Takim me Zotin në bregun e Jonit

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Ky artikull është publikuar në “Ilira”, dhjetor 2016. Mund të lexoni në anglisht ketu.

“A do të shqetësohesh për opinionin e njerëzve këtu, apo për opinionin e Zotit? Opinioni i njerëzve nuk do të ngrejë shumë peshë kur të jesh para fronit të gjykimit”.

Charles Studd, Misionar i shekullit të 19të

A është e mundur që ndërsa je e rrethuar nga njerëz të ndihesh krejtësisht e vetmuar? Ne duam që njerëzit rrotull nesh ta vlerësojnë praninë tonë, ta çmojnë miqësinë tonë, të shuajnë dyshimet tona, të na mbështetin në sfida, të shërojnë lëndimet tona më të thella. E thënë shkurt, ka mundësi që ne kërkojmë nga njerëzit atë që vetëm Zoti mund të na e japë: përmbushje, paqe dhe dashuri pa kushte. Padyshim, Zoti i përdor fëmijët e vet për të inkurajuar dhe për të mësuar njëri-tjetrin, por është shumë e lehtë që opinionet e të tjerëve t’i kthejmë në idhull.

Skenari i parë është i shëndetshëm dhe na afron më shumë me Zotin. Galatasve 6:2 na thotë të “mbajmë barrët e njëri-tjetrit” dhe të kërkojmë këshillën e urtë të vëllezërve e motrave të krishterë si një aspekt i rëndësishëm i rritjes shpirtërore. Gjithsesi, skenari i dytë, mbivlerësimi i këndvështrimit, opinionit apo sjelljes së të tjerëve ndaj nesh, ndonjëherë edhe deri në dëshpërim, është një kurth. “Frika e njeriut” mund të na largojë nga Zoti kur ne lejojmë që opinionet e të tjerëve të bëhen më të rëndësishme sesa mënyra si na sheh Zoti. Kjo mund të ndodhë kur ne besojmë që të krishterët flasin në emër të Zotit kur na lëndojnë, ose thjesht duke hequr dorë nga lutja për njëfarë kohe. Kur ne e harrojmë ‘zërin’ e Zotit, zërat e të tjerëve do ta mbytin zërin e Tij.

“Frika nga njeriu” (edhe njeriut të kishës) na thotë që nuk jemi mjaft të mirë kur të tjerët vënë në dyshim motivet e veprimeve tona, na akuzojnë padrejtësisht, bëjnë thashetheme ose gjykojnë vendimet tona, pa i ditur rrethanat ku ndodhemi apo parimet shpirtërore që na udhëheqin. Kjo është e dhimbshme, turbulluese dhe disa nga ne që janë natyra të shoqërueshme, instinktivisht do të kërkojnë njerëz të besueshëm për të qenë në shoqërinë e tyre. Në njëfarë mënyre ne do të ndihemi më mirë në praninë e miqve tanë; do të ndihemi përsëri të vlerësuar, ose të paktën do të kemi mjaft shpërqendrim, sa për të mos menduar për ndjenjat tona.

Unë e di që kjo është e vërtetë, sepse pas 25 vitesh si e krishterë, Zotit iu desh të më sillte në anën tjetër të botës (relativisht e izoluar) për të më tërhequr vëmendjen.

Kur Zoti shfaqet papritur

Gjatë vitit të kaluar unë mora vendimin e dhimbshëm për t’i dhënë fund martesës sime. Divorci është një ngjarje tmerrësisht e dhimbshme, dhe aq më tepër kur ndodh midis dy të krishterëve, për shkak të ‘njollës’ që e shoqëron këtë vendim. Megjithëse kisha mjaft mbështetje biblike për divorcin, për hir të qetësisë së fëmijëve të mi nuk i tregova detajet (përveç disa njerëzve të cilët duhej t’i dinin). Shumica e personave që e njihnin situatën tonë, treguan dhembshuri të pamasëdhe mbështetja më erdhi nga nuk e prisja. Megjithatë, ata të krishterë të cilët nuk e njihnin situatën tonë apo rrethanat që më shtynë drejt divorcit, filluan të më gjykonin. Kjo e lëkundi besimin tim te kisha dhe si pasojë edhe te Zoti.

Megjithëse miqtë e mi nga kisha të tjera më çuan në vende të qeta, më përfshinë në studime Bible dhe kaluan shumë orë duke më folur dhe duke u lutur për mua, përsëri lëndimi i shkaktuar nga personat, opinionin e të cilëve e quaja të ‘rëndësishëm’, më bëri të ndihesha konfuze në lidhje me Zotin, ndërkohë që isha duke i shërbyer Atij. Mezi po prisja të vinte gushti, gjatë të cilit kisha planifikuar të shërbeja në Kampet e të Rinjve {në Nju Hempshire (New Hampshire) dhe në Shqipëri}, të kaloja kohë me fëmijët e mi dhe të shërohesha. Një nga gjërat që më jepte gëzim dhe mezi po e prisja ishte ritakimi me motrat dhe vëllezërit e dashur në Krishtin në Shqipëri, me të cilët isha miqësuar gjatë kampit të vitit të kaluar. Unë kisha ‘nevojë’ për ta, për praninë e tyre, kisha nevojë për miqësinë e tyre, kisha nevojë të qeshja.

Pas tri ditësh në Tiranë, unë mora autobusin për në Sarandë, ku do të takohesha me ata që do të më çonin në kamp. E lënduar nga sjellja e miqve të mi dhe e shqetësuar nga ideja që duhej të flisja me drejtuesit e kampit për situatën time, qava në heshtje pothuajse gjatë gjithë udhëtimit 7 orësh. Si për ta rënduar edhe më keq situatën, shumica e personelit me të cilët isha miqësuar më shumë nuk erdhi në kamp këtë vit për arsye nga më të ndryshmet. E rrethuar nga kampistë të rinj dhe të panjohur, personel i ri dhe nga gjuha shqipe, u ndjeva edhe më e vetmuar se më parë. Kujtimet e bukura të së kaluarës më bënë të ndihesha akoma më e trishtuar për ditë me radhë dhe fillova të pyesja veten se çfarë bëja unë në atë vend. E rrethuar nga 70 persona dhe një skuadër të krishterësh shqiptarë, u ndjeva plotësisht në ajër dhe e panevojshme.

Kështu që kaloja kohë vetëm me Zotin. Ai ishte i vetmi që shihte lotët e mi. Ecja mbi skelë, shikoja perëndimin e diellit mbi Jon dhe ulesha e rrija aty për orë me radhë. Disa herë lexoja Biblën; disa herë vetëm mendohesha, por gjithmonë e kuptoja që isha në praninë e Atit tim, i cili ishte Mbrojtësi dhe Mbështetësi im. Unë e dija që Ai e kishte orkestruar gjithçka në mënyrë të përsosur, por më duhej ta përjetoja këtë në nivel emocional dhe kjo është shumë e vështirë të ndodhë kur ti je duke u arratisur nga emocionet e tua.

Një nga mësimet në anglisht që po u mësonim fëmijëve tregonte si ta vendosje opinionin e Zotit mbi atë të njerëzve. Kjo ishte tepër specifike për të qenë një rastësi. Zoti po më fliste mua drejtpërsëdrejti. Kishte mëngjese kur doja të largohesha nga grupi i diskutimit, të cilin e drejtoja bashkë me një anëtare skuadre nga Britania; të vërtetat themelore për dashurinë e Zotit që po u mësonim fëmijëve ishin premtime të harruara prej kohësh, për shkak se nuk e besoja më që mund të zbatoheshin në rastin tim.

Na tërheq në anën tjetër të botës… për të na detyruar ta dëgjojmë?

