Tag Archives: Christian obedience

A Life Wasted, Others Tested? Difficult People and Depression

“We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

[edited slightly on Jan. 12, 2013]

My son is sleeping now, after having not slept last night and feeling ill for a couple of days. He’s a teen and visits his dad, and they had a roommate that was an older man and who was often difficult to deal with – though my son and him talked all the time.  My son last saw him yesterday before 1 pm. It was to be this roommates last day at the house and he was packing boxes (the dad told him he couldn’t live there anymore – part of my son’s stress-related illness, I believe). When my son and his dad came back, the roommate was gone but his stuff was all there. The dad got a call from the Sheriff’s department saying that the roommate was at the hospital, but upon contacting the hospital, and going there, nothing could be found out about the roommate. He couldn’t be visited and the hospital staff said they couldn’t relay any information until the next of kin were contacted.

Doesn’t sound good.

Some background about this older man. He’s a veteran with epilepsy, and while he had health care through the veterans program, he had to drive far away to get care. He had married a few years ago, but after he and his wife both lost their jobs and their house, his wife filed for divorce.  He didn’t have a place to live and ended up staying in a room at my son’s dad’s house.

He called his ex-wife everyday but it seems that she didn’t really care for him (she lived very far away, too). While he seemed happy enough, he argued a lot.  He snored loudly.  He had an old dog that kept peeing everywhere because it just couldn’t hold it in.  The dog was in bad shape but the roommate hadn’t had the nerve to take the dog to the vet yet . . . who knows how much he could afford, as his work was off-and-on.  He had taken to sleeping with the dog.  I imagine he was saying good-bye to it, and making his last days as good as they could be.  His dad had died a few days before Christmas and the funeral was on Christmas day; after this he became ill.

His dad just died; he lost his job, house, wife (I’m so sickened that this has happened to a lot of older people in our country); he was older, with epilepsy; he was sad that his dog was dying and he had to deal with that; he was kicked out of his residence.  Is there some reason why you would think that this person was actually dealing with life OK, even though he didn’t want to talk about stuff much? As Christians, are we to just keep going our own way and not actively asking and helping people who are having a difficult time in their lives? As Bonhoeffer said, we need to look beyond the superficial stuff in people’s lives, what they do, what they hide, and reach out and help the suffering.  Does a curmudgeonly guy deserve help any less than a sweet woman? No.

I’m not trying to say in this essay that I wouldn’t have wanted the roommate to move, I wouldn’t be able to say.  But I am saying it seems that more could have been done to ease this person’s burden, emotionally at least, so that he could deal with life’s circumstances better.  I think I and others need to try and live what the NT writer said more proactively:  “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus . . .” (Phil 2:3-5).

I don’t know for sure that the roommate is dead. I just don’t know why my son’s dad wasn’t allowed to see him or find out anything about him if he was alive. But I will update later. Thanks for any prayers.

Update (Jan. 12, 2013):     The roommate died in surgery.  He had suffered a severe epileptic event while driving, which resulted in a very very bad accident.   We are not allowed to know the details of the accident, other than his car rolled over many times.  Apparently the roommate forgot to take his epilepsy medicine that day.  Both stress and age can contribute to forgetting things like taking one’s medicine, though my son thinks he may not have taken it on purpose (he had never forgotten before).  Anyway, his wife (or ex-wife) had come to see him before he went into surgery, so I’m glad of that; he used to call her everyday.

Update (Jan. 29, 2013):  I keep looking to see if a death notice or obituary is published, but there has been nothing.  I don’t understand this.  Can’t anyone who knew him or is related to him file something, out of respect?  This world is fallen, indeed.  It is easy to find two notices of when his dad died, but nothing about Dennis, but it’s as though he never existed.

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Where is God? God’s whisper to Elijah

God reveals Himself over and over again in the Old and New Testaments (and yes, there is much cumulative evidence to believe this is so), but Elijah’s encounter with an angel and with the Lord in 1 Kings 19 is one of the most interesting. Perhaps this is due to its poetical as well as enigmatic nature.   Some commentators provide that we do not really know why this story is in the Bible. But what can we learn from it?

Elijah was one of the most extraordinary prophets of God in the OT and he appeared in the NT “as” John the Baptist (Matthew 17:9-13; Luke 1:17) and in the Transfiguration (Mark 9:1-8). Since Elijah seems to show so much human weakness in chapter 19 of 1 Kings, it can provide encouragement to anyone who has fears or has become depressed. But why did Elijah become so fearful and depressed? To answer that question, some background is needed.

