Review of Children of Divorce by Dr. Andrew Root

Returning to Family Matters

In July’s edition of the WLC Messenger, I am returning to family matters after a couple of months on other topics. If you know me well, then you know that divorce, remarriage, and the effect such decisions have upon children is a topic that is close to my heart. I myself am a child from a home that has been touched by divorce. I have close family members, friends, and parishioners whose lives have been touched by divorce. I have studied the teachings of Scripture on the topic of divorce and remarriage.

Children of Divorce

Lately, I have been reading Children of Divorce: The Loss of Family As the Loss of Being by Andrew Root. It is a heavy book (not in weight, but in content), and having been published by Baker Academic, it is indeed an academic book. It is 171 pages in length, and its author, Andrew Root, holds a PhD from Princeton Theological Seminary and is the assistant professor of youth and family ministry at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN. Professor Root is renown for his interaction with German theologians Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer as he converses and writes on the area of youth ministry. In an era where so many are attempting to merely entertain youth with the latest trends, Root has breathed theological depth into relational youth ministry. In addition to his training and expertise, he also brings his own experience of his parents’ divorce to bear on this 2010 publication—Children of Divorce.

Introduction

In the Introduction, Root shares about his own experience as a child of divorce. He also briefly describes the increasing cultural acceptance of divorce that grew out of the 1970’s and “no fault” divorce. The book provides a much needed perspective in all of the divorcing going on—the perspective of the child. He states his thesis, “My overall thesis is that divorce is an ontological issue, one that impacts our very being-in-the-world” (xviii). Ontology is the study of being or existence. Therefore, Root is suggesting that when a divorce happens, the union which gave a child his/her very existence is removed and results in an ontological crisis.

A History of Family, a History of the Self

Chapter one develops the history of the western family along with shifting objectives behind why people have married. He sums up this development when he writes,

The history of the family has followed a broad progression the last six hundred years: its objective has shifted from property and power mergers, to labor, and then to love. These changes follow the evolution of cultural currents impacted by the Enlightenment, currents that changed us from premodern to modern to late-modern people. Divorce, then, is the tragic underbelly of the liberation of marriage and family from being centered on land or labor to being centered on love. But now, standing in late modernity, we find ourselves with a problem, a problem much like the effects of modernity on scientific discovery or technological advance. It is the problem of risk. Scientifically and technologically, this means we can split the atom, but in doing so can destroy the world. We can construct effective power plants, but they pollute the planet. Similarly, marriage and family are free from the bondage of a harsh earlier world, but free for what? Making family about love heightened the significance of the person (the self), but it left us with a dangerous risk. When marriage is about love between persons, and nothing more, what remains when love is doubted or destroyed? . . . then who are [the children] once the love that created them and their primary community is gone? (4–5).

As love became more individualized, subjective, and about self-fulfillment, “the step out of marriage into divorce was then increasingly inevitable” (22). While objectives for marriage such as mergers or labor cemented the child’s existence in the family’s tradition or function, these things were much more difficult to discard or destroy. Families formed out of mergers or labor needed the father-mother-child community to survive and succeed, and it took monumental shifts or changes to take away the security the family provided for the child.

But for the children of the late-twentieth-century love union, all it took to destroy a marriage was a change in Mom and Dad’s individual, subjective feelings. Here, then, is the conflict that we have yet to solve: what do you do when the self-fulfillment of mother and father requires the dissolving of a marriage, but the security and self-fulfillment of the child depends upon its continuation? (23)

Marriage, Divorce, and Ontology

This opening chapter sets the stage for chapters two and three where Root interacts with Giddens’s Social Theory and Heidegger’s Dasein (German—being there). Root concludes, “My being, as we have seen with the examples above, is contingent on the being of others.” In other words, “In confronting the question of my identity, I am also confronting the question of the identity of others . . . To be is to be with” (64). That is to say, a child is only with the parents. Gidden and Heidegger lead Root to assert,

that divorce in this detraditionalized late modernity may have a deep ontological impact that is often overlooked . . . divorce confronts the core of the young person’s humanity, for it affects his or her being and acting in the social world (64).

