Tag Archives: God

What is it like to go to war? Book note

Just began reading Karl Marlantes’ What it is Like to go to War (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2011). If you have loved ones who have served in combat I highly recommend you read this to understand a bit of their experiences. Karl Marlantes is a veteran of the Vietnam War and in this book details the spiritual and psychological impact of killing and combat. While his view of God would vary from most Christians, I think most believers will find his descriptions of war’s destruction on a person very accurate.

Marlantes considers the spiritual nature of war,

Many will argue that there is nothing remotely spiritual in combat. Consider this. Mystical or religious experiences have four common components: constant awareness of one’s own inevitable death, total focus on the present moment, the valuing of other people’s lives above one’s own, and being part of a larger religious community such as the Sangha, ummah, or church. All four of these exist in combat.

Most of us, including me, would prefer to think of a sacred space as some light-filled wondrous place where we can feel good and find a way to shore up our psyches against death. We don’t want to think that something as ugly and brutal as combat could be involved in any way with the spiritual. However, would any practicing Christian say that Calvary Hill was not a sacred space? (p. 7-8)

Just prior to this quote he tells of a harrowing experience where he was in charge of a small band of men defending US interests with no opportunity for backup. Decisions he made led to the deaths of enemies and fellow marines. In a break in the action, a chaplain was flown in bringing, “several bottles of Southern Comfort and some new dirty jokes.” (p. 7) He tells how this “help” wasn’t what he really needed,

I felt responsible for the lives and deaths of my companions. I was struggling with a situation approaching the sacred in it terror and contact with the infinite, and he was trying to numb me to it. I needed help with the existential terror of my own death and responsibility for the death of others, enemies and friends, not Southern Comfort. I needed a spiritual guide. (p. 7)

Consider the book if you live with, love, or work with a veteran of combat.


Filed under Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Psychology, ptsd

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.


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

Stopping seasonal high anxieties: Some strategies and a better goal

For most people, anxiety is a looped internal conversation. It just keeps starting over even when we don’t want to listen to it anymore.

The Christmas season we’re in can make anyone quite anxious. (Don’t think so, watch this fun video to remind you why.) Those of us naturally anxious and ruminative find the added responsibilities, family stresses, and disappointments just adding fuel to the fire. You try to take a moment to rest but all you can do is think about what is yet to be done or what you tried to do but failed. You pray but before you finish you are back to your worries. You distract yourself but the looped fears keep running in the background.

What helps you decrease your anxieties and repetitive worries? Can you really suppress them? Or should you have another goal in mind than just trying to shut them down? Are there any practical strategies that work?

Practical Strategies?

Daniel Wegner gave a short award address on this topic at the 2011 APA convention (now found in v. 66:8 of the American Psychologist, pp 671-680). In the address he tells us what we already know. It is hard to suppress thoughts in a direct manner (e.g., I won’t think about how much work I have to do). So, Wegner focuses on indirect strategies. Here is a sample of strategies with empirical support:

  • focused distraction
    • pre-planned alternative topic to think about when the rumination starts. Benefit? Avoids mind wandering which will more quickly return to the anxiety. Example: Every time I think about the conflict at work I will focus on a comforting favorite verse or an upcoming happy occasion.
  • Stress and load avoidance
    • Overall reduction of stress helps reduce unwanted/anxious thoughts. Focused distraction helps only to a point. Overwork which may provide some distraction will increase anxious thoughts over time.
  • Thought postponement
    • Choosing to postpone anxiety to a set time can work to reduce the amount of rumination experienced.  Example: I’ll spend time worrying about my visiting in-laws at 4:30 pm.
  • Acceptance
    • Instead of fighting and arguing with fears some find it helpful to observe fears without taking action. There is some evidence that those who accept the occurrence of unwanted thoughts have less distress than those who fight the thoughts.

