world marking the skin indicated a rite of passage, as a talisman/amulet, or a part of ritual worship. For example, Africans used scarification to symbolize the sexual transitions of puberty or childbirth, “Scars added at puberty, after the birth of the first child, or following the end of breastfeeding highlight the bravery of women in enduring the pain of childbirth. Scars on the hips and buttocks, on the other hand, both visually and tactually accentuate the erotic and sensual aspects of these parts of the female body” (The Vanishing Tattoo). For modern Westerners the connection between skin and eroticism has been “numbed” by literal and figurative overexposure. Many world-wide cultures encourage piercings and various markings as erotic expression. Japanese prostitutes and geisha were among the first modern-day females to use ornate tattoos to lure the attraction of passing men. Ironically, most American youth view tattooing positively as rebellious and overtly sexual. Role models of the tattooed vixen are Kat VonD, Pamela Anderson, and Angelina Jolie.

Religious Tattoos’ website argues, “In verse 28, God is warning the Jewish people about a pagan practice at funerals, where pagans would mutilate/mark themselves to appease their false gods. The pagans hoped that by cutting themselves and marking images/symbols of idols on their bodies, that they would obtain favour in the afterlife from their false gods, both for themselves and for those who just died.”

Since other tribes who were in close proximity to the Israelites wore tattoos, this would be a means to distinguish them physically and prohibit a pagan worship ritual. Moreover, Tattooing was a means for “branding” a slave, soldier or criminal to deter escape. The Online Tattoo Museum illustrates that “Tattooing was only associated with barbarians in early Greek and Roman times. The Greeks learned tattooing from the Persians, and used it to mark slaves and criminals so they could be identified if they tried to escape. The Romans in turn adopted the practice from the Greeks, and in late antiquity when the Roman army consisted largely of mercenaries; they also were tattooed so that deserters could be identified…The Latin word for ‘tattoo’ was stigma, and the original meaning is reflected in modern dictionaries…’a prick with a pointed instrument’, ‘a distinguishing mark cut into the flesh of a slave or a criminal’, and ‘a mark of disgrace or reproach.”’ Consequently, someone bearing a skin marking could easily be assumed to be a non-Jew, and therefore, “stigmatized” as heathen, slave, a Roman mercenary, or foreign.

The Jewish history section of this website emphasizes tattooing’s negative connotation for modern Jews, “During the first quarter of the 20th century, European Jews rarely tattooed their bodies. Many felt that is was against their religion and beliefs to mark their skin and this made the holocaust tattooing an even greater atrocity that would haunt survivors for the rest of their lives.” Thus, tattooing is considered to be a mark of a curse, enslavement, and/or genocide by many Jews.

Contrastingly, other’s view it as a badge of honor. Holocaust survivor Charles Winter explains, “He says some survivors get their tattoo removed, but his number is a source of strength. ‘I'm proud of it,’ he says. ‘I'm proud to be a Jewish boy that survived"’ ( In short, there is no quick and easy answer as to how the Jewish people as a whole view marking the body.

In Modern times, religious sects still use conservative dress as a sign of modesty and physical purity. I was raised in the Pentacost tradition and was discouraged from wearing make-up, piercing my ears, and wearing pants. As a teenager, I played softball in a skirt with a pair of shorts underneath to avoid any accidental exposure. Similarly, other cultures promote the covering of skin, especially of females. The Islamic hijab requires that “the entire body must be covered, although the face and hands may be exposed. Some women choose to cover themselves further by means of a face veil and gloves, and this is perfectly fine” (Cook). Similarly, modern Israeli dress is casual but conservative. Israel Made Easy advise tourists, “Dress code for religious sites means no shorts, bare midriffs, or sleeves shorter than T-shirt-length. Men cover their heads in Jewish shrines and synagogues, bare them in churches.” Therefore, it is common in Israel to see scarves, hats, long pants, skirts and long sleeved shirts in the desert heat.

As far as tattooing as it is viewed by modern Jews, Rabbi Jeffrey Goldwasser summarizes many of the online discussions when answering a young man who is considering getting a tattoo (and whether or not he would be permitted Jewish burial), “What would you gain by having a permanent tattoo placed on your body? It will not make you a better person. If you imagine that it would make you feel better about yourself, you may have issues about your self-image that no tattoo will solve. It's worth asking tough questions like these before making a choice as a young person that you will carry with you for the rest of your life” ( Typical of the Jewish tradition, he answers a question with a question. Furthermore, some scholars argue that tattooing oneself for YHWH does have Biblical precedence using Exodus 9 and 16, “Moses borrowed tattooing from the Arabs who tattooed magical symbols on their hands and foreheads. According to Thomson, the prohibition in Leviticus referred only to heathen tattooing which related to idols and superstition, and not to ‘Moses-approved’ tattooing” (The Vanishing Tattoo). In reading Rabbi Goldwasser’s response, it seems very clear to me that Jewish people are in general conservative about most issues; however, they honor individual choice and that each of us must walk out our own path with God.


Retrieved from

Bratcher, Dennis. Body and Soul: Greek and Hebraic Tensions in Scripture. Thoughts on the Di-/Trichotomous Debate. The
CRI/Voice, Institute. January 10, 2010. Retrieved from

Cook, Selma. The Islamic Garden. Hijab Basics: The Requirements of the Muslim Women's Dress. Retrieved from

Douglas, Mary. The Abominations of Leviticus. Retrieved from

Ed. Michael D. Coogan et al. The New Oxford Annotated Bible. New Revised Standard Version, with the Apocrypha.
3rd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Fodor’s. Israel Made Easy. August 10, 2007Retrieved from

Goldwasser, Rabbi Jeffrey Wolfson. If I get a tattoo, can I still be buried in a Jewish cemetery? Retrieved from

Retrieved from

The Vanishing Tattoo. Online Tattoo Museum. Retrieved from

Retrieved from

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Life-Lessons from Job

Consider the work of God;
who can make straight what he has made crooked?
On the day of prosperity be joyful,
and on the day of adversity consider;
God has made the one as well as the other,
~Ecclesiastes 7:14~

The story of Job demonstrates that life’s trials remind us that YHWH is in ultimate control—and that humans were created to worship and commune with a wondrous God. Through the life of Job we can learn that God works as a filter, nothing can happen to us without His permission. Romans 15:4 [emphasis added] explains, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.” The footnotes of the NRSV explain that the “Patience of Job” is better explained as “’endurance,’ persistence,’ or steadfastness’” (p. 726). Thereby, the story of Job is a morality tale whose theme is to encourage humans to praise God during the sunshine and during the storm. The life of Job does (in part) answer question of why bad things happen to good people. Often times life’s difficulties seem complex and overwhelming—but the essential elements are the same as Job’s circumstances.

