November 20, 2017

How NOT to respond to unimaginable grief

Abraham Weeping for Sarah, Chagall

How NOT to respond to unimaginable grief

Here we go again. The indestructible Society of Job’s Friends speaks out in the wake of the mass shooting in Sutherland.

This time the theologizing comes from Lutheran pastor Hans Feine at the Federalist. In the article Pastor Feine defends God against critics and cynics who charge that prayer is futile in the wake of such an act.

For example, Feine quotes one angry man who said, “They were in church. They had the prayers shot right out of them. Maybe try something else.”

Another critic excoriated someone who appealed to prayer in the wake of the shootings: “The murdered victims were in a church. If prayers did anything, they’d still be alive, you worthless sack of shit.”

The good pastor comments:

For those with little understanding of and less regard for the Christian faith, there may be no greater image of prayer’s futility than Christians being gunned down mid-supplication. But for those familiar with the Bible’s promises concerning prayer and violence, nothing could be further from the truth. When those saints of First Baptist Church were murdered yesterday, God wasn’t ignoring their prayers. He was answering them.

When Christians pray “deliver us from evil,” Feine says, one aspect of that is “we are asking God to deliver us out of this evil world and into his heavenly glory, where no violence, persecution, cruelty, or hatred will ever afflict us again.” Their prayers were answered.

He also appeals to the theology of the cross to explain how God accomplishes his sovereign will and delivers his children from evil:

Sometimes, his will is done by allowing temporal evil to be the means through which he delivers us from eternal evil. Despite the best (or, more accurately, the worst) intentions of the wicked against his children, God hoists them on their own petard by using their wickedness to give those children his victory, even as the wicked often mock the prayers of their prey.

…So when a madman with a rifle sought to persecute the faithful at First Baptist Church on Sunday morning, he failed. Just like those who put Christ to death, and just like those who have brought violence to believers in every generation, this man only succeeded in being the means through which God delivered his children from this evil world into an eternity of righteousness and peace.

Let me be the first to say that I agree with Pastor Feine on the substance of his post. This is solid Lutheran theology that gives, in my opinion, “right answers” in addressing this situation.

The problem is, it’s not the right time for right answers. If I were an ecclesiastical referee, I would throw a penalty flag and call a personal foul — unintentional pastoral misconduct. If I were a teacher grading Pastor Feine’s article, I would mark him down for failing to include the most essential elements of pastoral theology in his argument: silence, commiseration, and lament.

In fact, in my opinion, the comments he is responding to may have seemed disrespectful, ignorant of the scriptures, and evidence of lack of faith, but in fact I think they may be more appropriate and indeed (to use a word I don’t like), more biblical than Pastor Feine’s right answers.

Ask the people who wrote the majority of psalms in the Psalter. They penned lament songs in times of trouble, not theological defenses of God. The way these psalms are written exemplify some essential truths about facing the hardships and sometimes incomprehensible experiences of pain and suffering in this world —

  • these experiences hurt,
  • they hurt bad,
  • God seems absent and uncaring when we go through them,
  • and it takes time (maybe a long, long time) for us to struggle through these experiences and their aftermath before we are able to say, “Praise the Lord.”

Does no one really pay attention to the Psalms anymore?

Does no one read the book of Job and get the picture?

Where are the laments?

Why must we jump immediately to apologetics and theologizing?

Why do we think “answers” are the cure for what ails us?

The people who reacted by doubting or blaming God and discounting prayer’s efficacy were being human, expressing anguish, telling it exactly like it is when you feel the pain, the anger, the questions, the doubts. When you can’t wrap your mind around something so incomprehensibly devastating and destructive. When you feel like you are in the presence of actual evil that frightens the living daylights out of you. When your heart is utterly broken as you think about babies and pregnant mothers, senior citizens and young people, whole families, good, gentle, neighborly people being mown down by a deranged and violent man. When the terror of imagining what it must have been like in that church gives you a sense of existential dread that shakes you to your core. When, even in a church, God doesn’t seem to show up.

