Meditations on a Broken Foot

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11 Responses to Meditations on a Broken Foot

  1. Ruth Derksen says:

    Those sentiments echo mine completely! Even though our situations are different, yours was an accident, mine a result of deliberate choice, the result is the same. I have experienced the same feeling of uselessness, a waste of a perfectly beautiful number of Fall weeks where I should be working on the yard and helping my son and daughter-in-law pass the last precious days before becoming parents for the first time. The omni-present pain and fitful nights it causes, relying on others when I would much rather do it myself but cannot. But an understanding or deeper appreciation for what many others endure each day has been a surprise by-product of this temporary (I hope) disability. The Lord works in mysterious ways! Thanks for sharing your reality during this setback in your busy life

  2. HJK says:

    I am very curious about your comments that God does not allow bad things to happen. Isn’t that what the whole story of Job is about? God allowing Satan to wield his evil – specifically on Job and his family. When God asks Satan to consider his servant Job the second time (Job 2) God even takes ownership (v.3) for the things he allowed Satan to do the Job earlier. In Job’s story God allowed some atrocious things to happen Job’s family, But in the end Satan could not pull way Job from God, in fact, the exact opposite happened; Job was drawn closer to God.
    I want to agree with you that God does allow rape or genocide or even broken feet, but how does that fit with his sovereignty? I do agree that God does permit atrocities to happen for some random greater good. But like Aslan told the children in C.S Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, Aslan does not discuss another person story with no-one except the person himself. East story, each atrocity, each joy, each challenge, each broken foot, is part of a story and between a person and God. In the end, I like to believe that in all these things it is God desire to draw that person to himself.
    Happy Healing

    • Michael Pahl says:

      Hi, Henk John. Wow, it’s great to hear from you! I hope you’re well, and thanks for the comment.

      I read Job as essentially a parable. It does have a larger point or impression it intends to convey, but we can’t focus too much on the details or we can miss that larger point or impression. So, for instance, we shouldn’t conclude from Job that there is actually a “council of sons of God” which includes a being called “the Satan/Accuser” and which meets periodically to discuss individual humans (among other matters). This would be akin to deriving a detailed personal eschatology from Jesus’ story of the rich man and Lazaraus—which, of course, many have done, but shouldn’t.

      The major point of Job, as I see it, is essentially to dismantle the common ancient Near Eastern idea of “we get what we deserve in this life”: that prosperity is a sign of divine blessing and destitution a sign of divine disfavour (okay, that’s not just an ancient idea!). The book of Job severs the link between material prosperity and divine favour: we cannot tell, from one’s social station or life circumstances, whether they have God’s approval or not.

      Another significant point of Job, I think, is that there are in fact no “answers” to the “problem of evil”—there is only God’s presence. In the end God comes near to Job: that is the most Job—or any of us, even Jesus, as his Gospel story shows—can expect from God in the midst of tragedy. And that should be enough for us.

  3. Otto Hamm says:

    Thanks for this personal sharing. Can identify with it. Would like to talk more about God’ control.

  4. Michael Pahl says:

    This has stirred up a few reactions, both here and in other venues – that’s good! I’d encourage everyone to read carefully what I’ve actually written, and then read also my response to Henk John above on the book of Job.

    Let me give a few addenda to all this, first an analogy I’ve found helpful:

    One of the biblical analogies for God I’ve found most helpful in thinking through questions surrounding suffering, sin, the problem of evil, and so on, is the analogy of God as a parent.

    When our children were younger we would regularly take them to a playground to play (hard to believe those days are gone!). We would let them play on a play structure that we deemed suitable for their physical abilities, even knowing that there was always the possibility that they could fall and break something. We gave them boundaries, we monitored them, but by and large we let them explore their world and test their limits. The risk of harm was small relative to the benefits of them playing on the play structure: enjoyment, outdoor physical activity, physical development, social interaction, and the like.

    But we would not have been good parents if we let them play on a play structure where falling and breaking their arm was a certainty, or even an unreasonably high risk. We would have been horrific parents if we directly broke their arm ourselves, or even allowed someone else to break their arm—despite knowing full well they might learn life lessons and build character by having a broken arm.

    This seems to me to be a good rule of thumb in doing theology: if our theology presents us with a god who is more immoral than we are, we should probably reconsider our theology.

