Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue


Patton Dodd: Optimism Is Depressing (But Hope Isn’t!)

posted by Beyond Blue

Since I chopped Patton’s essay into so many pieces in my interview, I figured some of you guys might like to read it without so many interruptions. Instructions: Please print it out and give it to the next person who tells you that you have the power to control absolutely everything with your thoughts.
To see the original essay, click here. Below is my reprint, with permission, of course:

Long before “The Secret” had readers talking about how we attract good or bad things to ourselves according to how we think, I was a young convert to Christianity who believed that the message of Jesus was, well, that we attract good or bad things to ourselves according to how we think.
It was 1994, I was a new Christian, I was tender of heart, and I was impressionable. At the Pentecostal university I attended, not everyone embraced what is known as “the prosperity gospel,” but somehow I was drawn to people for whom prosperity teaching—the idea that God wants us healthy and wealthy—was part and parcel of the life of faith.
So, I carefully considered the counsel of a fellow student who told me that if I had faith, I’d never have another cold. I prayed alongside a fellow student who “claimed in faith” that God would provide him with a new Toyota 4×4. Passages like Mark 11:23-24, where Jesus says that anyone who has enough faith can cause a mountain to leap into the sea, began to haunt me as standard-bearers for whether I had faith at all.

And then I lost my faith. I’ll not blame prosperity teaching alone for my years of pained spiritual searching. But it was a lie that was hard to shake. To this day, when I have a bad day or a great need, somewhere in my mind is a voice accusing me of not having enough faith.
That is the legacy of the prosperity gospel. It’s a perversion of Christianity that encourages empty optimism and false faith. I hope it fizzles out before the end of my lifetime, but indications are that it will only grow.
The prosperity gospel goes by various names (Word-Faith, Word of Faith, and more) and many forms, from Joel Osteen’s squishy “Just smile and receive happiness” approach to Creflo Dollar’s direct name-it-and-claim-it approach to Bishop Bernard Jordan’s “laws of thinking” approach. No matter its guise—and some practitioners, like Osteen, don’t admit to being practitioners—Christian prosperity teaching emphasizes one or more of these doctrines:
– God wants to bless you with health and wealth;
– Health and wealth are a sign of God’s favor;
– Having the right thoughts and professing the right beliefs are the keys to receiving God’s blessings.
In other words, you gotta believe it to receive it. And in still other words, the opposite is true: if you confess the wrong beliefs or think the wrong thoughts, you can expect to get the wrong stuff. What you think and say is what you get.
As Kenneth Hagin, the father of the Word-Faith movement, put it: “Say it, do it, receive it, tell it.” As Rhonda Byrne, author of “The Secret,” puts it: “Ask. Believe. Receive.”
Rhonda Byrne is not a Christian prosperity preacher. But her message is a close cousin of the beliefs of millions of Christians who are influenced by prosperity teaching. Note Ed Gungor, who says that the main problem with “The Secret” is that it doesn’t tell people about Jesus. Note Bishop Bernard Jordan, who tells us he affirms Byrne’s message, and whose book “The Laws of Thinking” is basically a longer, clunkier, Christian-y version of “The Secret.”
Most of all, note the biggest movement happening in global Christianity: the rise of prosperity-oriented Pentecostalism in the southern Hemisphere, where, to be sure, the message that life can be better is a godsend for the impoverished. The current Christianity Today cover story observes this rise, showing how Christianity in Africa has been greatly influenced by the American prosperity gospel and reporting the results of a 2006 Pew Forum survey, where 80-96% of Africans surveyed (in three different African countries) said they believe God grants material wealth to people who have enough faith.
“The Secret” and its Christian cousins are not flash-in-the-pan cultural trends. In some quarters, the Power of Positive Thinking has all the authority of doctrine. “Be optimistic” is the new gospel, and God’s core message to humankind is: Chin up!
Needless to say—well, almost—the Bible and the long tradition of Judeo-Christian thinking affirm the value of keeping a glad heart. For those of us who struggle with despair, the notion that God loves and can empower you is a regenerating one. Mark Galli has observed what’s right about “The Secret,” and scholars have shown that prosperity teaching can inspire the impoverished to overcome their circumstances.
But such a balanced viewpoint is fair to the whole of biblical witness in a way that prosperity teaching and the Gospel of Optimism almost never are. The idea that positive thinking always attracts good things to you runs smack up against the biblical witness, from (this could be a long list, but I’ll keep it brief) Job to David to Isaiah’s condemnation of a people who said “peace, peace, where there is no peace” to, most of all, the suffering of Jesus—which, I might note, he prayed to be spared of. (Did his prayer go unanswered because he was being too negative?)
The message of the Bible is not that there is power in positive thinking. The message of the Bible is that sometimes we have power, and sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we have plenty, sometimes we have little. In both states, God is sovereign.
The Bible is not a guide to optimism. It is a guide to hope.
What’s the difference? The philosopher Cornel West has marked it as well as anyone. West says that optimism is a belief that things will turn out as you want them to—we might say it is faith in the law of attraction. Optimism begins in the self—desire for what you want is the basis for belief and action. Hope is different—it’s a conviction that something must be, because it is right and it is just, and you are prepared to fight for it regardless of the circumstances. Hope makes claims on you and pushes you beyond yourself.
Hope is neither optimistic nor pessimistic: it is realistic. With hope, you can acknowledge your current circumstances—Jesus suffering in anguish in the garden—you can want for something better—Let this cup pass from me—and still know that your life has meaning and value beyond your pain—Not my will but yours be done.
Optimism doesn’t let you acknowledge what’s wrong with your life; it encourages you to lie to yourself, and over the course of the years, to live in willful blindness to your real problems. Optimism tells you to be positive no matter the circumstances—which, if you can’t keep it up, is a recipe for depression. Hope lets you be honest about the circumstances, and still urges you to look toward something better. The testimony of the Apostle Paul, Augustine, John Calvin, Flannery O’Connor, Dorothy Day, and many other Christian saints attests to the power of hope.
Hope is part of the longstanding tradition of the Christian faith because it allows you to admit the condition of your life, warts and all, and trust that God can recreate that condition. That’s the story that we’re invited to participate in: God is at work renewing all things. Some of his work is now, and some of it is eventual, but we’re called to have hope and join in that work. That—as I learned in those years of spiritual searching—is what it means to believe. Faith is found not in getting your best life now, but in having hope.