The story begins with a challenge—a duel between Good and Evil. In Job 1:10-11 the devil says, “You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.’” The bet that God and the devil have made centers on Job’s reaction and choices. Similarly, what determines our fate is our own freewill. Alvin Plantinga’s philosophy of good and evil resonates as truth with me,
“A world containing creatures who are significantly free (and freely perform more good than evil actions)
is more valuable, all else being equal, than a world containing no free creatures at all. Now God can create
free creatures, but He can't cause or determine them to do only what is right. For if He does so, then they
aren't significantly free after all; they do not do what is right freely. To create creatures capable of moral
good, therefore, He must create creatures capable of moral evil; and He can't give these creatures the
freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so. As it turned out, sadly enough,
some of the free creatures God created went wrong in the exercise of their freedom; this is the source of
moral evil. The fact that free creatures sometimes go wrong, however, counts neither against God's
omnipotence nor against His goodness; for He could have forestalled the occurrence of moral evil only by removing the possibility of moral good.”
Similar to Job, we are often unaware of this spiritual warfare at work in our lives. The antagonist’s purpose is to destroy mankind, “The Lord said to Satan, ‘Where have you come from?’ Satan answered the Lord, ‘From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it’” (Job 1:7). The adversary’s role is further explained in 1 Peter 5:8-9, “Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters throughout the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering.” The enemy of our soul’s job is to redirect our attention on our suffering; and as a result, we will stop worshiping God (the divine purpose for humans). We become bitter, question God, and no longer follow his instructions. The wager between YHWH and Satan will be determined by how Job responds to great suffering…will he curse God or will he continue to remain pious?

Usually, the bible demonstrates two primary reasons for our trials: 1) they are a natural consequence of sin and/or 2) YHWH is using difficulties to re-FORM us. God is using the struggle as a call for remediation. Hebrews 12:9 explains, “Moreover, we had human parents to discipline us, and we respected them. Should we not be even more willing to be subject to the Father of spirits and live?” At this point in the tale Job has lost his family, livestock, material possessions, and he is covered in festering boils. His suffering and anguish is described vividly. At first, his friends support him and try to comfort his grief.
Shortly thereafter, they begin pointing accusatory fingers in his direction. The elders base their beliefs on the traditional Jewish philosophy that a good and omnipotent YHWH blesses the virtuous and punishes the wicked. As a composite, look at Eliphaz’s speech in Job 15:17-19, “‘what sages have told, and their ancestors have not hidden …The wicked writhe in pain all their days, through all the years that are laid up for the ruthless.” The elders’ argument is that no man is without sin. Wikipedia condenses, “Job's friends do not waver from their belief that Job must have sinned to incite God's punishment. As the speeches progress, Job's friends increasingly berate him for refusing to confess his sins, although they themselves are at a loss as to which sin he has committed. They also assume, in their view of theology, that God always rewards good and punishes evil, with no apparent exceptions allowed. There seems to be no room in their understanding of God for divine discretion and mystery in allowing and arranging suffering for purposes other than retribution” (Wikipedia). Furthermore, Satan is actually the one tormenting Job. When his initial evils don’t cause Job to waver in his faith, he returns to God to authorize increasing physically injury.

At this point in the story, the suffering begins to wither the resolve of all the moral characters. Job’s wife, who had also suffered great loss, betrays Job and the Lord. In Job 2:9 she falls prey to Satan’s devises, “Then his wife said to him, ‘Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die.’” Quickly Job has fallen from a town leader to a pariah. His friends and wife are bewildered by his suffering. Job refuses to admit any guilt, and instead, calls out to God for answers. . Job chapter 17 illustrates a pitiful, desperate Job crying out to a God who doesn’t respond, “Surely there are mockers around me…‘Lay down a pledge for me with yourself; who is there that will give surety for me? … where then is my hope? Who will see my hope? Will it go down to the bars of Sheol? Shall we descend together into the dust?’” At this point, it seems that Job has lost all faith and does indeed entreat death.

In an accused-plaintiff format, Job restates his blamelessness and proclaims that he is the victim of YHWH’s wrong-doing. By accusing God, Job is guilty of blasphemy. Furthermore, Job pleads for a redeemer to act as a mediator between himself and God. As is typical of YHWH, that person’s physical characteristics and personality are underestimated.

Speaking with the voice of wisdom, Elihu’s, a humble youth, speech comes before God’s and serves as a precursor to help Job recognize God’s perspective. Wikipedia analyzes, “By contrast, Elihu stresses that real repentance entails renouncing moral authority, which is God's alone. Elihu therefore underscores the inherent arrogance in Job's desire to 'make his case' before God, which presupposes that Job possesses a superior moral standard that can be prevailed upon God.” Of all the characters, he comes closest to explaining God’s rationale for Job’s seemingly cruel punishment. The reprimand wasn’t punitive, but rather, a call for atonement. In Job 36:17-26 Elihu reprimands both the elders for their accusations and Job for questioning God’s ways,
“‘But you are obsessed with the case of the wicked; judgment and justice seize you. Beware that wrath
does not entice you into scoffing… Do not long for the night, when peoples are cut off in their place.
Beware! Do not turn to iniquity; because of that you have been tried by affliction. See, God is exalted in his
power; who is a teacher like him? Who has prescribed for him his way, or who can say, “You have done
wrong”? ‘Remember to extol his work, of which mortals have sung. All people have looked on it; everyone watches it from far away. Surely God is great, and we do not know him….”
Elihu argues that God is mysterious and no man can understand His ways. Mankind’s role isn’t to question YHWH, but freewill to worship him.