Barth’s Anthropology and Imago Dei

Subsequently, Root moves to the theological in chapters four and five. Here, he engages the anthropology and imago Dei (image of God) doctrines of the German theologian, Karl Barth. These chapters touched my soul and gave expression and words to feelings and thoughts that I have harbored for twenty years. Root discusses Barth’s analogia relationis, “an analogy of relationship between the being of humanity and the being of God.” That is to say, “To be is to be in relationship.” Barth demonstrates this first in the Trinity’s relating as Father, Son, and Spirit and then moves to anthropology and deeper still into the imago Dei—being in relationship is fundamental to being human, even to being real. Root writes,

This means that relationship constitutes reality; it is relationship that leads to being (not the other way around). We find our being in being-with-others (71–75).

Considering the child of divorce, I hope that you can begin to see and feel Root’s argument as he employs Barth’s theology. The relationship—the union—of father and mother gives the child his/her being, his or her reality. To be in this relationship is to be real. When divorce divides the union which gave the child existence, he slips into the unreal. While a child of course forms other communities in which he lives and moves as he gets older, divorce means that he “has lost the one that has been from the beginning the one that made him real . . . When this is taken away, the young person is lost.” At this point, Root shares an interview with a young lady named Nicole who describes her parents separation and divorce,

That afternoon, after he left, she [her mother] sat us down on the couch and said he wasn’t coming back. I can’t even remember my reaction. I know I couldn’t understand what was happening. But I know exactly how I felt. Lost. Now everything I see I have to know the cause, so I can explain the effect. Since I can’t really understand why the divorce came about, I constantly struggle to make sense of my family (75).

Having engaged with “the being” of Barth’s anthropology, Root also engages “the acting” of Barth’s anthropology as it relates to the child of divorce. Beyond the ontological crisis for the child, there is a crisis of acting. The child of divorce now lives in two worlds but is in his very being a reminder of the old world, the old reality. His resemblance, the shape of his eyes, his mannerisms, expressions “are no longer undeniable witnesses to their being as being-with these people [i.e., the parents]. They become instead signs or reminders of division” (65). In these two worlds, the child struggles to find coherence regarding his acting or his agency. “He must act one way in one world and another in the other world” (65). Root acknowledges that living in multiple “worlds” (e.g., work, school, social gatherings, etc) is part of our modern society and that children must learn to act and compartmentalize appropriately in these varied settings; however, he writes,

But to have to act differently, even contradictorily, in relation to those who correlate and are responsible for your being is quite different. When there are two family worlds, the child is asked to do the impossible. To find his being in two opposed worlds, he is asked to be two people (65).

I summarized this in the margin of the book by saying that ontological duplicity leads to relational duplicity.

Also within chapters three and four, Root offers exceptional research that distinguishes the difference between the impact of the death of a parent upon a child and the impact of divorce upon a child. One difference is that the death of a parent points a child forward to a future event regarding his being while a divorce causes a child to look back to a past event regarding his being.

Death looks to a future reality, an event that will happen as time unfolds for the young person. Divorce does not so much point forward as throw the foundational event of the child’s very origins into regret and question. Death promises the eventual end of his being; divorce questions if he ever should have been at all (77).

Root calls this a “haunting reality” for the child of divorce. Second, the death of a parent and the divorce of parents differ in the area of agency. Root writes,

Death (unless it is suicide, which opens up a whole other truckload of issues) rarely if ever occurs through the agency of the dying person. Disease, accident, and tragedy happen to the parent over and against their choice (action). But divorce is an action, not a fate; it may feel unavoidable, but from the child’s perspective it will always come finally by the choice of one or both parent to end the union (77).

Barth’s view of the image of God introduces a substantial shift in theology and gives further explanation as to why divorce causes a crisis for the child at the ontological level. Many have articulated the image of God as pertaining to humanity being endowed with an essence similar to God’s, possessing a diluted form of God’s substance. Categories such as intellect, volition, and emotion are described. Having these capacities, we are able to serve God, have dominion, pursue freedom, liberty, and happiness. Barth looked beyond these capacities to something else that makes us truly human—our relationships.

Barth proposes a major paradigm shift in theological anthropology: one from seeing the human being as an individual defined by innate faculties to seeing the person as a dynamic-interpersonal agent whose faculties arise only as they exist in relations to others (91).