  • Larry Parker

    This is brilliant beyond (albeit embracing, of course!) belief …

  • Chinamom

    Great essay! I grew up with neo-pentecostal parents who weren’t well off financially and who loved the prosperity (and healing) teachers of the 1970’s and 80’s. It was always hard for me to reconcile present circumstances, i.e., what we couldn’t afford, with the teachings, especially later as a young adult when I was struggling to make ends meet. But, hope really is something different, and I can do hope. Hope is an attitude and philosophy that I can choose even if I’m not feeling particularly optimistic.
    I do believe there’s some truth to The Secret and similar philosophies in that it’s easier to be, do or have something if you ask for it, believe you’re going to get it, see yourself having it, etc. I’ve done this successfully at a few times in my life, attempting some against-all-odds kinds of goals and actually achieving them. When you ask, believe and visualize, though, aren’t you just setting a goal, putting yourself on a path, training your brain, etc.? That’s not to say that God isn’t working through the whole thing, but as a very wise adult asked me back in high school, when you pray, who changes, you or God? Perhaps a lot of the time, the change is in you.
    On the other hand I’ve sometimes failed when I’ve wanted something just as much, or achieved goals far later in life than I would have wanted. The reasons for any of this aren’t always clear.

  • Cully

    how interesting (spookie music)… I just posted a comment to Larry’s comment in my journal where he has suggested this very essay (and his comment was weeks ago).
    re: “”The Secret” and its Christian cousins are not flash-in-the-pan cultural trends. In some quarters, the Power of Positive Thinking has all the authority of doctrine. “Be optimistic” is the new gospel, and God’s core message to humankind is: Chin up!”
    To me “The Secret” and the prosperity gospels all loose their validity because they start out talking about G-d and end up saying, “you can have more money, a bigger house, a new car, a great job etc.,” which is all good but isn’t connected to G-d. We may want it all but why? Is it to keep up with or impress the *Jones’* (who btw don’t even know or care that you are alive) or is it to be of some purpose in the greater scheme of things?
    as for the optimism/count your blessing thing… I feel like I (we) should be greatful for the good things/happy times I have and have had. Some years ago, a co-worker had called me out for being “Susie Sunshine” and a Polyanna. I was taken aback since I had never thought of myself in that way (always happy and blindly optimistic). I felt that whatever we had to deal with away from work we could (to some degree) escape at work. My crew and I had a great relationship, the co-worker didn’t have that on thier shift. There were days when (like here on BB) we held eachother up or left eachother alone – whatever was needed; but, our problems were not the topic of conversation at work. My point is (at last!!) that we don’t know what is really going on in someone else’s life (and even if we do…), sometimes their “optimism” is their refuge, their life preserver, because if they don’t have someplace where they can laugh and smile then they will have to be in the black pit 24 by 7.
    re: “That’s not to say that God isn’t working through the whole thing, but as a very wise adult asked me back in high school, when you pray, who changes, you or God? Perhaps a lot of the time, the change is in you.”
    Posted by: Chinamom | January 11, 2008 12:51 PM
    There is an old practice that says that when we pray we should pay close attention to what we are saying – the words, and how we are saying the words. Since I took this to heart, I have seen the change in me.
    Blessings,
    Cully

  • Steve C.

    I have read several books explaining the principles behind “The Secret” and “the prosperity gospel”. IMHO it’s all about using your optimism and faith to give yourself the strength and determination to work out a detailed plan that will allow you to attain or achieve anything you want through hard work and perseverance. Not just by praying to the supernatural or wishing and hoping that your Fairy Godmother will take care of you. The long-standing principles of hard work, reasoned thought, and self-discipline.
    WiseSteven

  • Larry Parker

    Steve:
    As Patton correctly notes, “The Secret” has nothing whatsoever to do with hard work, reasoned thought, and self-discipline.
    It teaches that if you visualize something, it will happen.
    I seem to recall a “Twilight Zone” episode with that plot — about a little kid who blew up the rest of the world and terrorized his family with the constant threat of death to boot.

