Archive for February, 2018

Feb
13

Would You Rather?

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When my kids were younger we’d play a simple game called “Would You Rather?” The point of the game is simple. You’d be given two options and would have to choose one over the other. For example, would you rather lose your eyesight? Or your sense of hearing? Another example might be, would you rather be the poorest person on earth with excellent health? Or be the wealthiest person on earth with terrible health?

As I read Job chapter 2, I think Job would rather be the poorest person with excellent health. In chapter 1 he lost all of his material possessions and all ten of his children in a quick and sudden series of tragedies. But he still had his health, and he still maintained his faith. But check this out:

On another day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them to present himself before him. And the Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.” Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.” “Skin for skin!” Satan replied. “A man will give all he has for his own life. But now stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.” The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head. Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes. (Job 2:1-8, NLT)

Job’s suffering had reached unparalleled levels. In the first “test,” he experienced external loss. But in this second test, his loss touched him physically. Those who have experienced loss will acknowledge that there is a big difference between tolerating loss and tolerating pain.

The accusation of Satan was relentless. Having lost the first round, Satan redoubled his efforts by claiming that deep down, Job (or any of us, for that matter) only cared for himself. The idiom “skin for skin” can be understood as “life for life.” In other words, Satan wagered that if Job had to pick between his personal faith and physical suffering, he would pick himself. Guaranteed. Furthermore, he inferred that Job had not really been tested, given his clean bill of health.

So Satan was released to harm Job with the limitation of taking Job’s life.

A careful reading of the text reveals at least three ways Job suffered. First, and most obviously, he suffered physically. Scholars have debated for centuries what this illness may have been. Some suggest leprosy, others elephantiasis. No one is certain, but Job is described as covered with boils, which would have inflicted a great deal of pain and discomfort.

He also suffered materially. If you think about it, the medicine of choice in ancient times was olive oil. But like today, medicines cost money. Having lost everything financially, Job is reduced to “self-medicating” and does so by taking the refuse of the common man, broken pottery, and using that broken shard to lance and scrape the boils hoping for relief. Think for a moment how your suffering could be compounded without access to health insurance!

Finally, he suffered socially. Job is pictured as sitting in ashes. I believe these were the ashes of the local landfill which served as the location of burning piles of garbage as well as the home of those declared “unclean” due to their physical disease.

Its hard to identify with such suffering. But Jesus can. There is no mistaking the amount of physical suffering Jesus endured on the cross, where he is pictured as stripped of the only earthly possession he claimed–the clothes on his back. Jesus not only suffered in destitution, he suffered alone, having been crucified on the outskirts of Jerusalem near the local garbage dump. (Hebrews 12:12-13)

Jesus identified with Job’s suffering, and he identifies with your suffering, whatever that may be. No one is comforted by stories of those who have it worse than you, for your suffering is your suffering and it is difficult. But we can all be helped by the stories of those who have walked similar roads, for it is in knowing those stories that we are reminded that we are not alone.

Categories : Job, Unfair
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From the Los Angeles Times:

Trifecta of opioids, alcohol and suicide are blamed for the drop in U.S. life expectancy
LOS ANGELES TIMES | FEBRUARY 8, 2018

An epidemic of despair is disproportionately claiming the lives of rural white Americans in the prime of adulthood. And for a second year in a row, their deaths by drugs, drink and self-destruction have caused life expectancy in the United States to fall.

That milestone, suggests an editorial in a respected medical journal, marks a sustained reversal of close to a century of improving health for Americans. And it raises a puzzling mystery: What is causing the despair, and what will restore hope and health to these battered Americans?

The opioid epidemic, which claimed the lives of 64,000 Americans in 2015 alone, “is the tip of an iceberg,” a pair of public health scholars wrote in the journal BMJ.

In an even larger public health crisis unfolding in the United States, death rates from alcohol abuse and suicides have also seen sharp increases in recent years, wrote Steven H. Woolf of Virginia Commonweath University and Laudan Aron of the Washington-based Urban Institute.

Between 1999 and 2014, the suicide rate rose by 24%. And mounting evidence has shown that deaths linked to alcohol abuse are rising as well among white Americans.

Nowhere are these trends more dramatic than in rural counties, where decades of social and economic changes have made the lives of white Americans less secure than their parents’, Woolf and Aron wrote.

About 15% of the nation’s population — some 46 million persons — lived in counties outside metropolitan areas in 2014. In a January 2017 analysis, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that those living in nonmetropolitan areas were more likely to smoke cigarettes, to be physically inactive and obese and to suffer from high blood pressure than were metropolitan county-dwellers.

Fully 18.1% of rural Americans lived in poverty, compared with 15.1% of those living in and around cities. And people in rural counties reported less access to healthcare and a lower quality of healthcare than did those in metropolitan counties.

In October, a study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that, while premature deaths were down among all American adults between 1999 and 2015, nine of 48 subgroups studied saw increases in early mortality. The lives of non-Latino whites, largely in rural or small or medium metropolitan counties, were mostly being shortened by suicide, drug overdoses and liver disease — a condition closely linked to alcoholism.