In Chapter 18, God conducted a (very) dramatic demonstration through Elijah to show the people that He was the real thing and not Baal, a god whom many Israelites were worshiping. Indeed, Yahweh, the only creator God and the God of Israel, was becoming thought of in the same terms as Baal, and from the site Kuntillet Ajrud, dated to this same period, Yahweh was even being associated with Asherah (a mother goddess). Not only was idolatry rampant, but paganistic syncretism. So, on Mt. Carmel Elijah called on God, and He rained down fire and consumed a huge water-drenched sacrifice.  But the 450 prophets of Baal could not get Baal to do anything. To rid Israel of this idolatry and all that resulted from it–besides the syncretism, all the prophets of God in Israel were being killed–the Baal prophets were executed.

Chapter 19 starts with Queen Jezebel, a Baal worshiper and killer of the prophets of God, refusing to believe the undeniable demonstration of God at Mt. Carmel. She said to Elijah, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow if I do not make your life like that of one of them [the prophets of Baal]” (interestingly enough, her curse on herself becomes fulfilled). Despite the miracle that God just did through Elijah, and God’s other works through him, Elijah is terrified and runs away, far away, in fear.

In despondency and what seems to be humility, Elijah prays, “I have had enough, Lord. Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” After this an angel provided food and water for him twice, saying to Elijah that the “journey is too much for you.” Since he hadn’t started his journey yet, it appears that the angel already knew where Elijah planned on going; nothing had been said about Elijah going to the mountain of God (Mt. Horeb) previously. Elijah leaves for Mt. Horeb, a journey taking 40 days and nights, with no other food than what the angel had already provided him. The following takes place the day after his arrival:

“The word of the LORD came to him: ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’  He replied, ‘I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.’ The LORD said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by. Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind.  After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.  Then a voice said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’”

Does Elijah change his tune after this demonstration by God? No, and he answers the Lord with the same exact statement he provided at the beginning, “I have been very zealous . . .”. One problem with this answer is that he seems to be ignoring what a devout man told him shortly before, that 100 prophets were in hiding and had not been killed by Jezebel (1 Kings 18:1-15). In any case, Elijah seems to think he’s alone; after the angels’ help, and after thinking about things on the long journey, and after God’s amazing demonstration, he still feels despondent and afraid! So the Lord then tells Elijah to leave and anoint two named persons as kings and to also anoint Elisha as his successor.  God also tells Elijah that 7,000 believers will be left after the coming bloodshed. As we find later, one of the anointed kings helps to get rid of Jezebel (2 Kings 9:30-37).

Since Elijah leaves and no longer seems depressed, he must have understood that the Lord was taking care of things . . . right? The Lord let him know that he was not alone, so perhaps that helped his mood. However, Elijah does not seem to have done all that the Lord told him to do, but only anoints his successor, Elisha. We find later that Elisha anointed one of the kings (2 Kings 9:6); the other never appears to have been anointed (2 Kings 8:7-15). So, did Elijah still walk in fear during the rest of his life? It is impossible to say, but Elijah was taken up into heaven bodily and is a major player in God’s future work, so the Lord loved (and used) him despite his apparent disobedience.

But what to make out of the powerful demonstration the Lord made for Elijah at Mr. Horeb? Did Elijah need to learn that God was not in destructive forces of nature? It would seem very odd to think so! Did Elijah need to know that the Lord spoke in a soft voice? That also would seem very odd since the Lord had already spoken to Elijah many times. So . . . why? It seems that the best explanation is that Elijah needed to be reminded, in a real way, that God is the one to be feared, and not others. The demonstration was frightening. The Lord told Elijah to “stand on the mountain” to watch, but by the end, Elijah is inside the cave, no doubt with his knees shaking.

But the Lord is the one who controls things, not people like Jezebel.  When Elijah had prayed earlier, “I have had enough, Lord. Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors,” he seemed to be saying that he didn’t have faith in God, that he didn’t think God was really in control, and that he couldn’t shake his fear of dying at the hands of Jezebel or her idolators. In fact, he didn’t seem to trust God to keep him alive on the mountain while all that destruction was going on.

