Category Archives: Biblical Reflection

A day of trauma recovery: Stimulating talk and an important reminder


American Bible Society

American Bible Society (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today was the first day of the Community of Practice convened by the American Bible Society and their Trauma Healing Institute. The room was crowded with recovery specialists in practice around the world. While a few are mental health experts, many are missiologists, bible translators, linguists, pastors, etc. All are individuals who felt the need to address the pandemic of trauma in their little corner of the world. Participants are working in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, South America, Europe, Canada, and the U.S.

It was a stimulating day. Opening remarks by the new ABS president, Dr. Doug Birdsall, reports from ten different areas about recent trauma healing efforts. We heard about what was going on in Nova Scotia to Namibia to Nepal to Nigeria; in South Sudan, Kenya, Thailand, the DR Congo Papua New Guinea and some sensitive areas.

I got a chance to take the group through a fly-over of the cost and context of psychosocial trauma, some recent understandings of the impact of trauma on the body and concluded with a summary of what we know works (and some possible reasons why) and might be transferable and scalable in other parts of the world. Dr. Michael Lyles brought us an update of PTSD and tied it to the experience of the parable of the Good Samaritan. We also heard about resilience training in Namibia and the trauma of persecution and torture in the Middle East.

It is exciting to see what God’s people are doing with just a few resources and to hear how the Bible Society’s program of recovery is maturing and growing by leaps and bounds. However, Doug Birdsall’s meditation on Luke 10 is still ringing in my ears. After sending out the 72 to do ministry, they returned with joy over the great activity they saw. People were healed; demons cast out; the kingdom expanded. Jesus responds to them by saying something rather startling,

Yes, and there is even more amazing things to come. You haven’t seen anything yet. BUT, don’t rejoice over the fact that you have power to cast out demons. Instead, rejoice in the fact that your names are listed in the roll of citizens of heaven. [my paraphrase]

It is good to take heart in the small army of trauma recovery specialists. God is up to something great, even bigger than we can now see. But, it is always more important that he has come and redeemed us. Make sure that you are more happy about your redemption than about what you can do for God.

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Filed under Africa, Biblical Reflection, Missional Church, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, trauma, Uncategorized


[A version of this post was first published here on February 24, 2009. Given the content of my previous post, I decided to place it back at the top by republishing today]

Now for the matters you wrote about: ‘It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.’ But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. 1 Cor. 7: 1-4

In the past year I have had several conversations with men about these verses. In every situation one spouse (not always the woman) had refused to engage in certain sexual practices with their spouse. These they found unappealing or disconcerting for a variety of reasons (e.g., a husband did not wish to use sex aids, a wife did not wish to receive oral sex, a spouse found a position brought back memories of abuse, or either found themselves undesirous of any sexual activity).

And so the frustrated spouse remembered these verses and wished to use them to compel their spouse or at least remind them of the duty to provide sex.

So, whose desires trump if the gist of the passage suggests that neither has full ownership of their own body nor has the right to demand in the bedroom? 

Sadly, I have listened to  men argue that women must submit to their husband’s sexual requests. She should fulfill her marital duty, should abstain only for prayer, and that her body is her husband’s. They appeal to this text and to Ephesians 5 which commands women to submit to their husbands.

Here is what is missing in that argument:

1. The husband is commanded to sacrifice everything to love his wife. That would include his desires.

2. This passage clearly states that the wife has control over her husband’s body and thus gets veto power over how he wants to use it in bed.

Some other things from the text that get neglected:

1. The Corinthian church wanted Paul’s opinion about sex and marriage. Paul does not affirm their position. In fact, he says that given the problem of immorality, couples should not unnecessarily tempt each other.

2. Sex is not the highest good in life or in marriage. It would be better to not marry and no, not everything is beneficial. Thus our desires cannot be a god to us.
2. The mutuality of sex is obvious. No one gets trump. The goal of the passages is to encourage each other to look out for problems of temptation.
3. And yet, these aren’t commands but advice (v. 6).