Only God knows the bigger purpose for the events of our lives. 2 Chronicles 7:13-14 explains God’s purpose behind this chastisement, “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain…if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” Elihu reprimands Job for not understanding that God chastises mankind—similar to a teacher or parent-- because He loves them. Contrast Elihu’s speech with that of the elders, “then he prays to God, and is accepted by him, he comes into his presence with joy, and God repays him for his righteousness. That person sings to others and says, “I sinned, and perverted what was right, and it was not paid back to me. He has redeemed my soul from going down to the Pit, and my life shall see the light”’ (Job 33:26-28). Job was stripped of all his material possessions so that he could acknowledge the power of God, be humbled, and serve as an example for the rest of humanity. Similar to the story of Joseph, what the devil had intended for evil, God used for good is powerfully illustrated.

As humans it is difficult for us to see our trials from God’s perspective. As a teacher, I broke down big concepts into daily lesson plans, provided clear goals and guidelines, gave demonstrations with visual aids, and assigned projects. But how did I assess student knowledge? I tested them! 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 explains what our Christian attitude should be, “So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.” Metals are fired to burn off impurities, clay is fired to make vessels, and sand is molten into glass—we are no different. Furthermore, “In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.” 1 Peter 1:6-7. Indeed, Job does acknowledge this principal at work, “But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I shall come out like gold” ( Job 23:10). After years of poverty and the death of his wife, Smith Wigglesworth wrote, “Great faith is the product of great fights. Great testimonies are the outcome of great tests. Great triumphs can only come out of great trials.” In the human body, bones are thickest where muscular stress and tension are applied. Tests can let our patience and faith grow—but only if we let God have control.

The whole book of Ecclesiastes seems to ponder the meaning of life—in Ecclesiastes 4:4-8 the writer observes, “And I saw that all labor and all achievement spring from man's envy of his neighbor. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind…There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth. ‘For whom am I toiling,’ he asked, ‘and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?’ This too is meaningless—a miserable business!” The writer ponders focus all one’s energy on prosperity; when it is only temporary and in the end, unfulfilling. Similar to Job, the theme of trusting in the divine will of YHWH run throughout the text. The NRSV footnotes explain, “life can only be lived before a sovereign God who alone determines all that happens on earth” (p.945). The writer of Ecclesiastes seems to be encouraging a life of moderation, to appreciate both hard work and the simple things in life. In the Good News Bible verse six translates, “It is better to have only a little with peace of mind, than be busy all the time with both hands.” The wisdom found in Ecclesiastes corresponds with the apostle Paul who emphasizes the importance of Christ-reliance and describes the peace he’s found as a result, “I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:12-13. Therefore, the secret to success is find balance in our lives and trust in God to supply our needs. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths” (Proverbs 3, 5-6). As demonstrated by the story of Job, the rationale for reverence isn’t because YHWY is like Santa Claus, lavishly doling out presents to good little boys and girls; but praise be to God—the mysterious and majestic One who gives and takes away. Ecclesiastes 12:13 concisely states the writer’s philosophy, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone.” So, be righteous for righteousness sake!

As we learn from Job, we can never be virtuous beyond reproach. Ecclesiastes 7:20 reinforces this theme, “Surely there is no one on earth so righteous as to do good without ever sinning.” In the New Testament this truth is explained, “for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). If a pious man such as Job wasn’t immune from troubles during his time on earth, why should we arrogantly think we should be spared? Personally, “Why me?” is a dangerous question because my thoughts and actions reflect a victim mindset. As I’ve matured, I realize the more appropriate questions is, “Why not me?” If there is a car crash, call the medics and seek immediate treatment…it isn’t the time to ponder why the accident happened. Standing in the street, bawling that you are an innocent victim isn’t advantageous either. “Why?” should happen later in the healing process. The goal of reflection shouldn’t be to blame, but rather, to prevent another accident. We need to check ourselves and ask, “Bitter or better, which do I choose? “Pastor Rick Warren reminds us, “… God is glorified when we bear “much fruit” (John 15:8), and that requires pruning. We must remember that the loppers are in the hands of our loving God. He knows what he is doing, and he wants what is best for us. If you are a Christian, you are going to be pruned. Count on it. You may be going through pruning right now, and it may not all be deadwood. God cuts off branches that we feel are productive so that more fruit may be produced”.

As a result of my own devastating events, I was humbled like Job and learned to submit to God’s sovereignty. My attitude has been chastened and I realize there but the grace of God go I. I am now compassionate and understand why someone would rebelliously turn to drugs and alcohol, prostitution, or sin in general. Sometimes we feel that not even God could love us, or that we couldn’t possibly ever live a good life; so we might as well succeed at being hell-bent. There is a powerful attraction to obstinacy, having the power to not listen to anyone—including God. Humans are desperately seeking to fill a void that only God can fill and the self-destructive lifestyle temporarily may provide a “fix,” but this compounds physical, mental, spiritual, financial health issues. In my own Job-like experience, I’d forgotten the Biblical principal of 2 Corinthians 4:16-18. When I reflect on my own life history, I truly believe this is what kept my mom going; somehow she never lost sight of this truth. I’d forgotten the principle she’d held fast to even on her death bed…when people would ask, “What can we do for you?” She’d unassumingly answer, “Pray for my children.” She knew that the only thing you can take to heaven is your loved ones! My mother wasn’t a fair weather fan of God—she praised Him in the highlights of her life and she acknowledged His grace on her deathbed.

As always, the divine rational for our trials is to shape us into righteous men and women. After complaining and repeatedly questioning God, Job also achieves this wisdom,
“Then Job answered the Lord:
‘I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
“Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?”
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,

but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes.’ "’
As a result of his confession, God blesses Job even more than what was taken away and he lived another 140 years. Job’s life demonstrates the promise in Isaiah 58:12, “Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.” One can easily infer that Job’s torment was prolonged by his rebellion and complaining; the sooner he accepted God’s omnipotent power, the sooner the trial would have ended and the devil lost the wager. Wikipedia summarizes, “The point of these speeches, and ultimately the entire book of Job, is to proclaim the absolute freedom of God over His creation. … Finally, humbled by God's chastising, Job turns speechless, giving up and repenting his previous requests of justice. In the epilogue, God condemns Job's friends for their ignorance and lack of understanding while commending Job for his righteous words, commands them to prepare burnt offerings and reassures them that Job will pray for their forgiveness. Job is restored to health, gaining double the riches he possessed before … and lives on another 140 years after the ordeal, living to see his children to the fourth generation and dying peacefully of old age”. As the parable concludes, we realize that it does in fact reinforce the Deuteronomic principle, “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess” (Deuteronomy 30:15-16). The story of Job firmly explains to me that God is more concerned about our spirit, than our physical condition~ His concern is who we are rather than what we have.