Wegner goes on to mention other strategies (i.e., planned exposure, mindfulness, focused breathing, self-affirmation, hypnosis, and journaling) for reducing unwanted thoughts.

 A Different Goal?

What if the goal isn’t to remove or end unwanted thoughts and anxieties but to cope with them and not to be dragged along by them? Does this sound like failure to trust God? Failure to be at peace? if the goal is to trust God in the midst of uncertainty and anxiety, what would that look like? How would you know that you were doing well? To do this we would need to give up on the goal of having an absence of anxiety and to reimagine peace as something one can have in the midst of angst. After all, we are not seeking to be absent from this world but to live in the world that is full of chaos and uncertainty.

Here are two goals you might consider:

  • Being okay with things not done to perfection and with the disappointment of others who have come to expect perfection from you
  • Experiencing anxious thoughts as normal and yet savoring moments of rest when they present themselves
  • Using one strategy for anxiety reduction each day

So, how do you measure your seasonal high anxieties and what goal do you seek to reach during this Christmas season?


Filed under Anxiety, Psychology, Uncategorized

Meeting with someone who harmed you: What do you need to know?

Harm. Abuse. Accident. There are any number of ways that one human or an institution can harm another. Some “harm” is intended, others unintended. Some completely accidental, others planned and still others the result of unthinking and self-focused neglect.

How you feel about the harm likely has something to do with your assessment of the motives and intent behind the harmful behavior. Now, imagine for a minute that you were about to meet with someone who harmed you in a significant way. Do you know what their motives were at the time of the harm? Do you know how they think about it now? Further, do you know what you think about concepts such as forgiveness and reconciliation? Repentance?

It is my experience that we sometimes rush individuals to meet and reconcile with someone who has harmed them before gathering some important data. Before you meet with someone who has harmed you, consider the following questions in order to clarify what you think and believe:

1. Of the person who harmed me:

  • the intention behind their harmful behavior and their intention behind this meeting (if they requested it)
    • Did they intend to hurt me?
    • Do they want to apologize? Do they want to blame me?
  • their understanding of harm they caused and their current feelings now
    • Do they really believe they caused me harm?
    • Are they remorseful?
    • Have they made changes in their life so this won’t happen again?
  • their current relationship desires and expectations
    • Are they looking for me to forgive them? To forget? To take ownership of a portion of the problem?
    • Do they expect me to act as if it never happened?
    • Do they want me to release them from the consequences?
    • Do they want an ongoing relationship? Do I have the freedom to choose?

2.Of myself

  • Am I ready to speak the truth in love?
    • Am I tempted to sugarcoat the truth? Rage?
    • Am I tempted to offer forgiveness too quickly, too slowly?
  • Do I see the offender as no different from myself, in need of mercy?
  • Do I know what outcome I desire?
  • Am I willing to give a fair hearing rather than prejudge?
  • Do I know the difference between justice and revenge?
  • Do I know the differences between reconciliation, restitution, restoration, and repentance?
  • Do I know what forgiveness looks and feels like (and what it does not look and feel like)?
  • Do I want to forgive even if the person asking for forgiveness doesn’t seem to get how badly they hurt me?

3. Of the system

  • What are the human system consequences of meeting/not meeting. Similarly, what are the consequences of reconciling/not reconciling, forgiving/not forgiving?
  • What are the system pressures/expectations on me?
  • What promises does God provide in the kingdom system? What protections? What comforts?
  • What expectations does God place on Believers? Does the command to forgive mean to forget or live as if it never happened?

It is important to be prayerful as we answer these questions. The intensity of the meeting and the swirling emotions will make it hard for us to evaluate ourselves, the offender, and the system. The more preparation, the better shot we will for being at peace with our responses to a difficult situation.



Filed under Abuse, biblical counseling, Christianity

Surprised by peace? Surprised by suffering? What do you expect?

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What is your baseline perspective on life? Do you tend to believe that life should work pretty well and are surprised when suffering and pain enter your life? Or, do you tend to believe that life is hard and are surprised and pleased when it is not so hard or when you have moments of peace?

