Dan Edelen: Sadness, Depression, And The Christian

This is an excellent article written by Dan Edelen taken from his blog  “Cerulean Sanctum.”  His blog is located   HERE.

He shares about the idea of sadness and how so many are so quick to throw anti-depressants at it.  So many times people need time, a person to sit with them, the ability to share their heart, or maybe even a sit down with someone to unload their pain.  It’s a very well written article that does not diminish the very real pain those who battle depression, etc. are experiencing in their lives.  Allan

He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
—Isaiah 53:3-4 ESV

It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart. Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.
—Ecclesiastes 7:2-4 KJV

We live in an age when sadness is under assault.

A few weeks ago, I was chatting with a fellow Christian. At one point, I brought up some of the sadness I felt over the state of the world 2010 and some genuine losses in my life and the lives of family members. In the course of the discussion, he mentioned antidepressants.

Back in the dark ages of 40 years ago, depression was considered a debilitating mental illness. To be diagnosed with depression, one had to be nearly nonfunctional, unable to perform even simple tasks, such as getting out of bed in the morning. I had a college professor who talked about losing three entire years to crippling depression. He said he couldn’t think and could barely lift himself out of his favorite chair. Depression had rendered him completely inert.

I like to listen to Science Friday on NPR. Recently, they did a program on depression. During the interview, the two experts discussed the explosion of cases of depression diagnosed today and the reality that antidepressants are the most common drug prescribed, with one person out of every 15 in America taking them. And those numbers are growing.

Those experts noted disconcertingly that pharmaceutical company marketing departments helped manufacture much of the need, dramatically reducing the threshold for what is considered depression. Doctors bought into that marketing. Now, we have created an atmosphere of  “Sad? Well, there’s a pill for that.”

In effect, in many cases, we are using drugs to eliminate ordinary sadness.

A friend who works with mentally ill children attended a recent symposium. He later wrote that an expert on depression divulged that for most people, if left to a natural grief-resolution process that omits drugs, feelings of sadness equated to “depression” typically fade away on their own in about nine months. Intriguingly, that expert works for a drug company that sells antidepressants.

Something is terribly wrong in our society when we are unable to separate normal sadness from debilitating depression.

March 29 is turning out to be a sad date on the calendar for me. My mom, a woman greatly loved by everyone who knew her, died on that date nine years ago. In one of those terrible synchronicities of life, I got the news that the man who led me to Christ, the most Spirit-filled person I ever met, and the one whose life still serves as my example of what it means to be a Christian, died yesterday. He mentored me in what it means to live by the Spirit and to listen to what God is saying. He loved people unconditionally. God spoke to him and used him to always give a word in season. Fred Gliem was 90.

Even though Fred lived a full life and impacted many for the Kingdom, his death makes me sad.

Some Christians out there don’t like sadness. Like the society around them, they want to replace sadness with a sort of Pollyanna-ish happiness that never abates lest one discredit the joy of having Christ dwell in one richly. I hear about Christians who want to turn every funeral into a cause for celebration. Honestly, I wonder what those folks are smoking.

Here’s what the Bible says is the reaction of Spirit-filled people to the death of one of their own:

Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him.
—Acts 8:2

Those devout men knew their friend was in the arms of Jesus. Still, they wept and wailed over his tragic loss.

I think one of the reasons why so few people know how to deal with sadness, why some want to toss medications at those who are sad, is because our worldviews allow no place for anything less than individual fulfillment and happiness. Sadness and grief are rendered deviant emotions.

Sadness also demands a response from others. While many emotions can go without comment, sadness can’t. Sadness asks for comfort. And comfort means availability.

Do we make time for the sad and grieving? Or do we prefer they pop a few happy pills and stop bothering us?

Job’s friends are almost universally reviled because God chastised them for speaking while ignorant of the facts. But one thing God did not do was criticize Job’s friends for their dedication to their stricken friend:

Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him. And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.
—Job 2:11-13

Seven days and nights Job’s friends stayed with him—before they even said a word. They mirrored Job’s grief, tearing their robes and weeping as they took on the dust of his despair.