Këtu filloi edhe shërimi im. Si për të më siguruar mua që Ai ishte pranë, mora një mesazh nga një anëtare e re britanike e skuadrës, (e cila nuk më njihte aspak) një ditë pasi u largua nga kampi, duke më pyetur nëse isha mirë. Pasi i tregova një version të përmbledhur të ngjarjeve, ajo u përgjigj:

“Unë të jam mirënjohëse që ke folur me personat në kamp dhe lutem që ata të kenë qenë mbështetje dhe inkurajim për ty. Unë e vlerësoj shumë ndershmërinë dhe sinqeritetin tënd me mua, duke më treguar atë që po ndodh realisht. Zoti ka një plan për ty, që të solli në Shqipëri këtë vit dhe unë lutem që ti me të vërtetë do të gjesh shërim nga gjithë vështirësitë që ke kaluar. Unë e di që Zoti ka plane të mira për ty, ashtu siç ka premtuar për popullin e tij.

“Në fund të fundit ne duhet të shqetësohemi, mbi të gjitha, për atë që mendon Zoti dhe të lutem mos harro, Ai na do pa kushte. Afrohu pranë Tij dhe lëri krahët e Tij të të mbrojnë. Mos e lëndo veten duke mos lejuar të përjetosh ato ndjenja që të vijnë. Zoti e di çfarë ndien ti. Unë nuk dua të mendosh që duhet t’i fshehësh ndjenjat e tua, apo që nuk po përfshihesh aq shumë sa duhet në kamp. Ndoshta Zoti do që kjo kohë që po kalon në Shqipëri të shërbejë për shërimin tënd nga lëndimi dhe ndjenjat e tua. Sa e mahnitshme është mënyra si na përdor Zoti në jetët e njëri-tjetrit. Unë e ndjeva fuqishëm Frymën e Shenjtë teksa më shtynte të bisedoja me ty dhe jam e sigurt që Zoti të ka rrethuar me kujdesin e Tij. Është e mahnitshme sesi Zoti na tërheq në anën tjetër të botës, për të na detyruar të dëgjojmë dhe për të na afruar te Vetja”.

Të jesh transparent ndërsa i beson Zotit

Drejtuesit e shërbesës, nën autoritetin e të cilëve shërbeja, janë miq të mirë, por unë kisha shumë frikë se mos më refuzonin apo më gjykonin pasi ta merrnin vesh për divorcin tim, pavarësisht arsyeve që kisha; por ndodhi krejt e kundërta. E mbushur me ankth, u ula dhe i shpjegova situatën time pastorit shqiptar dhe më pas drejtorit të kampit. Ata jo vetëm që e mbështetën vendimin tim, por më përkrahën si motrën e tyre, ashtu si përherë. Megjithatë, mësimi që më mësoi Zoti atë javë ishte që kjo nuk duhej të kishte rëndësi.

Ai më pranon, më do dhe gëzohet për mua. Opininoni i njerëzve (edhe i njerëzve të Tij) zbehet për nga rëndësia përpara Tij. Gjithsesi ishte çliruese të mbështetesha nga miq që shqetësoheshin për mua dhe më kuptonin. Pastor “Erioni” (ky nuk është emri i tij i vërtetë) kishte parë vetë një nga motrat e tij të përjetonte një eksperiencë të ngjashme me timen dhe ishte i vetëdijshëm për faktin që jeta jo gjithmonë ndjek besnikërisht udhëzimet biblike të pendimit dhe pajtimit. Vëllai im ballkanas, më shumë se çdokush tjetër, ndihej i çliruar për faktin që unë tashmë isha e sigurt, e shëruar, dhe po rifitoja vetëbesimin tim.

Ne si besimtarë nuk mund të jetojmë në boshllëk. Është e pamundur të hiqemi sikur opinionet, pranimi, dashuria apo aprovimi i të tjerëve, veçanërisht i vëllezërve dhe motrave të krishterë, nuk kanë rëndësi. Ne jemi krijuar për të jetuar në bashkësi dhe Zoti trishtohet kur bijtë e Tij krijojnë mëri me njëritjetrin. E megjithatë, për të shembur muret e turpit që nga largojnë prej Tij, Ai detyrohet të na izolojë në një vend nga i cili nuk mund të arratisemi më; dhe kur më në fund fillojmë të dëgjojmë zërin e Tij të së Vërtetës, Ai e pohon dashurinë e Tij ndaj nesh edhe përmes njerëzve të tjerë. Megjithatë, derisa të zbulojmë që Ai është i vetmi zë që ka rëndësi, ne do të ngecemi midis zërave të vetë konfuzionit dhe dyshimeve tona.

Unë duhej të ndihmoja të tjerët të kuptonin Fjalën e Zotit verën e kaluar, por Zoti e përdori atë kohë për të sjellë hirin dhe shërimin e Tij mbi mua, në një kamp të largët bregdetar, pa miq të cilëve t’u besoja, gjysmë bote larg nga shtëpia ime. Shqipëria gjithmonë ka qenë shumë e veçantë për mua, por tani unë do ta kujtoj edhe si një vend ku Zoti më takoi në një mënyrë unike dhe thellësisht personale.

“Give Her Wings” Giving Hope to Marginalized Mamas

by Marie Notcheva

ghw“Give Her Wings” is a Christian organization very dear to my heart, which began in 2013 by two women wanting to reach out to another woman in need. Run by Dr. David B Cox (DMin, MDiv), his wife Megan (MAR in Pastoral Counseling), Carrie Miller, Tammy Thomas and Laura Dee, “Give Her Wings” exists solely to help women who have had to leave abusive situations. While they offer prayer support for the single mothers they help, and are compiling a directory of trained, Christian counselors willing to minister to them, (hence my involvement with the ministry), their primary focus is on practical help (food; rent; basic necessities) for these women and their children.

This is a hugely needed ministry, as many single mothers are financially vulnerable and may not be able to receive state assistance. The team writes,

Oftentimes, when a woman leaves an abusive marriage, she narrowly escapes with little more than her children and the clothes on her back. Give Her Wings desires to do all they can to help specific mothers who are living in very poor conditions presently.  We want to give these brave ladies a chance to get on their feet . . . to breathe . .. to heal their broken wings and fly free again. The families we support are hurting financially, emotionally, and psychologically. We want to be able to come alongside these precious families and show them that they are not forgotten — not by us and (most importantly) not by God!

This non-profit does not just dole out cash, but rather follows a strict vetting process. Some of the volunteers are called upon to meet personally with women seeking help (referred to as “mamas”) and their children for an interview. They are required to present financial information, and also have to meet the following criteria:

  • Mother and children have little to no child support.
  • Mother and children have little to no parental/family support.
  • Mother and children have little to no church support.

WHOA.

Although I (as a newly-single mother myself) know what it is to worry about money, and wanting to do more for my children, it is extremely hard to imagine this level of hardship.Even without either alimony or child support, I still feel blessed. With the benefit of higher education; a good career; and a joint custody situation where I never have to worry about my children’s material needs (at either residence), I am far more fortunate than these women. (My kids are also older – many of the mamas “Give Her Wings” assists have much younger children, which makes full-time employment difficult if not impossible). I also happen to live in Massachusetts, which has a strong social benefits program (should I ever need it); and supportive family who live locally (should I ever need help). Many, many women are not so fortunate. They face a choice: stay in an abusive (and sometimes dangerous) situation; or poverty. On the approximately $1500/month “Give Her Wings” has coming in from donors, 15-20 single mothers and approximately 40 children are being helped.

Standing in the Gap: Forgotten by the Church

Many of these single-mom families have written testimonies, grateful that a para-church organization exists to reach out to them in their need. In August, one woman cried tears of joy when she was given a microwave – and “Give Her Wings” enabled her to take her children to see their very first movie in a theatre. However, the deep needs are not only material: they are also spiritual wounds. In many cases, the Church has turned its collective back on these women – not only denying the practical help they need when they don’t have money to buy groceries or clothes for their children; but even chastising them for fleeing their ex-husbands. “Divorce” is a taboo word in the Church, and no matter how legitimate the reason, single moms are all too often branded with an invisible “scarlet D”. Like the Samaritan left half-dead by the roadside, single mothers in poverty are frequently ignored, stigmatized, and sometimes even blamed in their plight. They have literally been abandoned by everyone they depended on – and often may feel abandoned by God Himself.

