Category Archives: Suffering

DESTROYER OF THE gods

Here’s a snippet from my interview with Larry Hurtado of the University of Edinburgh:

Moore: It’s become somewhat of a self-evident truth that early Christianity only appealed to the down and out. Is that accurate to the historical record?

Hurtado: For several decades now that old notion has been discredited among scholars of early Christianity. Studies of the people named and described in earliest Christian texts show that, right from the earliest years, they included craftsmen, merchants, and owners of businesses. Of course, there were also slaves and poor among believers. By at least the second century, there were also believers from upper levels of Roman society. That upward progress socially is likely part of what prompted pagan sophisticates such as Celsus to attack Christianity so vehemently.

The full interview is here:

Larry Hurtado: An Interview

THE PHARMACIST OF AUSCHWITZ

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https://www.amazon.com/Pharmacist-Auschwitz-Untold-Story-ebook/dp/B01M8KHLF0

I have developed a “Moore’s Law of Reading” that helps me see whether a book was worth my time or not. I first count my marginal notes. I then check out the total number of pages of the book. If my marginal notes add up to at least half the number of pages, the book is either important (say something by Nietzsche whom I mightily disagree with), or a book that I appreciated very much. With The Pharmacist of Auschwitz, both categories are true.

Reading about the concentration camps is tough. For me, I kept avoiding books like Night by Elie Wiesel and Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. I finally broke down and read both. I’m glad I did, but these kinds of books make me terribly sad and cry for justice. As a Christian, I find my sanity in the belief that God will one day make all things right. But I “live by faith and not sight” so the struggle for sanity in the interim is a daily battle.

I call Patricia (aka Trisha) Posner “Detective Posner” because she was relentless in accumulating the salient details in telling a little known story. The story revolves around a pharmacist named Victor Capesius. Capesius was involved in all kinds of heinous activities while working at the infamous Auschwitz camp.

Posner does a great job of teasing out the relevant details that make you see how such a “normal” person could be complicit in such barbarity. The ruthlessness of the Nazis is maddening to make sense of. Posner describes some of the ghoulish things the Nazis did, but does not overdo it. It’s not easy to tell a story full of dark realities and not get lost in all the depressing things that transpired. Posner does a good job of walking a tightrope between being true to the story, but not indulging the prurient interests of some.

There are many other things I appreciate about this book, but I will close with one more. Posner does a nice job of contextualizing the story of Capesius in the overall story of the Nazis. In telling the larger story of the Nazis you are reminded of how sinister their approach to life was. The insanity of the Nazis was demonstrated in many ways, like worshiping their dogs, but treating the Jews as less than animals. As a Christian, it reminded me of the perversity the apostle Paul speaks of in Romans 1.


I highly recommend this book, with the caveat lector that one be at least high school age.

COMPLAINTS, LAMENTS, AND STILL CONTENT

As I get older (58 now) I noticed rather effortlessly that two things dominated my prayers: please come soon Lord to make everything right, and a corollary of “God, do you know how hard it is to live in this world”?  Complaints and laments, but still content in Christ.  I’m glad Scripture gives a much more expansive vocabulary than many of us American Christians have been led to believe. 

MINISTERING TO THOSE WITH PHYSICAL AILMENTS

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Many of us experience awkwardness when we see someone whose physical struggle limits a “normal life.”  They may be paralyzed or missing a limb.  Whatever the problem, I believe a Gnostic-like understanding of the body, even for too many evangelical Christians, makes us unable to minister more holistically to those who battle with daily pain and the limits placed on them by physical problems.

MAKING SENSE OF MADNESS

Carlos Eire, eminent professor of history and religious studies at Yale helpfully explains the mythical spell of Fidel Castro:

Oddly enough, some will mourn his passing, and many an obituary will praise him… Because deceit was one of Fidel Castro’s greatest talents, and gullibility is one of the world’s greatest frailties. A genius at myth-making, Castro relied on the human thirst for myths and heroes. His lies were beautiful, and so appealing. According to Castro and to his propagandists, the so-called revolution was not about creating a repressive totalitarian state and securing his rule as an absolute monarch, but rather about eliminating illiteracy, poverty, racism, class differences and every other ill known to humankind. This bold lie became believable, thanks largely to Castro’s incessant boasting about free schools and medical care, which made his myth of the benevolent utopian revolution irresistible to many of the world’s poor.