When was the last time you or I heard of anyone showing such devotion to a friend in his or her time of sadness? Isn’t our tendency instead to quote Romans 8:28 and casually discount another’s abyss?   Haven’t we become people who blithely say, “You know, they have a pill for that,” so we can go on with our lives, make our next business meeting on time, and not be bothered by the natural outcome of living in a sin-soaked world?

If one of Christ’s titles were not “The Man of Sorrows,” how could we ever claim that He was fully human? No, we know Jesus was well acquainted with sadness. He did not run from that emotion. How then can we?

The Scriptures say that the fool’s heart is always in the house of mirth. The fool learns nothing of the breadth of life’s truths, including the truth that sadness serves a purpose. From its depths come a kind of wisdom that can’t be gained from always thinking happy thoughts. Indeed, a sad face is good for the heart. It grounds us in real meaning and makes us better people.

Listen to “Sad Face” by The Choir

There’s a crystal in the window
Throwing rainbows around
There’s a girl by the mirror
And her feet won’t touch the ground
‘Cause she never saw the sky so bright
Isn’t that like a cloud, to come by night
Nevermind the sky
There’s a tear in her eye

A sad face is good for the heart
Go on cry, does it seem a cruel world?
A sad face is good for the heart of a girl
A sad face

There’s a woman in my kitchen
With a rainbow on her cheek
Well isn’t that a promise?
Still I never felt so weak
There’s a tiny spirit in a world above
Cradled so sweetly in our Father’s love
So you don’t have to cry
No there’s something in my eye

A sad face is good for the heart
Maybe just now I don’t understand
A sad face is good for the heart of a man
A sad face

A sad face is good for the heart
It’s alright you don’t have to smile
A sad face is good for the heart of a child
For the heart of a child
For the heart of a child
For the heart of a child
A sad face A sad face…

Self Harm Daughter: A Pastor And Wife Relate Their Traumatic Experience As Parents

This is an article I found on a website I link to located to the United Kingdom- Great Britain- England!  Their name is  Christian mental Health UK.   Their site is located   HERE. The author’s name is not listed and really isn’t necessary.  The topic is one that has yet to be covered in any real way on this blog.  Self harm is a very real illness.  I hope to very soon have an article posted that will cover this topic more extensively.  There are those who will cut themselves, pick their skin to dangerous excess, and even pull out their own hair.  This brief article will take you into the world of the parents via the world their daughter was living in.  Allan


Oh the pain
Where does it come from?
Why won’t it go?
I don’t know

Such intense agony inside
Makes me want to die or hide
I just can’t bear it
It’s too much

The pain is deep, deep inside
No one can see it
But I can more than feel it
Deep, deep inside

Please leave me alone
When will it end?
Is there an end?
Oh the pain …

This was one of the despairing poems written by our daughter when she was in her early 20s.

For five or six years she had been suffering from various addictions, including anorexia, bulimia, self-harm, drug and laxative abuse and horror movies.

To support these addictions she would shoplift, which meant she was often arrested by the police. She would also obtain prescriptions, cannulas, surgical blades and bandages from wherever she could get them, in order to self-harm. The cutting and scalding of her arms, legs and abdomen was horrific and the blood-letting was particularly distressing as we feared for her life when she was at home alone. She has since told us that when she cut herself, or scalded herself with boiling water, the emotional pain inside was so great she couldn’t feel the cut or burn.
Traumatic situations

These addictions began in her teens and went on well into her 20s and, as the years went by, our family had to cope with more and more traumatic situations on a daily basis.

We had to call ambulances on many occasions and spent hours with her in A&E where she was patched up and sent home again. There was one period of six months when we called an ambulance every weekend. It became ‘normal’ life to us.