  • Anonymous

    Re -Patton Dodd: Optimism Is Depressing (But Hope Isn’t!)
    the message of Jesus was, well, that we attract good or bad things to ourselves according to how we think.
    ** Bingo ! The problem, is not many of us actually read the bible, but took the word or the Word as gospel from speakers and preachers. I’m now 66, and I have only just begun to understand what Yeshuah/Jesus was trying to say, only 18 years ago !
    the idea that God wants us healthy and wealthy—was part and parcel of the life of faith.
    ** Which has been the core of Judaic Theology from the beginning. Of course the downside is, if you are not healthy and wealthy, then God does not favor you (how depressing is that !)
    Jesus says that anyone who has enough faith can cause a mountain to leap into the sea, began to haunt me as standard-bearers for whether I had faith at all.
    ** That’s a little bit of God’s sense of humor, that nobody thinks is one dam bit funny, but God ! (and me too !) I love telling all these dyed in the wool, Born Again Christians “So, you say you got a lot of faith?” and the immediately come back “Absolutely ! It couldn’t be any stronger!” . . . “OK, let’s see you command that mountain to leap into the sea” (dead silence) . . . Tell you what, let’s start a little smaller (an so I pick up a grain of sand, and place it about 6 inches away from stick or a line on the ground) . . .(still silence, but the air is starting to get heavy) . . . “What ? You want me to move it closer ? . . and closer . .and closer (it is now right next to the line, and there is still silence, behind a very red face !) . . .You want me turn around so you can nudge it over the line with your food ? . . . I think the holes in my hands and feet should heal in a few weeks, the pain in my side may take a bit longer though ! Truthfull ! None of us have very much faith, do we, and dam little in Love, and how it can change the face of the earth. And that’s the kind of faith that Yeshuah had ! Are you ready and willing to walk a mile in that guy’s shoes ? . . . Hmmmmmm!
    the suffering of Jesus—which, I might note, he prayed to be spared of. (Did his prayer go unanswered because he was being too negative?)
    ** I believe the final part of that prayer is “Thy will be done” . . .”Be careful what you ask or pray for, you just might get it !” (Just a warning, don’t say stupid prayers, I did, and every one of them were fulfilled !)
    Sometimes we have plenty, sometimes we have little. In both states, God is sovereign.
    ** It is not a blessing or a sin to be rich or poor ! This is all about “freewill” as it applies to Love . . and that would be Uncompromising, Unconditional Love . . How’re we making out with that, so far ?
    The Bible is not a guide to optimism. It is a guide to hope.
    ** Actually, it is a record of all that we have done right . . and wrong in this world, since the beginning of Time . . . “There is nothing new under the Son (or is that Sun ?)”
    Optimism doesn’t let you acknowledge what’s wrong with your life
    ** Wrong ! Optimism is the hope that things will get better. Pessimism is the faith that it won’t get better !
    The Optimist says the glass is half full . . .the Pessimist say the glass is half empty. Which one is the more realistic ? Faith is the belief in something unproven. Hope is nothing . . I am hoping to win the Mega Millions
    The testimony of the Apostle Paul,
    ** Paul was not an Apostle (he was a Roman opportunist, who corrupted Christianity and it from the Ju(dah)’s
    ** Augustine, restructured Roman Catholicism to focus on Roman Catholic Guilt (that would be abuse, torture and crucifixion . . . and that’s Romance ?)
    John Calvin, Flannery O’Connor, Dorothy Day, and many other Christian saints attests to the power of hope.
    ** How come Martin Luther is left out ? This was a priest who had the guts to stand up to Rome, for what he believed in (and that was not the corruption of the church, just like Yeshuah) BTW, he ran off and married a nun and lived happily ever after ? He is Protestant-ism and is famous for nailing the “Bull” from Rome, telling him to keep his mouth shut, on the front door of his church, and told the Vatican, if they don’t like you can stick it where the sun don’t shine (if you catch my drift !) . . And that’s where the expression “BS” comes from !
    That’s the story that we’re invited to participate in: God is at work renewing all things.
    ** I believe in Genesis it say “Go fort and re-new the face of the earth !” . . . Doesn’t that suggest that there had been something previously there, that was totally destroyed, so that Adam and Eve could re-new the face of the earth ? hmmmmmm. . . .That sounds very much like about where we are right now, before the re-new part ! Do we have to be totally destroyed before we can re-new ?…”When will we ever learn ? When will we ever learn !”
    LUV 2 ALL
    Wisdum

  • Steve C.

    Larry,
    Thanks for the comment. I didn’t make it clear that what I was talking about was “real success” not believing you can “have it all” by wishing on a star or depending on fairy tales.
    WiseSteven

  • Cully

    re: “I have read several books explaining the principles behind “The Secret” and “the prosperity gospel”. IMHO it’s all about using your optimism and faith to give yourself the strength and determination to work out a detailed plan that will allow you to attain or achieve anything you want through hard work and perseverance.”
    Posted by: Steve C. | January 11, 2008 7:28 PM
    The principles of (hard) work and perseverance are not present or presented in The Secret or the prosperity gospel. It’s all about pie in the sky and wishing on a star, and ultimately it causes people to loose faith not just in G-d but in themselves. How depressing.
    blessings,
    Cully

  • Lynne

    Faith is the belief in something greater than yourself. It need not be blind. You can see it in the baby steps we take everyday. Hope is a rowboat in the middle of the ocean. You can pray for salvation but you better keep rowing for the shore. Optimism is knowing there’s a shore to row to. Jesus might walk on water..but I be sinking like a rock!