    • lorajbraun says:

      Yes, oh yes! I especially agree with your last point above, but it’s all helpful. This is really what I meant when I said last night that God did not give Rowan Down Syndrome. Not that God can’t bring good out of it, or that Rowan isn’t part of God’s good creation. But just that God did not directly cause (or allow) a condition that will cause significant difficulties for Rowan throughout his life. This is not what any parent would choose for their child, and it is not what God chooses either.

  5. Michael Pahl says:

    Addendum #2, on the language of “harm”:

    Also helpful is to consider what is meant by “harm.” I use that word very specifically. It connects with a common English translation of Paul’s words in Romans 13, that “love does no harm (kakos) to its neighbour; therefore, love is the fulfillment of the Law.” It also recalls the popular version of the Hippocratic oath for doctors and those in medical professions: “First, do no harm.”

    By harm I don’t mean just “anything difficult.” I mean that which hinders or keeps us from having our basic human needs met, e.g. air, water, food, clothing, and shelter; health and security; belonging, intimacy, respect, significance, etc.

    This, for me, is essentially a definition of “sin”: thinking, saying, or doing something, or not saying or doing something, which causes this kind of harm to others. God does not sin; God does not do harm.

    Again, all this is not to say that God cannot or does not work in and through the harms that have happened and use those experiences in our lives to help shape our character or bring about other good ends—that’s the good news story of Jesus. But rather it’s to say that God is neither the direct nor the ultimate cause of harm in our lives.

  6. Michael Pahl says:

    And a third addendum, this on God’s “sovereignty”:

    Of course this raises questions about God’s meticulous control over everything that happens. I don’t believe that either. When the Bible talks about God’s sovereignty, or says things like God is “King” or “Lord,” it is not to say God controls everything—no one in the ancient world would say that of a king or lord! Rather, it is to say that (like a human king or lord) all things fall under God’s jurisdiction, and we owe our ultimate allegiance to God, to follow God’s ways.

    As for God’s control of events, I see God’s power and freedom as constrained by God’s love. God has created us and all things as contingently free creations (that is, we are free to act, but within all the expected and rather numerous constraints of genetics, environment, history, etc.). God knows all the possibilities of the future, and thus is able to anticipate whatever might happen—but God doesn’t know the immediate future as if it were a single, certain thing. The immediate future cannot be certain, because there are so many free persons shaping it, including God.

    So God doesn’t meticulously control all things. God acts and interacts and reacts within the present, in light of the past and anticipating the future, always for the good of creation and never for its harm. The ultimate future is certain, because God is patient and persistent, and ultimately God will bring all things to justice and peace and flourishing life.

    • HJK says:

      Response to addenda

      I am trying to understand your perspective in light of the many stories in the OT; especially in light of the story of Job and the book of Judges. Whether Job is an actual true story, parable or a mixture thereof, it does portray God as directly allowing harm to Job and his family. I still see God’s sovereignty as underlying theme in Job (must be my Calvinist roots :-). It is evidenced in the first two chapters, declared in God’s response to Job and repented in Job’s confession to God’s questioning. However, in light of what you are saying, God would not have known Job’s response and must have had a lot trust in Job’s faith.
      Also, in light of the many stories in Judges where God allowed other tribes of people to harm (sin) his people for a period until his people would returned to him. Then God would raise up a deliverer to free his people from the harm caused by the pagan tribe. This theme is portrayed throughout the OT beginning judges, throughout the reign of the many kings, right up to the to the exile. It is the continual story of God using the atrocities of warring tribes to draw his people back to himself. (Do we dare to wonder why a small tribe like Isis has been able to bring the powers of western free world to its knees – Maybe, just maybe, God has a greater purpose in it all) It seems what we deemed okay for God to do for his chosen people in the OT we have no appetite for now.

      When Paul declares the supremacy of Christ in Colossians 1 (16) “All things whether visible or invisible, whether thrones or dominions, whether principalities or powers – all things were created through him and for him, (17) He himself is before all things and all things are held together in him.” (NET) Paul is saying that all things, not just the good, were created by and for him. (I know, I should know better than to quote Paul to you 🙂

      In your first addendum I have trouble making the jump from comparing God to a loving parent, to understanding where the atrocities of war and genocide fit in the parent/child relationship. What happens in war and genocide no parent would ever want happen to their children. I also struggle to understand what is happening with-in Syria could be within in God’s control, yet at the same time, could be out of God’s control – there are no easy answers. Yet in the small scale, things like broken foots, I have seen how God has used (allowed) harm to draw me closer to himself – Admittedly, most of the times these.insights come well after the fact.