There were many times when we thought we had lost her, especially when her weight plummeted to well below five stone (70 pounds).  On one occasion, severe overdosing on anti-depressants landed her on a life-support machine for two days. The worst time was when we found a suicide note on her bed. It read: ‘I never committed suicide because I thought it was selfish to you — to do that to you. But now I realise that it is selfish for me to stay alive, so thank you for the life I did enjoy. I love you both and am sorry it had to end like this. Love R x’
Last binge

We immediately phoned the police, her GP, her psychiatrist and anyone else who might know anything. Half an hour later she walked through the door having been out to buy food for a last binge before intending to slit her wrists, overdose and deliberately crash her car to make sure it happened this time. The note was in her room ready to be put into an envelope and addressed to us both. The deed was to take place later that day. We will be forever thankful to God that her mum took something into her room and found the note before it was too late.

For many years our daughter did not have a life. She tried several college courses but could never complete them due to ill health and an inability to make friends. She had no friends. She would sleep for days at a time and often be up at night because nights were fearful and accompanied by horrific nightmares. Her screaming would wake everyone in the house. She was constantly visiting her doctor and often spent time in hospital or the local psychiatric ward. Once she turned 18, we could no longer ask the medical professionals anything about her because it was all ‘confidential’. We were constantly frustrated by not being able to help her.
Why did it happen?

A commonly-asked question, when talking to friends and family, was: ‘What caused all this to happen to your daughter?’ We had struggled with this ourselves, especially as she had come to know the Lord as her Saviour when she was about 14, and her life now was so inconsistent with how a Christian should live.

We don’t think it is possible to attribute her addictions to any one cause. There are several factors that may have contributed to her problems. She was in and out of hospital in a plaster cast owing to a dislocated hip for much of her first three years. This may have left her feeling different from other children. She also experienced much bullying through her years at school, which left her with low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness. Perhaps the most significant factor was that, at the age of 12, she was seriously sexually abused in our own home by a workman. This would explain her nightmares, and her attempts at constantly trying to cleanse herself by means of bulimia and other forms of self-harm. Mixed in with all this was a satanic oppression arising from a particular horror movie. So fearful was this that it led to a ritual self-harm and the use of drink and drugs to try to escape reality.

Throughout her teenage years and well into her 20s, she was raped on more than one occasion when out at nightclubs or when with ‘bad’ friends. There was a sense in which she wanted these things to happen to her, because she so hated herself and felt she needed to be punished. She had no feelings of self-worth and had also lost any sense of right and wrong.
Recovery?

During these long and difficult years, we found it impossible to find the right help for her. She received counselling and therapy from a number of staff within the local NHS mental health team and often spent time on various psychiatric wards and in crisis recovery units.

A significant time of recovery was when for several months a Christian organisation helped her, through Bible verses and prayer, to see afresh that God loved her and that in Christ she was ‘a new creation’. This helped to turn her mind-set round and she began to live free from most of her addictions. She started to go to church again and looked to God to help her when desires and temptations came. However, about two years later, she began to relapse into some of her former addictions. This happened at a time when she was not getting any help or ongoing support professionally, and she gradually stopped attending church. Life became so traumatic for her that she attempted suicide on at least two further occasions. Once again, as parents, we were frantically trying to find her some help before it was too late.
What can parents do?

We certainly don’t claim to have all the answers. There is no quick answer and every case is different. We know we made mistakes on many occasions. We can only speak from our experience and trust that something we share here might help others.

* It is vitally important for parents to talk together, to ensure that they have a united approach in dealing with their son or daughter’s addictions.

* There may be other children in the family who need support. We have two other children who couldn’t understand what was happening to their older sister.

* There will be times of acute frustration when whatever you advise or do seems to have little or no effect. Much patience, understanding and self-control is needed at those times.

* Addictions are symptomatic of an underlying problem(s) which needs to be identified and addressed. Our experience was that many times her wounds were ‘patched up’ and then she was sent home without the underlying problem being properly addressed.

* We found that, because our daughter’s case was so complex, we could not address all her addictions at the same time. We tried to deal with that which seemed to be the most pressing.

