Have you ever considered how often the Bible uses terms such as adversary, accuser, judge, advocate? Have you ever thought of praying to the judge for healing?
If you're like most Christians, words such as judge and advocate bring you visions of the great white throne? Words such as adversary and condemnation might make you think of the devil, who is the accuser of the brethren. But let us bring this a little closer home..in the here and now.
Last night I did not sleep. That's not unusual. I generally don't sleep. I have insomnia which is related to physical and emotional issues. I have not had a good night sleep for more than 16 years.
The point, however, is not my lack of sleep. But the effect of this lack of sleep. My house is usually a mess. I am generally tired. And guests who know nothing about chronic fatigue fibromyalgia and insomnia are usually cruel. In the world of diseases, some illnesses such as cancer are respected, feared. In a word, they inspire respect and very often pity on the part of onlookers. Not so insomnia, chronic fatigue or any such disease. The problem is that for the most part, these diseases are not well understood. And paradoxically, most people think they know a lot more about them than they actually do. A disease such as CFS or AIDS or autism for that matter will always put the sufferer in a psychological bind: namely, having to deal with accusations from people who judge and excoriate, usually, Christians but not necessarily. Usually people who mean to help, but not necessarily.
The trouble with being ill, though, is that the time comes when one is really too sick and tired to defend one's self. Perhaps some part of the illness is even rooted in this inability to defend one's self. After all, many emotions affect the immune system. And hasn't it been said that depression is frozen rage? And grief is unresolved loss? Witness poor Job: he was doing pretty well until his friends--bent on defending God-- decided to blame Job.
In one epistle, Paul tells us never to let the sun go down on our wrath. He tells us that we are to "be angry, and sin not!" thus equating the decision to withhold one's righteous anger in a debate with sinning. In another epistle, he tells us that we must beware of roots of bitterness. In the proverbs we are told, "Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you also become like him. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes." Then we are told that patience, temperance and forbearance are virtues. So we can only deduce that the Preacher-King of Ecclesiastes is right: "To everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven....A time for peace and a time for war."
Let us then go back to the problem of defending one's self. Verbal self-defense, so to speak. Jesus was like a lamb, dumb before his shearers. But should we be silent always? When do we war and when do we fight? And what if we cannot fight because we are literally too tired to argue with the judgmental person who tells us that –if they were in our shoes-- they (or their child) would have been healed or would manage to keep a neater house.
Last night as I lay in grief on my bed, -- grief, a sense of loss of my life, finances, health-- I had an insight. The grief stemmed from my feelings of being deserted. I felt that God did not love me, had deserted me and that there was no justice out there for me. I felt that in the court of public opinion, housework, healing etc, I stood accused and guilty. And why? Because I had not defended myself. The only thing, I told myself, that would make my life better would be if I could go back to every instance of my life when I was accused by some all-knowing say-it-all and simply explain the situation to them. (Not that these types who esteem themselves above others would
have accepted my defense, but I at least would have had my say.) The defense, you see, was what was important. The defense, it turns out, if one reads one's Bible carefully is always important. But modern Christians have forgotten this. In their desire to believe that they always have the answer, they often like Job's comforters, rush to blame instead of rushing to comfort. This added load of blame and judgement leaves the sufferer not only with the initial illness but with bitternes. Now the sufferer not only has to get healed, but now has to deal with praying for wounding friends who happen to be enemies.
I realized that I had spent the last 17 years of my illness thinking of God as my healer and my savior, but never as my advocate and lawyer. And what I so wanted, what the healings would prove was that God was clearly on my side. Let us get the scene right: Remember the Bible's word for the devil? The accuser of the brethren, the adversary. Like so many know-it-all
Christians, the devil is like the prosecution in a court case. But the Bible tells us that God is not only an honest judge whose eyes see all and whose ears hears all, but that he is a God who favors the poor, the sick, the oppressed, the widow, the outcast, the foreigner, the orphan. And Jesus who calls himself our lawyer and advocate died as a criminal condemned by church (religious folks) and state (society). But we never really think of ourselves in a court case, do we? And when we go to comfort friends, do we really comfort people or do we accuse and put them in court?