      Take care.

      • Michael Pahl says:

        Thanks again, Henk John. There’s a lot in what you’ve just written! I’ll try to focus in on a few thoughts in response.

        The Old Testament is difficult to interpret as a Christian regardless of our perspective on this! You’re right that there are many things in the OT (and some in the NT, actually) which can seem to go against this basic idea I’m proposing, that God neither harms nor allows harm, yet God can work with us through our experiences of harm to bring about good things.

        I’ve found a few things helpful over the past few years in my interpretation of the Bible generally. One is letting go of the need for the Bible to speak with a single voice on any given theme. There’s a reason why Calvinists can list one set of verses, Arminians list another set, and each thinks they have proven their point. The Bible isn’t univocal on God’s sovereignty, or God’s foreknowledge, or the meaning of suffering, or so on.

        A second helpful idea for me (and this is related to the first) has been truly coming to terms with the reality that the various biblical writings were written from different worldviews. Judges was written from within a thoroughly tribalistic worldview: each tribe of humans has their own god(s), their own rituals and cultural practices, and every interaction between tribes is a clash of cultures and an honour contest between their gods. For various reasons (some below) I can’t accept that worldview.

        Overall (and this has been brewing since my early days teaching at Prairie), I am much more comfortable with the humanness of the Bible, and seeing that God speaks through that humanness (not in spite of it). This is along the analogy of the incarnation: God appears to us in the man Jesus, not in spite of Jesus’ humanity. (This “incarnational” analogy for Scripture comes from Peter Enns, who has some helpful things to say about the other things I’ve said above.)

        A final thought on interpreting the Bible: I am more and more convinced that we as Christians need to interpret the Bible centred on Jesus: Jesus is its goal, and the lens through which we read it. This means we can’t simply say, “This is how God is revealed in Judges or Job, and this needs to be weighed equally against how God is revealed in Jesus in the Gospel of Luke.” No, Jesus is the eternal Word from God (John 1), the very image of God (Col 1), the exact representation of God (Heb 1)—all others are as shadows of the reality, which is Christ (again, read Col and Heb, among others). So we must give greater weight to the way God is revealed in Jesus (not just in the Gospels, of course, but throughout the NT). And this means there are times when we must follow Jesus in saying, “You have heard that it was said, but I say to you.”

        For more of my thoughts on all this, and what it means to claim the Bible is “inspired by God” through all this, see my lengthy blog post on “What is Scripture, and How do we Read It?”

        This response is already getting too long, so I’ll just leave you with one more thought. You keep returning to the idea that God works through harm to bring about good things, specifically drawing us closer to God’s self. I absolutely agree. None of what I’ve said denies that. Remember, my basic point is still that God neither harms nor allows harm, yet God can work with us through our experiences of harm to bring about good things. On that last point we can both say “Amen!”

  7. Michael Pahl says:

    Another addendum!

    Someone pointed to C. S. Lewis’ quote: “What do people mean when they say, ‘I am not afraid of God because I know He is good’? Have they never even been to a dentist?”

    It hints at a good question: Is all “harm” bad? Can God not do short-term harm in order to bring about long-term good, like a dentist drilling or a surgeon cutting in order to bring about better health?

    Sure, I’d say—but let’s think more carefully about that analogy. First, remember I’m not just talking about “harm” as “something difficult,” or even “something that hurts.” See an earlier addendum for what I mean by “harm.”

    But second—and this is the crucial point—a surgeon will only amputate a leg, say, if there is a specific greater harm that faces the patient if the leg is not amputated. Surgeons don’t amputate a leg so the patient can build character or learn a life lesson. Surgeons don’t amputate a leg so that some time down the road the patient will join a support group for disabled persons, meet their future spouse, get married, and have three wonderful children. Any of those things might happen, but we would consider it criminal for a surgeon to amputate a leg for any of those reasons.

    Again, I go back to my “rule of thumb” for doing theology: if our theology presents us with a god who is more immoral than we are, we should probably reconsider our theology. And again, I would highlight my basic point: God neither harms nor allows harm, yet God can work with us through our experiences of harm to bring about good things.


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