Been some time since I shared this article. Thought I would do so again…
Here is a quote by Howard Stone from “The Word of God and Pastoral Care”
Over the years, while making pastoral care visits and especially hospital visits, I have sadly encountered many people whose well-meaning friends and acquaintances have responded to their why questions with theological answers that left them terribly upset and proved actually to be destructive: ‘This is God’s punishment on you and for your sins.’ ‘This is God’s will; you have to accept it.’ ‘This has happened to bring you to the Lord.’ ‘God wanted your dear one with him in heaven.’ ‘If you hadn’t skipped out on your wife, this wouldn’t have happened.’ ‘If you had stayed home with your children where God wants you to be, they wouldn’t have started taking drugs.’
More recently I have also come across another whole class of answers — more psychological than religious — to theodicy issues: ‘You are responsible for your illness.’ ‘You are sick because of your destructive thoughts.’ ‘The cancer inside you is pent up anger; you’ve got to release it to get well.’ ‘You are what you eat; if only you had cut out salt and exercised more.’ Some people are so eager to give their answers that they scarcely wait for the questions to be asked. The results are often quite grim.
When I first began pastoral care work, I would have thought such pronouncements were rare, or occurred only in the more conservative denominations. Not so! Things such as this happen everywhere, regardless of the conservative or liberal orientation. Simplistic and damaging answers flow from well-meaning people at a time when their hearers are in considerable distress, vulnerable, and unable to talk back. I raise the issue here because if ministers care only for people’s emotional pain and do not respond theologically to the issue of theodicy, parishioners will inevitably get their theological education elsewhere, and it may not be the kind we would have wished for them. In other words, if ministers will not respond, sooner or later, to the vital questions of theodicy, neighbors and friends are likely to do so, and not always in a helpful manner. –page 165
My son is a member of a theology club at the seminary he attends (that is coincidently the seminary that both my wife and I teach at). He led a discussion, while all were eating samgyeopsal, on Christian Mysticism. He sought to avoid the obvious stereotypes… Mysticism as “New Age” of syncretistic, Mysticism as Heresy, and Mysticism as self-absorbed contemplation. It is not to say that those stereotypes are meaningless, but can be used broad-brush to ignore more positive aspects of Christian Mysticism. The key point here is to note that Mysticism can be Christian— doctrinally Christian, and committed to Christ. Its goal in this context is communion with God.
He used as his primary source Evelyn Underhill’s 1911 classic, Mysticism: A Study of the Nature and Development of Man’s Spiritual Consciousness. The topic was interesting, and the discussion was lively. The main interest ended up however, being in the sub-topic, “The Dark Night of the Soul.” The term, a translation of a phrase coined by St. John of the Cross, and the title of a poem he wrote, describes a season of emptiness.
In the journey to communion with God, many Christian mystics (and I don’t see it limited to them only) experience a time of spiritual “dryness”– a feeling that God is not near, and is not listening. In this situation, the individual will often have symptoms of depression, and feel temptations for vices thought long conquered.
What should be made of such symptoms? Some perhaps would join Job’s friends in seeing it as evidence of punishment for ungodliness.
I would argue that this “Dark Night of the Soul” is far from limited to the Christian mystic. I think all of us have times where we see God as distant. I think many of us feel a disconnection and depression… and don’t always know why. Job did not know why, and as far as the text goes, it was never explained. Jesus felt a disconnection from the Father. Jesus cried out on the cross, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken Me.” Some try to read that through the lens of Penal Substitutionary Atonement theology (Jesus took on our sin at that moment, and so the Father was forced to look away). Others push towards a fulfillment of prophecy thing. But perhaps we are trying to be too theologically clever. Many have felt that they were trudging through the “Valley of Death” with little evidence of upcoming greener pastures and stiller waters.
A number of the Lament Psalms appear to describe a similar feeling. Psalm 44, especially expresses this, for it sees God as the cause of misery, but without the classic justifications:
All this has come upon us, though we have not forgotten you, and we have not been false to your covenant. Our heart has not turned back, nor have our steps departed from your way; yet you have broken us in the place of jackals and covered us with the shadow of death. If we had forgotten the name of our God or spread out our hands to a foreign god, would not God discover this? For he knows the secrets of the heart. Yet for your sake we are killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughered. Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever! Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction and oppression? For our soul is bowed down to the dust; our belly clings to the ground. Rise up; come to our help! Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love! Psalm 44:17-26
These times are probably better a time for self-reflection and a call out to God. For others, it is a time for understanding and support. Many have seen these times open to greater joys and closeness with God.
A nice little article from Christianity Today on this is HERE.
Philippine Baptist Theological Seminary (www.pbts.net.ph) will start its 2017/18 academic year starting June 13th. Looking forward to it, as I will be teaching three courses I love.
- I will be teaching Cultural Anthropology again. This will be for the M.Div. program. I will be using the book I wrote, “Ministry in Diversity,” as the main text book. Still trying to think about what project I want to do with that. Traditionally, I ask people to do either an ethnography or an RRA (Rapid Rural Assessment). However, we are doing some ministry work in a jail this year, and it would be an exciting exercise in sub-culture contextualization. Not sure yet.