The point is this: what good is intellect, volition, and emotion without relationships in which to employ them? Root writes,

To reflect the image of God is to be in community, it is to be with and for others, just as the Father is with and for the Son through the Spirit . . . Reality itself is constituted not in substances and essences, but in relationships. We are real and freed from the unreal, not because we can think, reason, or feel, but because we are held in the community of others composed by the relational community of God (92–93).

He connects Barth’s relational imago Dei shift to the topic of divorce in this way,

When the image of God is seen as a relational reality, freedom is not understood as the freedom to do whatever is needed to make oneself happy and free. Rather, freedom is understood as the freedom to be for others. In the logic of a relational imago Dei we find our freedom, not away from others, but in giving ourselves to others (93).

Going further, he connects the relational imago Dei to the children of divorce by correcting assumptions,

We assume that divorce impacts [children] at the level of intellect, will, and emotions. Therefore, our actions for them seek to help them think correctly about the divorce (“It is not your fault”), reason realistically (“Mom and Dad are not getting back together”), and feel properly (“It is OK to be mad and sad, but soon you’ll feel better and be better because Mom and Dad will be happier”). Most of the initiatives to help kids deal with divorce seem stuck in this substantialistic perspective”(93–94).

This approach often results in the theory of “The Good Divorce,” which is founded upon two myths: (1) “Happy Parents Make Happy Children,” and (2) “Divorce Is a Temporary Crisis.” Both of these are untrue, and neglect the ontological crisis of the child. Thinking better or providing more information won’t help. Parental happiness will not enduringly influence the happiness of the child who has experienced a deep cut against his imago Dei. Even will power—of the parent or the child—will not be able to limit or restrain the far-reaching ontological effects of divorce.

Barth’s relational imago Dei reminds us that a child needs the parental union in which she can experience objective relational encounters in three areas: (1) male and female, (2) environment, and (3) mirroring. First, male and female are realities of the imago Dei. The mother and father provide a communion in which the child can securely figure out his connection to and difference from them. Second, the child encounters “Mom and Dad in the distinction and unity of the environment” (108). It is in the environment of male and female that the child belongs and is the image of God. Further, this environment also produces rituals that became larger than any one individual and anchor the individuals in common, shared experiences. Third, whether “for good or for ill, the family environment serves as a mirror, which through its action reflects our being back to us” (110). The problem divorce causes for mirroring is that not only has the mirror been shattered, but also multiple mirrors replace the one mirror, and the result is oftentimes contradictory images that leave the child ontologically insecure. Root draws this section to a close by quoting another writer, “To be human is to be concretely ‘this person’ belonging to ‘these people’” (112).

Ontological Security in Christ and His Church

As Root transitions to the final chapter, he explains that for most children the announcement of divorce does not come as good news. It is also not an end for them, rather it is a beginning—“the beginning of her search for a place to be as she acts between their two worlds. She must find a way to be ‘this person’ now that ‘these people’ regret their union that created her” (116, italics mine). The child will search for communities of belonging, and it is Root’s hope that the church can be the kind of place where a child of divorce can find belonging and ontological security in the perfect and powerful love of Christ. In this chapter, Root develops four practical actions that church’s can take to help children of divorce, and he addresses them to three different kinds of people: (1) the youth worker/children’s minister, (2) the parent, and (3) a friend or mentor (e.g., a grandparent). The four practical actions are (1) Mirroring in the Church as Seeing and Being Seen, (2) Autonomy and Belonging in the Church as Speaking and Listening, (3) Routine in the Church as Mutual Assistance, and (4) Bracketing out Anxiety in the Church by Acting in Gladness.

Conclusion

Finally, I should say that Root is sensitive to those tragic situations in which divorce may indeed be the severe mercy needed for the family. So, he doesn’t view divorce as impossible. The strength of the book is Root’s ability to discern and integrate multiple disciplines (i.e., sociology, psychology, philosophy, and theology) in a powerfully harmonic voice regarding the ontological challenges and solutions for the child of divorce. While I realize it was not necessarily the aim of his academic publication, I would have benefitted from a longer book; perhaps, he could have included another chapter that addresses the biblical imperatives to honor and care for parents in light ontological realities and challenges following a divorce. Although I must share that when I attempted to correspond with Dr. Root regarding these additional topics, he was quick, personal, and very kind in his response to me via email—a true scholar and a gentleman! All in all, I am so thankful for this book that gives voice to the children who live through the tragedy of divorce.