  • Margaret Balyeat

    Wisdum,I’ve done some research on Paul of late, and he was raised as a Pharisee, the strictist of all the Jewish sects of the time. He was,as we all know because od his name, born in taysus which was indeed a part of the roman empire at that timE (as was pretty much all of the “known world”, but he WAS raised as a Jew! hate to contradict you (AGAIN, BUT AS YOU SEEM TO BE AN INDIVIDUAL TO WHOM FACT AND TRUTH MATTER, THOUGHT YOU’D LIKE TO KNOW. You’re right in that he wasn’t one of the disciples who actually knew and walked with christ; his conversion didn’t come unril after christ’s death and resurrection when christ appeared to him on the road to damascus and asked Paul why he was persecuting H I won’t even get into the whole issue of “corrupting the hurch; I think that’s an issue you and I will have to agree to disagree on I DO agree with your questioning why so much of the bible was written by Paul and NONE of it actually by christ, but think the answer may well lie in the fact that as a poor gallilean, christ might not have even known HOW to write!(Most didn’t. Paul was highly educated and therefore could act as a scribe.

  • Margaret Balyeat

    Additinal info on Paul: Even though he was highly educated, many scholars believe that Paul himself frequently hired a scribe to do the actual penning of his epistles, actually writibg down only some of them himself. as I understand it, they base this on handwriting differences in the original maniscripts. Paul was of the tribe of benjamen, and as all Jewish boys of the period were( maybe still are, for all I know) was circumsized when he was eight days old according to the practice of the time. Probably a more accurate tagline for Paul rather than “apostle” would be “missionary, since he spent most of his adult carrying the good news throughout asia Minor and baptizing converts in the name of Chrit where he established churches among the gentiles.

  • Margaret Balyeat

    Lynee, thanks for the rowboat analogy; I daresay that’s the best dexplanation i’ve ever heard of how hopeand prayer comingle and a WONDERFUL illustration of “God helps those who help themselves. It’s a visual i’ll keep locked in my mind and use myself as it becomes apt in the future.
    all: I realize this is my fourth (at least) comment on this particular post. don’t mean to be a pig; i’m just truly being inspired by this one; this will be it, I PROMISE! :-)

  • Lynne

    You’re very welcome. I try my best. I have a question…What did Jesus mean when he said “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” I’d like to know your interpretation. I believe he was quoting Psalm 22 in order to document his fufilling of the scriptures.

  • Lynne

    P.S. To Wisdum, for what it’s worth, I do believe we are about to be “renewed” You want proof? I don’t have any to offer. Guess we’ll just have to wait and see…but if you see giant hailstones coming…duck and cover!

  • Margaret Balyeat

    Lynne,
    I agree with your opinion that chrisy was referencing the prophesy om Psalm 22; he made a point of referencing other phropheciwes throught his time here. I also, however, think that perhaps He was feeling the same tupe of emotions we mere mortals feel during times of severe trials and tribulations, i.e. abandoned. (Remember at the time He, too was ‘in the flesh”, so why wouldn’t he experience many of the same things WE do. It might also have been meant as a kind of “modeling for us so that we could see that even in the midst of his feeling forsaken, he went on to say,”…Thy will be done…” The biggest difference,in my opinion, is that Christ knew BEFOREHAND all Hwe would face as a man, whereas we don’t have that… blessing?…curse? The fact that He DID have foreknowledge of his fate and yet willingly camr down here anyway speaksVOLUMES to me of love and selflessness. so I guess I interpret it in many ways. I’m sure that even if He FELT forsaken, HE knew He wasn’t as opposed to our own struggles(At least mine, especially of late when we (I) truly DO wonder if He’s forgotten me. The scripyure which promises that God won’t give us more than we can handle, especially if we follow Phillipians 4:13, at times makes me chuckle. I’ve been known to actually pray and say something lke,”I think You have me confused with someone else who has greater inner resources than I. Let me reintroduce myself…this isMARGARET, God, You know, the overweight redhead who often falls short in spite of good intentions. Are you ABSOLUTELY SYRE this particular tapestry thread wasn’t meant for someone stronger? Forgive me if I sound flip; I don’t mean to, that simply illustrates the depth of my despair at those moments. I think my inability to please my earthly father may sometimes get in the way of my efforts to please our Heavenly one…a person can only beat his/her headagainst the wall so long before causing damag, and I spent so many years tring DESPERATELY to make my “Daddy” proud(without success, no matter how many accolades came to me from others, that the very word”father has a negative connotation for me On the avice of the therapist with whom I was working right after he passed away, I actually went to the cemetery and yelled at his headstone, saying all the things I could never say to his face out of fear of retribution. talk about cognitive therapy! Fortunately, the grounds were fairly deserted that day, else I might have been carted off by the men with the straitjackets (…”They’re coming to take me away..ta boom…they’re coming to take me away…” I embarked on a similar mission after my mother passed, mainly because that was when i reaklized that some of my issues were with HER(Why didn’t you protect me better? How could you have allowed him to treat me like that? Why on Earth did you ever tell me that you refused to even hold/nurse me for three days after my birth due to your disappointment that I wasn’t male? WHY did I need to know that? and on and on. Interestingly enough, I didn’t YELL at her grave, but merely knelt there sobbing my heart out. (I’ve often translated anger into hurt feelings in my life without really understanding that that’s wht I was doing. Anyway, lonc convoluted answer to your query; I guess I find that particular topic fraught with so many different possibiities that I can’t give a simple answer. I DO know that I believe the most important part of that solliloquy from the cross were the “…thy will be done…”words, followed by “,,,It is finished. hope that helps,but keep in mind that I’m no theologian, just another bruised member of the “walking wounded” Awhile back someone on B.B. pointed out to me that the word Christ used to address God at that particular time wasn’t the one he normally used…it was My God, My God” rather than My father, My father…” which is how he usualy addresssed G-d when He was speaking to him. Maybe that has some relevance;I’m not sure. I DO know that going back to the original wording is often key in understanding scripture, especially since in the ancient languages there were so many different words for nuances of the same thing wheras English is more stingy. (One word per concept Love is a good example. We use that word to refer to ALL of the many different types of affection we experience but in the Greek there is a completely different word for each type, i.e. brotherly, sexual, etc.) To mistranslate agape(brotherly love as Eros (erotic love could COMPLETELY bastardize the original meaning if, as Widum would say, you get my drift To me, it’s a very deep thing to realize that Christ ‘s relationship with God the Father was both literal and metaphorical; I know I surely couldn’t have handled it!(Even though my Father seemed to think he should be TREATED as infallible and “God-like) You know, “Don’t question ME…i”m THE HEAD OF THIS HOUSEHOLD, what I say goes goes…As long as you have your feet under my table…Who do you think you ARE>’ and all the rest. That gives me yet ANOTHER reason torespect and honor Christ; He WAS able torelate to G-d on both “father levels.” Not only did his father THINK he was God; he actuallyWAS!!!