A huge part of “Give Her Wings” is the blog Megan runs, which ministers hope and healing to these hurting women. Megan, herself an abuse survivor, writes extensively about her experiences (such as her first Christmas as a single mom); the prevalence of spiritual abuse; gives updates on the “mamas’” situations; and other topics geared towards helping struggling single moms find hope and encouragement in their circumstances. As a trained Christian counselor, she is able to pour words of life into the hearts of others who are suffering in exactly the same way she has. “They do not speak for God,” she reassures women further hurt by their churches, and pulls no punches:

It is easier to forgive someone because they are wicked and everyone knows it…But, what about the people with “Christians” platforms who have hurt you in the name of Jesus? What about the people who use their platforms to hurt you? What about the men who claim to be special-called-by-God-ministers who have hurt you . . . in the name of Jesus?

A very helpful resource listed on the “Give Her Wings” website is Megan’s own book, “Give Her Wings: Hope and Healing After Abuse”. This is given to each of the “mamas” that the organization assists, and I personally have found it very helpful. Speaking Gospel truth into the lives of the down-trodden, especially those humiliated by abuse (or told that they are ‘in sin’ for fleeing their abusers) is a critical part of helping them get back on their feet. Speaking from experience, I can say that staying close to God is just as important as paying the rent in the months following a separation or divorce, and a strong, compassionate Christian support system is vital to healing.

Specifically at Christmas, “Give Her Wings” ramps up its fundraising efforts in order to provide Christmas gifts for the approximately 40 or so children they serve. Much like “Angel Tree”, these children are provided with gifts through the organization, which is completely funded by donations. Rather than the children of prisoners, these grateful recipients are the children of divorced mothers.

It is heartbreaking reading some of the comments from the women – “It’s hard to think of ‘wants’ when [the children] are cold,” said one. This should not be happening in 21st century America, but it is.

If you wish to make a donation to this life-changing ministry, please visit their site and read their Mission, Blog and testimonies from “mamas”. Especially at Christmas, remember the widows and orphans…..and single moms, struggling desperately to make ends meet.

The Journey of Sonila Potter

This article first appeared in Albanian, in the magazine “Ilira Revista” under the title “Rrugëtimi i Sonila Potter”. 

sonila2

By Marie Notcheva

Twelve-year-old Sonila wanted ice cream.

Quietly, she slipped her hands into the pockets of her daddy’s old coat, looking for a bit of money to buy some. What she found instead intrigued her: a metal necklace, with a man attached to a cross. Perplexed, she went to her mother, who was cooking dinner. “What is this, mama? Who is this man?”

Her mother turned from the stove, a look of fear in her eyes. “Where did you find this?” she asked. Sonila’s mother Liliana had good reason to be fearful in 1989: the family had hidden Sonila’s father’s Greek Orthodox background, for fear of punishment under the Hoxha-Alia regime. “Put that back, Sonila! It’s a contraband item,” Liliana warned. “Later, my mother explained to me in secret that the cross portrays Jesus Christ, and that He died for our sins. She told me, ‘If you pray to Him, Jesus will hear you,’” Sonila recalls. “She strictly forbade me to tell anyone about him, because we could all get arrested.”

A Mother’s Quiet Example

Although Sonila had a child’s faith and wanted to know more about this God Who loved her, it wasn’t until she was 15 in 1991 that she was able to hear the Gospel and understand the Person and work of Jesus Christ. “I would pray as a child, when my parents told me about God, but I didn’t have a knowledge of sin,” she says. “In 1991, after the changes started, missionaries were handing out the translated Gospel of Luke at a church in Tirana, and I took one. I was so hungry to read it! There was a prayer in back, and it was as if my eyes were finally opened,” she says. “As I prayed, those words were coming straight out of my heart. Finally, I had understanding and I cried as I confessed my sin to this God I could finally know. I literally felt God’s love wrapped around me.”

Now free to attend church, with her parents’ encouragement, Sonila attended one of the first evangelical churches planted in Tirana. Despite the difficulties of life in the early 1990’s, both Sonila and her brother Genti became followers of Christ in part thanks to their parents’ courage and faith. “My mother was the best counselor for me,” Sonila says. “At the end of her life, when she was suffering from cancer, she told me ‘Don’t cry for me, Sonila. I’m going to see my Shepherd.” It was an example the young woman never forgot, and her mother’s legacy inspired a deep love for God and others in Sonila.

By age 20, she had a passion for missionary work and longed to see the Gospel brought to unreached people groups in Asia and around the world. “By age 20, I barely spoke any English, and I didn’t have much money. I thought, ‘How can God use me, an Albanian girl without English?’ So I prayed that He would simply send someone else,” she recalls. “But God had other plans. That same year (1998) He opened a door for me to serve him in a Christian Youth Hostel in Amsterdam, Holland. I was able to reach out to guests with the Gospel, and misonila1nister to their emotional needs.” At a Christian conference she attended with an American friend, the two decided to be missionaries and served for two months in the Philippines with YWAM (Youth With A Mission). Soon after, Sonila had short-term missionary opportunities in ten different Asian countries, where she served children, teens and young mothers living in extreme poverty.

Study to Show Yourself Approved…

As Sonila’s passion for serving God grew, so did her desire for learning. “The Lord sent me to Bible school in Germany for more training, and a deeper knowledge of His Word,” she says with amazement. With increased proficiency in English by this time, she was able to volunteer as a Wycliffe Bible translator and at Capernwray Bible School in England. “While I was serving in Asia, I developed a concern and compassion for people, but I lacked a broad [doctrinal] knowledge,” she says. “I thought of studying psychology to become a therapist, thinking this was a good way to help people. Fortunately, however, the Bible school offered biblical counseling courses. I read online about the difference between counsel that is biblical, and what psychology is based on…and I really felt tsonila4hat God protected me from going down that road.” Sonila completed a Bachelor’s degree in biblical counseling, and later went on to earn a second degree under Wayne Johnston, the President of the Biblical Counseling and Discipleship Association by doing online courses and studying independently.

Coming to America – the Challenges and Opportunities

In 2006, the man who would become Sonila’s husband was serving in the United States army in Afganistan. Sonila, living in England, “met” Emmett Potter in an online Christian community. Two weeks after their first conversation, Emmett and Sonila met in London. A friendship already in the making, Emmett gave her creationist Kent Hovind DVDs to watch just before she returned home to Albania.

“We stayed in touch for a few months, then Emmett traveled to Tirana for three days and met my family,” Sonila says. “Each time he had vacation time he came to Albania, and we married in November 2007. It took eight months for me to get a visa, but once I arrived in Michigan (USA), we had a second wedding ceremony.” The couple lived for six months in Michigan before moving to Massachusetts, where they have lived for the last seven years. Living out one’s Christian faith in the United States is not easy, and the couple, who now has three small children, has faced challenges.

“In Albania, there is a much greater sense of community; when you have friends as guests in your home, they are almost family,” Sonila explains. “Here, that is missing. There is a coldness, a feeling of detachment – especially here in Massachusetts. The church says it is a family, but people come and go….you rarely see them a second time. There is nothing like that true sense of friendship; of being invested in each other’s lives, like we have in the Balkans. We have been here for so many years, but cannot really feel like part of a church ‘family,’” she says.

Raising children in the knowledge of the Lord is another matter. Christian school is expensive in the United States, and Sonila acknowledges there is peer pressure all around to compromise her family’s convictions. “We do not celebrate Halloween, nor do we teach our children to believe in Santa Claus,” Sonila explains. “The holidays are to glorify Jesus and Him only. Others do not always understand or respect our decision in this regard.” Currently pursuing a Master’s degree in religious education, Sonila has even taught in a Christian school where her convictions have been challenged.

No Compromise Christianity

“I love reading the Puritans,” says the Albanian woman who has a library filled with English-language commentaries. “The writing of Thomas Watson and Thomas Brook are my favorites, and Richard Baxter’s “The Cure for Melancholy” is one we use often in biblical counseling. Today, they preach a ‘soft gospel’. In the past, these great men talked about sin,” she says. “Charles Spurgeon, the Prince of Preachers, was not afraid to warn people about evil.” Sonila cites the aversion many American pastors have towards preaching about sin as one of the reasons compromise and moral laxity is such a problem in some American churches.