Perspective is pretty much everything. If you are driving during rush hour and you expect that traffic will be really bad but it turns out to be better than you feared, you probably feel great. But, if you were thinking your drive would take you one hour but it took two, you probably feel a bit frustrated. Both drivers might travel exactly the same amount of time but have opposite perspectives.

Expectations shape our feelings and perceptions of how life is going for us. Now, I am NOT arguing that if you just think happy thoughts, you won’t be bothered by problems in this life. No matter your perspective, you will suffer. To think otherwise would be denial of reality. But behind most of our “this is not fair…why would God allow this…I’m not sure I want to believe in a God who allows pain to happen” kind of comments are some assumptions and expectations that reveal what we believe life should be like.

Consider these assumptions or expectations. See one that gets you?

1. Life should be fair and should work. This could be called the Jonah perspective. Yes it should. But since sin entered the world, it isn’t. Instead of blaming God, might we not want to notice how many times in life, things are fair, just, and good? Might we not want to see that God is giving us better than we deserve? How might that mindset modify our general view of God’s care for us?

2. I have sacrificed much for God, why hasn’t he given my good and decent desires)? This one is similar to the 1st point but focuses along the lines of Psalm 73. Fairness is seen along the lines of righteousness. The good guys get blessings and the bad guys get suffering. If we hold this expectation then it is common to feel gypped when we don’t get our good desires met.

3. Suffering is something that is temporary, something to get through. This is an American viewpoint. We can overcome obstacles, we can heal the sick, we can fix problems. Once we get our education, get married, get the job we wanted, get our 401Ks then life will be good.


Filed under Christianity, Doctrine/Theology, Insight, suffering

Healing, recovery, restoration and other words for “getting better”

Recovered. Healed. Better. Restored. Resolved. Whole. What words do you use when describing positive change regarding traumatic events like abuse, the pain of adultery, or other like experiences? And more importantly, what do those words convey to yourself and others?

Why am I thinking about this? Soon, I will begin teaching an on-line summer class called “Healing Trauma in International Settings.” To be honest, I’m a little uncomfortable with the title I chose. Words matter and “Healing” conveys a message. Imagine replacing “healing trauma” with

Trauma treatment

Trauma recovery

Trauma care

Now, maybe I’m being overly sensitive but consider some of these other kinds of problems we face

  • You break your tibia during an aggressive move on the basketball court. Your leg heals and you go back to your basketball playing. Here we use healing to denote that you regained your former capacity to play sports. You are back to normal or near normal.
  • You cut your finger while slicing vegetables. You go to the hospital to get stitches. While you have a scar, your finger heals and you use it again. In time you have only a slight scar to remind you of that day.
  • Your house sustains a fire. You lose belongings. Your insurance company restores your house and replaces your possessions.
  • Your car is stolen. The police recover it and return it to you (with fuzzy dice attached)
  • You have a protracted conflict with a family member. At some point, you have a heart to heart and resolve your differences.

My examples all convey a resolution of a problem where the problem recedes, maybe even disappears. But what about trauma? Is there a form of resolution and healing of rape or sexual abuse or domestic violence where the memories disappear? Should there be? Wouldn’t forgetting these experiences place the person in danger of living in unreality and, in some cases, at risk of re-injury? Here are some important questions:

  • What does healing from an affair look like? How do you know you have “recovered”? What symptoms or experiences would remain?
  • What does healing from a rape look like? What would be expected if you “pretty well recovered”? What is to be expected to not change?

As a counselor I do not want to under or over-sell the recovery process. Victims do find tremendous healing but to assume all vestiges of a traumatic experience go away would be false. Unfortunately, we who have not been traumatized sometimes expect the kind of recovery where victims go back to a way of life and thinking as if the trauma never happened.

If we are honest, we wish to live in a world without lasting consequences from sin and suffering.