Staying Together: When an Affair Pulls You Apart

Marriage & Mountain Climbing

I just finished Dr. Stephen M. Judah’s (1949–2008) book Staying Together: When an Affair Pulls You Apart. The book is full of stories of his experiences counseling couples caught in the web of an affair (or some cases multiple affairs). He describes these marriages using a very helpful illustration: mountain climbing. As Judah sees it, couples climb toward an affair. He calls it “the ascent into brokenness.”

Novice climbers approach the mountain unaware of what awaits them. In my one experience climbing, I remember watching a couple of my team members have uncontrollable emotional reactions as they acclimatized to the altitude. Similarly, nothing can truly prepare a person for all that marriage entails. Couples should avail themselves of every opportunity possible to prepare and train, just as a climber should! Preventative measures are practiced by the wise of heart. Even so, you still have to climb (i.e., get married) to have the real experience.

from Staying Together: When an Affair Pulls You Apart by Dr. Stephen M. Judah

Judah describes the active affair as the peak of the ascent into brokenness; he also calls it the “death zone.” The reason for such a description is because a person cannot linger long on the peak of a mountain and live—the body simply cannot take it. Likewise, a marriage cannot linger long in an affair. He also compares the active affair to the peak of a mountain ascent because an affair does not simply all of a sudden happen. A couple climbs into it. Judah describes the progressive ascent into brokenness as the accumulation of brokenness from sin, brokenness from the family of origin, brokenness from our peer group, brokenness from dating relationships, romantic love, civil war, the evolution of affair conditions, and finally the peak—the active affair. Rather than an affair being a spontaneous act of passion, the spiritual and social science of the act explains that the affair is the result of the unchecked accumulation of brokenness in a person’s life. We enter marriage with imbedded flaws that remain hidden until a crisis exposes them.

As a boy, I remember watching footage of the January 28, 1986 NASA space shuttle Challenger explosion. It happened 73 seconds into its flight. All crew members were lost. The U.S. House Committee on Science and Technology concluded its hearings with a statement: “The fundamental problem was poor technical decision-making over a period of several years by top NASA and contractor personnel, who failed to act decisively to solve the increasingly serious anomalies in the Solid Rocket Booster joints” (under Conclusions, pages 3–7). Years of poor decisions by experts who failed to act decisively created a death zone that exposed everything.

The Ascent into Brokenness

Civil War

In his chapter entitled “Civil War,” he writes, “The experience of civil war has universal and unmistakable characteristics: (1) Awfulization best characterizes the overall experience. The warring pair tend to primarily see the bad in the other. The good is denied or remains carefully ignored. Each becomes at risk to fall into a pattern of being at their worst. (2) Awareness of incompetence—The couple becomes mostly conscious of each other’s incompetence. (3) Negative response—The couple moves either against or away from each other, engaging in classic fight or flight. (4) Depressed sensory acuity—The couple’s senses are diminished, and they attribute the lack of clarity to a lifelessness in their relationship. (5) Separation—They may think or say, ‘I can’t stand to live with you.’ (6) Incompletion—They may think or say, ‘Something is missing.’ (7) Unfamiliarity and disbelief—They may think or say, ‘I’m in the wrong place with the wrong person. How did I ever get here?’ . . . We demand more and put up with less” (pages 65–66). The reality is that both spouses have both brokenness and wholeness within them. Dr. Judah states that “master couples” learn how to focus and practice an awareness of one another’s competencies, which eventually evolves into an unconscious trust in one another’s competencies.

Evolution of Affair Conditions

I found chapter seven, “The Evolution of Affair Conditions,” insightful. He suggests that both “difficult” and “good” marriages experience affairs, and then he seeks to answer the question “Why?” He proposes a two-fold answer: (1) the 60% push and (2) the 40% pull. A negative or difficult marriage environment is likely to “push” a spouse toward an affair. Dr. Judah describes the primary factors at play as (1) communication issues, (2) character or developmental issues (e.g., unmet needs), (3) conflict resolution issues, (4) adult life stage or landmarks (e.g., mid-life crisis), and/or (5) confused or broken choices. A combination of these factors can literally “push” someone toward an affair. However, sometimes affairs (40%) happen in marriages described by couples as “happy” or “fulfilled.” In these cases, there are factors present that “pull” a spouse into an extramarital affair: (1) proximity, (2) similarity, and (3) reward. Work relationships where men and women are working in close proximity and where conversation moves from work-related into more personal feelings, desires, dreams, etc. Unintentionally, boundaries are crossed. From proximity, similarities may begin to surface and create a dangerous intimacy. Eventually, it is possible for the offending spouse to perceive rewards associated in an affair with the third party person.