Ed. Michael D. Coogan et al. The New Oxford Annotated Bible. New Revised Standard

Version, with the Apocrypha. 3rd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Plantinga, Alvin (1974). The Nature of Necessity. Oxford: Clarendon Press. p.166-167.

Warren, Rick. God’s Power to Change Your Life. New York: Zondervan , 2006.

Wikipedia. Retrieved from

Monday, October 18, 2010

Judith, That Which We Call a Rose

“No one spoke ill of her, for she feared God with great devotion”
~Judith 8:8

For me the story of Judith is multilayered. When visiting The Art Institute of Chicago, I was struck by the Jan Sanders van Hemessen’s painting of Judith. Most Flemish Renaissance painters utilize movement, juxtapose light and shadows, and emphasize sensuality. Not only was the depiction of a nude, fair, beautiful, and muscular woman wielding a sword striking, but also, the illuminated head of a large male was ghastly. Judith’s face is depicted as serene for such a gruesome act. I didn’t know the story behind the picture and was intrigued—after all, my mother’s name was Judith. Returning home, I began to research the story and was even more surprised to find it was a Biblical story. The story of Judith isn’t a part of the cannon of my Protestant faith tradition. After the death of my mother and when I was deciding to name my own daughter, I revisited the story. My daughter is named Judith in honor of both remarkable women.

As I began to read Judith, I was impressed by the similarities between my mother and the character. Both are unmarried women who draw on inner strength, wit, bravery, and faith to defeat giants. Both suffered loss—while the biblical Judith was a widow, my mother was divorced and decided to never remarry. Judith courageously faced the brutal Holofernes; described in Judith 3:7-8 as “… he demolished all their shrines and cut down their sacred groves.” In contrast, righteous Judith is praised, “Today is not the first time your wisdom has been shown…for your heart’s disposition is right” (Judith 8:29). My mother too embodied a simple, ageless wisdom. For example, Appalachian colloquialisms were so much a part of her vernacular that when I read “Like a dog that returns to its vomit is a fool who reverts to his folly” I was amazed to learn this was Biblical and not just another one of her sayings (Proverbs 26:11). As I will detail, my mother faced her own tests and bullies. Lastly, their beauty and charm opened up doors of opportunity. When friends remember her they always mention her piercing blue eyes and full body laughter. The verse “When the mend heard her words and observed her face—she was in their eyes marvelously beautiful” eloquently describes both. In summary, the Bible Gallery emphasizes, “Her story is a variant on the David and Goliath story, where a seemingly weak person overcomes a person of superior strength by calling on God's help and using cunning and intelligence.”

Judith Bright Litz too was a self-sacrificing warrior. Family stories of my mother’s childhood reflect a light-hearted nature, gregarious disposition, and love of dance—an everyday Shirley Temple. However, the woman I know carried many burdens and I only saw glimpses of her radiance. As an adult, her main attribute and job title was a single parent raising two children. Like Judith, she preferred peace but refused to acquiesce, especially when her family was at risk. My parent’s idea of “talking about the kids” usually happened in front of a judge. Instead of helping my mother pay the basic bills, when he found out the temperature inside the house was 62 degrees; he saw that as an opportunity to call children’s services. When the bank began foreclosure proceedings, she begged her father to cover the mortgage at 7% interest.

More than once, she referenced men as “chauvinist pigs.” Although I do not agree, I can sympathize--especially since the males who were the central figures in her life are also in mine. The only way her father exercised control over her strong-willed, high-spirited mother was with physical force. Lastly, my philandering father and their short lived marriage cemented her negative view of men.

In order to survive, she became resourceful, hardworking, and faithful. After her divorce at 26, my mother began working at Dayton Tire and Rubber, loading tires by hand and forklift onto semi-trucks. It was a man’s job, but it was also a man’s wage. Around the home, she tackled the more masculine chores, such as changing the oil in the car, painting the house, and minor plumbing repairs. Although not as pious as Judith, she still could be characterized, “Many desired to marry her, but she gave herself to no man all the days of her life after her husband” (Judith 16:22). The impact of the mid1970s recession, hit our home especially hard when my mother was unemployed for over a year. She began to seek comfort in two things, ice cream and bedcovers.

Thankfully, she reached a turning point and started attending church regularly. Once I confronted her about the real issues behind her weight gain, she admitted that not only did her appearance discourage men’s advances, but the food was a comfort and socially accepted by our religious community. Church wasn’t only about religious teachings, but it was also our main source of entertainment and social events—and lastly, it was free. Being Pentecostal, I indeed saw my mother, going “before all the people in the dance” and heard many prayers that resembled:
“For your strength does not depend on numbers, nor your might on the powerful. But you are the God of the lowly, helper of the oppressed, upholder of the weak, protector of the forsaken, saviour of those without hope. Please, please, …Lord of heaven and earth, Creator of the waters, King of all your creation, hear my prayer!’” (Judith 14:13,911-12).

Eventually, she attended Sinclair Community College and began working as a secretary and data entry—but the pay never met basic needs. Frequently, she would use the colloquialisms of “Robbing Peter to pay Paul” and “A day late and a dollar short” to describe our financial situation. She would go without having a tooth filled or a new outfit, so that we could attend a school dance. I was forced to grow up fast--built a fire, housecleaning, and cooking—and I was angry about our circumstances. Unfortunately, my mother was my main target for that angst. On the other hand, my brother looked like and had more of my mother’s gentle nature. At the age of ten, he was diagnosed with Chron’s disease and so my mother had a tendency to protect and over-protect him. With my brother’s illness and my independent spirit, she had her hands more than full with a fulltime job, childrearing, and endless bills.