- I will be teaching “Contemporary Issues in Missions.” This is a BTh course. I taught it years ago, but in more of a modular, rather than semestral, format. Additionally, the book I used back then is probably a bit long-in-the-tooth to be thought contemporary today. I may have to teach the course without a single textbook. I will probably make it more research-oriented.
- Celia and I, and maybe one or two more, will tag-team to teach “Clinical Pastoral Orientation.” It is a mini form of Clinical Pastoral Education, designed to fit a bit better into a semestral system. Might use our book “The Art of Pastoral Care” but not sure. It depends how many have already used the book for Intro to PC&C. This is a cross-over class in the sense that both Bachelor level and Master level students can take it.
My wife Celia will be teaching Intro to PC&C for the BTh Students. I will also be supervising theses and dissertations at Asia Baptist Graduation Theological Seminary, and thesis students at PBTS and Maranatha Graduate School.
My wife is working with Drug Surrenderers here in Baguio, and both she and I (and our team from Bukal Life Care) will be continuing to expand work in two jails here. Some people find it strange that I teach both Missions and Pastoral Care. However, I believe it is in places like jail ministry, and drug treatment, where Missions and Pastoral Care overlap quite nicely. It is also in such ministries where the argument that social ministry is not really missions is shown to be without merit.
It should be an exciting year. I am not sure whether I will be so busy that I can’t keep this blog updated, or whether the classes and ministries will inspire me to write more.
Years ago when I was looking into a topic for my dissertation, I wanted to study, utilizing grounded theory, HOLISTIC CHURCH-INITIATED COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT, in the Philippines.
In the end, I dropped it. I switched to studying Christian medical missions events here in the Philippines. The main reason for this was that I had trouble finding many examples of holistic church-initiated community development. Generally one of three things exist:
- The ministry is not holistic. Ministries from churches tend to be spiritualistic or tend to be social, but rarely do a good job of bringing these things together to deal with the whole person.
- If the ministry is holistic, it is not normally church-initiated. It tends to be a ministry initiated by NGOs, or cooperatives, local government, or international agencies. Often,
- If the ministry is holistic, and church-initiated, it is not community development. It is often church-development. That is, the focus is on developing or growing the church, not primarily helping people or the community.
I prefer holistic ministries, but some ministries are always going to be more limited. And there is nothing wrong with some programs being initiated by groups other than churches. But the last one is more my concern. Many churches struggle conceptually with the idea that they should place greater focus on people rather than the success of their church.
And this is a general problem that often comes up with people and organizations all over the world, and I will repeat it here:
ONE SHOULD NEVER PLACE AN INSTITUTION ABOVE PEOPLE.
One should not put the church above people inside, or outside, the church
One should not put one’s government above people
One should not put the institution of marriage above the individuals in the marriage
One should not place the Sabbath above those in need
Anyway, our counseling center is utilizing “ihug” with Celebrate Recovery for dealing with those struggling with illegal drugs. I like the fact that it seeks to be holistic (S.O.S. — Social, Occupational, Spiritual). They prefer for it to be church-initiated (although not required). And the goal is for it to be missional… benefiting those in need with no requirement, explicit or tacit, that the local church will gain directly from the ministry.
Not a bad idea.
Sometimes it is fun to try to connect together two things that appear a bit similar, I was thinking about two cycles: Addiction Cycle and Abuse Cycle. I don’t know whether the connection makes sense, but I find it useful to think about at least.
The following is the classic Addiction Cycle. A person feels emotional pain and has a choice between dealing with the pain and its causes, OR can go for substitute that numbs the pain. That substitute can be behavioral or substance-related. Choosing the substitute, the person has a numbing of pain, and possibly a sense of euphoria. Afterwards, however, these effects begin to wear off, and there is the retain of emotional pain. In fact, this cycle is often more of a circle, and the deleterious effects of the substitute behavior, the guilt/shame, and the habituation begin to take their tolls.
The Abuse Cycle can also be shown in four similar steps— especially in terms of intimate relationships. There is a building of tension, followed by an abusive act. After that, the abuser typically feels remorse and acts to soothe the abused, bargaining a restoration of peace. Successfully arranging this leads to a “honeymoon” period. However, there is eventually a return of tension, and eventually abuse.
However, if one seeks to line up these two cycles, there are a couple of ways this can be done. One is to establish the choice (dealing with the problem versus finding a substitute) with the growing of tension. It would then look like this:
This would make sense. The Abusive action would be equivalent to the Substituting behavior. As tension grows in the relationship, the abuser can deal with the problem or go to abuse.
Another way to address it would be for choice to be after the abuse. At that point, one can deal with the problem or go towards remorse.
There is actually reason to line it up this way. First of all, the Honeymoon period lines up better with the numbing of pain or euphoria associated with the Addiction Cycle. Likewise, the growing of tension in the Abuse Cycle lines up well with the wearing off of the numbing effect in the Addiction Cycle.
I actually like this second one better. Lining it up with the Addiction Cycle connects the Remorse action with the Addictive behavior. After all the activity of Remorse is actually an attempt to avoid the normal consequences of the abuse. Instead of dealing with the abuse and the underlying problems that drive the abuse, the abuser bargains and expresses sorrow, and promises that things will change. However, since things have not changed, the problem will return.
If this makes sense, then one who is seeking to work with an abusive relationship should not be seeking remorse and promises. These are the “drug of choice” of many abusers to avoid dealing with the underlying problems.