* We also found that setting small achievable goals provided a better incentive towards helping her recovery than something too far-reaching.

* Having found help, follow-up is vital. While some people may fully recover, many have to learn to cope on a daily basis over a long period of time, or even for life.

* Most important of all — we must pray. We must pray for the self-harmer that he/she will recognise his/her need for help. Until that happens it is very difficult to make any progress. Pray also that the Lord will open the way for appropriate help. Parents often feel at a complete loss as to what to do, and sheer frustration because it is so hard to find the right help. We must cast ourselves on the sovereign Lord to intervene, for he is able in his infinite wisdom and grace to bring something beautiful out of a seemingly impossible situation.
Postscript

Our daughter is now 31 and has recently successfully completed six months in a Christian rehabilitation centre. They have significantly helped her to address her spiritual, emotional and physical needs and to apply coping mechanisms. We are so thankful to God for opening up this opportunity and that she herself chose to go there. Our prayer is that she may continue to make progress and, in God’s goodness, prove a source of help to others from her own experience.

Philip Yancey: Grappling With God, Part 2

Abraham and Sarah

God has had quite enough. “Let me alone, so that I may destroy them and blot out their name from under heaven. And I will make you into a nation stronger and more numerous than they.” Moses knows well the destructive power God can unleash, for he has seen it firsthand in Egypt. “Let me alone,” God says! Moses hears that remark less as a command than as the sigh of a beleaguered parent who has reached the end of a tether, yet somehow wants to be pulled back—in other words, an opening stance for negotiation.

Moses rolls out the arguments. Look at all you went through delivering them from Egypt. What about your reputation? Think of how the Egyptians will gloat! Don’t forget your promises to Abraham. Moses flings down a sack of God’s own promises. For 40 days and 40 nights, he lies prostrate before the Lord, refusing food and drink. At last, God yields: “Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people, and I might destroy you on the way.” Moses proceeds to win that argument, too, as God reluctantly agrees to accompany the Israelites the rest of the way.

Sometime later, the tables have turned. This time Moses is the one ready to resign. Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you promised on oath to their forefathers? And this time it is God who responds with compassion, calming Moses, sympathizing with his complaints, and designating 70 elders to share the burden.

Moses did not win every argument with God. Notably, he failed to persuade God to let him enter the Promised Land in person (though that request, too, was granted many years later on the Mount of Transfiguration). But his example, like Abraham’s, proves that God invites argument and struggle, and often yields, especially when the point of contention is God’s mercy. In the very process of arguing, we may, in fact, take on God’s own qualities.

“Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance,” writes Archbishop Richard Trench. “It is laying hold of his highest willingness.”

A Strange Intimacy

Were Abraham and Moses the only biblical examples of standing toe-to-toe with God, I would hesitate to see in their grappling encounters any kind of model for prayer. They rank, however, as two prime representatives of a style that recurs throughout the Bible. (Perhaps this very trait explains why God chose them for such important tasks?)

The arguments of those two giants of faith seem tame compared to the rants of Job. His three friends speak in platitudes and pious formulas, using the demure language often heard in public prayers at church. They defend God, try to soothe Job’s outbursts, and reason their way to accepting the world as it is. Job will have none of it.

He bitterly objects to being the victim of a cruel God. Job speaks to God directly from the heart—a deeply wounded heart. He nearly abandons prayer because, as he tells his mortified friends, “What would we gain by praying to him?” Yet in the ironic twist at the end of Job, God comes down squarely on the side of Job’s bare-all approach, dismissing his friends’ verbiage with a blast of contempt.

The psalmists likewise complain of God’s absence and apparent injustice. One psalm attributed to David captures the spirit:

I am worn out calling for help;
my throat is parched.
My eyes fail,
looking for my God.

A litany of protests in Psalms and in the Prophets remind God that the world is askew, that many promises remain unfulfilled, that justice and mercy do not rule the earth.