As my brother and I began building our own lives, my mother’s depression worsened. For twenty years, her life was our life. During my sophomore year of college, she was diagnosed and treated for cervical cancer. She seemed to be making a full recovery, when four years later she began complaining of back pain. After several “brush offs” by her gynecologist (and a prescription for Valium), it was discovered that she had terminal lymphoma and was only given weeks to live. She decided to not take chemotherapy and instead strive for short term quality of life. When people would ask if there was anything they could do for her, my mother would say, “Please pray for my children.” Once again, like the biblical Judith she “dedicated to God” her most valuable assets—her children. She lived through the summer and died on September 14, 1994-- a beautiful fall day with a sky as blue as her eyes.


Art Insitute of Chicago Retrieved from

BIBLE ART GALLERY Retrieved from

Ed. Michael D. Coogan et al. The New Oxford Annotated Bible. New Revised Standard Version, with the Apocrypha. 3rd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Creationist or Evolutionist, BOTH

“He has made everything suitable for its time;

moreover, he has put a sense of past and future into their minds,

yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end”

(Ecclesiastes 3:11).

As a Christian, I stand firm in my religious convictions. As an American, I value freedom of speech, ideology, and religion. Lastly, as an advocate for critical thinking and the scientific method, I value research and scientific observations. All of these values come into conflict when debating Creationism vs. Evolution; the public is constantly updated on the latest left hook of this barnburner. This month’s bout centers around Steven Hawkins new book The Grand Design wherein he asserts, "It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper [fuse] and set the universe going” (CNN). In the opposite corner is the religious right, arguing the literal word of God—when the Bible states that all the creatures of the land were made in one day, it was indeed twenty-four hours.

So how do I reconcile these convictions? I do not believe science and God are mutually exclusive. I do not like to put God in a box, which is what I believe the creationist do. Creationist argue that if you question the foundation of Genesis; then you open the door to doubt about everything the Bible says, “When we consider the possibility that God used evolutionary processes to create over millions of years, we are faced with serious consequences: the Word of God is no longer authoritative, and the character of our loving God is questioned” (answers in genesis).I believe in a God that can do anything He wants. The legalism of the creationist reminds me of the Pharisees and Sadducees. They were so caught up in the details and self-righteous pointing finger that they missed the big picture. Is it more important that people believe in a “young earth” or in God? Jesus answers all of them in Luke 10.27-42, “He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’”However, it is possible that “a day” was 100,000 years, especially since the sun wasn’t created until the fourth “day.” Furthermore, God could allow natural selection/adaptions/mutations in order to allow some flexibility in creatures adapting to their environment. For example, melanin is ingenious—a person living near the equator has dark skin to protect from sunburn, and someone living near the North Pole is fair enough to absorb Vitamin D. I’m not sure how it all works, but I know God did it.

On the other hand, I don’t believe wholly in evolution either. Evolutionists contend, “All organisms on Earth are descended from a common ancestor or ancestral gene pool. Current species are a stage in the process of evolution, with their diversity the product of a long series of speciation and extinction events. The common descent of organisms was first deduced from four simple facts about organisms: First, they have geographic distributions that cannot be explained by local adaptation. Second, the diversity of life is not a set of completely unique organisms, but organisms that share morphological similarities. Third, vestigial traits with no clear purpose resemble functional ancestral traits, and finally, that organisms can be classified using these similarities into a hierarchy of nested groups – similar to a family tree. However, modern research has suggested that, due to horizontal gene transfer, this ‘tree of life’ may be more complicated than a simple branching tree since some genes have spread independently between distantly related species” (Wikipedia/evolution). The sequence of the Genesis story does follow the evolutionary sequence. If God made all species with the definition of “day” being flexible; then, these don’t need to be created at the exact same time, which would account for different periods/eras. However, one genus didn’t evolve into another species. Some species have died off within my lifetime; however, a new species hasn’t suddenly appeared in my lifetime. Neanderthals and modern day pygmies are both “man”, but a chimpanzee is a monkey and evolved from ancient monkeys, even if we do share a large part of our genetic make-up. A cake and fried chicken both contain four, egg, salt; but they are obviously quite different. Admittedly, the scientists do not know all the pieces to the origin of life or the evolutionary puzzle. Both creationist and evolutionist require faith (belief in what is unknown/unseen).

Humans were made by God with a specific purpose in mind; and that is to worship the Grand Architect. My Truth aligns with Sir Isaac Newton, “It is the perfection of God's works that they are all done with the greatest simplicity. He is the God of order and not of confusion“(bhoibhoi.multiply). When we make scientific discoveries, humans are unraveling the mysterious laws and ways of God. For example, DNA is the recipe for life—how marvelous that something so simple can have such variety and importance! Science will not ever prove or disprove the existence of God—this is where Faith walks through the door.

In doing this research I discovered that my assertions have a name, “Theistic evolution is not a theory in the scientific sense, but a particular view about how the science of evolution relates to religious belief and interpretation. Theistic evolution supporters can be seen as one of the groups who reject the conflict thesis regarding the relationship between religion and science – that is, they hold that religious teachings about creation and scientific theories of evolution need not contradict” (Wikipedia). In addition, I found a champion of my cause who is much more articulate, knowledgeable, and credible than I. As a result, I spent some time watching philosopher Elliott Sober’s lecture Darwin & Intelligent Design and was impressed by his argument that, "Evolutionary theory does not rule out the existence of God. In fact, the theory does not rule out a God who intervenes in nature. Believing in a God who created nature, and who sometimes intervenes in it, is no substitute for doing natural science."

Darwin seems to be a misunderstood scientist and historical figure. I’m inquisitive (aka nerdy) enough to have watched the movie Creation, mainly because I wanted to learn more about his humanistic side, rather than the vilified persona depicted by the religious right. Filmcritic summarizes, “In the book [Annie’s Box authored by Randal Keynes, great-great grandson of Charles Darwin], and subsequently the film[Creation], it is suggested that Darwin, while writing 'On the Origin of Species', was deeply affected and haunted by the death of his eldest daughter Annie -- she was rumored to have suffered from tuberculosis after contracting scarlet fever. Her passing also coincides with the end of Darwin's relationship with Christianity, the faith his wife Emma had devoted herself to for her entire life.” It seems he is grappling with the common philosophical question of Why do bad things happen to good people?

