Tuesday, January 14, 2020

A New Point of View

Several years ago, I read John Fisher's book, 12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee (like me), and it was an eye opener. After I read it, I tried to overcome Pharisaical behavior's and correct my attitude to be more like Jesus. Sometimes I was successful and sometimes I wasn't. I recently read Michelle Cushatts' book, Relentless, The Unshakeable Presence of a God who Never Leaves and realized I have not only looked at my family and peers through a Pharisaical lens, but I have also looked at people whose stories were told in the Bible that way, too. The reason I did this is because I didn't consider the trauma humans have experienced since the fall, whether it be because of our their choices, the choices of others, or simply living in a fallen world. When I didn't  consider the impact of trauma on people in Biblical narratives, I often judged them, amd was impatient and frustrated when I read about their actions, reactions, words, emotions, and attitudes. 

There has been a lot of research lately on the impact of trauma and it has shown people who experience trauma often struggle to trust each other and God. This is because trauma changes the human brain, impacting our ability to form secure attachments. In addition, the Enemy tells us trauma is proof that God is not loving or trustworthy and that we are too bad to love. People with unhealthy attachment styles present in all sorts of ways, but one way is that they are trusting one moment and unable to trust the next. The deep needs that didn't get met due to trauma, can be triggered, causing all sorts of emotional responses long after a traumatic event is over. I will share a few of the Bible characters we often judge. Michele talks about them in her book.

First, there was Adam and Eve who represent those whose trauma was caused by their own choices. Before the Serpent, they lived in a protected environment in perfect communion with God and each other. Afterward, they experienced a break in those relationships and for the first time experienced fear and shame and they hid. They were expelled from the Garden that was filled with all they needed and had to work hard to survive. Their lives became messy and dysfunctional and they struggled with conflict and trust, living with the knowledge that their actions had impacted all mankind. Yet, God in His grace promised them a Savior, covering their nakedness with animal skins, He, Himself, killed. 
Second, there was Abraham and Sarah. When I first read their story, I was confused by their strong faith being interrupted by doubts. That is until I learned more of their story. They lived in a culture that worshiped fertility gods, which would have been difficult for a barren couple. It would have been assumed that their infertility was due to moral failure and that their infertility was the result of the gods displeasure with them.. I imagine Sarah was judged harshly and mocked as she tried to fix what was wrong in her life. Yet, she couldn't identify what it was she needed to fix. She and Abraham answer God's calling to leave for a new country, receiving His promise of a child. Years later, Sarah was still barren and beyond childbearing years, so she took things in her own hand as she most likely had done before. She tried to help God by giving Abraham her handmaiden to bear a child for her. The handmaiden mocked her and Sarah treated her harshly, which is understandable in light of the trauma of having lived in a land that idolized fertility and treated her with the same kind of contempt Hagar had shown her. Even though life got a lot more complicated, God was with them and kept His promise, raising their reproductively dead bodies to life and giving them a child. He even made a covenant with Abraham and in that covenant, God assumed all of the responsibility for keeping it, walking alone walked through the sacrifices, His actions telling Abraham that even if he messed up, God would keep His covenant. 

Third, we skip to the Israelites living in Egypt. Exodus tells us the Hebrews were oppressed, forced into slavery, and their lives were made bitter with hard work. They were a fertile people and their numbers grew, causing the Egyptians to fear them. So the Egyptians increased the Hebrew's labor and eventually ordered midwives to kill their children when they were born. The Hebrews cried out to God, whose ears had always been turned towards them and He called Moses to lead them to the Promised land. After witnessing the plagues, Moses lead them out of Egypt, which had its own set a problems. I used to wonder why they so quickly vacillated between belief and unbelief, questioning God's purpose and Moses's leadership. But in the context of trauma, their story of faith followed by anger, fear, and doubt makes sense. They questioned God, because they had previously felt abandoned by Him, wondering if He was hearing their cries when they lived as slaves. It also makes sense that they would have a hard time trusting Moses's leadership as the generation leaving Egypt had never experienced benevolent leaders, only brutal and oppressive ones. They had wanted to be rescued and cried out to God, but in waiting on Him to answer, the story they began telling themselves was that God brought them out to abuse them, too. It makes sense they would wonder if God really would take them through the sea, provide food for them,  and keep them safe. Would life in a new land be better? Would Moses be fair as he dealt with them? When I look at them through the lens of trauma, I have more compassion and understanding. I wonder if maybe God put their story in the Word, not to make an example of them, but to show us what lengths He will go to save His people traumatized by living in a fallen world.  