A wrestling match also occurred in the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus struggled with God’s will and accepted it only as a last resort. Later, when God chose the least likely person (a notorious human-rights abuser named Saul of Tarsus) to carry his message to the Gentiles, a church leader voiced dissent: “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem.” God cut this particular argument short: “Go! This man is my chosen instrument.” Several years later, the same man, now named Paul, himself bargained with God, praying repeatedly for the removal of a physical ailment.

Why would God, the all-powerful ruler of the universe, resort to a style of relating to humans that seems like negotiation—or haggling, to put it crudely? Does God require the exercise as part of our spiritual training regimen? Or is it possible that God, if I may use such language, relies on our outbursts as a window onto the world, or as an alarm that might trigger intervention? It was the cry of the Israelites, after all, that prompted God’s call of Moses.

Like Abraham, I approach God at first in fear and trembling, only to learn that God wants me to stop groveling and start arguing. I dare not meekly accept the state of the world, with all its injustice and unfairness. I must call God to account for God’s own promises, God’s own character.

God-Wrestlers

I used to worry about my deficiency of faith. My attitude is changing, though, as I begin to understand faith as a form of engagement with God. I may not be able to summon up belief in miracles or dream big dreams, but I can indeed exercise my faith by engaging with God in prayer.

I recall a scene from very early in my marriage. We were visiting friends out West who had arranged for us to stay at a four-bedroom guesthouse that had no other occupants at the time. Over dinner, some comment hit one of us the wrong way, and before long, a marital spat had escalated. We sat up late trying to talk it through, but instead of bringing us together, the conversation only moved us further apart. Aware that I had a business meeting the next day, I stormed off from our bedroom to another one in search of peace and sleep.

A few minutes went by, the door opened, and Janet appeared with a new set of arguments supporting her side. I fled to another bedroom. The same thing happened. She would not let me alone! The scene became almost comical: a sulking, introverted husband running away from an insistent, extroverted wife. By the next day (not before), we could both laugh. I learned an important lesson, that not communicating is worse than fighting. In a wrestling match, at least both parties stay engaged.

That image of wrestling evokes one last scene from the Bible, the prototype of struggle with God. Abraham’s grandson Jacob has gotten through life by trickery and deceit, and now he must face the consequences in the person of his hot-tempered brother, whom he cheated out of family birthrights. Ridden by fear and guilt, Jacob sends his family and all his possessions on ahead across a river, with elaborate peace offerings to mollify Esau. For 20 years, he has lived in exile. Will Esau greet him with a sword or with an embrace? He shivers alone in the dark, waiting.

Someone bumps him—a man? an angel?—and Jacob does what he has always done. He fights as if his life depends on it. All night the two wrestle, neither gaining the advantage, until at last the first gleam of daybreak brightens the horizon. “Let me go,” the figure says, reaching down with a touch so potent it wrenches Jacob’s hip socket.

Staggering, overpowered, scared out of his wits, Jacob still manages to hang on. “I will not let you go unless you bless me,” he tells the figure. Instead of wrenching his neck with another touch, the figure tenderly bestows on Jacob a new name, Israel, which means “God-wrestler.” At last, Jacob learns the identity of his opponent.

A little later, Jacob sees his brother Esau approaching with 400 men and limps forward to meet him. Their own wrestling match began before birth, a tussle in utero. And now the moment of truth has arrived. God-wrestler holds out his arms.

A contemporary Jewish author, Arthur Waskow, wrote in his book Godwrestling that wrestling feels a lot like making love—and like making war. Jacob felt some of each, making love and making war, with the elusive figure in the night and with hairy Esau in the day. From a distance, it’s hard to distinguish a stranglehold from a hug.

God does not give in easily. Yet at the same time, God seems to welcome the persistence that keeps on fighting long after the match has been decided. Perhaps Jacob learned for the first time, that long night by the riverside, how to transform struggle into love. “To see your face is like seeing the face of God,” Jacob told his brother, words unimaginable had he not met God face to face the night before.