Since Elijah answered in the same distressed way after the Lord’s demonstration, it almost seems that what God did was wasted on Elijah. However, the Lord gives him work to do, and Elijah shows faith by leaving to do it. He gains strength, as can be seen by his future confrontation with the King Ahab (1 Kings 21), Jezebel’s husband. Later, he is taken up to God in a whirlwind of fire, the powers of which he finally learned he did not need to fear (2 Kings 21-18).

[This is also published at our main site]

What is Christian Freedom, Christian Obedience?

Do we have a hard time wrapping our head around Christian freedom? It seems so, as some will say that we Christians need to follow laws and rituals in order to do our part in our own salvation. Others will go to the opposite end of the spectrum, saying that Christians can do whatever they want because they are “free in Christ.” Neither assertion is valid. The first denies the work of Christ, which does not come with an “also” list for salvation; we only need to believe in Him and surrender ourselves to Him (in other words, have faith in Him). The second denies the indwelling of Christ in the believer and the work of The Spirit; God with us and in us will not allow for a life of sin.

But then, what is Christian freedom? In his letter to the Galatians, Paul is upset that those whom he helped lead to Christ and who learned the gospel, were now being lead astray by legalists who were teaching that works of the flesh were also necessary for salvation.

“We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified” (2:15-16). “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (2:21).

Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? I guess Paul thought so too, since he next exclaims, “You foolish Galatians!” (3:1). Paul believed that the Galatians received God’s Spirit, as he goes on to ask them if they received that Spirit by observing the law, and if they were going to reach their goal of salvation by the law after having received the Spirit. Abraham and others, prior to the giving of the law, were righteous because of their faith (see also Romans 4). So why was the law given?

“The law was given to a nation of sinners. They could never obtain righteousness by keeping it because they did not have the power to obey it. The law was meant to show men what hopeless sinners they were, so they would cry out to God to save them by His grace. God’s covenant with Abraham was an unconditional promise of blessing; the law resulted only in cursing. The law demonstrated the unworthiness of man to receive free and unconditional blessing. If man is to be blessed, it must be by the grace of God” (MacDonald p 1885).

The law was like a guardian for God’s child. Israel was seen as God’s immature child, and the child had to follow the rules set forth by the Father until the child reached the right age. In practical terms, the child was a slave to the law. The child was an heir of God, but could not come into his inheritance until the right time. The child could not come into his inheritance if he did not obey all the laws, either, since the consequence of disobedience was death (now that’s one tough guardian!). At the right time, however, God sent Messiah so that the heir might come into his inheritance. “Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4).* Believers receive God’s Spirit, are redeemed from the law, and are no longer slaves to the law. Because they are in Christ, they cannot suffer death due to legal disobedience.

What the Galatians were doing, then, was making themselves slaves to the law all over again! They were making the law an idol. Were they the children of Hagar the slave woman (representative of the Law), or children of Sarah the free woman, whose offspring are children of God’s promise?

“These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent the two covenants” (4:24a; emphasis mine). “But what does the Scripture say? ‘Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.’ Therefore, brothers, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman” (4:30-31).

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (5:1a). Legalism is of no value – “the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (5:6b). “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love” (5:13). Since we have the Spirit and are not under the law, we are to live by the Spirit. The Spirit is contrary to sin, so those with the Spirit will not live a life that is enslaved to the sinful nature. Contrary to the “easy believism” types, a person who has God in them is not going to abuse Christian “freedom” by living life “in the flesh.” In fact, we are free from being under the control of sin and are slaves to righteousness (Romans 6:15-23). Although we all sin at times–since we are still physical beings in a corrupt world–we are awakened spiritual beings who have the Spirit of God to give us guidance and strength. Our lives will not be characterized by sin but will exhibit the fruit of the Spirit.

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:19-24)

Therefore don’t let anyone judge you in regard to food and drink or in the matter of a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of what was to come; the substance is the Messiah  (Colossians 2:16-17).

* Interestingly, Paul was not alone in his thoughts regarding the change of status or make-up of the law relating to the Messiah. Many rabbis thought that the Torah was for the age prior to Messiah, and that a new Messianic age would mean changes of some sort to the law (Kaiser et al, pp 564-565).

Sources:

Cabal, Ted, General Editor. The Apologetics Study Bible. Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007.

Garrett, Duane A, General Editor. NIV Archaeological Study Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005.

Kaiser Jr, Walter, et al. Hard Sayings of the Bible. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996.

MacDonald, William. Believer’s Bible Commentary. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995 (1989).