Now consider these application Q & As:

1. Should a spouse comply to a request for sex if they aren’t interested?

Interested is a key word here. Some spouses may wish to engage in sexual activity even as they know their own level of desire isn’t nearly as high as the requesting spouse. But the one who wishes to please their spouse ought not feel compelled or asked to do something they find distasteful or compromising. Couples that can talk through sexual desire differences in a manner where both the asker and the assenter feel heard and supported should not face much difficulty here. It is only when either the asker feels rejected or the assenter feels forced/guilty does differences in sexual desire create trouble.

2. Should one ever use these verses to urge their mate to engage in certain sexual behaviors?

There is a big difference between asking and urging (aka compelling). Lauren Winner says that God oriented sex is unitive and sacramental. It is about giving rather than getting and/or performance. It is hard to imagine how a person would use these verses  in a manner that wouldn’t violate the law of sacrificial love. Recall that these texts are not providing “rights” for either party. The entire Christian life is a “dying to self” experience.  

3. Are there situations that might cause a couple to abstain from sex other than for prayer?

Absolutely. The text doesn’t cover every situation. Health factors obviously limit sexual activity. These may include non-genital disease, STDs, and even past or present traumas. Generally speaking, married individuals enjoy sex. So, if one is resistant to sex or to certain sex practices, it probably won’t take much time to uncover problems in the relationship or other illnesses. Note here that this 1 Corinthian text focuses on the problem of sexual immorality. Paul gives several pieces of advice (give yourself to ministry, avoid marriage, get married, watch out for each other, etc.) but nowhere does he command any of these activities. His goal is to help the church avoid the sins of idolatry and adultery. When we take the text and look for a passage to defend our “must-haves”, we miss out on the larger context and purpose and fall into the very sin Paul is exhorting us to avoid–idoloatry.

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March 8, 2013 · 5:07 am

Better objectives than reconciliation?


When you experience a broken relationship, do you long for the day when what is broken is made new? I do, even when I know that the chances of restoration and reconciliation are slight.

However, I’ve written a post over at our faculty blog suggesting that as good a goal as reconciliation is, it makes for a poor objective for us. Wonder why I think little of reconciliation as an objective? Click the link to find out and to consider some alternate objectives.

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Filed under Abuse, biblical counseling, Biblical Reflection, christian counseling, Christianity, conflicts, Relationships

Protecting Desire in an Age of Gluttony


[These thoughts on living with unfulfilled desire were first published here back on October 20, 2006. Since I am teaching on addictions and the need to protect (no slake nor deny) desire this week, I thought I might resurrect this introduction to a short series on the topic of protecting desire. To read the remaining posts, follow the links at the bottom of the post.]

I have a confession to make: desire, not cotton, is the fabric of my life. I crave foods, comfortable living, excitement, time with my wife without interruptions, sex, prestige, freedom from illicit temptations (or is it freedom to indulge without penalty?), free time, obedient children, and employment that doesn’t seem like work. Satisfaction is the name of my game. And with 4 decades of experience in achieving at least partial satisfaction, I still find it ever elusive, never lasting more than a moment in time. Even when I get what I want, it’s never enough. Continue reading

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Filed under addiction, Biblical Reflection, Desires

Did God injure me? A great pastoral response


I am reading a version of a paper entitled, “Connecting horizons with Job: Pastoral care (in cooperation with professionals) in the trauma-coping process” by Egbert Brink. In one section he discusses pastoral care responses to the victim’s experience that God was the adversary (such as Job experienced). Mr. Brink cites Job 9:10-12, 9:16-17 where Job feels like God’s hand is the one who is doing the wounding. The victim that Mr. Brink is meeting with says,

Did God do this, did He wound me? My heart says yes, but my mind does not allow that answer….Again; did God wound me? Yes…Okay. That’s what Job feels, and I identify with Job. The next logical step is: what emotions do I have? … This is scary, but the step must be taken. It’s not until you say it, that the emotion can be set free. I can do it, I say: I am disappointed in God, and angry, I think. That last bit isn’t proper, but I can’t help it. Don’t take it too harshly. (p. 16)