Pastor, please don’t come to me in the immediate aftermath of something so harrowing and try to give me answers.

Let me scream at God. Let me damn God. Let me cry my eyes out. Let me question God and complain to God and demand answers from God. Let me say in private and in public that God abandoned me, that God, who promised never to leave or forsake me did just that. Let me say that prayer is useless, that God is deaf or has refused to listen to me. That God doesn’t care about me. That maybe God doesn’t even really exist.

If you let me do these things, it will help me in my faith more than a whole library full of theologically correct answers.

Let me work through it, pastor. Be there with me when I want you to be, but be quiet. Just let me know you’re available. Let me come to church when I can and don’t worry or think I’m losing my faith if I can’t for awhile. When I do come, please understand if I don’t participate with much enthusiasm. You can pray for me, and have others pray for me, but don’t make a big deal about it, and accept the fact that I may not want to hear those prayers said aloud right now.

Consider me in rehab, and give me as much time as it takes to heal and adjust to a new normal.

And, please, don’t ever say or imply that this is something I will “get over.” That God’s promises and truths will make this okay. Life has forever changed and this will always be a part of me. Don’t forget that. And don’t forget that it hurts like hell.

I know you want God honored as God. Well, let me be a human being. Please.

Comments

  1. Iain Lovejoy says:

    Sorry, but I would say that the substance of what he said is wrong, not just the timing. It is not the Christian message that the world is horrible and evil and the aim is to escape from it to somewhere better: that is Gnosticism. If that is “solid Lutheran theology”, Lutheranism is not Christianity.
    That God will bring good out of bad is true. That God will make right suffering and death and restore in the resurrection all those poor victims is true. But that doesn’t make their lost lives, the loss of all their never-to-be-fulfilled potential, all the things they would have created, the love they would have given and inspired, a lifetime of thoughts and dreams and good (and bad) deeds and trials and successes and failures, which God calls good and delights in, a good thing. Their lost lives are a loss. If your theology says that human beings are done a favour by being killed, how can it have anything to do with Christ?

    • I’m not sure where I stand on the issue of when it is the right time to speak or keep silent about tragic loss as it relates to theodicy. I get the feeling that no rule, however wise, can cover all occasions or all audiences.

      But regarding your objection to the substance of what pastor Feine says, and CM agrees with: Isn’t the entire living world, human and nonhuman alike, organized on the principle that it is sometimes necessary that loss, suffering and death occur so that new life may thrive? I mean, isn’t that principle the theological justification for God creating a world in which evolution (which involves staggeringly enormous amounts of violence, death and suffering [including predation]) is the process whereby life arises and develops? Otherwise, how is it that this creation is good, as the Bible declares it, rather than the gnostic trap that you criticize Pastor Feine’s theology for supporting? If what happens in tragedies is not in some sense necessary, and doesn’t serve good, then suffering is irredeemable, and loss can never be made up for; the world is indeed a stage of unjustifiable, irreversible and pointless horror, and can not rightly be called good. I think your theology represents gnosticism more than pastor Feine and CM’s.

      • Iain Lovejoy says:

        I have no problem with the idea that God may of necessity allow evil to happen, because to act so as to prevent such a possibility would be to also prevent some greater good. That I agree with.
        The obscenity in Feine’s words is that he says death is in itself a good, that the gunman did God’s work for him because the victims were better off now they are dead. He even goes so far as to blasphemously declare that when we pray in Christ’s own words “deliver us from evil” we are asking God to “deliver us out of this evil world”, that in killing them the gunman was answering their prayers, that when we pray for deliverance from evil we are praying for death. That is Gnosticism.

        • I think you make a good point as does CM from a different angle. I say, that why must God be the author of any evil? I would say, If the fall doesn’t hurt, then it isn’t the fall. Evil is real. God is not fighting evil in hand to hand combat, where He sometimes wins and evil sometimes wins (like the Greek gods). For some reason, He allows the consequences of this fallen world to take the path they have chosen. But the redemption isn’t that God saved some in the church that day, and didn’t save others (because those who were saved prayed harder or lived better). We live in a fallen world. Shit happens. We have the means to bring temporal redemption by fixing many of our problems. God has fixed them all . . . in the end.