After explaining these “push” and “pull” realities of the evolution of affairs, Judah offers wrong ways to handle the evolution of an affair and right ways to handle the evolution of an affair (pages 69–75):

Wrong Ways Right Ways
Toying with the possibility of having an affair Commit to finding a way to create a strong marriage—step away from the edge and look for the safe path
Acting out (without talking about) your negative thoughts and emotions Talk about your inner struggle—find friends of the marriage, those who will strengthen your commitment to the marriage bond
Blaming yourself or your partner Replace blame with understanding and take responsibility
Getting bad advice from friends, family members, coworkers, affair partners, or even counselors Get professional guidance that specializes in marriage or relationships
Triangulation or substitute triangulation, which is focusing more on the third party or some other substitute that you do on your spouse Embrace the usefulness of suffering, and choose optimism—suffering together can be a bonding experience
Focusing on the third party rather than on your core values and commitments Focus on the primary couple, the husband and wife
Waiting for a crisis, that is, most people seek help only after an affair has happened Focus on your core values and commitments
Be proactive, preventative and preemptive.
Master essential disciplines—Dr. Judah covers these in part three of his book.

Dr. Judah brings this chapter to an interesting close by warning readers not to dismiss the role of both evil and good supernatural forces at work behind the evolution of an affair. As people of the Bible, we believe in supernatural realities. God calls us to love as he loves—with faithful, steadfast love; however, sin, Satan, and demonic activity are realities opposed to human flourishing. Beware the spiritual forces at work in the “push” and “pull” of the evolution of an affair. Cling to your God and to your spouse.

The Descent into Wholeness

The third part of the book is entitled “Descent into Wholeness.” Surprisingly, the descent down the mountain is harder than the climb up. I remember being caught off guard by this during my single mountaineering experience. There a number of factors that make it more difficult: (1) you’re not as motivated; (2) the goal destination seems boring and anticlimactic; (3) it hurts your joints and feet in an unexpected way; (4) you’re off balance because of terrain; (5) you’re exhausted; (6) you have fewer supplies and possibly damaged gear; (7) you’re far more irritable; (8) the path isn’t always as clear; and (9) well, you’re just done! While all this is true, you must make it back down the mountain—your life depends on it. You can’t survive long at the top. Reaching bottom restores normal, whole, healthy living.

In this section, Dr. Judah walks the reader through his five essential disciplines that have the potential to restore wholeness to a marriage broken by an affair: (1) SHARE—sharing the truth with your spouse, (2) RECONCILE—reconciling the crisis with your spouse, (3) REFINE—redefine and realign your character through development and commitment, (4) ENHANCE—rebuilding and cultivating the positive, (5) ENVISION—flourish by creating the possible, exploring tomorrow’s dreams, and generating today’s plan. The first three disciplines function “like powerful workhorses to transform the negative” (1) communication techniques, (2) crisis experiences, and (3) character traits; whereas, the final two disciplines (4) cultivate what is good and (5) create the possible.

The Crisis & RECONCILE

In chapter ten entitled, “The Crisis,” he borrows an experience from Andy Politz, who has reached the summit of Mount Everest multiple times. He writes, “On one occasion he helped rescue a party of five . . . They had spent the night near the peak in bad conditions. Another party had come across them but left the party for dead, giving them only a candy bar to assuage their own guilt. Andy and his party, by contrast, abandoned their climb to devote all their resources to the rescue. The party in trouble needed oxygen and water of course, but mostly they needed someone to walk them down the mountain step by step. Every two steps those being rescued would collapse. Generally competent, experienced and strong, now they were temporarily dazed, confused, weak and blind. They could not rescue themselves. They needed somebody to help. Rescue by definition usually requires others” (page 108).

