Tag Archives: Bible

Reading the Bible as a Refugee


Because we are enculturated people, we always read Scripture from a particular vantage point. Sometimes it can be helpful to consider the lens we use and to try reading the Bible from the vantage point of others. I’d like to suggest that you take a tour of the Bible through the eyes of a refugee–a displaced person. Some 60 million people in the world today live displaced from their homes due to human and natural caused disasters. They have lost most if not all of their comforts (language, home, family, land, food, community, protection, job, etc).

Does the bible have anything to say about their experiences?

Right off, we see Adam and Eve, forcibly displaced from their lovely home, barred by an angel with a flaming sword, never to return. We often think about their culpability. It was their own sin that caused this trouble. Set aside that fact. Imagine what it was like for them to be removed from the best place ever to live for over 900 years in exile where nothing could compare to what was lost.

At the other end of the Bible we have John writing Revelation from…wait for it…exile on Patmos. In between these bookends, we have Abraham as sojourner. Israel moves to Egypt to escape a famine only to be enslaved for 400 years. Generations later David in on the run from Saul. Still later, both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms are sent off to exile with only a small remnant able to return after 70 years. Displacement doesn’t stop at the end of the Old Testament. Jesus’ first life experience is on the run from King Herod. Later, after Pentecost, Christians flee Jerusalem to avoid Jewish and Roman persecution.

But there is much more to see in the Bible than examples of displacement. Consider these biblical themes that relate to refugee experiences:Refugees from Syria

  1. God pursues displaced peoples. God chases down Adam and Eve after their sin. During the time of the Judges, God becomes impatient with Israel’s misery (10:16)
  2. God protects even within trouble. When Cain is exiled for murdering Abel, God marks Cain in order to protect him. Israel grows while enslaved. Exiles in Babylon rise to leadership.
  3. God sees our troubles and his moved by it. Notice God’s special kindness to Hagar.
  4. God wants to hear our complaints. With 1/3 of the Psalms in the form of laments, it is clear God desires our complaints and groaning.
  5. God invites us to share in his life by willingly displacing himself to share in ours. The incarnation reveals a God who willingly leaves perfection in relationship and community and lowers himself into a world of war and brokenness. His work enables us to enter in with those who have been displaced, “for such a time as this.”
  6. God prepares a place where we will one day be at home again. One day, we will all be at home in our true country with bodies that work as they were originally designed.

These truths do not remove the pain of displacement now. God’s protection in this world is not one that keeps us from all harm. In fact, our relationship with him promises that sharing in his death and resurrection we will face sorrow upon sorrow. However, knowing that God pursues us, sits with us, listening to our complaints, and provides blessings in the midst of hardship gives us hope for the day with all will be made right.

So, the next time you hear about the political and social challenges due to illegal immigration in the United States or the crisis in the Middle East and Europe, let that be a reminder to go to your Bible and read as if you are yourself displaced. Surely, we all need to work together to find solutions to these problems we face today. I suspect, however, we will be more prepared when we have the mind of Christ regarding displaced peoples. See how that perspective shapes how you live your life today and how you decide to respond to those in greater need than yourself.

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Responding to Accusations of Racism: Confessing the Sins of our Fathers (And Our Own)


The news and social media seem to be all about race these days. Comments (not necessarily conversations!) range from criticism of police to criticism of the Black community. And surely there are plenty of reasons to criticize. And notice how it is so easy to identify and name the sins of those who are not us! And when others point out our sins, we tend either to get defensive or tell a story. Neither response gets us to where we need to go!

Pointing out the sins of others (individuals and groups) fails to promote healing and reconciliation. As Jesus calls us, we must start with our own log before removing the speck in the eye of the other (Matthew 7:3f). And our own log exists beyond our own specific misdeeds. We must also acknowledge the ways we have participated in and benefitted from the sins of our “own kind” (culture, ancestors, etc.)

Being Nehemiah

By all accounts, Nehemiah was a godly man. I suspect he was born in captivity and so therefore not culpable for the sins that got Judah carried off to Babylon. He was suffering, a servant to a foreign king). And yet, he was moved to confess the sins of his “ancestors” (v. 1:6) as his own. Later, when Ezra reads the law, Nehemiah and the rest hear it then confess the sins of Israel starting with the failures to obey God in the wilderness (chapter 9). They do not call out the sins of their captors (which are evident) or even their detractors but choose to stay focused on their own failings. Not content just to confess, Nehemiah and the returnees sign a covenant and make promises for specific and objective changed behavior going forward (chapter 10).

How might this apply to our current situation? Can those who are white (no matter the economic class) confess benefits of privilege not available to many of our brothers and sisters of color? Can we do so without deflecting to the flaws and sins of those who respond sinfully to racializations?

Can we acknowledge the massive impact of hundreds of years of discrimination and why it makes sense that resulting poverty, destruction of families, and hopeless still show up today? Can we own our sins with the detail shown us in Nehemiah? Can we covenant to be different? Will we call our families and communities to be different?