Many intellectuals, journalists and educated people in the First World fell for this myth, too — though they would have been among the first to be jailed or killed by Castro in his own realm — and their assumptions acquired an intensity similar to that of religious convictions. Pointing out to such believers that Castro imprisoned, tortured and murdered thousands more of his own people than any other Latin American dictator was usually futile. His well-documented cruelty made little difference, even when acknowledged, for he was judged according to some aberrant ethical code that defied logic.

The rest is here.  HT: Alan Jacobs

http://https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/global-opinions/farewell-to-cubas-brutal-big-brother/2016/11/26/d369affe-0eeb-11e6-bfa1-4efa856caf2a_story.html?postshare=1341480166071356&tid=ss_tw&utm_term=.ee07ecbf5211

 

SUFFERING BIBLE: CRITICAL REVIEW

Here is my Patheos review of a new Bible:

I am currently writing a book (and speaking in various places) about what it means to trust God when suffering intersects our lives. It is the culmination of thirty years of wrestling with the issue…and not just theoretically.

My dear friend, John, who himself has experienced much suffering recommended this new Beyond Suffering Bible. (https://www.amazon.com/Beyond-Suffering-Bible-NLT-Struggles/dp/1414395582) The good folks at Tyndale graciously sent me a copy.

I received a paperback version. I’m not sure whether the thin pages apply to other versions, but this one has extremely delicate paper. As an inveterate note-taker, I would prefer thicker paper. I know the arguments against thicker paper, but that is definitely my preference.

The idea behind this Bible is terrific. Joni Eareckson Tada is a great model to lead this project. Her reflections, which pepper the text throughout, are realistic, joy-filled, and honor God. Other contributors add their own reflections.

My main disappointment is with the scant commentary. Some significant verses related to suffering are passed over (e.g. Job 2:13; II Cor. 7:6), verses that are commonly taken out of context receive no commentary (Jer. 29:11; Lam. 3:22,23), and other verses commonly taken out of context receive too little commentary (Rom. 8:28; I Cor. 10:13). For this last example, the commentator does not commit the common error of saying I Cor. 10:13 is a proof text for “God never giving you more than you can handle.” I am glad for that, but it is unfortunate that the commentary here did not make clear that the context is addressing idols. The promise is that God will never allow us to be unduly tempted to believe loyalty to idols is our salvation rather than the true God.

Since many Christians struggle with the reality that God has indeed given them more than they can handle, this is a crucial area that should have been addressed.

I like the heart behind this Bible, but further editions should include many other relevant verses on suffering, and offer more teaching on popular verses we thought we knew already.

 

 

 

SERIOUSLY DANGEROUS RELIGION

https://www.amazon.com/Seriously-Dangerous-Religion-Testament-Matters/dp/1481300237

There are many things to like about Provan’s book.

The writing is lucid and engaging. Provan is an author who wants his readers to understand his arguments. You don’t scratch your head wondering what he really means. This seems rather basic, but if you read a lot you learn it is not something you can always assume.

Provan is certainly tethered to Scripture, but I appreciated his integrative approach. Provan uses a wonderful array of sources from history, philosophy, and popular culture.

One of my favorite things about the book are the contrasts Provan teases out between Christianity and other world religions. These insights are worded in a way that I have not seen in any other book. They provide compelling testimony to the uniqueness of Christianity.

I don’t agree with the author on some matters, such as the extent of the Fall’s effects. However, even when I did disagree with Provan, it got me thinking in new ways that were beneficial.

Last, I read this book because I thought it would show how the more difficult claims of/about God, especially in the Old Testament, were compatible with His grace. There is some of this for sure, but I would have liked to see more interaction with the thornier issues in the Old Testament.

All in all, an extremely worthwhile read.

SILENCE AND BEAUTY

https://www.amazon.com/Silence-Beauty-Hidden-Faith-Suffering/dp/0830844597

I am writing a book on how to trust God in the midst of suffering. Recent reads were Endo’s Silence followed by Makoto Fujimura’s Silence and Beauty. I made over 200 marginal notes in the pages of Endo’s Silence. It is an extremely important work for Christians to digest deeply.

Usually a commentary on a great book may be helpful and illuminating, but hardly of the caliber of the classic. This book may break this regular rule.

Fujimura’s reflections on Endo’s classic work are simply stunning. Silence and Beauty is a wonderful companion to Endo’s Silence. In fact, I would argue that Fujimura’s Silence and Beauty is indispensable to reading Endo’s work. Silence and Beauty takes you into the heart of Japanese culture and rituals. It helps you understand why Christianity is such a threat to its cultural ethos.

Silence and Beauty is wonderfully conceived and full of compelling insights. Highly recommended.