Darwin’s own words reflect his angst, “I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created parasitic wasps with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars” (thinkexist). It seems Darwin believes in a God as a creator, but is conflicted about His interactions in daily human life. Also, he doesn’t view God as the great judge doling out rewards and punishments. Amazingly, Darwin concludes at the end of Origins of the Species, "to my mind it accords better with what we know of the laws impressed on matter by the Creator, that the production and extinction of the past and present inhabitants of the world should have been due to secondary causes, like those determining the birth and death of the individual (Sober). Therefore, Darwin supports that “the Creator” has established laws of the universe, but has a hands-off approach—basically allowing the rules of nature to take its course. Other biologists were able to merge theology and science. Theodosius Dobzhansky concludes, "I am a creationist and an evolutionist. Evolution is God's, or Nature's, method of creation. Creation is not an event that happened in 4004 BC; it is a process that began some 10 billion years ago and is still under way... Does the evolutionary doctrine clash with religious faith? It does not. It is a blunder to mistake the Holy Scriptures for elementary textbooks of astronomy, geology, biology, and anthropology" (wikipedia/evolutionary-creationsim). The story of Genesis is one of many narratives that we should consider in learning how the universe came to be.


Ed. Michael D. Coogan et al. The New Oxford Annotated Bible. New Revised Standard Version, with the Apocrypha.

3rd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Sober, Elliot. Darwin & Intelligent Design Retrieved from

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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Theme for Abnormal Psychology

Lisa Morelock
HDV 413
Bias Paper

I sit here in front of my computer starting on a paper…typing black letters onto a white page. My thoughts whirl with a myriad of questions and answers. This is my personal Theme for English B; “The instructor said, Go home and write a page tonight. And let that page come out of you--Then, it will be true.” (Hughes, 1951). Only you asked about our bias and prejudices. Years ago I was at the Ohio Reading Conference in Columbus, the guest speaker was Louanne Johnson whose book My Posse Don’t Do Homework became the movie Dangerous Minds. She shared one of her classroom truths, so profound in a simple way that I wrote it in my personal notes. When a teachable moment arose, I’d quote that petite ex-Marine who became an inner-city teacher, “Prejudice is like underpants. We all have them, but it is rude to show it.” I’m not so self-righteous to think I don’t have biases, but I’ve lived so long with mental illness—my mother, my father, my grandparents, my uncle, myself— that the generic prejudices don’t apply. You know the old joke found on refrigerator magnets, Our family puts the FUN in dysfunctional—Well, my family puts the DYS in dysfunctional. Some of these are diagnosed and treated illness, some are not.
I once heard it said that “Normal is someone you don’t know very well.” What I do know from my long dance with mental illness is that it is a painful journey, a lifelong journey. I know that there is hope to be found in medicines, in psychotherapy, in recovery, in self-acceptance—but you are never really cured. “Abnormal Behavior” can be a deep abyss. Like a compound fracture—you can take pain meds, set the cast, and declare it healed. Years down the road, the scar, limp, stiffness, and diagnosis of Arthritis reminds you that it never really is gone.
Last week I read the description of Psychodynamic Models, and thought to myself, “What a load of psychobabble!” My fear of snakes isn’t some repressed fear of penises; but rather remembering my grandmother’s warnings, “Watch out for snakes and don’t go playing in any creeks!” when we’d visit her Kentucky homestead. During Saturday’s HDV 413 class, I argued that treating a patient only using one model of psychopathy was inadequate, which follows my bias that humans are integrated earth, breath, and intelligence—to tug on one thread is to tug on the whole tapestry. After looking closer at the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and its revisions, it strives to assess the whole picture of the patient in a clear, consistent, and holistic way. I still wonder why treatment would be any different.
However, I am not advocating that one healer/doctor/therapist has to treat each part; but rather, attention must be paid to the whole DIS-ease in order for there to be healing. I am not alone in this conviction, “Everyone wants to lead a healthy, satisfying, meaningful life. But how do you do it? At Omega, we believe it has to do with integrating your body, mind, and spirit. This means paying attention to all three aspects in your life, listening to their needs and desires, and acting in ways that give you a sense of wholeness and balance” ( Epiphany! I have the start to my Bias paper….