Nevertheless, it was through coming first to England and later to the United States that God opened many more doors of opportunity for Sonila Potter to serve Him. Nowhere do greater opportunities for theological study exist, which Sonila now uses in her ministry as a biblical counselor. She is able now to minister to other women in two languages, which is a valuable asset (there are 16,000 Albanians living in her state of Massachusetts, and few, if any, Albanian evangelical churches). And by the grace of God, this mother of three is freely able to raise her children in the love and knowledge of God – without having to hide symbols of their faith in coat pockets.ilira_christmas_16

God’s Protection of Women: When Abuse is Worse than Divorce (Review)

protection

by Marie Notcheva

For several months now, I have wanted to review Pastor Herb Vander Lugt’s booklet, “God’s Protection of Women: When Abuse is Worse than Divorce”. As the senior research editor for RBC (now Our Daily Bread Ministries), Lugt’s 1982 book is a concise, yet exegetically-rich resource biblically challenging the view that divorce is never justified by abuse. Far from being a plea to reason based on emotionalism (or even pastoral experience), Lugt effectively shows how a faulty hermeneutic has led many conservative pastors and churches to teach that Matthew 5:32 is the final and definitive word on divorce.

As a former pastor of mine used to say, “Be careful about basing a doctrine on one verse.” Nowhere is this more obvious than in the thorny endeavor to unpack all of what Scripture has to say about divorce (as well as abuse of different kinds; abandonment; and re-marriage). Wisely, Lugt begins with the assertion that “Moses, Jesus and Paul all recognized a range of marital conditions that are worse than divorce”. (P. 3). He then re-caps historical anthropology of women being treated as property, pausing on the Puritans who were a notable exception:

“In the spirit of the Reformation, Puritans didn’t see marriage as an indissoluble sacrament but as a civil contract that could be terminated if either party did not fulfill fundamental duties of marriage. Although cruelty was not a recognized ground for divorce in the Puritan era, there are those who thought cruelty to a wife was a type of desertion.” (p. 4).

Lugt then proceeds to demonstrate how, even in modern times, women have been overly-subjugated by a misunderstanding of the word “helper” in Genesis 2:18.

“There is no sense in which this word connotes a position of inferiority or subordinate status. The word “suitable for” literally means “in front of”, signifying one who stands face to face with another, qualitatively the same, his essential equal, and therefore his “correspondent” (“Hard Sayings of the Bible, pp. 666-7, IVP, Downers Grove, 1996).”

Before delving into the second section of the booklet, “Protection of Women under the Law of Moses,” Lugt then highlights the fallacy that male domination is a “right” inherited from the Fall — consistent with the rest of Genesis 3, it was a “curse” that, like sickness, thorns and discord, should be resisted and fought.

Mosaic Law

Even the most weak and vulnerable women in Hebraic society — daughters sold as slaves, wives or concubines were protected under the Law of Moses. Quite progressive for its time, Exodus 21:7-11 lists the “three foundations of marital duty” — namely, the provision of food, clothing, and ‘marriage rights’ – often interpreted as affection and marital love. (In fact, the Jewish Ketubah lays these out as a contract, not very much unlike Ephesians 4.)

Breaking these conditions is, in fact, a violation of the marriage covenant. But more significantly, it shows the principle of protection that is seen throughout Scripture, from the lesser to the greater: if God would provide protection and care even for a slave, how much more is owed to a free wife? Verse 11 makes it clear that if the husband fails to fulfill this contractual obligation, he is to “let her go free”. This has been proven conclusively by theologians to mean a formal divorce, the get. Of course, neither rabbis nor Lugt in this apologetic argues that this is the ideal; rather, the Mosaic divorce allowance was given by God for humanitarian means – to protect women from cruelty. Deuteronomy 21:10-14 similarly makes provision for the divorce, protection and remarriage of non-Israelite prisoners of war.

A slightly more obscure passage Lugt addresses in the Mosaic code is Deuteronomy 24:1-4, which he points out would cause a man to think twice before deciding to divorce his wife at will (he was now prohibited from re-marrying her). Worthy of note is that the vague term “uncleanness” in verse 1 does not refer to adultery, which would have carried the death penalty. He was, however, precluded from re-marrying her, which underlines the permanence of the divorce and foreshadows Jesus’ warning in Matthew 19:8 against divorcing one’s wife “for any and every reason”. Divorce was a concession; a last-resort, and not something to be carried out lightly.

“The same law that offers penalties for murder, theft, perjury, and adultery also provides consequences when the purpose and covenant of marriage are broken by contempt and abuse.”(p. 12).

Unraveling Malachi 2:16

After demonstrating the similar intent of protection of both Jesus and Moses, (whose Law Jesus upheld completely during His ministry), Lugt turns toward the most oft-misquoted verse in the Bible regarding divorce: Malachi 2:16 (which he quotes from the New King James Version:

“For the Lord God of Israel says that He hates divorce,
For it covers one’s garment with violence,”Says the Lord of hosts.” 

Compare this rendering with the more accurate, word-for-word translation of the English Standard Version:

“For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.” (ESV).

While Lugt correctly noted that the prophet was dealing with “treacherous” divorces — men who didn’t care about their wives, and abused their power to abandon them to a live of poverty and disgrace — what he failed to do was address the etymology of that verse. As Barbara Roberts (author ofNot Under Bondage: Biblical Divorce for Abuse, Adultery and Desertion”) has pointed out, the verse is often incorrectly and incompletely translated as “I hate divorce” and used as a catch-all conversation stopper to assert that divorce is never permitted biblically. However, this is neither the correct interpretation nor intention of the passage (written during a time period when male casual divorce was rampant). She writes:

“The incorrect translation came about as follows. The word “hates” in Malachi 2:16 is he hates. The Hebrew denotes third person masculine singular = he. The King James version had For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away. Many subsequent translations switched the third person “he” to a first person “I” without any grammatical warrant. For example, the 1984 NIV was “ ‘I hate divorce,’ says the Lord God of Israel.” Possibly translators thought the switch was okay because it retained the sense of the KJV — that God feels the hatred [for divorce]. They did not seem to worry that “I hate divorce” was grammatically inaccurate to the original Hebrew.

But modern translations are starting to correct this mistake. The construction in Hebrew (“he hates… he covers”) shows that the one who feels the hatred is not God, but the divorcing husband. To be faithful to the Hebrew, the verse could be rendered, “If he hates and divorces,” says the Lord God of Israel, “he covers his garment with violence.” It is talking about a husband who hates his wife and divorces her because of his aversion for her. Therefore, Malachi 2:16 is only referring to a specific type of divorce: divorce for aversion, which could be dubbed “hatred divorce”. Divorce for hatred is treacherous divorce: if a man hates his wife and dismisses, he “covers his garment with violence” — his conduct is reprehensible, he has blood on his hands.[1]

Apart from this omission, Lugt’s treatment of Old Testament divorce laws’ protection and provision for women was solid. He correctly points out (quoting biblical scholar Joe Sprinkle) that the context of Malachi 2:16 is a limited one: taken in accordance with the allowances for divorce made elsewhere in Scripture, it is clearly only certain divorces in certain circumstances to which God is opposed. While upholding the sanctity of marriage, Lugt next turns to the New Testament teaching on divorce to demonstrate how Christ, Moses and Paul’s teachings complement one another.

New Testament Application

The reader doesn’t need to be convinced that Jesus demonstrated a concern and caring for women that went beyond the social mores of the First Century. Nor is it hard to see that the God of Scripture is a Protector and Defender of the weak and downtrodden.  Lugt asks then the rhetorical questions, “Does Matthew 5:31-32 over-ride the provision offered divorced women in Deuteronomy? Was Jesus, by this one statement, disagreeing with Moses?