    • senecagriggs says:

      From an article by Michael Brown
      On Sunday, the day of the church massacre, cultural commentator David French tweeted, “The amount of anti-Christian hate on Twitter the same day Christians were massacred is stunning and chilling.”

      If ever there was a time when we might have expected sympathy for Christians, or at least restraint in attacking them, the opposite proved true far too many times. Why?

      Laura Ingraham noted that some of the reactions to the shooting pointed to “elite hostility to people of faith,” stating that “hostility to faith infects the popular culture.”

      • “The amount of anti-Christian hate on Twitter the same day Christians were massacred is stunning and chilling.”

        The amount of hypocrisy hate is appropriate. And probably not enough. That people are pulling the persecution card is stunning and chilling.

      • You make it very painful for me to agree with you when you quote Laura Ingraham.

  2. senecagriggs says:

    “Why must we jump immediately to apologetics and theologizing?”

    C.M., The enemies of the faith immediately jumped to apologetics and theologizing. Pastor Feine’s response was a correction to their twisted apologetics and theologizing.

    • Strangely, I agree with you, sencagriggs. I think Feine is defending the faith of those who are feeling it undermined by the skepticism of the general public, and a skepticism targeting their faith just at a moment they need it most. It’s as if they are being told they need not only to cope with the loss of their loved ones, but to surrender the consolations of their faith.

      • ” It’s as if they are being told they need not only to cope with the loss of their loved ones, but to surrender the consolations of their faith.”
        I didn’t take it that way at all. I took Feine’s remarks much more as saying it doesn’t matter that these people were mowed down for no reason whatsoever because, since they were in church & thus Christian believers, death actually fulfills their dreams of heaven. Death, he seems to think, is a great thing because it leads to heaven, so the means of achieving that are irrelevant. Die in bed from old age or be massacred by a lunatic; it doesn’t much matter because the outcome is the same. You get to zoom up to heaven where all is wonderful and perfect, so how could that be bad?
        This kind of thinking I do not find consoling.
        .

    • I agree. I am not sure where I stand on Feine’s comment, but the point with respect to Job’s friends is that they weren’t just defending God, but doing it with Job when he had lost everything and kicking him when he was down. Online God- hating skeptics are a different kettle of fish.

      • I would say our neighbors, godless though they may be, have a right to lament as well. And for a pastor to jump to defending God rather than agreeing that God seems absent and prayer ineffectual is not an empathetic first move. If you want to witness to God as God really is, then acknowledging the confusing reality that God sometimes appears to abandon his children and that this is beyond our grasp and hurts us too would be a better start at testimony. How many times do the psalmists cry out to God to come forth out of inactivity so that the enemies of the faith won’t have just cause to mock the faithful?

        • Feine isn’t addressing our lamenting godless neighbours, though. There is a vocal minority who are essentially ‘kicking them while they’re down’…a ‘Where’s your Messiah now?’ moment.

          Overall, you’re right, in the West, we’ve forgotten how to lament. You’ve probably witnessed your fair share of Godsplaining at a time when silent being-next-to was the only appropriate way. In seasons of grief, I remember more strongly those grim silent hugs, those afternoons spent wordlessly packing boxes alongside more than any theological pep talk. But I think Feine and others, who aren’t in a position to directly console the victims of the attack, are doing right by facing outwards and defending the God they, the victims, believe in.

          Regarding again these neighbours…The Psalms: “Many are saying of me, “God will not deliver him.”
          …Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked.” Amen.

          • Osti, you’re right, there’s that side of the Psalms too. But I think Jesus gives a better word: “‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.”

            I think an approach less defensive and more empathetic with the “persecutors” is a better way of potentially building bridges. There will always be scoffers who resist any effort at listening. If these are the people we are talking about, why even bother writing at all? The pastor’s arguments won’t mean a thing to them. Better to just be quiet, take the abuse, and focus on more important things, like being available to comfort those who are really hurting and questioning.