  • Babs

    Margaret and Lynne,
    Just a couple of comments. I have enjoyed your conversation back and forth. I think that Jesus DID feel forsaken, otherwise his sacrifice would not have been perfect. I also think that we cannot begin to understand how all that God/man relationship worked inside of Him. We don’t know how his awareness “worked” but I think He is the perfect example of faith. If He foreknew His fate, as it were, He did not know how He would endure it in the sense of how terrible both the physical and mental pain would be. Did He know He would feel forsaken by the Father He trusted and loved? I don’t know except that he had awareness of Psalm 22, but awareness and experience are two different things. It is in feeling forsaken, that He understands us, and we can bind ourselves to Him in a shared pain. God never experienced being forsaken in the sense that we do, except through Jesus. He brought that experience into the Trinity.
    A further thought along those lines is that we all in the act of bringing our experiences to Jesus, help God understand what it is to be a woman, a bi-polar person, an MS person, an abused child, etc. In that way, we complete God’s understanding of what it is to be His creation in a way that God cannot have, in that Jesus was one human person in history. It makes the things we suffer, great and small, meaningful in a greater sense than just ourselves.
    Margaret, you have a great observation about turning anger into hurt. Hurt is so much more acceptable in a woman than is anger, don’t you think? To be honest, I have lived my life being frightened of the anger that has lived in me. I doubt I even know the depth of it, but I am working through it with my therapist and have hope to live in greater peace than I have known thus far.

  • Larry Parker

    Babs:
    You’ve just completely blown my mind, and I’m a fairly smart guy, so that’s tough to do :-)
    An honest question:
    **A further thought along those lines is that we all in the act of bringing our experiences to Jesus, help God understand what it is to be a woman, a bi-polar person, an MS person, an abused child, etc. In that way, we complete God’s understanding of what it is to be His creation in a way that God cannot have, in that Jesus was one human person in history. It makes the things we suffer, great and small, meaningful in a greater sense than just ourselves.**
    This sounds more like one of my favorite Borges short stories than orthodox theology. If G-d has created all of us, knows all our thoughts, indeed foreknows everything we do, how is this even possible — and therefore, why would it make suffering more meaningful?
    Contrarily, if G-d is distant enough that the sufferings of his creation need to be brought to his attention, doesn’t that make G-d the G-d of Deism rather than of orthodox Christian thought?
    PS — My reading of Psalm 22 is actually in the tradition of the covenant — that, among all the gods of the Middle East, the Jewish people made a covenant with Yahweh/Jehovah to be their G-d. (The Old Testament was written at a time, of course, when there was the possibility of other gods, even if they were false gods — before Christianity taught that the G-d of Abraham was in fact the one true god of all.)
    Therefore, if people were suffering and helpless and felt like they needed divine intervention that was nowhere to come, they would still pray to G-d because … very important … THEY HAD NO CHOICE.
    Which is not the slam it may sound like from “Mr. Skeptic.” In fact, it may be very solid mainline theology, if one thinks about it. It certainly explains Job …
    (Unless, of course, one believes Psalm 22 was written STRICTLY as a prophecy for Christ’s last agonizing cry on the Cross, “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachtani” …)

  • Babs

    Larry, you ask a lot of good questions for which I am not sure I have sufficient answers. The statement I made about Jesus not having been a woman, etc., is certainly not original to me. I have “absorbed” it from a couple of different places, but it resonated with me. I haven’t read Borges, don’t even know who it is, so it didn’t come from that source. I am not a theologian, so I make no claim for it being Orthodox Catholic. All I know is that knowing what I have gone through, knowing that Jesus did not live my life, it makes sense to me.
    **If G-d has created all of us, knows all our thoughts, indeed foreknows everything we do, how is this even possible — and therefore, why would it make suffering more meaningful?
    I think the answer is in the concept of redemptive suffering and that we are one Body, united with Jesus. Your question could be asked of the usefulness of prayer as well. Why bother if God knows our needs? Is it merely for our benefit that we must pray? I don’t have an answer. I don’t even know why it is important that God experience our brokenness, but I think it is. Why is it important for us to call on Him? It doesn’t make God greater. It would even beg the question as to why he bothered creating at all? There is something in God that desires relationship, and not merely us worshipping Him. Jesus in becoming human, brought into the Trinity our human experience, and we as members of his Body (not merely a corporate body)unite our joys and sorrows with His.
    As far as “having no choice,” I don’t see any particular difference between Job and us. People have a choice to go it alone on their own strength, or not. Job had already “chosen” God. He was a faithful servant. The Bible is replete with stories of people who didn’t rely on God for much of anything.
    Like I said, I am obviously not a theologian and don’t claim that my thoughts are orthodox. That doesn’t make them wrong, or right. Take what helps, and discard the rest.