“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 5:31-32, ESV)

Of course not. Just as with all of Scripture, a correct hermeneutic demands we examine context (Literal-Historical and Synthetic Principle of Scriptural interpretation.) Jesus was, in the Sermon on the Mount, addressing the Pharisees’ specific excesses and “stretches” in interpreting and teaching the Law of Moses. They had added hundreds of laws onto the original Levitical code, and the abuse of the divorce clause in Deuteronomy 24 was no exception. In reality, divorced women of the First Century were disgraced and had few career prospects outside of prostitution. It is not biblically consistent to say that He was contradicting the conditions Moses had set, but is more consistent with the passage that He was forcing the Pharisees to focus on the condition of their own hearts. Relational sin was the point; the one statement was clearly not intended to be the single and final word on divorce (as Paul later demonstrates).

Later in Matthew 19:3-9, Lugt notes, we in fact see the Pharisees trying to entrap Jesus by confronting Him with the Law of Moses on the same subject. While upholding the sacred ideal of the permanence of marriage, Jesus did not disagree with Moses in allowing divorce.

“Commenting on the allowance made for hardness of heart, Dr. Willard notes: ‘No doubt what was foremost in His [Jesus’] mind was the fact that the woman could quite well wind up dead, or brutally abused, if the man could not “dump” her. It is still so today, of course. Such is our “hardness of heart”. Better, then, that a divorce occur than a life be made unbearable. Jesus does nothing to retract this principle….no one regards a divorce as something to be chosen for its own sake…but of course a brutal marriage is not a good thing either, and we must resist any attempt to classify divorce as a special, irredeemable form of wickedness. It is not. It is sometimes the right thing to do, everything considered.” Professor Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, HarperCollins, 1997. pp. 169-70.

Lugt begins his conclusion by demonstrating again how the Mosaic Code and the teachings of Christ on divorce complemented each other. He argues that Jesus was forcing the hypocritical religious leaders of the time to examine their own hard hearts in putting women in danger           (both by abuse and neglect, and unrighteous divorce), as they were actually ignoring Moses’ rabbinical provision for women. Moses had given the Elders of Israel “a legal basis to free a woman from the neglect, contempt, and abuse of a cruel husband” (p. 21). There was no need for Jesus to cite all of these scripturally-valid grounds for divorce, any more than He explained the full Gospel of salvation by faith alone when speaking to the Rich Young Ruler. As Lugt points out, context is crucial. He was not addressing women in distress; He was addressing the self-righteous men who did as they pleased in “putting away” their wives.

Of course, Jesus also didn’t mention the additional circumstances meriting divorce later cited by Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:10-11:

“To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband 11 (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.”

 

Giving these instructions on the basis of Christ’s authority, why is there no mention of the fornication clause? It is evident here that the woman can obtain a divorce (under civil law; for unspecified reasons). And why the no-remarriage clause, Lugt asks, when Paul would have been well-acquainted with Mosaic teaching on remarriage? Lugt argues that the context of chapter 7 suggests Paul was answering specific questions raised by the Corinthian believers about celibacy (advocated by some even within marriage), and about marriage itself. He urges wives not to leave, but as a concession states that they are then to remain unmarried (which brings up another set of questions about divorced Christians re-marrying within the Church, which Lugt doesn’t address). Nor does Lugt address the fact that the New Testament uses the same word for “divorce” as for “separation” – the distinction made by the modern-day church is absent in the pages of Scripture. Nowhere do we see the Early Church pressuring divorced women to “reconcile” with their husbands, under any circumstances.

Conclusion

Lugt’s short book is a helpful resource for pastors, counselors and Christians in abusive or contentious marriages in order to understand God’s original design for marriage; as well as His protection in certain circumstances where divorce is allowed as a concession. Abuse is unequivocally one of these conditions. Actually examining the context and hermeneutic in which certain passages were written is illuminating in dispelling the “abuse is not biblical grounds for divorce” fallacy that exists in some churches, and serves to keep women in bondage. Lugt writes:

“Many…in trying to return to the ideal of marital love and permanence have not seen the wisdom God Himself showed in circumstances of marital abuse….divorce reflects a serious and costly departure from God’s original design. But the solution to the problem is not found in misrepresenting the heart of the law or in ignoring the plight of abused or unloved wives. Neither can we rightly maintain that sexual unfaithfulness or the desertion of an unbelieving mate are the only grounds for a divorce.”  (p. 26).

The brevity of Lugt’s book did not address every possible question that arises from the question of Christian divorce (such as remarriage), and while his exposition of Malachi 2:16 was somewhat lacking, overall “God’s Protection of Women” is an excellently-written and much-needed treatment of an issue that has caused much confusion and additional pain to abused women. It deserves a place in every biblical counselor’s library.

[1] https://cryingoutforjustice.com/2013/10/24/god-hates-divorce-not-always/ Barbara’s book can be purchased at notunderbondage.com or from any book retailer.

Trichotomous or Dichotomous Man?

by Marie Notcheva
d11a7-mercury_diagramNow here’s a subject of interest for all you theo-geeks: are we a three-part being (body, soul, spirit); or a two-part (soul and spirit used interchangeably to describe the eternal, intangible part of man)?

I was only vaguely aware that there are conflicting views on this philosophical puzzle until a few years ago, when studying for biblical counseling certification. Last week, an acquaintance who is studying for the ACBC exam wrote me, asking about this question.

While I had been taught that the soul is made up of the mind, will and emotions (while the spirit is the core of one’s being, which is enlivened upon regeneration), I confess that I have never given it much thought – until I began studying the theology of biblical counseling.  In preparation for the coursework, I read John Macarthur and Wayne Mack’s “Counseling” and Jay Adams'”The Christian Counselor’s Handbook” back in 2010-11. Neither one was light reading. As it happens, both address the two-part (dichotomous) vs. three-part (trichotomous) understanding of man in early chapters.

Funky chart – but is it biblical??

In my own book, I had taken the trichotomous position; even maintaining that because one’s spirit is regenerated at conversion, if the soul and the spirit were one and the same, the Christian would never again show a proclivity to sin after the new birth. Going back and re-examining that stance in light of Scripture (especially Paul’s discussion of the ongoing conflict between the “old man” and the “new man” in Romans,) it doesn’t hold up.

Jay Adams traces the trichotomous view of man to Greek philosophy and maintains that it is not biblical . Furthermore, its reemergence in contemporary thought is partly due to Freud’s theory of the ego, the super-ego and the id. Uh-oh. He writes:

“Trichotomy is not supported by a superficial appeal to 1 Thessalonians 5:23, where Paul is not distinguishing the parts of man, but simply heaping word upon word to emphasize entirety. Jesus Christ did the same thing when He spoke of loving God with all of one’s “heart, soul, mind and strength” (Mark 12:30). The Scriptures use the term soul (pseuche) and spirit (pneuma) interchangeably. Cf. Luke 1:46, 47, where the two are used in parallelism.”

John Street goes into an even more detailed explanation:

” The typical bifurcation between the soul and the spirit made by some Christian psychologists cannot be biblically sustained. One Christian psychiatrist offered this explanation: “The soul is the psychological aspect of man, whereas the spirit is spiritual…The mind alone lies in the psychological aspect of man and not the spiritual.” Such an artificial distinctions grows from reading psychological meaning into biblical terms. Both “soul” and “spirit” speak of the same intangible aspect of the inner man, the part of man that only God sees. A concordance study of psyche shows that when Scripture uses the term “soul” in relation to man, it refers to that aspect of the innner man in connection with his body. When it uses the term “spirit”, it is that aspect of the inner man out of connection with his body. No distinction exists in Scripture between the psychologically oriented and the spiritually oriented man.”