We want people to “get over” their pain and go back to a way of life as if it never happened. It would be like asking a person who lost a leg to hope they will run exactly like they did before losing the leg. Indeed, they may run again. But never as fast and never as easy. There will be a stump to care for, a hip to learn new motion, phantom pains to re-interpret, and limits to accept.

This world of limits is one God wants us to live in and one we detest. Our first parents saw the limits of their wisdom and desired to get wisdom on their own. We too love the happily ever after story where humans obtain health and healing apart from limitations. We tell the stories of miraculous healing as if we no longer live in a broken world.

Let us endeavor to tell true stories of healing that glorify God and remind us that we depend upon him for every breath.


Filed under Abuse, adultery, biblical counseling, christian counseling, christian psychology, Christianity, counseling, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Uncategorized

Why addictive behavior is so hard to resist

Why are addictive behaviors, well, so hard to resist? We know they are bad for us. We know they won’t give us what we ultimately want. We’ve had times where we assure ourselves that we will not return to behaviors that have hurt us in the past…and hurt our families. We’re sure we would never find them appealing again.

And then we find ourselves returning to the habit again.

I’ve written more recent blog posts here and here on the topic of addictions (you can also use the search engine on this page to find others). You may also check out my “Slides, Articles, etc.” for links to talks on the cycle of addiction. Here, I want to help non-addicts take the mystery out of why addictions are so addicting.

It is quite simple, really. Addictions work–in the short run.§  Here’s out they work:

  1. I feel a particular “need” (craving, desire, want, …and I feel desperate about the “need”
  2. I solve the need with something that fills the need, at least temporarily.

Think about it. You wouldn’t drink alcohol for 2 days in order to get the benefit. You drink because in 20 minutes you will get the benefit. You wouldn’t view porn for a week in order to finally get some payoff. You view porn to get the pay off now.

Of course, when we solve with the addictive behavior, we rarely calculate the cost because the cost does not seem all that nearby. But the cost is there nonetheless. Cover-ups, deception, use leads to shame, self-hatred, distance from family, and ironically, increased desires or “need.”

On the other hand, “waiting” delays the use of the “substance.” When waiting includes using spiritual resources, friends, and other helpful mechanisms, it often encourages careful self-assessment. In time, the “need” may become more distant and the addict may come to see how unhelpful the “substance” really is. In Christian terms, this casting our burdens/desires on the Lord reminds us that we are not in the fight alone.

Why is it so hard to resist addictive behavior? Because they always give a pay off now. And Godly, wise, mature, delay or waiting tactics will never pay off in the immediate at the same rate of power. Praying IS powerful but God is not a vending machine and so praying rarely gives a person a cellular high.

If you are walking alongside an addict, remember that addictions make lots of sense and resisting almost always means increased pain, angst, and desire. So be sure to encourage them along the way. Telling them that their “I need” isn’t accurate may be true but probably won’t help them let go of desire. Rather, try hanging out with them in the “decision” spot pictured above. Sometimes when we delay deciding to use for a bit, we actually gain capacity to say no.



§By “work” I mean how we move from desire to action. I am not speaking here of the biological processes of addiction.


Filed under addiction, christian counseling

God Behaving Badly – InterVarsity Press

David Lamb, a colleague, as just published a book with InterVarsity Press entitled, God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist, and Racist? If you have found yourself asking or being asked this question, you might find this book a help. Dave doesn’t shirk from the questions that most find difficult to answer. Plus, the book is VERY easy to read. He interjects personal stories and funny media depictions of God in such a way as to illustrate his points (What do Bruce Almighty and Elijah have in common?) and does not use highly esoteric language found in some OT oriented books.

I believe you will be hooked right from his first question on page 1: “How does one reconcile the loving God of the Old Testament with the harsh God of the New Testament.”  Don’t we usually ask this the other way around? You’ll see David has been thinking about these topics for some time.

