Psalm 06 – Blessed Are Those Suffering Chronic Conditions

…or at least, they should be.

Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger
    or discipline me in your wrath.
Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint;
    heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony.
My soul is in deep anguish.
    How long, Lord, how long?

Turn, Lord, and deliver me;
    save me because of your unfailing love.
Among the dead no one proclaims your name.
    Who praises you from the grave?

I am worn out from my groaning.

All night long I flood my bed with weeping
    and drench my couch with tears.
My eyes grow weak with sorrow;
    they fail because of all my foes.

Away from me, all you who do evil,
    for the Lord has heard my weeping.
The Lord has heard my cry for mercy;
    the Lord accepts my prayer.
10 All my enemies will be overwhelmed with shame and anguish;
    they will turn back and suddenly be put to shame.

Technically I suffer from a chronic illness – hypothyroidism.  My thyroid doesn’t make enough of the hormones it is supposed to.  It’s pretty common, and mine is well managed with a little daily pill, so I often forget I fall into this chronic condition category.  The biggest impact this has had on my life was interfering with fertility when we were first starting to get pregnant.  But starting that little daily pill (it’s very little – like a tenth the size of a Tylenol) fixed that.  I have dry skin, get cold easily, and get tired a lot – which are all signs of the disease, but I don’t know if I can fully attribute those symptoms to it.  I also live in a house with a wood stove (which sucks the moisture out of the air), a drafty house (which would explain the chills), and have two small children (and what parent isn’t tired?).  If I feel I’m even more tired than normal, I get some blood work done to see if I need to up my dosage of Levothyroxine and that’s that.

Other chronic diseases that people close to me are living through every day include diabetes (type I and II), PCOS, endometriosis (I actually know several people with this supposedly rare disease), depression, a “benign” brain tumor, transplant recipients (fun fact: you’re on immuno-suppressants basically the rest of your life when you get an organ), rheumatoid arthritis, several people with hip replacements, and musculo-skeletal pain from things like slipped discs and something akin to tennis elbow.  I bet if you sat down and made a list, you have a lot of people in your life suffering through chronic conditions, too.

According to the National Health Council, 40% of Americans suffer chronic disease.  That’s 133 million people.  And 81 million of those people suffer from multiple conditions.  This doesn’t even count the un-diagnosed or under-diagnosed people that are out there, and might not count things like organ donor recipients – it’s hard to tell. I also don’t know if it counts pregnant people or people with disabilities like amputees – so that number is probably much, much higher.

But does society at large have mercy on the faint? Do we hear those who call out in anguish, “how long, how long?”  Outrageous prescription costs, limited accessibility accommodations, and judgmental attitudes show that we don’t.  It is easy to forget the suffering of others, especially when you are healthy yourself, especially when so many of these conditions are invisible.  Here’s just a few examples of some of the indignities and injustices people with chronic conditions have to suffer through:

  • Individuals requiring a wheelchair often have no option except to go for hours without it during air travel.  This may not seem like a big deal at first, since you’re just sitting, but that means no going to the bathroom, which also isn’t wheelchair accessible, and it means being completely reliant upon airline/airport employees for your mobility in and out of your seat and plane.
  • Chronically ill people are not “so lucky” because they “get to just sit there.”  Sitting allows them to handle debilitating pain for longer.  I’ve never had fibromyalgia or arthritis or any other chronic pain condition like that – but I did have very prominent and painful varicose veins during both my pregnancies that compression leggings couldn’t fully control.  My legs were throbbing my last trimesters, all the time, and I had to sit down often.  Unfortunately sitting down isn’t a magic cure, it just makes pain more manageable.  But some people seem to think pain disappears when you sit down, and then you’re able to indulge all your lazy desires.  If. Only.
  • People still think illness or disability is due to karma, sin, or some other morally-linked reason, and often say so to the ill or disabled person.  I’m not saying God doesn’t have the power to inflict illness of any sort on people, I just don’t think that’s really high on Xyr list of things to do.  I’ve already mentioned the blog I stumbled across that said Autistic children (like my own beautiful daughter) are possessed by the devil because their parents are sinners.  Paralympic swimmer Karni Liddell even had a 2013 #hearditwhilstdisabled campaign to bring attention to all the hurtful things people say.  That’s right, this woman is an Olympic swimmer, something my able-bodied self will never be, and still hears this bullshit.

It is a small gesture, but let me take a moment to offer a blessing to all those suffering with a chronic condition.  You are not a cautionary tale nor an inspiration for able-bodied people, you are a human being whom God loves and are worthy of both our respect and Xyr blessing, so God bless you.  The Lord has heard your weeping.  May all those who never took your pain seriously, who denied your worth, who stood in your way be overwhelmed with shame and anguish, may they turn back suddenly and be put to shame.  I pray you find peace and fulfillment in your life, and that God’s blessings are ever present.  I pray that government, health care, and society at large change their policies and attitudes towards those with chronic conditions, and I vow to advocate for that change with you.  God bless you.  Amen.