Not to be outdone, Ken L. Sarles offers a comprehensive look at the usage of spirit/soul both in Hebrew and Greek (whenever a theologian starts a sentence with “If we go back to the original Greek…”, I’m inclined to say, “You win! I’ll take your word for it!”) From “How to Counsel Biblically”:

“The body represents everything material, while the soul represents everything immaterial. In this case, the terms soul and spirit are understood as viewing the immaterial aspect of human nature from different vantage points. That is, the numerical essence of soul and spirit is one. Evidence for dichotomy can be found in Scripture’s interchangeable usage of the terms soul (nephesh in the Old Testament and psyche in the New Testament) and spirit (ruah in the Old Testament and pneuma in the New Testament)….In evaluating dichotomy, the strongest defense is the argument from creation. Genesis 2:7 records that man became a livingsoul. The term is inclusive of everything that has a living, breathing being. It would be more accurate then, to say that man has a spirit, but is a soul. Furthermore, the interchangibility of the terms argues for dichotomy.”

There are very well-thought-out defenses of the trichotomous position, too, which seem to make a strong case from Scripture. However, as interesting as examining the question may be, I personally do not think that it matters too much whether our soul is distinct from our spirit or they are “two sides of the same coin”. In fact, I was rather surprised to realize that this is a point of heated dissension among theologians – somewhat on par with the pre-millenial/post-millenial debate! I want to have this spiritual reality straight in my mind for the sake of doctrinal accuracy, but if it were such a crucial matter I’m sure Paul or the Lord Jesus Himself would have spelled it out a bit more precisely.

Taking the Bible alone, the main point is this: if you have been re-born, you are a new creation in Christ. The old has gone; the new has come. You are no longer a slave to sin. Your inner man has changed – no matter how you wish to call it. Your spirit thirsts for God and He Who began a good work in you will carry it on to the day of completion. I don’t see any indication of a trichotomous man, but nor do I think it’s any big woop – certainly not one worth debating much.

If you go back and read the words in red, (not to mention the Epistles), you don’t see much hair-splitting philosophical debate – even with the Greek dudes in John 12:19-21 who were eager to talk to Jesus. What we DO see is a lot of common-sense, get-out-there-and-do-it commands, coupled with a call to constant devotion and commitment to inner holiness. This should always be our main concern, first and foremost.

But you’ve got to admit, the nit-picking theological questions can be great fun to study out.

The Culture of Abuse in Christian Slavic Marriages

slavic-marriages

Last weekend, my daughter and I attended a three-day Christian Slavic women’s retreat. Predictably, discussion turned to Lyuba Savenok, who was brutally murdered by her husband Yeveginy in May 2016 after years of verbal and physical torment. Both Lyuba and her husband were active members of their Minnesota church, to whom Lyuba had reported the abuse before filing a restraining order. What makes the Savenoks’ story so tragic is not just the shocking nature of the crime, but rather how familiar her situation was to many women married to Slavic men.

“Honestly, with all my awareness of domestic abuse in Christian homes, I’m still taken aback at the number of Slavic women dealing with this,” said “Irina.” “So many of our sisters don’t know where to turn. They’ve been burned by negative experiences of seeking help in their churches.”

It is estimated that one in four Christian couples will experience at least one incident of physical abuse in their marriage, although spousal abuse of all forms tends to be under-reported among the Slavic community. The women discussing this problem cited embarrassment, hopelessness that their husbands will change, and victim-blaming as reasons. While violence (sometimes related to alcohol abuse) remains high among the general population in Slavic countries (particularly in Russia, Poland, and the Ukraine), one would assume the problem to be much lower among professing Christians. Sadly, this is not the case.

The Church’s Denial of the Problem

“Our Eastern European culture here in America and overseas has given men the authority to verbally, physically, emotionally, and sexually abuse their spouses and daughters,” writes Ukranian-American pastor Paul Muzichuk. “The position women have been cornered into is one of domination, scorn, and weakness; they are simply expected to be ‘good moms’ in the home. Even men in key Christian leadership positions have not seen the wrong in treating women as second class people. When I asked one older Ukrainian man his thoughts on emotional abuse in Slavic families, he smirked and said ‘that doesn’t happen because we are holy people’….[but] his father verbally and emotionally abused his mother by calling her worthless names, telling her to do as he commanded—all in the name of ministry and God.”1

“The Church sometimes enables abuse among our men,” Irina acknowledges.  “Pastors simply don’t know how to deal with abuse; victims are [often] told they just need to ‘submit according to the Bible.’ They may even hear things like ‘This is your cross to bear’. Russian ladies don’t want to speak up; their own families might blame them. They tell her she is not trying “hard enough” to be a good Christian wife. Their pastors do not understand how [Slavic husbands] look down on their women, so how can they help?” Another woman added, “My friend was being bullied and yelled at daily. Her husband would blame her for things that weren’t her fault; then he hit her. When she [told] her pastor, he didn’t even speak to her husband. But when she called social services, they opened an investigation immediately. Ironically, the state protected her. Her church didn’t. Now she is ashamed to go to church.”

Understanding Cultural Influence

Several of the women who spoke about this “open secret” lamented American pastors’ failure to grasp the nature of misogyny in the Slavic-American subculture. Effective biblical counsel is not possible when a counselor lacks insight into the true nature of a problem. “I think one reason American pastors just don’t get it is, by and large, gender-equality exists in the US,” said “Elena.” “American men don’t generally yell at their wives or control them like children … if they did, they’d be in big trouble! The concept of women being equal simply does not exist in our countries. So when a [Slavic] woman talks to her pastor about her mistreatment, he does not understand how ugly it is. In a way [Slavic] culture justifies it, and considers it normal. They have no idea what some of our sisters are going through.”

This domineering attitude has been “imported” into immigrant communities from Eastern Europe, and counselors need to understand it. Recently, I was contacted by a YMCA domestic violence specialist seeking a counselor for a battered Albanian woman – a common occurrence. (Albania, while not a Slavic country, shares many cultural characteristics with its Eastern neighbors. Women are more oppressed in Albania than in any other European country).

While in Tirana this summer, I spoke with ACBC counselor Blair Alvidrez, who mentioned the hostile, aggressive tone Albanian men often use with their wives. “When you confront them, they try to excuse it: ‘that’s just how we are; that’s how I talk!’ It’s very hard to change that cultural attitude; to make them realize that this speech is abusive, and ungodly.” An Albanian pastor admitted that while God can change anyone’s heart, it’s rare to see a turnaround in men who have learned such communication patterns from birth.

Abuse for its own sake is not the abuser’s goal; control is. Abusive men seek to gain the control they feel entitled to. Even in immigrant congregations themselves, domestic abuse is often ignored.

Biblical Confrontation

As biblical counseling instructor Donn Arms says, “Scripture informs what we do; not culture.” In that spirit, it is time for all forms of torment – physical and verbal; isolation and intimidation; stonewalling and screaming; control and humiliation – to be called what they are: sin. What are some things these Slavic Christian women desperately want their pastors to know?

  • They are not exaggerating. Believe them. If the abuse has escalated to physical violence, involve the authorities. They need protection; as Lyuba did. Do not distort Ephesians 5:22 and 1 Peter 3:1-6 to heap more guilt upon the abused woman.
  • When a woman tells you that her husband will not change, do not chide her “lack of faith.” Rather, respect that she has much more insight into her husband’s state of mind and cultural mores than you do. Until they see the sin in their attitude and renew their minds, abuse will continue. Philippians 2:5 and 4:5 need to be internalized and lived out, and a few months of biblical counseling will not undo a lifetime of cultural conditioning.
  • Angry outbursts and demeaning lectures/accusations are not considered abusive by many Slavic Christian men, although verbal abuse can be incredibly destructive. Understanding the craving for control can help unmask what drives the behavior.

Recommended Reading: “The Shameful Secret of ‘Christian’ Domestic Abuse”

Endnote:

1. Paul Muzichuk, “Abuse of Slavic-American Women,” http://paulmuzichuk.blogspot.com/2013/05/abuse-of-slavic-american-women.html (May 8, 2013).

What Makes Anorexia a ‘Harder Case’ Than Bulimia?

What Makes Anorexia a ‘Harder Case’ Than Bulimia?

(From Biblical Counseling for Women blog)

Marie Notcheva, Author of Redeemed from the Pit:  Biblical Repentance and Restoration from the Bondage of Eating Disorders, shares with us today about Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia. 