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Filed under Biblical Reflection, Biblical Seminary, Uncategorized

What is the proper response to Bin Laden’s death?

Last night as the news media began telling of Bin Laden’s demise I began contemplating this question: What is a proper response to his death or, for that matter, the death of any oppressor, abuser or grossly unjust person? What is the right response?

Celebration? I heard one person say they were not celebrating death but were celebrating the end of a mass murderer. Glee? Wishing him well in hell? Praising justice or vengeance? Confidence? (immediately, news outlets were noting futures for markets and the US dollar were on the rise and oil futures were on the decline)

Or, should we merely mark it with somber reflection on all those who died at his hand or in the attempt to bring him to justice over the past ten years?

Is there a best response? Here are some words that come to mind:

  • Relief. Something undone has been completed. At least one era has come to an end. One person seeking harm to another can do no more.
  • Joy. Now this is a complex emotion. You will see at the bottom I do not think we ought to gloat. But joy is a proper emotion when right is defended and wrong is put away. Now, this emotion needs tempering because in this world, we can easily defend righteousness with wrong actions and motives. You damage me so I, in turn, take out my wrath on your family. So, our joy must be tempered by the knowledge that “they” are not always evil and “we” are not always good.
  • Satisfaction. Any time justice is served, there is a level of satisfaction or vindication. Never fully experienced in this life, but in bits and pieces. (Of course there will be ongoing conversation about whether this was carried out in a just manner)
  • Remembrance. Of those who died as victims to a tyrant (and their families), of those who died trying to bring a tyrant to justice.
  • Reflection. Several kinds of reflections are quite appropriate. First, it is good and right to reflect on justice as a key character of God. Such reflection ought to cause us also to reflect on our own need for mercy in light of our own failings. We can reflect on how we want to handle future tyrants and how we speak about those who are quite different from us.
  • Pray. We can pray for peace. We can pray for protection of those who still serve in harm’s way. Pray for an end to the training of malleable children into practices of war, whether a child suicide bomber in the Middle East or a child soldier in the Congo.  We can pray that we will not turn a blind eye to injustices within our own communities. It is deadly to think that injustice is only in other countries. Remember, turning a blind eye to injustice in our midst is being complicit with the actual act of injustice.

While joy is a proper response to justice (Prov 21:15), I would think we ought not celebrate or gloat. Proverbs 24:17 tells us not to gloat when our enemy stumbles. But later in the same chapter it does tell us that there will be blessing for those who convict the guilty. Let God be the author of that and let us not attempt to bless ourselves.

If we rejoice, we ought to rejoice that God is in heaven and that our names are written in the book of life (Luke 10:20). Rejoice that all things here will pass away and one day there will be no more need for armies and warfare.


Filed under Abuse, Christianity, news, News and politics, sin

Suffering and infertility

Some 18-19 years ago my wife and I were struggling with the secret pain of infertility. When everyone around seemed to be getting pregnant we couldn’t…and didn’t. Now, almost 2 decades later, the pain is a distant event in the past. I hesitate to say this because too often suffering people are patted on the back and given trite words of “encouragement”, but…I am thankful for the suffering because it has improved my sense of compassion for others and also my awareness of how God meets us in our pain.

But make no mistake, it wasn’t easy. And I don’t want to go through it again.

Some years ago we wrote about our experience and our spiritual struggles in an essay in the Journal of Biblical Counseling (CCEF’s journal). I mention all this because a friend of mine on staff at a church in NC wrote a short note about it (following a sermon on Zechariah and Elizabeth) and linked to the journal article. You can read my friend Brad’s intro here in their church blog.

Funny thing, this article seems to get more comments from readers than all of the other writings I’ve published put together. I guess it really touches a nerve. And not just with infertile couples. We’ve had comments from those who have had other kinds of losses as well.


Filed under "phil monroe", CCEF, christian counseling, Christianity, parenting, suffering