Often, we never really consider the strange emotional truth that illness often brings judgemental people to prey upon the sick so that very often the grief-stricken or ill person needs to be healed emotionally from the wounds given him by well-meaning friends. Witness the insults cast on Job and his wife by their well-meaning friends? Even now Christian people read the book of Job and insult Job's wife as if they understand what her life was. Certainly if the typical Christian lost all her sons, property, health, they would be more inclined to act like Mrs Job than like Job? But judgemental christians often forget this. My last time in Bible study I found myself defending Vashti, the wife of Xerxes --the time before that it was Michal, David's cast-off wife-- from women who assured me that Vashti was proud. Why? Because she retained her integrity and refused to unveil her face in front of some drunken men? Even as I told them that God might have used Vashti's integrity to make Esther become queen, I found myself cringing at the lack of compassion in Christian circles. Our community's attitude toward grief is so different from the Bible where so many --the sick, the cast-off, the oppressed-- cried out to God as their judge.
The grief of someone who is defenseless --or who has made themselves defenseless because they have kept their mouths politely shut is inconsolable. The great Christian philosopher Blaise Pascal once wrote, "I am often amazed at how unamazed people are by their own evil." I remember a woman who had read too much old psychology accusing me of making my son autistic by being a refrigerator mom. She fancied herself knowledgeable I guess because she watched Oprah everyday. I was too sick and amazed to give a good defense of myself. But who expects a battering and an accusation from the brethren when the mouth of a Christian should be full of healing comforting words? Generally I am a trifle too kind to tell people how stupid and rude they are. But in not saying anything, I realize that I am –de facto-- accepting the indictment of the accuser. Because we incorporate these judgements, we start thinking of ourselves as guilty and unloved by God and the burden to our health increases because we feel we are involved in a case we will never win. Strange isn't it? That Christian people should force the sick person into a position of proving herself? Oh that the sick could be free from this burden! But we have an advocate with the father: Jesus Christ the righteous who can place one hand on the judge's shoulder and the other hand on the shoulder of the accused.
Anyway, this all leads to my new insight about the miracle healing as an act of God's judgement. Or financial blessings as a good judgement? Or freedom from the world's condemnation as
judgement? It occurs to me --however belatedly-- that I really should pray to God in his aspect of judge. That Bible verse, "Be my judge oh God and plead my cause against the ungodly people." Jesus tells of the poor widow who pleaded to the judge, "Avenge me of my adversary." St Luke the physician told us of the woman "who had suffered many things of physicians and was nothing bettered." Were not these physical healings also a triumph of justice against those insensitive uncaring
doctors? Oh, of course, all our justifications will not happen here on earth. Yes, all is forgiven but justice is needed. The folks in the old testament prayed for justice, the martyred under the throne of heaven pray for justice. Is it vain to ask God, "Show the whole world that you love me and that you are on my side, that you are my friend?" To paraphrase the psalmist, "The Lord who made heaven and earth, the Lord who created and owns all things is on my side: I will not care
what man does to me."
Please note: I am not saying Christians are not compassionate. I am only saying that I am always surprised that they are so judgemental. I am never surprised that atheists lack compassion because there is no rule book demanding that atheists be kind. (Often atheists are kind, and often they aren't.) But Christians mix up exhortation, defense of God and plain old know-it-all ism and often destroy their brothers and sisters by accusing them.
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Carole -- Very excellently expressed, and I agree with all that you've said. When I went through the same thing, I reflected always on the words of the Lord when he chastised Job's poor comforters(Job 42:8) -- He said that they were to offer up a burnt offereing and that Job was to pray for them, lest He would deal with them according to THEIR FOLLY. AND they didn't speak what was right about HIM. This is real comfort to those of us hurting -- to speak to the one hurting about what is RIGHT about God; not what is WRONG with the one suffering. Not sleeping leaves one feeling very depressed and just worn out. Sounds like you need a long emotional/physical/spiritual REST in our Saviour, and the turning of the Lord's captivity (Job42:10). And remember, one cannot comfort you unles he/she has received the SAME comfort from the Lord, and fleshly responses are very quick and easy to give, which keeps the one giving advice, looking outward and not inward to face themselves. Your sister and friend, Ellen
Your insight is incredible. After reading your article I realized that I have been guilty of wounding fellow Christians rather than healing. You have newed my determination to be part of the solution, and not part of the problem. Thank you for sharing your heart with us.