The two main eating disorders, anorexia nervosa, and bulimia are both relatively common in the Western world, with bulimia being 5-10 times more common than anorexia (especially among college-aged women). Broadly speaking, however, anorexic clients are much more difficult counseling cases than bulimics. Why is that? Why does ‘being transformed’ and renewed in her thinking seem to be that much more elusive for the starver than for the purger?

This was not a subject I got into in my own book, Redeemed from the Pit.”  I did not focus very much on the differences between the two disorders, but rather dealt primarily with the root sins contributing to both behaviors. Moreover, most Redeemed_Hi-Res_CoverSample-02a.jpg
anorexics end up becoming bulimic at some point. It is much more difficult to continue to starve than it is to give in to the urge to eat, and then purge as an “escape hatch.” However, there are women who maintain anorexia long-term without ever giving in to bulimia. I have known women to go well over a decade as anorexics, while their body tissues slowly disintegrate, still pursuing that elusive thinness. This scenario is much rarer than the more common one: A low-to-average-weight woman who binges and purges in secret, or an overweight lady who habitually overeats and cannot seem to moderate her eating habits.

The Depth of Deception

What is it about anorexia that makes it harder to counsel? Here is my theory (and it is just that – my somewhat-educated opinion): the level of self-delusion in anorexia is deeper.

A bulimic knows that what she is doing is wrong. She feels shame constantly, even when she has been purging for so long her conscience is desensitized. Even before she seeks counseling, inwardly she knows it is sinful to gorge and vomit up food. She knows the risks of laxative abuse, and is filled with disgust and self-loathing. She wants to stop the binge/purge cycle, but on the other hand is conflicted: The frenzied act of eating/purging retains some sort of reward to her that she is reluctant to give up, yet she is deathly afraid of gaining weight. As with her anorexic sister, the bulimic has made weight her idol. Nevertheless, she rarely has any delusions that bingeing and purging is anything less than sinfully self-destructive.

The anorexic Christian, on the other hand, is less likely to really see her self-starvation as wrong. Anorexia seems the more “noble, stoic” of the two eating disorders — after all, it takes enormous willpower to consistently refuse food. The anorexic is typically very proud of overcoming her baser human instinct – the need to eat for survival – and sees herself as of stronger, more self-controlled stock than other women. She has never eaten food only to “get rid of it,” so ‘what’s the problem?’ she may reason.

Distorted Body Image

Add to this the grossly distorted body image more common to anorexics, and you would have a hard time convincing them that they need to gain weight. I remember when I was anorexic in 11th grade, looking in the mirror (at 5’5″ and 90 lbs.) and seeing a normal-weight girl. Interestingly, in photographs of myself I saw how emaciated I was; but anorexics do not see themselves realistically in “real time.” For this reason, I highly recommend meeting with a nutritionist as well as a biblical counselor during the re-feeding process. A nutritionist provides an objective, science-based eating plan according to biological, nutritional needs. In my experience, this was helpful in giving me the confidence to eat nutritionally-balanced, if small, meals and to gain weight without freaking out.

Asceticism is Worshiped in Our Culture

A third reason anorexics may present tougher counseling cases than bulimics is the connection between asceticism and “religion.” I use ” ” around the term, religion to distinguish this way of thinking from true, biblical Christianity. The ascetics were an ancient group that believed in subjugating the body (believing all matter to be evil, like the Gnostics) in an attempt to reach a higher level of ‘spirituality.’ This way of thinking was also rampant in Medieval Catholicism (read about ‘holy anorexia’ and the contemplative practices of nuns of the time period) where flagellants and penitents would beat, starve, and sleep-deprive their bodies mercilessly as “penance.”

The notion of “penance” is antithetical to the Gospel, which teaches repentance. Repentance is godly sorrow over sin; trusting in Christ’s finished work on the Cross as atonement, and dependence on Him to turn away from the sin. Penance, on the other hand, is self-inflicted punishment or man’s attempt to “make it up to God” by performing some act. This is the height of pride (thinking that we can add something to our redemption, on top of Christ’s sacrifice). It is also a gross perversion of the true motivation for the spiritual disciplines (including fasting).

A Christian anorexic could easily justify her habit as “holy” by calling it a “fasted lifestyle.” The secular media certainly reinforces this mindset, by glorifying women who successfully lose weight through willpower, the secular term for self-control. Self-control is certainly a fruit of the Spirit, and fasting is something Christians are expected to do in seasons of intense prayer, but the anorexic mindset perverts them both. Although she is called, as a believer, to “put on the new self,” she is, in fact, giving reign to vanity and self-absorption. Paul writes:

“Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”  ~ Colossians 3:1-3

The anorexic’s mind is most definitely not set on “the things above,” nor is she walking in the Spirit. Her mind is set on the carnal desire for unnatural thinness and adulation. She ruminates about food day and night. Her lifestyle and habits “sow to the flesh” (Galatians 6:8). However, it is much more difficult for her to see her true spiritual condition through the eyes of faith than it is for a bulimic, whose purging habit is more obviously sinful (gluttony, waste, destruction of the temple – 1 Corinthians 6:19). Anorexia is just as grievous a sin against the body as bulimia is, but for these reasons, I believe it can be harder to convince an anorexic that this is indeed the case.

What are your thoughts on this? I am especially interested in feedback from women who have counseled clients struggling with anorexia. Do they see this as a life-dominating sin, or something that makes them “purer” (even if only in their own eyes)? Do they consider jeopardizing their health by self-starvation to be as wrong as overeating, or do they see it as “virtuous” (even if only secretly)?

A God Who is Not Sovereign is Not God

A God Who is Not Sovereign is Not God

by Marie Notcheva

One afternoon on the way home from work, I caught part of a radio program in which Rabbi Harold Kushner (“When Bad Things Happen to Good People”) was being interviewed. Kushner was weighing in on a tragedy that befell a family here in Massachusetts: Twin two-year-old girls drowned in their swimming pool, presumably while their mother was inside with a baby brother. It is difficult to imagine the enormity of the family’s loss, and our hearts break with them. This is every parent’s worst nightmare come true.

Kushner, who lost his son to progeria in the 1980’s, made several good points. He observed that grieving parents are incapable of consoling one another (as they would had the loss been a parent or sibling), and they often lash out. He advised the parents to seek counsel from others, and mentioned several bereavement support groups. He noted that the death of a child is something one never really “gets over,” but they may expect to get to a point where they can enjoy life again. He also very wisely cautioned others against offering advice, seeking to minimize the tragedy, or rationalizing it away (“Talk less; hug more”). Seeking solace from those parents who can truly empathize in their grief will also lead to their ultimately being able to offer that same compassion to others. This in turn will counter, in some small measure, the devastating helplessness that they felt when their daughters drowned.

Can We Blame God?

However, when the interviewer turned the line of questioning to whether or not we can blame God, Kushner essentially denied the concept of a sovereign God. (Obviously, as a Jewish rabbi, Kushner’s view of God and redemptive history differ significantly from the Christian position. We needn’t get into soteriology or dwell on self-evident doctrinal differences between Jews and Christians.) What I found interesting was Kushner’s low view of God’s omnipotence and omniscience, and his de facto denial of man’s depravity and the effect of sin’s outworking in the world (hamartiology).

Kushner stated that just as God cannot be blamed for tragedy, (which is true of course; calamity is a result of the fall of man), neither can one say that tragic events are His will, orchestrated by Him, or permitted by Him. That is a disappointingly humanistic worldview, and would be natural coming from a secular psychologist, a Deist, an agnostic, or perhaps Oprah. But follow it to its natural conclusion: if God did not have foreknowledge of a tragedy, then He is not omniscient. This is open theism, and it is heresy. (See Job 37:16; 1 Jn 3:20; Heb 4:13; Mt 10:29-30). Further, Kushner maintains that when people credit or praise God for good events, blessings in their life, or sparing them from disaster, they are actually just putting a “theological face” on their relief at not being the unfortunate victims.