            • I agree with you, Chaplain Mike. I’m not trying to be smart, but I think just as you say, there is a time to ‘curse God’, there is a time to ‘curse our enemies’…it’s the only emotionally honest thing to do. We know that, at the end of the day, God is good, and that loving our enemies is the correct, moral, constructive thing to do. But when we’re down, or our brothers and sisters are down, yes, let’s circle our wagons, build walls, burn bridges, and do all those things we’re not supposed to do when our eyes are clear and civil.

              I was with a close friend this summer, when he received a call telling him his nephew, his sister’s only son, was murdered. We got on the floor and wept (and wept well; he’s an Iranian exile). I know enough to not “correct” him when he curses God and men in a crisis. I also know that if some random guy came up to taunt him, I’d probably do more than just blog about it.

        • A pastor friend told me that the biggest mistake of his career was going to visit a young woman (early 30s) with two children, who were members of his new church. Her husband was hit by a drunk driver and killed that morning. She, in her great distress, was crying and saying God wasn’t there. She no longer believed in God. He, which he says was a huge mistake, took a box of books ( eg. Mere Christianity, Why I Believe) over to her. He wishes now he had gone over, hugged her and her kids and cried with them and let them say what they needed to say . . . while he said nothing but cried.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            In that story, he was acting like an Activist, not a Pastor.

            To an Activist, tragedy like that is An Opportunity to Push My Agenda, nothing more. No matter what My Agenda is. And the shock and grief just makes for an easier mark.

  3. Since what is appropriate to say in this context depends on how it is received, it seems to me that the feelings of the targeted or intended audience have to be weighed heavily in the question and answer. It is easy for me to imagine survivors of First Baptist, with their evangelical Christian outlook on the world, feeling comforted by pastor Feine’s words; it is equally easy for me to imagine them feeling attacked, and weakened in their ability to cope with their grief, by the critical comments that Feine is responding to. It depends on the audience, and which part of the audience is being spoken to. I think Feine is addressing and trying to bolster people who feel their faith under second attack from the critical comments of skeptics, after the initial attack of the massacre. God knows they will need their faith, however imperfect it may be, and however any of the rest of us may disagree with it.

    • I agree with Robert. This isn’t exactly the same thing as Job with his friends.

      • You’re right, it is only in the sense of religious people theologizing in inappropriate situations. However, I find that Job’s friend are equal opportunity miserable comforters. They tend to think giving answers is the solution in every situation.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          As in “I Know I’m Right — I HAVE A VERSE!”?

          It’s those who have NEVER been there who are first in line with the glib advice for those who Are. This is just a specific Theological type example.

  4. john barry says:

    Robert F., Good observations and point about the audience and context. I think Chaplin Mike’s point is also relevant. To me as a Christian there is no one size fits all methodology and human plan to address grieve and searching for answers. As you noted it depends on the audience and to ne a evangelical which is how I guess I am defined it is up to the individual members of that audience as they are at different places in life and spiritual journey. The Amish are quick to forgive and demonstrate it immediately in a real, sincere and timely manner that is beyond my realm of understanding or I should say attainment,, they truly take literally the command to forgive others as God forgives you. The Amish also shun, have practices and articles of faith I do not agree with but as a “group” they do show immediate forgiveness and a faith based acceptance of a terrible evil act. I am referring to the school shooting in the early 2000’s when the Amish demonstrated their beliefs on this matter. I likened terrible events like this and the “world ” to a fleshly wound, like Chaplin Mike’s sage advice for some people you cannot touch the wound for quite awhile, for some the wound can be touched quickly as they heal, some people want to forget the wound , some want the wound to be an public ongoing part of their life. I do think the Job analogy is good as people try to divine the mind of God, I would be one of he neighbors chiming it. In the Jewish tradition only the person grieved upon can actually give the forgiveness, not others, not society and not the legal system. So to sum up really good article and comments here and I think this , if people of real faith have a hard time coping, accepting and understanding terrible events like this, how do people with no faith , no hope and no promise deal with the Job like events in this world. To some up sometimes it is best to wait to respond other as the human emotions are understandably raw. I also can understand the intent of Fiene’s response . One thing I know there is not a one size fits all answer on this and of course many issues. I appreciate the thoughts here that motivate me to think which I am try to avoid and stay on auto pilot, it is easier not to question or expand.