He continues to develop what the essential discipline of RECONCILE looks like for the offending and the offended spouses. The offending spouse may experience a great deal of relief when the affair is either discovered or confessed; however, the offended spouse often goes through a threefold process that he describes as (1) disorganization, (2) reorganization, and (3) organization. Further, the offended spouse may experience something similar to PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and other severe emotional conditions. Judah writes at the close of this chapter, “Oddly enough, the descent into wholeness involves temporarily putting your partner into a crisis state. The offending spouse has been in the death zone for a while, so descending lets them breathe a little easier. By contrast, the offended spouse feels like they have been dropped into the death zone of a mountain peak without any acclimatization. The necessary disclosure hits the offended spouse hard” (page 125). While this crisis has to be a part of the journey, it is miserable.

Flourishing & ENVISION

Chapter thirteen introduces that couples who have experienced an affair can indeed flourish again. “With God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26). Here, he helps couples recover and reestablish core desires and core values together. Having “survived, stabilized, and succeeded, then pursue significance” together. Couples that reach this ENVISION stage of the descent into wholeness are invited to imagine a resurrected relationship in which they can clarify goals and adjust priorities. Couples that remain committed in the descent can have fulfilling relationships, discover anew that they are good at something together, make the world a better place together, and enjoy peace with God together.

The Spiritual and the Scientific

Descending into wholeness is possible for the couple that has encountered the “death zone” of an active affair. It will take help from others; it will take commitment to a process; and it will take a new hope and vision. Dr. Judah has a couple of appendices at the end of his book that speak to special situations that couples may face along the way of their journey. His final chapter addresses “The Spiritual and the Scientific: A Fusion of Strengths.” He is a committed Christian, who has trained and worked as a social scientist (a.k.a. a professional marriage counselor). He describes the relationship between the two by returning to his mountaineering imagery. He explains, “Mountain climbers have found one particular rope design superior to all others. The structure involves an inner core rope that provides strength and a series of woven otter strands which amplify strength and offer protection. You cannot actually see the vital inner rope. You can only see the otter strands. When spiritual wisdom and the wisdom of social science combine, a fusion of strengths occurs. They become woven together like strands of a rope. At the core lies an indescribable, invisible and vital force. We cannot see God, but we can see the strands surrounding the core” (page 172).

Don’t Lose Hope; Grab the Rope

Don’t die on the mountaintop trying to handle your crisis all alone. There is hope. Get some help. May God grant your marriage the grace to descend back into wholeness with a new hope and vision. May it be stronger having gone through such an incredible crisis.

Holy Week: Redemption Devotion Two

WLC Holy Week: Redemption Devotion for Tuesday, March 27th, 2018

Redemption in the New Testament

Redemption means freedom from bondage, which is secured by the payment of a price.” The “price” referred to here is the “ransom payment” required to deliver a person or thing from slavery or captivity. There are a number of dimensions into which the theme of redemption continues in the New Testament:

  • Setting free of the Jewish people from beastly kings and empires by the ransom price (Luke 1:68; 2:38; 21:28; 24:21)
  • Setting free from sin by the ransom price (Rom. 3:24; 1 Cor. 1:30; Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14; Tit. 2:14; Heb. 9:12, 15; 1 Pet. 1:18)
  • Setting free from the curse of the law by the ransom price (Rom. 3:24; Gal. 3:13; 4:5; Heb. 9:15)
  • Setting free of our bodies by the ransom price of the legal adoption as sons (Rom. 8:23; Eph. 1:14; 4:30; Heb. 11:35)
  • Setting free of opportunities/time/relationships from evil by the ransom price (Eph. 5:16; Col. 4:5)

The New Testament gets to the heart of why we need a more profound redemption and stronger Redeemer. Sin is at the root of the political, spiritual, physical, and relational slaveries encountered in our world, personal lives, relationships, and experiences. Sin has affected every person who has ever lived (cf. Rom. 5:12); therefore, it affects every institution, group, and activity of which people are a part. Until we get real about the problem (=sin), we can’t begin to get real about freedom.

Dimensions of New Testament Redemption

Political: Do you believe God cares about politics? Do you believe he cares about your politics? The righteousness or wickedness of nations and their leaders? Historically, we can observe that God frequently advanced his program by his sovereign activity over global politics. The redemption of Jesus is the cornerstone of God’s plan for an eternal kingdom of righteousness and peace that will eliminate every trace of the beastly kingdoms of the world (cf. Daniel 7). How can you partner with God’s kingdom agenda by redemptive living at the political level? Nehemiah, Esther, Daniel, and even Paul employed their political influence to advance God’s program and glorify him to nations and kings.