  • Nancy

    Babs – Your comment about anger versus hurt hit me to the core. It’s amazing peeling away at the layers of the onion. I thought I had dealt with all of the anger, which I bottled up inside for years like a volcano. However, these last few years with the additional illnesses brought out stuff that I either didn’t know was there or wanted to believe that it wasn’t that important. It has given me an opportunity to dig very deep into more that was revealed. It sucks going through it, but much better once it’s brought to light and hopefully let it go.
    Nancy L.
    p.s. – there was so much other great stuff to refer to, but I’ve got to go back to my work. I’ll read more later.

  • Babs

    Nancy — Amen to working through it. It does suck, especially when you know it affects your close relationships and your relationship with God. Anger is like a sleeping volcano; you never know when those rumbles will go into a full-blown eruption and who will be hurt.

  • Larry Parker

    My point about Job is that if Job was to KEEP THE COVENANT with Yahweh/Jehovah, he had no choice but to stay faithful despite his many sufferings.
    (The rest of this post is describing Judeo-Christian tradition — no offense meant to those of other faiths.)
    Clearly many people in the Bible committed unbelievable sins — and some even prospered, albeit with punishments from G-d along the way, for them. You wouldn’t ordinarily think of a king who arranged a Sopranos-type hit on his most loyal soldier to cover up his Mack Daddying of said soldier’s wife as a holy man of G-d — yet David was Israel’s **greatest** king. (He suffered too, of course — “Absalom, Absalom …”)
    Babs, I make a clear distinction between prayer and suffering. One believes in prayer because one believes it is a positive way, initiated by ourselves (albeit maybe with G-d turning our hearts a bit) to acknowledge our dependence on G-d. It’s beauty, in fact.
    The problem is, if suffering is also a way of acknowledging our dependence on G-d, that would imply — particularly if it wasn’t something we brought on ourselves, but something not under our control, like, oh, a disease — that G-d enjoys torturing people (or at least letting Satan torture people, like Job) to bring them to Him.
    Ugliness, in other words.
    Job’s story is disturbing enough. But even if we do not ascribe the worst to G-d, what else becomes a possibility — which as I said is what Job, not knowing the Divine/Satanic bargaining going on over him, likely concluded — is that G-d is demanding fealty no matter what under the Covenant of the Old Testament. But that would mean even A.D., not just B.C., we are not truly under the New Covenant of Jesus of the New Testament. And that, again, if we are to keep G-d’s favor, WE HAVE NO CHOICE. We are bound by a millennia-old contract, not forgiven by Christ’s blood on the Cross.
    Then there’s the whole natural world angle — your Katrinas, your tsunamis. One minister who lost her daughter in a tornado (who I wrote about on the BB group) WHILE THEY WERE IN CHURCH TOGETHER ON PALM SUNDAY said G-d is G-d and Mother Nature (metaphorically) is Mother Nature, and never the twain shall meet. But G-d created the laws of nature, didn’t He? And there’s only so much humans can do to avoid natural disaster-prone areas …
    Jesus is supposed to resolve all these contradictions if you are a Christian. But the only way I see that happening is if you believe, as I might paraphrase Rev. Greg Boyd’s sermon I quoted on “Wrestling With G-d,” that Jesus IS “the Contradiction” to a sinful world.
    My head spins like Linda Blair’s in The Exorcist at all this …

  • Babs

    Dear Larry —
    My first reaction to your posting is to say, ” Oy! Not Job, again.” I doubt that we will ever see Job from the same standpoint. Your questions are valid, but I don’t have any more to add than I have already written.
    So, I will leave Job alone for now and say this: We don’t earn God’s favor by making a choice. And we don’t earn God’s wrath by virtue of a choice. Suffering exists, and is inexplicable. Blessings abound, and are inexplicable. At some point, faith calls for us to take a step that may seem like it is off a cliff. Maybe it is; I don’t know. But faith is a choice — perhaps one that is more difficult for some people than others. My husband’s position is that his genetic programming makes faith an impossibility. Could that be? I don’t think so, but do I have proof? No more than he does for his opinion.
    If as Christians we want answers, we have to look to Christ and how He lived. That may not satisfy you. It doesn’t satisfy everyone. I find Jesus’s words to be more enigmatic than His actions. So that is what I run with — His actions. He prayed. He questioned. He got angry and tired and needed time away for Himself. He listened. He healed. He fed the hungry. I think the key to understanding God, inasmuch as we can, is to imitate Jesus.
    I have questions, too, but I am more comfortable than you in saying “I don’t know — yet.” I guess that *proves* I am no theologian :-)
    BTW, in spite of my first sentence, I am touched that you continue to try to find answers to these questions and choose to put me on the spot with them. There are so many others more knowledgeable than I am.