Although Jacob did many things wrong in life, he became the eponym for a tribe and a nation as well as for all of us who wrestle with God. We are all children of Israel, implied Paul, all of us God-wrestlers who cling to God in the dark, who chase God from room to room, who declare, “I will not let you go.” To us belong the blessing, the birthright, the kingdom.

“Prayer in its highest form and grandest success assumes the attitude of a wrestler with God,” concluded E. M. Bounds, who wrote eight books on prayer. Our no-holds-barred outbursts hardly threaten God, and sometimes they even seem to change him.

As the touch on Jacob’s hip socket proved, God could have ended the match at any point during that long night in the desert. Instead, the elusive figure lingered, as eager to be held as Jacob was to hold.

Philip Yancey: Grappling With God, Part 1

Jacob wrestles with God

This is an article from 2006 that will run in two parts.  It is taken from the book, “Prayer, Does It Make Any Difference?”  The book can be purchased   HERE.    Allan

Prayer sometimes feels like a hug and a stranglehold at the same time.

The church I attend reserves a brief time in which people in the pews can voice aloud their prayers. Over the years, I have heard hundreds of these prayers, and with very few exceptions, the word polite applies. One, however, stands out in my memory because of its raw emotion.

In a clear but wavering voice, a young woman began with the words, “God, I hated you after the rape! How could you let this happen to me?” The congregation abruptly fell silent. No more rustling of papers or shifting in seats. “And I hated the people in this church who tried to comfort me. I didn’t want comfort. I wanted revenge. I wanted to hurt back. I thank you, God, that you didn’t give up on me, and neither did some of these people. You kept after me, and I come back to you now and ask that you heal the scars in my soul.”

Of all the prayers I have heard in church, this one most resembles the style of testy prayers I find replete in the Bible, especially those from God’s favorites such as Abraham and Moses.

The Bargainer

Abraham, a man rightly celebrated for his faith, heard from God in visions, in one-on-one conversations, and even in a personal visit to his tent. God dangled before him glowing promises, one of which stuck in his craw: the assurance that he would father a great nation. Abraham was 75 when he first heard that promise, and over the next few years, God upped the ante with hints of offspring as bountiful as the dust of the earth and the stars in the sky.

Meanwhile, nature took its course, and at an age when he should have been patting the heads of great-grandchildren, Abraham remained childless. He knew he had few years of fertility left, if any. At the age of 86, per his barren wife Sarah’s suggestion, he followed the ancient custom of having intercourse with his wife’s servant to produce an heir.

The next time God visited, that offspring, a son named Ishmael, was a teenage outcast wandering the desert, a victim of Sarah’s jealousy. Abraham laughed aloud at God’s reiterated promise, and by now, sarcasm was creeping into his response: “Will a son be born to a man 100 years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of 90?” Sarah shared the bitter joke, muttering, “After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure?”

God responded with a message that to Abraham’s ears must have sounded like good news and bad news both. He would indeed father a child, but only after performing minor surgery on the part of his body necessary for the deed. Abraham becomes the father of circumcision as well as of Isaac.

That pattern of feint and thrust, of Abraham standing up to God only to get knocked down again, forms the background for a remarkable prayer, actually an extended dialogue between God and Abraham. “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?” God begins, as if recognizing that a valid partnership requires consultation before any major decision. Next, God unveils his plan to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, notorious for their wickedness and moral pollution of Abraham’s extended family.

By now, Abraham has learned his role in the partnership, and he makes no attempt to conceal his outrage. “Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the judge of all the earth do right?”

Then ensues a bargaining session much like what occurs in any Middle Eastern bazaar. What if there are 50 righteous persons in the city, will you spare it? All right, if I can find 50 righteous, I’ll spare the whole place. With a jolt, Abraham remembers who he’s bargaining with—Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes—but proceeds to lower his request to 45 persons.

Forty-five? No problem. May the Lord not be angry. … Now that I have been so bold—Abraham bows and scrapes, then continues to press. Forty? Thirty? Twenty? Ten? Each time God concedes without argument, concluding, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.”