Spiritual: Jesus paid the ransom price to set you free from sin’s slavery—freed from its punishment with justification, freed from its power with sanctification, and eventually freed from its presence with glorification. He also paid the price to set you free from God’s law—its penalties, its demands, and its brand of righteousness. While God’s law is holy and good, it’s purpose was to make sin sinful. Now, the cross is where we discover the sinfulness of sin. We aren’t lawless; rather, we are filled with the fruit of the Holy Spirit and clothed in the righteousness of Christ. Do you know how to walk by the Spirit and to be free from the law? Read Galatians. You’ll gain an understanding of redeemed spiritual living in Christ by the Spirit and learn how love for God and others sets the boundaries of our freedom (cf. Gal. 5:13).

Physical: Did you know that believers have been granted a legal right to inherit a new and free body on the future day of redemption? This is what is meant by “adoption to sonship” in Romans 8:23. God will set our bodies free from death, just as he did for his Son through the resurrection of his physical body. Through God’s legal adoption of believers in Christ, we now belong to him in life and in death, body and soul; therefore, we should glorify God in our bodies (1 Cor. 6:20). Are you using your body as an instrument of righteousness or as an instrument of unrighteousness?

Relational: The way to “buy back” opportunities, time, and relationships from evil is through a sacrificial and evangelistic lifestyle filled by the Holy Spirit. It’s going to cost you. Redemptive living always costs, just as it cost Jesus his life. However, it also results in you becoming a life-giver, just like Jesus. By sacrificial worship in the community, we give life to the church. By sacrificial love and submission in our marriages, we give life to our spouses. By children sacrificing their wills in obedience and honor to their parents, we give life to them. By sacrificing the time to be a parent that teaches, we give life to our children. By sacrificing status and rights in order to serve the Lord in difficult situations, we give life to those around us. By sacrificing cultural expectations that are contrary to God’s will, we give life to others. By committing to the work and sacrifice of an evangelist, we give the words of life to needy sinners. What’s the New Testament’s response to evil days? Redeem the time. Take advantage of every opportunity and relationship. There are adventure and freedom in the sacrificial and evangelistic lifestyle of a life-giver. Will you redeem the time God has given you?

Merry Christmas Aleppo

citadel of aleppo

I’m not a professional in political science at the international level. I don’t know all of the inner-workings of the conflict that is raging in Aleppo, Syria. All I know is that I woke up and checked my newsfeed, just like many Americans this morning. CNN reported breaking news of the advance of Syrian forces, who were reported to be employing execution style methods to weed out the final population of rebels in eastern Aleppo. Then, I opened Facebook. My cousin had shared a video collage of certain Syrians giving perhaps their last moments and words to a watching world.

Sometimes, I hate the internet. I despise the mobility of information I’m exposed to from around the world. I muse, “If there were no internet, I wouldn’t know about all the horror in Aleppo.” Yet, for the very same reason, the internet is a great grace to us. It makes us aware of needs throughout our local, national, and international communities. I am aware of deep injustice and evil in the world, residing in the heart of humanity. I am aware of the need for the dawn of a new King, a new earth, and a new humanity—a new creation.

It’s Christmas time in America. Is it Christmas time in Aleppo? Choke that one down. There’s nothing pleasant about war, death, and starvation. While many of us will probably enjoy family, decorations, food, laughter, presents, the fruits of our labors, and reminders of the Incarnation, Aleppo will be weeping and mourning—families destroyed, decorations of rubble and bloodshed, hunger and starvation, wailing and crying, no provisions, let alone presents, fruit from vocational work as a distant memory . . . and will there be any reminders of the Incarnation?

I don’t know. I just don’t know. I hope so. It may be all that some have left—their faith in Jesus and the hope of eternal life. Aleppo has ancient roots in Judeo-Christianity. The Aleppo Codex (“The Crown of Aleppo”) was housed there for half a millennium, which significantly contributes to our understanding of the Hebrew Bible. Did you know that Aleppo is only an hour and a half drive (65 miles) from Antakya, Turkey? Antakya in the book of Acts is known as Antioch—the mission center from which the Holy Spirit called Paul and Barnabas on their missionary journey. But today, Aleppo is in ruin and misery.