Forth, we have Elijah. I always loved the account of Elijah and the prophets of Baal found in 1 Kings 18. Elijah was a prophet who lived in perilous times due to God's discipline, a severe drought, and ungodly leaders like Ahab and Jezebel, who killed God's prophets. In that social climate Elijah confronted Ahab and set up a challenge between God's true prophets and Ahab's false ones. They both built alters and the false prophets called on Baal to ignite their sacrifices, using all sorts of passion and antics. Nothing happened! Then Elijah and his prophets poured water on their alter and prayed and God came down, igniting their offering, proving He is who He says He is. They slayed the false prophets who were leading people astray, igniting Jezebel;s wrath. She plotted to kill Elijah and he ran, he feared, he hid, and he doubted. He even asked God to take his life. I judged him harshly, but God didn't. He had compassion on Elijah and met his physical needs of rest and food and gently met the traumatized, depressed prophet in a soft whisper, showing him the lie he believed that he was all alone was false. 
Fifth, we have Job and his wife. I have had several friends bury children and had already grown more compassionate towards them. In fact, at times I get angry with believers who  judge them harshly. I can't even imagine what it would be like to lose all of my children, my home, my resources, and my employees in one day, especially in a culture that assumed everything bad experienced is because of moral failure. The reactions the couple had to the relational, physical, and financial losses they experienced were appropriate. The grief of a child runs deep and is cyclic and remains a shadow for a lifetime in both times of trust and times of doubt. As a child when I read their story, I mistakenly thought when God gave them more children and more wealth that their life would return to normal and their pain would end. But, that is not the case! Even after people work through grief and their joy has returned, there is an empty place in their parental heart. God wasn't put off by their emotions, their struggle to make sense of their losses, and the questions they posed. So, why are we? Maybe God met them in their pain, to show them and us that the way through pain is to say the questions ruminating in the heart out loud so Satan can't use those questions to plant seeds of doubt. Maybe it was to teach us to make room for the truth that suffering helps us understand the love of God and the suffering Jesus experienced when He lay down His life for our sin. The fellowship of suffering reveals the deepest parts God's heart to us. 

Sixth, lets briefly discuss the disciples of Jesus. They walked with Jesus, heard Him preach, saw Him heal, saw Him cast out demons, and watched as He confronted Pharisees who had painted God as a hard task master never to be pleased. They ran when Jesus was arrested and denied knowing Him at the crucifixion. I judged their actions many times. But, viewing them through the trauma in their story allows me to be more empathetic. Their country was being controlled by other nations and God had been silent for 400 hundred long, hard years. They heard Jesus's words through that lens and probably heard a few lies the enemy planted along the way. All of a sudden the Messiah they loved and hoped in  was taken, illegally tried, beaten beyond recognition, and crucified between two thieves. They emotionally weren't prepared for what they saw, the grief they felt, and the confusion of faith the events brought about. The fearful disciples returned home, lost in their hurt...until He rose again! Jesus wasn't judging them like I was. He went straight to them and reestablished their callings to be His disciples and promised them the Holy Spirit who would increase their understanding of Spiritual things. God met them in their pain so they would understand the cross was the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant. That even in their failure to be faithful, Jesus alone paid the price. They would need to know this grace when they served Him enpowered by the Holy Spirit who would come. Jesus understood their fear of abandonment and He clearly conveyed to them that He would not leave them alone, but would give them a Comfortor who would bring to mind what He had taught and enable them to understand and empower them to do what He called them to do.   

This new perspective of looking at the Bible characters in the context of their story and the trauma they experienced makes me want to reread every story again to see the relentless love and presence of God more fully in their lives. It also inspires me to look for that in my own life and in the lives of people around me. A trauma lens helps me have more empathy and compassion. As Michele so eloquently said, "God doesn't condemn our questions, doubts, and despair but actually pushes further in, drawing closer still. And to discover, to our deep relief and lasting delight, that God's greatest desire isn't to browbeat us into obedience but to woo us with His relentless nearness." I can't help but wonder how differently our lives would be, if  we grasped this concept and became totally and radically transparent with Him, expectantly looking for Him to be near. 

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Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!