“The crucial question in prayer is not whether God suspends the laws of the universe, or whether he grants what people ask for, but whether we really open ourselves to him, open ourselves to his creating, saving presence” (Christianity Rediscovered, page 137). In his now classic book, Christianity Rediscovered, Vincent Donovan writes of his experiences sharing the message of Christianity with the Maasai tribes in Tanzania. Prior to approaching the various Maasai clans, the young Catholic priest resolves to simply present the message of Christianity—stripped as much as possible of his own Western rituals and conventions. He presents the teaching of Jesus without offering anything else that would cajole the people into a response. Nor does he ask for anything in return. As Donovan proceeds through his instruction with the Maasai, he is faced with the question, “How should Christians pray?”
I recently finished C.S. Lewis’ brief work, “A Grief Observed.” Lewis originally published the book anonymously; it describes his heartache and confusion after the death of his wife, whom he had been married to for only 3 years. Like in so many of his writings, Lewis is able to articulate the feelings that many of us have had and his insights are lucidly expressed. Below are three passages that bring up perhaps some of the most important concepts about illness and spirituality. 1. Anger at God “Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him.” – C.S. Lewis. A Grief Observed, pg 6
Genesis 32 is quite simply one of the most perplexing stories in the entire Bible. This narrative, in which Jacob wrestles with a spiritual being (presumably God) throughout the night and is given the new name ‘Israel,’ is both hard to interpret and yet a monumentally important text in the Jewish and Christian faith. Jacob’s new name of Israel literally means ‘he struggles with God’. And according to the text, Jacob is said to have ‘struggled with God…and overcome.’ But what of course does that mean? Does Jacob defeat God, or at least wear him out, in some sense? Rabbi Joseph Teluskin, a Jewish scholar writes, ‘It is no small matter that Israel, the name for both the Jewish people and the modern Jewish state, implies neither submission to God nor pure faith, but means wrestling with God (and with men).’ (Jewish Literacy, pg 22) While the Bible presents numerous examples that God desires an honest dialogue with humans and is not put off by our anger or arguing (see the Psalms, the books of the prophets, and Jesus’ parables, for just a few examples), there are too many things about the story of Jacob wrestling with God that simply don’t make sense for this simple explanation to be valid. I recently came across one of the most insightful commentaries I’ve ever read on this passage. It points out what I think is the key to understanding this story.
But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates, “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.” For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds. Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. (Matthew 11:16-21) As a physician, one of the things that always perplexed me was how two people could have such a different response to illness or death. At times I saw patients with the very same disease but contrasting reactions to it. Some drew closer to God and became increasingly grateful. Others cursed God or denied him. He had stolen from them or never existed at all, they claimed. What makes a person fall into one category or another, I often wondered. And now that I have my own disease, with my life goals and trajectory altered, I think about my response to illness. I never understood the … Read More
“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” (Luke 23:46) “…through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22) I’ve found that the Genesis story of Adam and Eve is fascinating in many regards. But one particularly interesting dimension of the story is that it tells us about the first distancing that occurs in humankind’s relationship with God. This is not a trivial theological matter. This is the story of humankind’s first break from God. Doubt enters in. And humans no longer commune with God as they once did.
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