  5. When those saints of First Baptist Church were murdered yesterday, God wasn’t ignoring their prayers. He was answering them.
    When Christians pray “deliver us from evil,” Feine says, one aspect of that is “we are asking God to deliver us out of this evil world and into his heavenly glory, where no violence, persecution, cruelty, or hatred will ever afflict us again.” Their prayers were answered.

    NO.

    • Patriciamc says:

      Yeah, that didn’t set right with me either.

      • It’s horrific.

      • The FIRST comment:

        If you buy the reasoning in this article, then you should be cheering abortion, because it means the child will go to heaven without the risk of committing any sins that could send them to hell.

        etc etc etc

        NO. This thinking is horrific, dangerous, and demonic.

      • That Other Jean says:

        How can you proclaim that the world is an evil place, and still believe “And God so loved the world. . . “?

    • It did not sit well with me either. If their prayers were answered by being brutally murdered, it seems a short jump to it being, really, not such a bad thing to kill someone who is a faithful Christian but is, for example,showing signs of veering towards unbelief. There was a case years ago that I read about, of a man who murdered his children for fear they would be drawn into unbelief and not ever join him in the heavenly realms. So he killed them while young & still faithful to avoid the problem.
      I don’t think this (or hope it isn’t) is what Pastor Fiene meant, but it kind of comes across that the whole point of us living on this earth is to die & go to heaven, so our lives on earth are really pointless. If that’s the case, why the anti-abortion stance, especially among Christians? Why concerns with end-of-life decisions if you look at death as simply a portal to a better life?
      I found Fiene’s comments very unhelpful.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        I don’t think this (or hope it isn’t) is what Pastor Fiene meant, but it kind of comes across that the whole point of us living on this earth is to die & go to heaven, so our lives on earth are really pointless.

        That’s what you get for replacing Olam-Ha-Ba with Fluffy Cloud Heaven and “It’s All Gonna Burn”.

        Lost the link long ago, but one writer on a Christian writer’s group I was on did a short-short where the Rapture goes down, all the RTCs float up to Heaven singing hymns — and Christ continues down to earth. Now that the Rapture Ready types are out of the way and can’t interfere, Christ can dwell among us, renewing the cosmos in the ultimate Tikkun Olam.

  6. Richard Hershberger says:

    My reaction to Feine’s piece was that it is in line with his Lutheran Satire series, for which he is best known. The Lutheran Satire videos consist of debates he runs through his head in which he is brilliant and scathing, and all fall down defenseless before him. These arguments work great so long as you only try them in the friendly confines of your own head. Try them against a real person and will will discover that they don’t follow the script. Also, the specific form of argument often is to quote proof texts. This is a terrible approach: perhaps the worst legacy of the Reformation. You can “prove” anything by quoting proof texts. You therefore can prove nothing. A real-world disputant will often turn out to have proof texts of his own. So then where are you? The upshot is that even when I agree with the positions Feine is arguing, I find his arguments unpersuasive. I can’t imagine anyone being persuaded who wasn’t already.

    • It’s an exercise in missing the point for the trees and trying to find content and clicks and manufactured outrage. It’s willfully dense and ignorant, lacking in wisdom and understanding.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Also, the specific form of argument often is to quote proof texts.

      “I KNOW I’m Right —
      I HAVE A VERSE!”

    • Well said, Richard.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      These arguments work great so long as you only try them in the friendly confines of your own head. Try them against a real person and will will discover that they don’t follow the script.

      Is this what Proverbs meant by “Better to stay silent and be thought a fool than open your mouth and confirm it”?