Then, a funny thing happened at church on Sunday; I got a hell of a sucker-punch from Grief. I was invited to visit a long-time friend’s church. Greeted by my dear friend, I was excited to commune in worship and learning…Then, I greeted her mother who was sitting beside her. BAM! I was confronted by a vision of my mother who’d passed from cervical cancer fifteen years earlier. There has always been a bit of a physical similarity between her mother and mine. In truth, I think it was more of a spiritual similarity. They’d experienced innocence in the 50s; became rebellious teens during the revolutions of the 60s; in the 70s, they’d become wives and mothers—and divorcees and single mothers shortly thereafter; and in the 80s they discovered their true selves and spirituality…that is where there paths diverged. I stood there looking at what could have been…my mother, my ally, my best friend seated next to me at church. Just when I thought I’d entered the “acceptance phase” of grief, I was faced with the loss once again. When I left the sanctuary that day, I passed by my mom’s friend fellowshipping with friends and family, and doting on her grandchildren. As I collected my own child from Sunday school and exitied the building, I pretended not to notice. I felt that adrenalin rush of fear that I’d have an emotional breakdown in the lobby.
I wasn’t jealous of my friend; I celebrated and honored the joy mother and daughter have in one other. The opposite side of the same coin was that I lamented my loss. I embraced the words of Washington Irving, “There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness but of power. They are messengers of overwhelming grief and of unspeakable love.” In the depths of my own depression years ago, I found that insanity was to get stuck in the despair and grief—the feeling that moving beyond it was to forget those who’d transitioned into the afterlife and to forget those dreams deferred. Today, I embrace grief when it comes; but I also know that honoring the memory is to move on and embrace the life I encounter today…to accept the new normal.
One of the very first things I know to be true is that humans are made for eternity. Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier with his expertise in chemistry concluded, “Nothing is born and nothing can die.” Paradoxically, French cardinal of the Catholic Church François de la Rochefoucauld reasoned, “The only thing constant in life is change.” I doubt I need a great quote from a philosopher, psychologist, or guru to tell you that change is difficult. Great change can bring us to a crossroads—it can bring us to our knees. Transaction model of stress examines how humans can healthily appraise, manage and cope with life’s hiccups (Lazarus, R.S. & Cohen, J.B. (1977). Physiologically, we feel the rush of adrenaline—we choose between the fight or flight response. Most of the time, humans are resilient. We view the conflict or change as “do-able” and we make the necessary adjustments—and magically transform.
Conversely, Freud (1910) describes the negative impacts on the psyche brought about by the change. He describes what happens when humans are overwhelmed by stress, “There had been a short conflict, and the end of this inner struggle was the repression of the idea which presented itself to consciousness as the bearer of this irreconcilable wish. This was, then, repressed from consciousness and forgotten. The incompatibility of the idea in question with the ‘ego’ of the patient was the motive of the repression, the ethical and other pretensions of the individual were the repressing forces. The presence of the incompatible wish, or the duration of the conflict, had given rise to a high degree of mental pain; this pain was avoided by the repression. This latter process is evidently in such a case a device for the protection of the personality.” Change can march into our lives as birth, puberty, marriage, divorce, job loss, moving, etc.
I believe sickness—whether physical, spiritual or emotional—is a result of us not accepting our new normal. In his poem, We Wear the Masks, Paul Laurence Dunbar described this process, “We wear the mask that grins and lies, It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes--This debt we pay to human guile; With torn and bleeding hearts we smile.” The mask might be prescribed medication to help with the pain. I can hear my grandmother handing my mother Valumn, “Honey, just take you a little nerve pill.” We wear the mask by shopping, smoking pot, drinking, lying…anything to hide the truth. Similarly, Elizabeth Lesser explains the conflict of change in Broken Open: How difficult Times Can Help Us Grow, “When we don’t share the secret ache in our hearts the normal bewilderment of being human—it turns into something else. Our pain and fear and longing in the absence of company, become alienation and envy and competition” (p.26). As a people-pleaser, I’ve worn the mask most of my life. Eventually, we forget what’s mask and what the authentic self is. And what the true self is this, “We’re all bozos on the bus, so we might as well sit back and enjoy the ride,” spoken by clown Wavy Gravy (best known for his efforts to spread love and a helping hand in the midst of chaos at Woodstock).
In order to heal, we need to heal all of what makes us human; and what makes us human is where body, mind, and soul intersect ( Norman Brown wrote, “The aim of psychoanalysis—still unfulfilled, and still only half-conscious—is to return our souls to our bodies, to return ourselves to ourselves...Hence, since sublimation is the essential activity of soul divorced from body, psychoanalysis must return our sublimations to our bodies; and conversely, sublimation cannot be understood unless we understand the nature of the soul in psychoanalytic terminology, the nature of the ego.” With greying temples and a German accent, Sigmund Freud sardonically asks in my mind, “So tell me about your mother?” Shoulders shrugged, I reluctantly admit, “Ok, Ok—I can’t even eliminate your model from my diagnostic and therapeutic repertoire. I guess I’m a Jungian after all! The id is the body, the ego is the mind, and the superego is the spirit!” And so, like all great epochs the end is the beginning; and the beginning is the end. As my two year old daughter puts the Lion King in for the 200th time this week (which so happens to be the last movie I saw with my mother), these words echo in my house, my ears, my mind, and my spirit:
Rafiki: [after guiding Simba to a spot where he says will show him Mufasa]
Look down there.
Adult Simba: [looks into a pool of water]
That's not my father. That's just my reflection.
Rafiki: No, look harder.
[touches the water, as it ripples Simba's reflection changes to that of his father]
Rafiki: You see? He lives in you.
Mufasa's ghost: [from above]
Adult Simba: Father?
Mufasa's ghost: [apears among the stars]
Simba, you have forgotten me.
Adult Simba: No. How could I?
Mufasa's ghost: You have forgotten who you are and so have forgotten me. Look inside yourself, Simba. You are more than what you have become. You must take your place in the Circle of Life.
Adult Simba: How can I go back? I'm not who I used to be.
Mufasa's ghost: Remember who you are. You are my son, and the one true king. Remember...

On the first day of class you revealed your personal crisis of searching for a new job, feeling a bit lost. Being laid-off after 10 years of teaching, I was familiar with those dark shadows of the soul. If I wasn’t Mrs. Morelock, the teacher, then who was I? At the end of class, I told you that through the chaos, I emerged on the other side with a new pair of glasses—those glasses are how I view the world, my personal bias. And, I remember your words to me as we parted after that first class, “Keep your glasses clean!”
Honestly, I’d doing the best I can. Sometimes I forget these metaphysical life-gems and my lenses get dirty. If they get too dirty, then God sends life-lessons. He begins with a whisper. Oprah Winfrey (1997) enlightened graduates a commencement address, “Try to get the whisper before the earthquake comes because the whisper is always followed by a little louder voice, then you get a brick I say, and then sometimes a brick wall, and then the earthquake comes. Try to get it on the whisper.” Yep, I’ll try to remember to keep my glasses clean!

Dunbar, Paul Laurence. We Wear the Masks. Retrieved from

Freud, Sigmund. (1910). The Origin and Development of Psychoanalysis. American Journal of
Psychology, 21, 181-218. Retrieved from

Hughes, Langston. Theme for English B. Retrieved from

Lazarus, R.S. & Cohen, J.B. (1977). Environmental Stress. Human Behavior and Environment.
2.Retrieved from

Lesser, Elizabeth. (2004). Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow. New York. Villard

Norman O. Brown (1959). Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytic Meaning of History. Middletown, CT:
Wesleyan University Press. Retrieved from

Winfrey, Oprah. (May 30, 1997). Commencement Address Wellesley College. Retrieved from