Maybe then we might be free to point out the sins of those who are “other.” Until then, let us let the Holy Spirit be the one to teach “them” about following Jesus.

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Filed under Christianity, Race, Racial Reconciliation, Relationships

The Power Behind Domestic and Political Dictatorships


The quote by Anjan Sundaram in Stringer continues to rattle in my head. I mentioned him here when I spoke about the power of small-time tyranny–that it lasts only when those close to the dictator look the other way.

Here’s the quote as he talks about being the victim of the dictator’s myth:

It startles me how steadfastly I believed, growing up, that our dictator was just, good and wise. I was never told anything to the contrary. … the indoctrination that holds up the dictator as a savior, a sage, as all-powerful. Until recently this myth usually invoked God, a divine right to power. These days dictators have less need for mysticism: they us the tools of liberty–elections, business, schools, art, the media. The successful dictator creates at once a terror of his presence and a fear of his loss. (p. 61-2)

Terror of presence, fear of absence. Sounds similar to the experience of victims of domestic abuse. Afraid of being hit, afraid of being abandoned. In order to have someone excuse violent and abusive behavior of a dictator, you have to believe that you need them, that what they do is necessary or acceptable in light of a worse outcome. While Sundaram may be right that dictators speak less of divine right, I suspect many religious abusive husbands use a variant on divine right to excuse lording it over their wives. And abusive wives can claim that their husband’s (supposed) failure to lead gives rights to engage in verbal abuse.

What is the power behind a dictator? Myth. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. 

True power does not grasp its right but willingly gives up power for the sake of others.  Philippians 2 gives us this clear picture.

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Filed under Abuse, Biblical Reflection, 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

The Christian Counselor’s Greatest Temptation?


Ask any beginning counselor and they will tell you that the one thing they most want to know is, “What do I say? What do I do?”

No one gets into the world of Christian counseling just to see messes. No, we take up the work because we want to see people recover life and health. But with the desire to see others get well, we also face the large temptation to push people into places of health. We want to tell people what to do

  • For those we find disagreeable or resistant: We want to tell them the full extent of their problems (rip the bandages off and make them see!)
  • For those we have compassion: We want to tell them it will be all right
  • For those we see are stuck: We want to tell them specific steps to wellness
  • For those we find to be much like us: We want to tell them they are doing just fine

Telling, exhorting, (or less nice words: cajoling, forcing, pushing) is a great temptation for every counselor. We want to impart our wisdom. We want to feel good by solving other people’s problems. We want others to experience our successes or our love for the Bible.

What does Jesus know and do?§

Do you find it odd that Jesus asks the blind man, “What do you want me to do for you?” Do you think Jesus didn’t know what he wanted? Or what about Jesus’ question, “Who touched me?” after the woman touched the hem of his garment. Did he not already know? We see that Jesus frequently uses the form of question in order to draw out the heart and mind of the person seeking help.

Do you want to be well? Where are your accusers? Where is your husband? Whose image is on this coin? When you went into the desert, what did you go to see? Where is your faith?

While we I don’t intend to argue that Jesus’ question asking somehow makes a rule for us, I do intend to argue that questions are more likely to lead to the client’s active engagement of a topic than telling them the conclusion. When we listen to others tell us values, facts, ideas, it is easy to slip into a passive acceptance or passive neutral stance. But when asked a question, we who answer more frequently engage the question.

§These biblical passages were discussed by Rev. Rick Tyson in our annual worship service at our counseling practice.

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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

Abuse and Pastors: An Open Letter from a Pastor to Pastors


This letter and website link was forwarded to me today. I don’t know Jeff Crippen but I do like his utter honesty about the cultural influences in some conservative settings that encourage domestic and sexual abuse and that implicitly encourage injustice to victims of oppression.

I encourage you all to read this…especially if you were once a victim and your church didn’t care well for you. Maybe this will bring some healing.

Abuse and Pastors: An Open Letter from a Pastor to Pastors.

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Filed under Abuse, Christianity, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, church and culture

Listening to Trauma/Scripture Experts


I am attending a “community of practice” hosted by the American Bible Society–a community of global trauma recovery specialists who also are experts in Scripture engagement. It is a very interesting group and most are focused on Africa though some minister in India and South America. While a few of these experts have mental health training, most have other training–missiology, sociology, bible translators, pastoral care, and bible distribution and engagement. All recognize how trauma is a barrier to Scripture engagement and faith development. The big question we are struggling with today is the issue of developing healing/recovery models to be used in another culture. How do we minimize the communication that we in the West have the problems all figured out? How do we help support local leadership (rather than finding leadership that does what we already want to do)? What will be most sustainable?

It is good to hear how God is using diverse ideas and peoples to minister to traumatized communities. And, it is good to remember that God has gifted people across all disciplines to do exceptional trauma healing work.