    • Great point. How many times have I played out a delicate conversation in my head ahead of time with, “I’ll say this, they’ll say that, then I’ll say this, then they’ll say that…” only to have it go off the rails in real life immediately after my first “I’ll say this…”

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        WW2 Imperial Japanese Navy.

        Their elaborate battle plans depended completely on the enemy doing exactly what the IJN wanted them to do, acting/reacting exactly the way they wanted them to act/react. Against Americans, that went off the rails starting right after Pearl Harbor.

    • Ronald Avra says:

      Most of life is off-script.

  7. Well-balanced discussion today, folks, on a topic that’s not an easy one.

  8. “Does no one read the book of Job and get the picture? Where are the laments? Why must we jump immediately to apologetics and theologizing? Why do we think “answers” are the cure for what ails us?”

    In times of trauma I strive to be like Job’s friends were initially. But even doing this can “backfire”. Several years ago I lost a close friend unexpectedly. His wife was devastated. Began asking those questions. Where is God? Why did God? Etc. I blame part of her anger and shock on the fact she leans at times towards a prosperity type gospel mentality. If I do this then God HAS to do this……His death didn’t align with what she had heard from way too many TV preachers. It didn’t make sense. Afterwards whenever I would visit her she would rave at God, Christianity, etc. Was going to call it all bs and walk away from it. Lamenting on steroids as I call it. A very angry person.

    A few weeks back I had the chance to visit her. She told me in private she had been angry at me since his death. It seemed she interpreted my imitation of Job’s silent friends with uncaring. I wasn’t there for her. Even though I visited and stayed in contact. I can only venture to guess she had been conditioned to expect to hear consoling words beyond I am sorry. Beyond let me know how I can help you during this time. She wanted answers. Certainly answers I couldn’t provide. I don’t know why wasn’t good enough. Yet I’m not sure I’d do anything differently. Maybe check on her more frequently. I’d still give her the latitude to rail like hell. Allow her to be human. That’s about the best I can offer.

    Sigh……

    • Your experience with your friend’s wife makes me think, when I read what James Kugel says about Job in The Great Shift (p.270-1), that human nature hasn’t really changed:

      “The job of comforters was not so much to make the mourner feel better as to enact a set ritual, one that, like all rituals, created a kind of familiar territory for people in moments of transition or stress. As a part of this ritual, the mourner at first had to ‘refuse to be comforted’ (Gen. 37:35), loudly lamenting or not speaking at all, while the comforters uttered the usual truths about disaster or death — that, however difficult this might seem, what had happened was part of the divine plan and therefore had to be accepted. (This is what was called, in later times, tzidduk ha-din, ‘justifying the decree.’) When at last the mourner ritually surrendered and ‘accepted consolation’ (kibbel tanhumin), the comforters’ job was done and they returned home. That is what should have happened with Job, but his loss was so great that he just wasn’t buying what his comforters said….”

      But with regard to Pastor Feine, I’m not so sure he was even properly fulfilling the ambivalently useful role of Biblical “comforters.”

  9. Christiane says:

    someone (I forget who, but it wasn’t me) said ‘Grief in an uncharted territory’

    I did not know this until I entered into it and NO ONE and NOTHING could have prepared me.
    I can’t see God as someone who orders the killing of people . . . . . and honestly, to me, it sounds like the belief of a hyper-Calvinist who would claim that God does order evil to be done for His glory, which if anyone knows Jesus Christ as revelator of Who God is, they will no way buy into God commanding evil against innocents ‘for His glory’.

    What kind of glory comes from commanding the deaths of little children? No. NO. If I could change the size of the typing font here, my ‘no’ would be so big it would fill the entire screen.

    The Holy Spirit is ‘the Comforter’ . . . .
    that is what I know in the midst of my own deep grief. There is sadness beyond knowing, yes; but there is also a peace that is beyond understanding. So my ‘God, please don’t leave me alone in this place’ was heard.
    Deo gratias. May this be so for all who mourn deeply, that the Comforter will come to be ‘with’ and bring Christ’s peace to their hearts.