Job 14 – Truths vs. Greater Truths

Seeing the forest through the trees.

“Mortals, born of woman,
    are of few days and full of trouble.
They spring up like flowers and wither away;
    like fleeting shadows, they do not endure.
Do you fix your eye on them?
    Will you bring them before you for judgment?
Who can bring what is pure from the impure?
    No one!
A person’s days are determined;
    you have decreed the number of his months
    and have set limits he cannot exceed.
So look away from him and let him alone,
    till he has put in his time like a hired laborer.

“At least there is hope for a tree:
    If it is cut down, it will sprout again,
    and its new shoots will not fail.
Its roots may grow old in the ground
    and its stump die in the soil,
yet at the scent of water it will bud
    and put forth shoots like a plant.
10 But a man dies and is laid low;
    he breathes his last and is no more.
11 As the water of a lake dries up
    or a riverbed becomes parched and dry,
12 so he lies down and does not rise;
    till the heavens are no more, people will not awake
    or be roused from their sleep.

13 “If only you would hide me in the grave
    and conceal me till your anger has passed!
If only you would set me a time
    and then remember me!
14 If someone dies, will they live again?
    All the days of my hard service
    I will wait for my renewal to come.
15 You will call and I will answer you;
    you will long for the creature your hands have made.
16 Surely then you will count my steps
    but not keep track of my sin.
17 My offenses will be sealed up in a bag;
    you will cover over my sin.

18 “But as a mountain erodes and crumbles
    and as a rock is moved from its place,
19 as water wears away stones
    and torrents wash away the soil,
    so you destroy a person’s hope.
20 You overpower them once for all, and they are gone;
    you change their countenance and send them away.
21 If their children are honored, they do not know it;
    if their offspring are brought low, they do not see it.
22 They feel but the pain of their own bodies
    and mourn only for themselves.”

There are some who think v. 12-14 are at the very least innocently mistranslated, but possibly even changed completely and intentionally, to more fully support the idea of resurrection.  Indeed, I got excited when I read that passage – “I will wait for my renewal to come.”  Isn’t that what we’re taught, as Christians, to wait for?  I mean, the return of Jesus is the renewal this whole Christian “thing” is all about, right?

So let’s say that this passage has been manipulated.  I can totally believe that: before they were codified into a collection we now call “the Bible,” these stories (especially a really old one like Job) were oral traditions that were retold and later written down in a centuries-long game of telephone, if you will, so things were bound to change, at least a little.  But does that mean we should totally scrap it?

In short, no.  But this is a good time to plug in a little reminder about reading the Bible in context, which can be easy to forget, especially in a project like this with a laser focus on one chapter at a time.  Is it true that the key passage of this chapter has been manipulated to fit an agenda?  Quite possibly yes.  But how does it, and this chapter at large, fit into the greater truths the Bible is trying to convey to us?

Taken as a whole, this chapter – and most of Job’s three-chapter speech here – aren’t really about renewal and allusions to resurrection, but about God’s infinite power and the insignificance of humans in the face of such an almighty force.  I think two verses from chapter 12 could serve as Job’s thesis in this three-chapter speech: “To God belong wisdom and power, counsel and understanding are his…to him belong strength and victory, both deceived and deceiver are his.” (13:13, 16)  So, even ignoring the potentially problematic passage, we have our first greater truth: God is great.

The second greater truth takes a little inference, but I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch.  The second greater truth is that even though we are “like a fleeting shadow” in our mortality, we are important to God, God sees us.  In this chapter alone Job mentions God watching man three times: in vv. 3, 6, and 16.  In all of Job’s the chapters making up Job’s speeches so far, God watching man is mentioned nine, possibly ten times (in v. 7:8 he could be referring to his friends or to God when he says “you will look for me but I will be no more”).  True, it is mostly in a negative sense, more like a kid with a magnifying glass over an anthill than a beneficent Lord, but we must remember the place of pain and lack of understanding from which Job is speaking.  In fact, because of his suffering Job is extra important to God.  Remember, the cause of all this suffering was a wager between God and Satan – so Job’s actions through his suffering are of keen interest to the celestial court of this story, even if Job’s days are just as fleeting as the rest of ours.

So if God is great (Greater Truth One), why are we important to God (Greater Truth Two)?  I honestly don’t know.  But perhaps the key to that mystery lies in the Greatest Truth: that God is love.  We may not understand all of God’s ways, but even with all the suffering we see in Job, all the suffering we see in the world, we can know that we, our insignificant, flawed, mortal, fleeting selves, are important to a power much greater than our own.  God is watching us, all the time.  Xe sees our successes, and rejoices with us, Xe sees our failures, and mourns with us.  One, or even hundreds, of controversial translations in the Bible cannot dissuade me from that fact, because I can see the forest through the trees, or in this case the truth through the words, and it bears repeating one more time: God loves us. God loves you.  Praise be to God.