Mr. Brink (or is it Dr? I do not know) provides this commentary,

…this is a special moment in trauma coping process…every traumatized person is faced with the question why God let it happen and did not protect him or her. The book of Job grants the necessary space to ask these probing life questions dealing with the mysteries of God. Faith in God’s omnipotence and goodness raises many questions in this context, but also provides space for them. Passionate complaints don’t immediately put God’s omnipotence in question but rather underline it.  (ibid, emphasis mine)

And then Mr. Brink says this,

The pastoral task, then, is not to stand in the way of the traumatized client with apologetics, as Job’s friends do. God does not need advocates to plead his case. (ibid, emphasis his)

I found the following Vimeo link (http://vimeo.com/48232843) of Mr. Brink giving a talk on this paper and pastoral case.

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Filed under Abuse, Biblical Reflection, pastors and pastoring, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, trauma

When all you see is brokenness…what then? A thought from Jeremiah 29


As a counselor and a Christian it is easy to see that the world is breaking. Suicides. Shootings. Affairs. Cancer. Addiction. Corporate Greed. Abuse. In addition, we hear about

  • Christian leaders who either perpetrate abuse or fail to protect when they hear of it
  • rampant immorality
  • political corruption

When we face these kinds of things, it is easy to fall into one of two unhelpful patterns. For some of us, we fight. We try harder. We attack others with sarcasm. We lay blame at the feet of others. While fighting harder to correct injustice is a good thing; while pointing out blame where it should lie is not a bad thing, the pattern of fighting may reveal a dangerous value system: if I can control my little corner of the world, things will get better. Sometimes this is true but most of the time, the “getting better” motif is an illusion. The wrong kind of fighting usually leads to embitterment.

Others of us choose a pattern of giving up.We stop trying to make a difference because it won’t. We turn down the volume on suffering. We avoid others who are obviously suffering. We move towards embittered discontentment. Now, it is not wrong to turn off the 24/7 “news” and to not read up on every tragedy. It is good not to fill our brains only with brokenness. But, giving up can sometimes lead to lamenting that the “good ole days” were better.

Enter the Prophet Jeremiah

In chapter 29, he writes to those who are experiencing brokenness. Israel is no more. A mass of Jews have been carried off into captivity. They live in a land that is not theirs as foreigners and likely without rights, privilege or land. They have lost connection with the promised land, with family, with language, with custom. Around them would be idol worshippers and a society not built on the Torah. There are some individuals who have been prophesying that in 3 years they will return home to Israel in triumph.

Jeremiah says, “Not so fast. No, you guys will die in captivity.” Well, no, he doesn’t exactly say that. He says it will be 70 years and then you (meaning your children and/or grandchildren) will get to return to the Land.

Nice. Jeremiah responds to their suffering and says, “Yup, it’s bad. And it is going to stay that way.”

But read on because he tells them God has a message for them to hear: (in Phil’s loose translation)

Obey me [the Lord, not Jeremiah]. Because I love you dearly, I will protect your soul. I will be blessing you even though there are dire consequences happening to you. Here’s what I want you to do:

  1. Look for the blessings I am sending you NOW. Don’t overlook them. They are really there for you to find.
  2. Live holy lives, not out of fear, but in confidence that I am keeping my promises to raise of a kingdom for my people.
  3. Live. Don’t put your life on hold. Build houses. Plant gardens. Harvest. Marry. Have kids. Help your kids get married. Enjoy your grandchildren. Be present and rooted where you are at. Live. Enjoy it.

Notice that to live, you have to move, act, have impact, even as you are accepting that you cannot avoid the consequences of living in a fallen world. I think this can be helpful for us in a season of much brokenness. Without denying the suffering that is everywhere, we can also choose to notice the little and the big blessings. We can simplify our lives to, “What do you want me to do today?” We can be mindful of the small activities of life. The grocery store is drudgery. Laundry is never-ending. And yet, we have the opportunity to act in our world and to pray for the peace of the city (as Jeremiah gives encouragement to do).