  10. Job’s friends are condemned because, in trying to defend God, they falsely accused Job of sins he didn’t commit. Their message is, “You deserve this suffering,” whereas Job knew that he didn’t. Insofar as they spoke wrongly of God, it was in ascribing injustice to Him; i.e. that He would punish an innocent man. Pastor Feine did not do this. He simply defended God’s goodness and the efficacy of prayer against skeptics. It simply isn’t true that any answer to grief which either: A.) tries to make sense of evil, or B.) tries to defend God is an imitation of the false counsel of Job’s friends.

    Chaplain Mike, you wrote: “Let me scream at God. Let me damn God. . . Let me say that prayer is useless, that God is deaf or has refused to listen to me. That God doesn’t care about me. That maybe God doesn’t even really exist.” Since we’re discussing the book of Job, it’s only fair to point out that someone *does* take that line in the book – namely, Job’s wife. The proper response is that which Job himself gives: “You are talking like a foolish man. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (I should make clear, Chaplain, that I don’t think you yourself mean that it’s alright to “damn God” – you’re too good a man.)

    For the people above who are decrying Pastor Feine’s comments on the Lord’s Prayer as “Gnostic”, I can only respond that the Christian Church has taken precisely his stance from the beginning, especially in regards to martyrdom. If it’s “Gnostic” to believe that, despite its inherent goodness, the world has been marred by sin and it is “better to leave this life and be with Christ” in heaven (St. Paul), then I suppose the Church has been “Gnostic” since about five minutes after Christ’s ascension.

    • Let me push back a little, Aidan. What you say of Job’s friends isn’t entirely why God found them miserable comforters. In fact, a great deal of what they said was right, taken right out of the wisdom tradition represented by a book like Proverbs. The book of Job (as well as Ecclesiastes) is counter-testimony to that kind of wisdom teaching, exemplifying the argument that goes on within the Bible itself. It was a whole line of accepted teaching that God blesses those who fear God and punishes those who don’t, and so they simply reasoned from that teaching and so argued with Job. One main point of the book is that wisdom, even revealed wisdom, has its limits because we as humans are limited and the patterns of life not always as easily discernible as wisdom teaching would lead us to believe.

      Furthermore, God commends Job at the end of the book for speaking what was right about God. This is surprising, since Job’s arguments against God in the book are robust and clearly not according to pious, sound doctrine.

      At any rate, my point about screaming at God, etc., is taken more from the example of the Psalms, which are chock full of laments that do just that. A close reading of the Psalms can be pretty unsettling, even if in the end of most laments the pray-er comes around to praising God. What Pastor Feine has done is short-circuit the process laid out for us in the laments. We don’t start with answers or with praise. We start with pain and hurt and saying all kinds of angry, passionate things in complaint and contention against God, who seems to be breaking his promises and not showing up when we need him. It is the opposite of pious prayer, and yes, it includes damning God. Here’s an article I read about that way back in seminary days: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/014610798301300404?journalCode=btba

  11. I recently had a patient share with me the hurt she had over the death (fentanyl overdose) of the grandson that she raised. When I said, “the grief won’t pass”, “its OK to suffer, its means you’re human”, it seemed her soul opened up and the sharing that ensued helped for a brief moment in time.

    • Klasie Kraalogies says:

      Good words, Rob. We need to abandon our basic view that life is “Happy happy”, and that all that is not like that ought to be temporary.

  12. My understanding is that HF is not rubbing salt in the wounds of the victims. He is standing up to heartless pricks with the audacity to criticize the victims. They were literally criticized for being prayerful because they were murdered. HF’s “answers” are not for their comfort, and it’s not to defend the Christian faith. It’s to defend the faithful from the critics who say they wasted their life.

    Yes, don’t jump at justifying God to those who survived. But defend and speak well of them to those who would rub salt in their wounds by saying how worthless their devotion is.

    I don’t understand how people get a different takeaway from the article, but I do see most criticism given by people whose comments make it seem like they read only the title (not you, CM).