Remember that time Jesus chose to praise a Syrian over his own worshippers? In case you don’t, here’s the story for you,

“And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When they [the residents of Nazareth] heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him [Jesus] out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away.

(Luke 4:27–30 ESV)

Jesus’ praise of the Syrian caused such anger in his own people that they were ready to kill him. The message of course is clear — just as Naaman rather than the Israelites experienced God’s power, so would others rather than the residents of Nazareth experience the power of the Son of God.

You can read more about Naaman in 2 Kings 5:1–14. His name means, “one endowed with beauty” or “pleasantness.” It’s kind of an ironic name for a tough, military commander. It’s also an ironic name for a leper. There’s nothing pleasant or beautiful about war and leprosy.

Elijah and Elisha prophesied in Israel during an era when it was a spiritual wasteland. Oh, there was plenty of religious activity going on—plenty of prophets, plenty of sacrifices, plenty of altars, plenty of worship, plenty of gods, plenty of offerings, etc. Yet, it was very rare for a person in Israel to have an undivided heart for Yahweh, the true God of Israel. Hence, we have a number of stories from that era in which those outside of Israel graciously receive the miracles and the word of God. Naaman was one of those recipients.

God sprinkled his grace all over the story of Naaman. First, 1 Kings 5:1 reads,

. . . through him the LORD had given Syria military victories.

Wait, what? The God of Israel gave military victories to a Syrian commander? Yep. Paul House writes,

At first this claim may seem startling because Naaman is not an Israelite. However, 1, 2 Kings emphasize repeatedly God’s sovereignty over all nations and all people (271).

Second, God raised up help for Naaman from unknown, common sources. Elisha the prophet may seem to be the obvious hero in this story, but really, I think it’s the unknown servants who point Naaman to God’s healing power. The young Israelite slave girl shares the knowledge Naaman needs (1 Kings 5:2–3). Her suffering at the hands of a Syrian raiding party led to Naaman’s deliverance. She was like Daniel and Ruth—seeking the blessing of those around her despite their own sorrow. Later on, other servants approached him after the words of Elisha provoked his angry pride. They steered him away from pride and toward common sense—

“O master, if the prophet had told you to do some difficult task, you would have been willing to do it. It seems you should be happy that he simply said, ‘Wash and you will be healed.’” So he went down and dipped in the Jordan seven times, as the prophet had instructed. His skin became as smooth as a young child’s and he was healed.

(2 Kings 5:13–14 NET)

Lastly, God healed Naaman. He didn’t merely heal his skin disease; he converted his soul. He said in 2 Kings 5:15,

For sure I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel!

He responds to his new faith in the God of Israel by modes of generosity and worship (2 Kings 5:15b–17). He also has the insight to request forgiveness for the idolatrous duties wrapped up in his vocation (2 Kings 5:18–19), and recognizing the rare sincerity of his faith, the prophet tells Naaman to “Go in peace.” Such a discerning faith was not common in Israel during Elisha’s day.

Human Rights Watch reported yesterday, December 12th, that residents in eastern Aleppo have not received aid since July of this year. Civilians caught in the fray between opposition groups and Syrian forces are starving to death and are not receiving necessary medical treatment. Now, house to house executions are reported to have completed. One resident was reported as saying,

Massacres are happening and the world is watching.

This afternoon, news sources are now reporting that the Syrian forces have secured Aleppo and reached a ceasefire with the rebel opposition. Supposedly, the Bashar Al-Assad regime is ready to make way for overdue humanitarian aid.

In the very least, may we pray for God’s grace upon the Syrian people. Surely, we believe that God’s omnipresence and sovereignty extends over that nation.  Maybe God will use you. May God’s grace heal the wounds — body and soul — of the people of Aleppo. Lastly, may we, the Church, pray and seek God in a way dissimilar to the residents of Nazareth in Jesus’ day, but rather may we carefully and intentionally share in suffering where we can and pass on blessing as we’re able. May God’s grace restore and endow the people of Syria with beauty and pleasantness as he did for Naaman. Merry Christmas Aleppo. Merry Christmas.