  • Larry Parker

    Babs:
    I don’t see why there’s any dispute about the Book of Job, but anyway …
    **At some point, faith calls for us to take a step that may seem like it is off a cliff.**
    Not a good metaphor for those of us with depression, you realize. I’m not saying you’re not right about faith — ultimately, it’s like my metaphor of Philippe Petit, walking the tightrope without a net between the Twin Towers when they existed — but it’s still troublesome for those in our cohort, nonetheless.
    And the randomness in the world you describe is frightening — a world I cannot imagine having a divine presence (or a Deist one at most). But that’s just me.
    But, like you, let me take a step back. We have important differences of opinion, yes, but I also think our CONFLICTS are as much stylistic as substantive.
    So you might want to read this slightly more light-hearted sequel to “Wrestling With G-d” I just wrote (with the help of Bnet’s server, LOL), which might explain a lot … (http://)
    community.beliefnet.com/blogs/5997

  • Babs

    Larry — Sorry the stepping off a cliff bothered you. I was remembering a memorable dream of a couple of weeks ago in which every day I had to jump off a cliff. In making the first jump, I found there was a safe landing out of sight just a little below the place from which I jumped. Each day (in my dream) when I had to make that leap, I had to remind myself there was a safe landing that I could not see. Still, each leap took courage. But each time I was reassured by the solid rock on which I landed. (No lie or pun intended!)
    ***A word of warning: This stunt should not be attempted at home. This illustration was done by a trained dreamer in a dreamscape ;)

  • Anonymous

    Hi ALL, I guess I need to make a few comments on the Bible as it relates to the Truth, the Light and the Way. The Bible is a collection of truths, not necessarily true, there is a major difference, and unless you can discern the difference, you will be hopelessly misdirected. The bible over the centuries has been misinterpreted, misconstrued, mistranslated, twisted semantics and metaphor which will ultimately be attached to you in your own perspective (and perspective is everything!) It is very much the same as the old Asope’s Fables, where it ended with “And the moral of the story is !” If a lot of those stories ended like that, we would get it! On top of that there is a whole lot of copyright non-sense involved there, and no two Bibles are the same ! So which one is correct ?
    On top of that we are translating a language of symbols into a language of words, which can change their meaning over the centuries, and what the word ends up as is anybodies guess (literally !) When Paul would make a statement like “I am consecrated in the Lord” we all assume that he meant a holy significance. That statement really means “In the Lord , I am against the sacred”. Paul knew a gold mine when he saw it, and very quickly devised a way t oarrest it away fro the Hebrew people. You are right about ignorance here, where we do know the real meaning of the Word, but we choose to ingnore it ! Nobody is bound by anything under the gift by God, of “freewill” There was only one commandment in the beginning “Do not eat from the Tree of Knowledge, of Good and Evil” If we never did, there would be no sin, and we would be just like every other living creature on this planet.That rule was there to break, How would you know if you had freewill, if there was no rules to break? As far as Job is concerned, right in the beginning it states “Job, was a righteous man, the most righteous man on the face of the earth (that would put him right up there with Yeshuah, other than being married and a family) That whole thing would have ended if Job had only called out to the Father, and demanded an explanation (he never did, and accepted what happened as punishment for some sin, that he didn’t commit, with “I am a worthless pile of dung !) David had similar statements, but he was very close to the truth. He sent his general off into combat that he might get killed, so he could hop in the sack with his wife. We ALL know about Abraham and what started a world wide conflict that still exists today between the Tribe of Judah and the Arab Nation (and it is a absolutely stupid disagreement, which will never end unless the Tribe of Hagar/Ishamel is welcomed back into the family, which is not very likely, and will end in Armegeddon)
    The bottom line is, there is only one commandment, set down by Yeshuah the Christ (as the Word of God made Man) and that is “My command to you is this, Love one another, as I have Loved you” … and that is not very likely either ! Oh yeah! His name was not Jesus, that is a Greek name, given to Him by Paul, to put distance between Christianity and Judahism (what do you figure the odds are that this Judah kid had a Greek name ?)… “When will we ever learn ? When will we ever learn !”
    LUV 2 ALL
    Wisdum

  • Cully

    re: “You’re very welcome. I try my best. I have a question…What did Jesus mean when he said “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” I’d like to know your interpretation. I believe he was quoting Psalm 22 in order to document his fufilling of the scriptures.”
    Posted by: Lynne | January 13, 2008 6:44 PM
    Lynne, I believe that Jesus meant to remind the people of that time and to tell future generations that though we may think that G-d has forsaken us, he/she hasn’t. And, it’s okay to doubt (as Job did) and there will be signs or friends (like Job’s friends) that will try to remind us or tell us that G-d would not “forsake” us; and, in time someone or something will ring true and then our doubt will vanish and we will remember how much G-d loves us and that he/she is always at hand.
    hugz,
    Cully

  • Lynne

    Re; Cully , Thankyou I know Jesus’ words ring as true today as they did then. I repeat them to myself as neccessary. P.S. to Wisdum , His name is Yeshua…correct? Is’nt that the original hebrew? I have a “Strong’s Concordance” but it’s a little hard for me to follow…small print to boot!