Although ten righteous people could not be found to save Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham got what he really wanted, deliverance for his nephew and grandnieces. And we readers are left with the tantalizing fact that Abraham quit asking before God quit granting.

What if Abraham had bargained even harder and asked that the cities be spared for the sake of one righteous person, his nephew Lot? Was God, so quick to concede each point, actually looking for an advocate, a human being bold enough to express God’s own deepest instinct of mercy?

As Abraham learned, when we appeal to God’s grace and compassion, the fearsome God soon disappears. “The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion” (Num. 14:18). God is more merciful than we can imagine and welcomes appeals to that mercy.

Arguing with God

Skip forward half a millennium when another master bargainer appears on the scene. God, who has “remembered his covenant with Abraham,” handpicks a man with the perfect résumé for a crucial assignment. Moses has spent half his life learning leadership skills from the ruling empire of the day and half his life learning wilderness survival skills while fleeing a murder rap. Who better to lead a tribe of freed slaves through the wilderness to the Promised Land?

So as to leave no room for doubt, God introduces himself via an unnatural phenomenon: a fiery bush that does not burn up. Appropriately, Moses hides his face, afraid to look, as God announces the mission: “The cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

Unlike Abraham, Moses turns argumentative from the very first meeting. He tries false humility: Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh? When that fails, he marshals other objections: I don’t know your name … and what if the Israelites don’t believe me … I have never been eloquent. God patiently answers each one, orchestrating a few miracles to establish credibility. Still, Moses begs off: O Lord, please send someone else to do it. God’s patience runs out and his anger flares, but even so God suggests a compromise, a shared role with Moses’ brother Aaron. The famous Exodus from Egypt thus gets under way only after an extended bargaining session.

Moses puts that knack for negotiation, that chutzpah, to a supreme test sometime later when God’s patience with the tribe truly has run out. After watching ten plagues descend on Egypt, after walking away from slavery scot-free and burdened by plunder, after seeing a pharaoh’s state-of-the-art army swept under water, after following a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, after receiving miraculous supplies of water and food (some of it digesting in their bellies at that very moment)—after all that, the Israelites grow afraid, or bored, or “stiff-necked” in God’s diagnosis, and reject it all in favor of a golden idol made for them by Moses’ sidekick brother, the very Aaron God had recruited by way of compromise.

After The Frost: Streams In The Desert, March 28th

Why go I mourning?” Psalm 42:9 Canst thou answer this, believer? Canst thou find any reason why thou art so often mourning instead of rejoicing? Why yield to gloomy anticipations? Who told thee that the night would never end in day? Who told thee that the winter of thy discontent would proceed from frost to frost, from snow and ice, and hail, to deeper snow, and yet more heavy tempest of despair? Knowest thou not that day follows night, that flood comes after ebb, that spring and summer succeed winter? Hope thou then! Hope thou ever! for God fails thee not. –C. H. Spurgeon

“He was better to me than all my hopes;
He was better than all my fears;
He made a bridge of my broken works,
And a rainbow of my tears.

“The billows that guarded my sea-girt path,
But carried my Lord on their crest;
When I dwell on the days of my wilderness march
I can lean on His love for the rest.

“He emptied my hands of my treasured store,
And His covenant love revealed,
There was not a wound in my aching heart,
But the balm of His breath hath healed.
Oh, tender and true was the chastening sore,
In wisdom, that taught and tried,
Till the soul that He sought was trusting in Him,
And nothing on earth beside.

“He guided by paths that I could not see,
By ways that I have not known;
The crooked was straight, and the rough was plain

As I followed the Lord alone.
I praise Him still for the pleasant palms,
And the water-springs by the way,
For the glowing pillar of flame by night,
And the sheltering cloud by day.

“Never a watch on the dreariest halt,
But some promise of love endears;
I read from the past, that my future shall be
Far better than all my fears.
Like the golden pot, of the wilderness bread,
Laid up with the blossoming rod,
All safe in the ark, with the law of the Lord,
Is the, covenant care of my God.”