Maybe your joy is pretty tiny these days. That is okay. Just find it and savor it as a gift from God for the few minutes you have. Not all is broken. In a few days, hours, years, God will indeed put all to rights. Every heartache will become untrue. Still, even now, hang on to the signs of life and growth.

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Filed under Biblical Reflection, Christianity, Depression, Despair, Meditations, suffering

Trauma and Trafficking DVDs on Amazon


Nearly 2 years ago (March 2011), Biblical Seminary put on a conference about the problem of sexual trauma and trafficking. Our speakers included Dr. Diane Langberg (a noted psychologist), Bethany Hoang (IJM), Robert Morrison (a grassroots organizer), and Pearl Kim (now ADA for 2 Philadelphia counties). The sessions covered domestic and international sex trTrauma and Traffickingafficking, abuse and violence against women worldwide, the problem of sexual abuse in christian organizations, and how to mobilize community action without expending energy on non-profit status.

It was a powerful conference…and you can own it for a mere $19.99. Here’s the link to Amazon. Or, you can find it here at Vision Video (along with MP4 options as well) for 20% off.

This DVD set (3 DVDs) are an excellent starting point if you or your church group want to think more deeply about the biblical call to justice in the area of trafficking, trauma, and violence against women, whether “out there” or in the church.

Look for information on purchasing our most recent DVD series, Abuse in the Church, in the next week.

 

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Filed under Abuse, biblical counseling, Biblical Reflection, christian counseling, Christianity, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, Diane Langberg, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, trauma

Narcissism in the Bible? A sermon by Philip Ryken


A few weeks ago, I attended a conference at Westminster Seminary (Philadelphia) where Dr. Philip Ryken was speaking/preaching. Dr. Ryken is a friend from our student days at WTS and is now the president of Wheaton College. His sermon was on the first 10 verses of 1 Kings 1. While the purpose of the talk was not to identify narcissism in the bible, the passage clearly points to egocentrism and all of the distortions and deceptions that come with building one’s own kingdom.

In the passage we see that Adonijah sets himself up as king even has his father, David, is still alive. What does he do that reveals narcissism?

  1. “I will be King.” He demands power
  2. He does not know humility or correction (sadly the passage says that his father never confronted him thus probably building egocentrism)
  3. He gathers people of influence to promote his position
  4. He buys an entourage to improve his public standing
  5. He gives the illusion of submission and faith (sacrificing sheep to look like he is doing the right thing)
  6. He makes sure not to include people who will speak the truth (does not invite Nathan the prophet)

Let me encourage you to listen (for free) to Dr. Ryken’s message as he describes in better fashion these features of building our own kingdom.

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Filed under Biblical Reflection, deception

Refusing to report abuse and its consequences


As many Americans know, The Jerry Sandusky trial is well underway. Mr. Sandusky is charged with 52 counts of child sex abuse during his era (and following) as assistant football coach at Penn State University. But equally on trial–at least in the media, the court of public opinion, and most likely civil and criminal courts in the near future–are Penn State officials. Chief among those under scrutiny is former PSU president, Graham Spanier. It appears that Mr. Spanier, along with other important University employees knew of accusations and eyewitness accounts of abuse and failed to report the matter.

I have written here about the reasons why we fail to report. We fail to report because we are protecting our own. We fail to report because we worry about backlash, bad press, and we don’t want to get involved in messy situations. But consider now the consequences of not reporting.

1. Protecting the wrong person or entity. allegedly, one email from Spanier states that he wouldn’t report Sandusky for “humane” reasons. Spanier appears to have made the calculation of negative consequences for reporting Sandusky to law enforcement but failed to do the same calculation for probable victims.