***

I’m going to switch gears here because we’ve reached a good stopping point in the cycle of speeches between Job and his friends. I’m setting aside the Book of Job until next Lent and reading Psalm 6 and Psalm 32 in the remaining time before Holy Week, which starts a week from today.  During Holy Week I’ll read corresponding Gospel passages, specifically Matthew 21, 26, and 27.  Then for Easter I’ll read Matthew 28, if you want are reading along (or ahead) as we go.

Job 13 – God’s Awe-Inspiring Love

We are fallible and fleeting, but God loves us.

“My eyes have seen all this,
    my ears have heard and understood it.
What you know, I also know;
    I am not inferior to you.
But I desire to speak to the Almighty
    and to argue my case with God.
You, however, smear me with lies;
    you are worthless physicians, all of you!
If only you would be altogether silent!
    For you, that would be wisdom.
Hear now my argument;
    listen to the pleas of my lips.
Will you speak wickedly on God’s behalf?
    Will you speak deceitfully for him?
Will you show him partiality?
    Will you argue the case for God?
Would it turn out well if he examined you?
    Could you deceive him as you might deceive a mortal?
10 He would surely call you to account
    if you secretly showed partiality.
11 Would not his splendor terrify you?
    Would not the dread of him fall on you?
12 Your maxims are proverbs of ashes;
    your defenses are defenses of clay.

13 “Keep silent and let me speak;
    then let come to me what may.
14 Why do I put myself in jeopardy
    and take my life in my hands?
15 Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him;
    I will surely defend my ways to his face.
16 Indeed, this will turn out for my deliverance,
    for no godless person would dare come before him!
17 Listen carefully to what I say;
    let my words ring in your ears.
18 Now that I have prepared my case,
    I know I will be vindicated.
19 Can anyone bring charges against me?
    If so, I will be silent and die.

20 “Only grant me these two things, God,
    and then I will not hide from you:
21 Withdraw your hand far from me,
    and stop frightening me with your terrors.
22 Then summon me and I will answer,
    or let me speak, and you reply to me.
23 How many wrongs and sins have I committed?
    Show me my offense and my sin.
24 Why do you hide your face
    and consider me your enemy?
25 Will you torment a windblown leaf?
    Will you chase after dry chaff?
26 For you write down bitter things against me
    and make me reap the sins of my youth.
27 You fasten my feet in shackles;
    you keep close watch on all my paths
    by putting marks on the soles of my feet.

28 “So man wastes away like something rotten,
    like a garment eaten by moths.

This blog is all about radical love, how we should radically love each other and how God radically loves us.  Believe it or not, God’s incredible love for us is exactly what this passage illustrates.

“I desire to speak to the Almighty, to argue my case with God,” Job declares in v. 3.  When you think about it, that’s rather impertinent.  Can you imagine being charged with a crime and demanding to go straight to the Supreme Court?  You’d be laughed at and denied.  But with God we can do this.  We can go straight to the highest court, if you will, and argue our case.  Job knows he is not perfect, even that he doesn’t know all the ways of God, but he still has faith: “Though he slay me, yet I have hope in him. I will surely defend my ways to his face. Indeed, this will surely be my deliverance, for no godless person would dare come before him!” (v. 15-16) Job wants to bypass his useless friends with their “proverbs of ashes” and go straight to the source to confess his faith, examine his shortcomings in God’s eyes, and make his case for salvation.  Which is what we should all do.  Now, not all of us are going to have a vision of  God come to Earth in a storm to answer our cries in person as Job does later on, but we can still do what Job does, in prayer, any day, any time.  No need to even make an appointment – God is always there, ready to listen to us.

And speaking of listening, Job really does some raging in this speech.  This is the first time Job speaks sarcastically and angrily to his friends (actually last chapter was the first time, but this chapter is a continuation of the same speech, so it still counts).  His tone towards God is less angry, but still plaintive, to be sure.  Job makes a demand of God in v. 20: “grant me these two things,” and accuses God of making Job Xyr enemy (v. 24).  It’s easy to forget, since Job is so eloquent, but not only is he in sorrow, he is in pain.  How many of us have lashed out in sorrow or pain?  Saying things we don’t really mean, or just being unable to see past our own misery?  Often, we lash out at those nearest to us.  And, just like a good friend, God doesn’t take it personally with Job.  Xe knows it is Job’s pain speaking.  Xe is not going to hold Job’s angry words against him in the end.

And there-in lies the wonder of it all.  For in the grand scheme of things, we are just windblown leaves or dry chaff, as Job points out.  I distinctly remember learning in 7th grade that if you took the whole history of Earth, from the time it was formed 4.5 billion years ago, and condensed that history into a year, then all of human history–and by that I mean the first homo-sapiens, not just recorded history–fits into the last half-hour of the last day of that year.  Now take the whole history of the galaxy, which scientists say is 14.51 billion years old, and we’re barely even a blip.  Yet for being almost nothing, God loves us.  Xe decided the world was not complete without us, and created us in Xyr image. We are fallible and fleeting, but God loves us, every single one of us.  It’s as unrealistic as us being able to love individual snowflakes as our own children, but for God, it is possible.  And that is truly awe-inspiring, and worthy of our love and thanksgiving in return.