  • Jaime

    I had an enormous, suicidal-thought-inducing crisis of faith recently that led me to a hospital (suicidal thoughts) and ultimately to my current psychiatrist.
    When I had a life-changing experience, my faith was renewed and restored completely and a month or two later I met a girl at the church I had stopped going to, that for whatever insane reason, I just believed to be the one. I couldn’t explain it at all, I was just so completely smitten. “This is the reason God saved my life,” I said to myself. I believed that I was finally being rewarded for the sacrifices I had made to God, and for my (albeit broken) faith.
    But she didn’t want me, and being a depressive, my heart was broken in a fantastic fashion. Once again, I was back to suicidal thoughts to end this pain. Recently, unable to stop thinking about this episode, I had said crisis of faith. None of it made sense to me. I was a good boy, who had good faith, and I didn’t deserve to be ambushed like that and teased with what I believed to be happiness only to have it ripped from me. I decided that God turned on me and was not my friend.
    This is the price of what the author is talking about. People make false promises on God’s behalf, and then when they’re not fulfilled, people, like me, believe that God has forsaken them.
    Strangely it was an episode of ER that brought me back. A religious patient with a guilty conscience tells a doctor “it doesn’t make any sense!” The doctor replies, “It doesn’t have to make sense. That’s why its called faith.” I have realized that faith, literally, means “I do not know for sure, but I believe.” Faith means that I now believe because of some of the circumstances and happenings of my life, that I am being prepared for something big. Some great act that maybe not just anybody could do. I don’t know what’s going on, but I have faith now. And that truth, that realization has set me free.

  • Michelle

    I absolutely love this article. It is so right on!!! Thank you
    for the comparison between optimism and hope. Being someone who
    suffers from depression doesn’t make me the most optimistic person. I am a very hopeful person because of my faith, but I tend to always look at the negative or downside, if you will, to try and keep every situation real. I’m going to send this article to several of my priest friends. Thank you so much for sharing.

  • Nancy Percival

    Firstoff, I would like to say how disappointing it is for me to hear that so many people claiming to be Christians are teaching that we should expect good things from God (whether our faith is strong or not does not matter). The Bible actually teaches just the opposte: It says that life WILL be challenging for believers & that we should expect trials & hardships of many kinds. Anybody who teaches anything else about what God will (or won’t) deliver to Christians is clearly teaching false doctrine – and therefore, not Christianity at all. Point number 2: The focus of the true Gospel has been & always will be the fact that Jesus died to save us. True Christians ask God what they can do to help fulfill HIS will in their lives, not the other way around. How selfish of someone to think that they should get what THEY want from God, as if any of us deserves anything from God. The fact that He loves us unconditionally & wants us to love Him back should be what we focus on – & NOT what He will do for us. Also, I appreciate the fact that the author clarifies that it’s hope (not optimism) that it’s what it’s all about. By God’s design, many of us will not have prosperity in this lifetime. In fact, some of God’s most effective witnesses for Christ are those who have very little “stuff” (possessions) but are teaching all the right stuff (what it truly means to be a disciple of Jesus’). Remember, the Apostle Paul, who probably suffered more than any other Christian that ever lived, was homeless. If you take a close look at all his writings, you’ll see that he spent most of his effort telling people what God wants us to do for others/His Kingdom. His entire ministry is an excellent example of not expecting the good life, but of LIVING the good life – meaning to live it God’s way, not ours. The best way to understand what God wants from us is to read the Bible, & to compare everything else that we hear to the message within its pages. Regardless of what version you use, anything that does not jive with it most likely is not the truth. My prayer for all of you out there who are seeking a closer relationship with God, is that you find it – the truth of how to get there, & not by any other more appealing, & false, method.
    God Bless!
    Nancy

  • Beau

    To borrow a little from President Kennedy:
    Ask not what GOD can do for you.
    (This smacks of the stories of the tempation of Christ when he was in the dessert- “Hey, you’re the son of God, fix this, change this into this, if you love me- give me stuff!”)
    Ask instead what you may accomplish with GOD’s grace.
    (Faith, and Hope, should not be passive. We have to make the continuing effort to live our lives for the better. GOD is there to carry us when we faulter in our attempts- when we ask him, sometimes even when we don’t.)
    Nice article, thank you for sharing!

  • Anonymous

    I heartily agree with Patton Dodd. Optimism and so-called “optimists” are deluding themselves, they are not looking “within” but “without.”
    I have a brother who is an “eternal optimist” and yet he lives his life in deceit, he has berated me my entire life for my “lack of “optimism”, he truly believes that he is “loved and well-liked”, hasn’t the least idea of what so many people think of him and his non-stop talking (ME, ME, ME).
    I love my brother, no matter how hypocritical, but I do “bemoan” the fact that he has neither the ability nor wish to truly look at himself and see what turns others away from him. If he were sincere in his beliefs, and he does believe that he is, then his life would be lived differently and he would not be so critical of others who do not “worship at his feet.”
    I do not believe that he has any true faith or idealogical beliefs, in fact, I know it, because his life is a testimony to “things” and not a life of “giving” to others. He has never performed an altruistic deed unless it “benefited” him.
    “Hope does spring eternal”, not optimism, and Hope is what gets me up everyday of my life. I do not care to pretend to know any of the answers for “happiness” in this world,” as I believe happiness is many things to many people. It is truly “individual” and I know with all my heart that I am a happier person than my brother could ever hope to be.
    I want to continue to live my life with hope and faith, for without these two “virtues” my life would be so completely empty and immensely sad. Even when thrown a “few curves” or “many” as all of us have been “hit with” or will be, what with personal suffering and that of loved ones and friends, I realize how terribly distressed I become and so I do what is so necessary: I pray, pray, pray for these dear people and know that I have no control over their lives or destinies.
    What do “optimists” do in these situations? Well, I know that my brother doesn’t pray for them, he’ll utter “tsk, tsk” but he has no real compassion nor understanding of their complete suffering, he can never put himself in other’s peoples “shoes”. He is an empty vessel, how I pray he could sincerely and truly see that “optimism” is not enough, even for those who are sincere and do try to life their lives with this rather unrealistic approach and, instead, embrace Hope which is both real and relevant, in every conceivable way.

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