2. Destroying trust for future leaders. Ask the general public how they feel about the trustworthiness of leaders within the Catholic church? Ask if they feel that the church’s response (verbal and in legal settings) has helped improve or continue to erode trust? Sadly, future leaders of organizations (those that failed to report child abuse) likely face unmerited suspicion on the basis of the predecessor’s behaviors. Further, such failure to instill trust does not just impact general trust within a community. Victims who were not protected and helped are much less likely to be willing to report abuse that happens in the future.

3. Increasing PTSD symptoms. Many abuse and interpersonal trauma victims report that something traumatized them even more than the original abuse–the failure of those who knew about the events to do something about it. When those you think should protect you do not, you are more likely to experience PTSD.

4. Having no answer for Matthew 25:31-46. You may remember that this passage tells what will happen on the day of judgment. For those who did not do for the “least of these” (care for, protect, serve), tremendous judgment awaits. Strong words.

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life. ”

Strong words indeed.

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Filed under Abuse, Biblical Reflection, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, ptsd, Uncategorized

Taunting your Abuser?


Is it ever right to taunt your abuser? Is it Godly?

[WARNING: This is a thought experiment…not a recommendation!]

My wife is working on some presentations she’ll be making on the book of Habakkuk and so we have been looking at the book and talking about some of the difficulties in the text (She’s far more insightful on these things than I am!). The 2nd chapter contains a taunt against the oppressor/abuser Babylon. God is having a conversation with Habakkuk and the short version goes like this:

Habakkuk: Why are you allowing all this sin among your people? Do something!

God: I will. I’m sending Babylon and they will carry Judah off.

Habakkuk: Um…God…Babylon? Really? You do know they are like the most heathen people? You’re going to use the worst group of people in the world to judge us? You know we’re not THAT bad?

God: Yup. I’m going to do something that blows you away. I’m up to something you can’t even imagine. I know that Babylon is proud. And here are the taunts you and everyone else is going to throw at them when I judge them.

At this point God appears to give them words to use when the time comes. Consider 2:15-16

Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbors, pouring it from the wineskin till they are drunk, so that he can gaze on their naked bodies. You will be filled with shame instead of glory. Now it is your turn! Drink and be exposed. The cup from the Lord’s right hand is coming around to you, and disgrace will cover your glory.

It would appear that God has no problem taunting humans in their rebellion and depravity. When God taunts, he is speaking truth. When we speak truth, along with God, about unrighteousness then maybe such a taunt is a possibility:

You’ve abused me but just you wait. God is in heaven above. He sees and he will judge. You will face the consequences of what you have done, either in this life or at the last day. There will be justice!

Just an Old Testament thing?

Are taunts only in the OT? Does Jesus do away with them when he tells us to love our enemies? Apparently loving one’s enemies does not mean not speaking a taunt. Notice that Luke records Jesus making ten different “woe to you” taunts against religious leaders and other unbelieving/arrogant people. Can Jesus be failing the second greatest commandment?

Clearly the taunts in the OT or Jesus’ curses of unbelieving religious leaders are not normative. We are not called to do this. But…maybe their existence does a couple of things for us.

  • Give Godly words for the private and possibly public comments made by victims of abuse (note: these words do not approve of revenge, bitterness, or other ungodly motivations. But desire for justice is a good and Godly desire and should be expressed!)
  • Allow others to validate victims’ experience of injustice without pressing for a quick Romans 8:28 response

A word of caution

Habakkuk 2 ends with a postscript to the 5 taunt songs against Babylon.

But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him

Judah was guilty of injustice (1:3). They did not have clean hands. They were not innocent. God did give them words of taunt to use against Babylon. Yet, before God they needed to be silent and humble. The cup of wrath that Babylon would drink is passed over God’s people–not because of their innocence but because of God’s providential love. Christ drinks to the dregs that cup of wrath in our stead. He gives us a better cup to drink.  It is far too easy to consider ourselves innocent and our enemies guilty. We ought to stand in silence and awe because we have not been treated as we rightly deserve.

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Filed under Abuse, biblical counseling, Biblical Reflection, christian counseling, Christianity, trauma, Uncategorized