That study’s data showed steep declines in deaths due to HIV infection, cardiovascular disease and motor vehicle crashes among African Americans and Latinos and in urban and suburban areas. But those declines were more modest or nonexistent among whites living in any setting. And they were offset by dramatic increases in drug overdoses and suicides in whites, no matter where the victims lived.

The authors of the BMJ essay note that the roughly 15-year run-up in drug deaths and suicides has not been seen in black Americans.

While the racial gap in health is narrowing, African Americans’ rates of premature death have always been starkly higher than those among whites, Woolf said. And it may be that the uptick in “deaths of despair” seen in whites will eventually be detected among blacks as well, he added.

But Woolf said it’s also possible that black Americans have some “resilience factor” that white Americans do not. Perhaps, he said, African Americans’ response to the discrimination, structural disadvantages and health inequities they’ve long endured has buffered them from following whites down their path of self-destruction.

At the same time, the despair of whites is “unclear, complex, and not explained by opioids alone,” Woolf and Aron wrote. In once-thriving communities outside the nation’s metropolitan areas, industries have collapsed. As steel mills and coal mines have closed, timber production has gone bust, and automation has left rural communities behind, their economies and their residents’ health have suffered.

The result is a national phenomenon that has been unfolding for at least three decades. Relative to life expectancy in other affluent, industrialized countries, Americans’ once-commanding lead in longevity began slipping in the early 1980s. By 1998, U.S. life expectancy had fallen below the average for industrialized countries. It is now 1.5 years behind that benchmark.

“It’s really sad that a baby born today will likely live less long than one born even a year ago. It’s not the direction you’d expect the richest country on Earth to be going,” Woolf said.

But economic collapse might be too easy an explanation for rural white communities’ epidemic of despair, said Woolf, who has studied the urban-rural health divide across the country. More important might be the fraying of communities’ social fabric that followed.

“Poverty rates don’t capture the frustration and hopelessness people experience when they can’t get ahead or can’t give their kids a better life,” Woolf said. When the social fabric of a community is frayed, its residents may be more inclined to salve their woes in self-destructive behaviors, he added.

A look at broader U.S. trends and policies may also shed light on the roots of some Americans’ despair, Woolf and Aron wrote. During the three decades during which U.S. life expectancy has slid, the nation’s educational performance weakened. Its social divides (including income inequality) widened. Its middle-class incomes stagnated. And its poverty rates exceeded those of most rich countries.

“These are all factors we know are important to health,” Woolf said.

If policy makers wanted to reverse the trend of shortening U.S. lifespans, “they would promote education, boost support for children and families, increase wages and economic opportunity for the working class, invest in distressed communities, and strengthen healthcare and behavioral health systems,” Woolf and Aron wrote.

At the end of the day, Woolf said, “it’s probably not a good time to make policy choices that don’t invest in helping these people. A policy agenda that’s focused on improving value for shareholders is not really going to bring relief to these families and communities.”

Categories : Uncategorized
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Feb
11

Give and Take

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Job stood up and tore his robe in grief. Then he shaved his head and fell to the ground to worship. He said, “I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave.
The Lord gave me what I had, and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord!”
In all of this, Job did not sin by blaming God.
(Job 1:20-22, NLT)

In one day, within a matter of moments in fact, Job went from one of the greatest men on earth to the least of men. He lost his entire wealth, his servants and his family. The loss Job experienced in incomprehensible. We know people who have lost material possessions. And we know people who have tragically lost a child. But to lose all one owns plus all of their children in quick succession is beyond anything we can imagine.

How would you respond?

How did Job respond?

Job responded by defaulting to his spiritual preparation. The man who was noted for his close relationship with God turned to Him for comfort in an act of worship. Job had invested in spiritual resources throughout the course of his life, and had spiritual resources to draw from in abundance when the bottom fell out of his life.

If you closely examine his worship, you’ll see that Job came to God authentically. His body language speaks of his sincerity. There were no masks, no cliches, and no “pat answers.”

In his expression of worship he also acknowledged God as the source of his blessings. He didn’t take credit for what he possessed. Neither did he indicate that his wealth and family was the sum of his identity. The blessings he enjoyed came from the hand of a generous God.

At the same time, Job affirmed God’s right to repossess the possessions and blessings he had bestowed. He didn’t blame God, nor did he call God unfair or unjust. The Lord who had given is the same Lord who reserves the right to take.

Job’s vulnerable act of worship reveals his belief that when life is hard, God remains the same. That’s a powerful lesson for those of us who experience loss. Job worshiped as sincerely during the dark night of his soul as he did when all was right with the world.

If I were to offer a takeaway from this portion of Job it would be this. Don’t let all that’s wrong with life keep you from worshiping all that’s right with God. He may not have understood. But he didn’t abandon faith. His bank account may have been depleted, but his spiritual reserves would carry the day.

Categories : Job, Suffering
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