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Filed under suffering, teaching counseling, trauma

Christian counseling theory and the bible: A dangerous mix?


Maybe Christian counselors shouldn’t use the bible when they promote their counseling theory. Maybe they should just articulate their theory and leave the bible verses out. Sound radical? An overreaction? Guilty as charged. But…consider with me that some of our most popular Christian models may be built on rather flimsy biblical data.

Some (simplistic) background thoughts

All Christian counselors recognize that the bible plays a unique role in counseling theory. Otherwise, they would just be “counselors.” But not all use the bible in the same way. Some view the bible as the primary (even sole) guide or resource for understanding human nature and recovery from every sort of relational and/or emotional struggle. These counselors would likely cite 2 Tim 3:15-16 as evidence that Scripture is powerful and primary in our fight against sin and suffering. Others view the bible as a helpful foundation designed to remind us who God is, who we are, and a resource for comfort, encouragement, and rebuke. But, these counselors might also look to other resources as well–psychological research, physiology, medicine, sociology, etc. They would not dismiss the value of the bible but would argue that the bible doesn’t intend to be the answer guide for all the questions we might have. Thus, sources of human knowledge are important to the work of good Christian counseling. Now within this second camp, counselors vary widely as to how important either Scripture or human sources of knowledge function in their given practice. Some seem to emphasize (or neglect) one source more than the other.

The problem…

No matter where a counselor falls on the above continuum, it is far too easy to use the bible to baptize a particular viewpoint or theory. From my most recent christian counseling conference, I heard a plenary speaker say something like this (not a quote but pretty near exact):

Men need respect. It is their airhose. Women need love. It is their airhose.

Along with this statement, the speaker bolstered their points with personal stories and biblical passages indicating the women should be loved and men treated as having authority (submitted to). Here the speaker used bible passages to indicate that men are designed to operate optimally when respected and women designed to operate optimally with love.

Is this true? It could be. I certainly think that this SEEMS to be true for most men and women. But, and this is the BIG BUT…does Scripture indeed teach this. Does Paul teach us that these are our basic needs in order to function well?

Close but way off

Notice that love and respect cannot be our “airhose.” Habakkuk 3:16f would suggest that when everything has been taken away, it is possible to have joy in all things. Notice that Ephesians 5 is about what each are commanded to do…not about what each of us needs to receive. Christ is our “airhose” and nothing else. This speaker would have been better served just teaching us about observations made about what actions tend to make for better marriages than to indicate that the Scriptures teach us we have these two needs.

So, the next time you pick up a cool book by a christian counselor. Check out how they use the bible. As a support for a good theory (e.g., this verse teaches us…)? Or, as a source for understanding the problem of evil and the nature of our God who leads, guides, and saves us?

If you are interested in this topic, let me give you a couple of resources.

  • October 2011 print issue of Christianity Today covers the general misuse of the bible. It is not just counselors who do this. They list the example of a book with anti-aging techniques supposedly gleaned from the bible.
  • 2 chapters in Care for the Soul:Exploring the Intersection of Psychology & Theology (IVP, 2001). Chapters 12 and 13 both cover the issue of hermeneutics. Richard Schultz addresses how counselors misuse wisdom literature and chapter 13 (myself and my colleague Bryan Maier) give more general recommendations for good hermeneutic work.

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Filed under biblical counseling, Biblical Reflection, christian counseling, christian psychology, Christianity, counseling science, counseling skills

The real damage done in abuse?


I’ve written before on the damage done when a community fails to respond to abuse in a justice oriented way. But here is a more succinct and apt quote by Miroslav Volf:

If no one remembers a misdeed or names it publically, it remains invisible. To the observer, its victim is not a victim and its perpetrator is not a perpetrator; both are misperceived because the suffering of the one and the violence of the other go unseen. A double injustice occurs—the first when the original deed is done and the second when it disappears. (italics mine)

Abuse victims sometimes tell us that the most significant damage to them is when community members (family, leaders, peers) fail to “see” or act justly when they hear of the abuse. It was bad enough to be sexually abused (yes, that is real damage too) but far worse to be told it didn’t happen or be told to take it for the sake of the larger community (e.g., you wouldn’t want to harm his reputation, destroy the family, cause others to fall away from Christ, etc.).

I saw this quote in the first pages of The Long Journey Home: Understanding and Ministering to the Sexually Abused, to be released soon by Resource Publications, an imprint of Wipf & Stock. I have the typeset PDF and the editor, Andrew Schmutzer, says the book will be released in August. This book (over 500 pages!) may become the place to turn for Christians seeking to understand the scourge of sexual abuse in all its ugly forms. Chapters are written by those who are expert in the social sciences, theology, and pastoral care. The line up is phenomenal. You can see the title page/table of contents (TOC Long Journey Home) to see the gamut of chapters and authors.

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Filed under Abuse, christian counseling, christian psychology, Christianity, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, counseling, counseling science, pastors and pastoring, Psychology, ptsd, Uncategorized