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Friday, December 4, 2009

5. Irratibility~
The second commandment of “loving others” can be a difficult journey. Conflict is as old as the rivalry between the first siblings, Cain and Able. Genesis 4:6-7 uncovers the essence of the issue, “Then the LORD said to Cain, "Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it." Like many of us, Cain dismissed God’s warning. His jealousy grew into wrath and he murdered his twin brother. Sin separates us from God; and so, as a result, Cain was ostracized from his family. The motifs of conflict, jealousy, and wrath are ever-present today. A wise friend states it so eloquently: Opinions are like body parts; some stink, some don’t. It is human nature to fear new situations and people who are different than us—often times our reaction to fear is distrust, envy, and rage. WE ALL BELIEVE OUR OPINION IS THE RIGHT OPINION. Again, our human nature is self-importance—we are irritated that others aren’t as “perfect” as we are. The evil one destroys humans by focusing our attention on what other people have and think. In the heat of the battle, we loose focus of what is really important—our relationship with God and how we honor others!
Conflict is inevitable; so what does the Bible instruct us to do about it? Anger isn’t a sin. After all, more than once Jesus speaks righteous anger against the Pharisees, “He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts…” Mark 3:5 We must be careful how we ACT upon our disapproval and irritability, “In your anger do not sin.” Ephesians 4:26
How do we deal with “righteous anger”? For years people had violated my emotional and physical boundaries. Figuratively, there were mounds of toxic trash in my emotional yard. I’m the one who had to either live with it or clean it up. Were they going to admit their role in my personal life becoming a landfill and help me clean it up? NO! Was it fair? NO! During the aftermath of my hospitalization, I was forced to confront the issues that lead to my feeling suicidal. I was like an exposed nerve. What would upset a “normal” person, infuriated me. For several months, I drove erratically, acted irrationally, and was hostile with my family and God. Did I have reasons to feel victimized? Absolutely, but how I dealt with the emotional pain only deepened my wounds and increased my shame. Letting anger fester causes bitterness and violence.
On the other hand, ignoring the “trash” causes suppressed emotions, depression, and isolation. When a violent attack occurs, neighbors and co-workers are interviewed; puzzled they shake their heads and state on the evening news, “I never imagined this. He was always quiet and kept to himself.” Ignoring the situation obviously doesn’t solve the problem, and more importantly, creates an emotional pressure cooker. As a child my southern grandmother wouldn’t even let me in the kitchen when she was canning. Numerous children have been scalded, hit with shrapnel, or worse. How many more children bare the invisible scars of the emotional pressure cookers? The cliché of “Letting off some steam” literally means to cautiously push down the pressure valve and let some pressure escape. The Bible encourages us to manage conflict in a timely manner, “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” Ephesians 4:27 Furthermore, Jesus advises the disciples to have wise timing for their words, “Be as cunning as a snake, inoffensive as a dove” in Matthew 10:16. When confronting someone who has offended you, graciously speak the truth in love.
“What this adds up to, then, is this: no more lies, no more pretense. Tell your neighbor the truth. In Christ's body we're all connected to each other, after all. When you lie to others, you end up lying to yourself. Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry—but don't use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don't stay angry… Say only what helps, each word a gift. Don't grieve God. Don't break his heart. His Holy Spirit, moving and breathing in you, is the most intimate part of your life, making you fit for himself. Don't take such a gift for granted.” Ephesians 4: 25-30
The Bible clearly advises us to not hold in our anger, but to keep short accounts and settle issues with gentleness and compassion.
One of the devil’s strongest deceptions is that words will never hurt me. Proverbs 18:21 cautions that the “power of life and death is in the tongue.” God spoke the world into being. The Bible is The Word—words are so powerful and revealing. The wise King Solomon gives sound advice throughout Proverbs; for example Proverbs 21:23 declares that “He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from troubles.” If you want to bridle your tongue, you must hand the reigns over to the Lord. The Apostle Paul exposes his personal struggle, “I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong…Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. Romans 7:21-25 The flesh is corrupt; we are unable to control our sinful nature without God’s help. Each and every one of us has said things we wish we could take back. Correcting the damage is like filling up pot holes; it may patch for a while but it is always a bump in the road. That is why Colossians 3:8 declares “But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.” He doesn’t say start tomorrow, but NOW. More importantly, Matthew 12:36-37 forewarns us that “men will have to give account on the Day of Judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned." Simply put, we need to weigh our words carefully before we speak them. James 1:19, 20 explains, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” Be mindful of how your words impact those around you.
Luke 6:45 reminds us that words often mirror what is in the heart, “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” Many women struggle with truly hearing what we are told. The boyfriend that belittles and abuses her becomes the husband that sends her to the emergency room with a shattered wrist and concussion. In the passion of the argument when his guard is down, the true feelings come out of his mouth. No matter how may times the words, “I love you…I’m sorry, but you…Trust me, I’ll never let that happen again…” the abusers actions speak volumes about his fear, control, and anger. Maya Angelou writes and speaks from experience when she says, “The first time someone shows you who they are, believe them." Many women overlook the sweet, good guy to pursue the handsome, rebel; then wonder why he can’t keep a job, does drugs, and has multiple affairs. Ladies, match up what he is telling you with what he says—if there is a discrepancy, start believing what his words and actions are telling you.
Lastly, the example of James shows us what God can do with envy when we let Him master our lives. The half-brother of Jesus, James, reminds us to keep our ego under control. I suspect that James dealt with resentment and pride first-hand… imagine having the Messiah for a brother! James 3:2-11 reprimands us, “We all stumble in many ways…With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.” Over our families we can speak either blessings or curses. Proverbs 31 describes how a noble wife should be treated, “She is more precious than rubies. Her husband can trust her, and she will greatly enrich his life… Her children stand and bless her. Her husband praises her:’ There are many virtuous and capable women in the world, but you surpass them all!’ Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last; but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised. Reward her for all she has done. Let her deeds publicly declare her praise.” As Christians we need to speak blessings over children, “It is thus evident from the whole spirit of Biblical ethics that the parents' good-will and blessing were regarded as the greatest happiness that could come to children, and it is well known to those who are at all familiar with Jewish domestic life that this sentiment continues to the present day.”¹ One of my favorite blessings is the one Zechariah speaks over his newborn son who will become known as “John the Baptist”, And you, my little son, will be called the prophet of the Most High, because you will prepare the way for the Lord. You will tell his people how to find salvation through forgiveness of their sins. Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace.” Luke 1: 76-79 Often times the words we say to our families become self-fulfilling prophesies. When I taught I had the poem Children Learn What They Live by Dorothy Law Nolte on my wall as a reminder, “If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn. If children live with hostility, they learn to fight….If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence. If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.” James summarizes Chapter 3 with the fruit from living with a bridled tongue,
“But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts,
do not boast about it or deny the truth.
Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil.
For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure;
then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.
Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.”
verses 13-16