The idea of an omnipotent God is also distasteful to Kushner. He passionately said,

“Given a choice between a deity that is all-good but cannot control what will happen, and an omnipotent creator who allows the death of innocent children, I find the compassionate god much more comforting! Where do we get the idea that power is the highest virtue?”

What disheartens me is that Kushner, who certainly embodies the godly qualities of compassion, empathy, and love for his fellow man – especially the hurting – does not seem to realize that these attributes of God in no way negate His power, omniscience, or sovereignty. If God is not sovereign, He is not God. Kushner seems to be setting up a false dichotomy: If God is sovereign, He allowed those poor children to drown. That would be, in his mind, evil. Therefore, God would not be all-good. If God is all-good, He would not have allowed small children to climb into the swimming pool and drown. If He is good, and had foreknowledge of the incident, He should have done something. He did nothing. Therefore, He is not all-knowing.

The truth of the matter, of course, is that God is both all-good, and in His sovereignty, knew what would happen to the girls. He did not intervene (for reasons we cannot understand, and should not try to speculate upon); and tragically, they died. An additional truth here, which should not be glossed over too lightly, is that His heart is as broken as those of the parents. God is close to the brokenhearted and is moved to compassion by our grief. (See Psalm 34:18; Psalm 147:3; John 11:35; Hebrews 4:15). By contrast, Kushner seems to imply that by allowing what is such a horrific tragedy that the human mind recoils, God is callous or indifferent to human suffering. It is arbitrary; unfair.

Are People Really Good?

Why does the notion of God allowing terrible events seem so repugnant to Rabbi Kushner? A word he kept using was innocent: “What kind of God would allow two innocent girls to drown?” I would counter, “The same kind of God Who let His innocent Son suffer and die on a Roman cross for my sins.” While I agree with Kushner that no family deserves what these folks are going through, if we really examine his argument for innocence (not just of the girls, but of all victims of tragedy), it is flawed. None of us is truly innocent. Only Christ was, and God not only allowed Him to suffer; He ordained it (Isaiah 53:10-11). Does the atonement mean God is unjust, uncompassionate, indifferent?

Even without getting into a debate about Penal Substitution, we can see from the Torah, Law and Prophets alone that we are all, from birth, guilty sinners who inherently deserve nothing but eternal separation from God. We are, in fact, guilty through Adam’s representative act (federal headship), and are born corrupt and therefore oriented toward sin. This is not to say, of course, that individual sin is the reason for calamity (Jesus emphatically dispelled that notion in Luke 13:4); but that when sin entered the world, part of the consequence was misfortune and tragic circumstances. Ultimately, this is the reason for earthquakes and other natural disasters, bloodshed, famine, genetic mutations, childhood illnesses, and the ultimate curse: death (both physical and spiritual). See Genesis 3:14 ff.

Kushner, as the name of his book implies, seems to see human beings as basically good. This is part of the problem with his view of God: He does not see man’s true position in relation to Him. Because Kushner holds a flawed, high view of man, of necessity his view of God’s sovereign will is skewed.

While God is completely holy and completely loving, we humans strike out on both counts. Throughout the entire Scripture, the inherently evil condition of man is set out over against the impeccable nature of God. The term total depravity doesn’t mean we are as bad as we can possibly be; it means that there is no part of our being that has not been tainted by the effects of sin. The following are just a few of the verses pointing to man’s natural condition: Ecc. 7:29; Rom. 5:7-8; 5:12,19; Psalm 143:2; 2 Chr. 6:26; Isaiah 53:6; Micah 7:2-4. Kushner also says that expressing anger at God is fine, and that He can take it. Let’s be clear: Being angry with God is a sin. It is, in essence, denying that He is perfect, and putting one’s self in the seat of autonomy. Jerry Bridges, in Respectable Sins, equates blaming God/being angry with Him to blasphemy. At best, it is certainly unbelief.

I should note that I have not read Kushner’s book, and my observations are based solely on the radio interview he gave. As a biblical counselor, flags go up when a man-centric worldview attempts to understand God through a faulty hermeneutic. Because there is often truth mixed in with erroneous beliefs (both about God and man), the idea of a compassionate yet impotent god may seem more palatable. Many listeners probably swallowed the whole message, without comparing Kushner’s view of God to the One portrayed in the Scriptures.

Këshillimi Biblik Lulëzon në Tokën e Shqiponjave

title.jpgNga Marie Notcheva

(ky artikull është publikuar në “Ilira Revista”, shtator 2016).

Çfarë është këshillimi biblik?

Në vitin 1656, puritani Riçard Bakster shkroi se vetë Shkrimi është i dobishëm për të krishterët “për t’iu hequr dyshimet, për t’i ndihmuar në luftën kundër mëkateve të tyre, për t’i drejtuar në detyrën e tyre dhe për rritje të njohurisë dhe të gjithë hirit shpëtues”.1 Ndryshe nga psikologjia, e cila ka një pikëpamje për jetën që është e përqendruar te njeriu dhe e kundërshton konceptin e ‘mëkatit’, këshillimi biblik bazohet në bindjen se Perëndia na ka folur përmes Shkrimit. Përmes Biblës, Perëndia na ka zbuluar gjithçka që duhet të dimë për Të, për veten tonë dhe për botën përreth nesh (2 Pjetrit 1:3).

Këshillimi biblik, i cili disa herë është quajtur “një hibrid mes dishepullimit dhe miqësisë biblike”, ka përfitimin shtesë të përgjegjshmërisë. Kur një i krishterë kërkon ndihmë nga një këshillues biblik i trajnuar për një problem shpirtëror të vazhdueshëm, ai apo ajo do të duhet të bëjë detyra shtëpie, të mësojë përmendësh disa pasazhe nga Shkrimi dhe të bëjë punën e vështirë të ndryshimit biblik ndërmjet sesioneve. Të mësosh ta kuptosh drejt Fjalën e Perëndisë dhe të ndihmosh njerëzit ta zbatojnë atë në jetën e tyre nuk është ide e re, por këshillimi biblik është rritur shumë në Shqipëri këto vitet e fundit.

Nga Bashkësia e Hirit,  me dashuri

Në vitin 2007, Kisha e Bashkësisë së Hirit (Grace Fellowship Church) në Kentucky, SHBA, dërgoi Bler dhe Suana (Blair dhe Sue Ann) Alvidrez në Shqipëri në një udhëtim misionar afatshkurtër. Pasi u vendosën në Lushnjë në vitin 2010, Bleri dhe Suana u bënë të parët këshillues biblikë në Shqipëri. Brenda pak viteve, Bleri po organizonte konferenca trainimi për shqiptarë që donin të mësonin si të këshillonin në kishat e tyre lokale. Pastorë amerikanë nga Shoqëria e Këshilluesve Biblikë të Certifikuar (Association of Certified Biblical Counselors) erdhën në Tiranë për të ndihmuar me trajnimin. Bashkë me Pastor Genci Cesulën, pastor kryesor në Kishën e Hirit në Tiranë dhe pastorë dhe misionarë të tjerë, Bleri themeloi Koalicionin e Këshillimit Biblik Shqiptar. “Këshillimi biblik po fiton mjaft popullaritet”, thotë Bleri. Ai dhe familja e tij kanë jetuar në Tiranë për disa vjet, ku ai punon bashkë me Genci Cesulën, duke dishepulluar dhe trajnuar pastorë të tjerë që synojnë certifikimin. “Shumë njerëz thanë në fillim, ‘Kjo nuk do të funksionojë këtu’”, thotë ai. Më shumë se në Amerikë, në Shqipëri njerëzit e kanë të vështirë të flasin lirshëm për problemet e tyre. Megjithëse betejat shpirtërore me të cilat përballen besimtarët janë të ngjashme në të gjithë botën, shqiptarët e kanë më të vështirë të kërkojnë këshillë. Kjo është pjesërisht për shkak të një mosbesimi të përgjithshëm ndaj autoritetit dhe një shqetësimi të përgjithshëm në lidhje me thashethemet. Megjithatë, me këmbëngulje dhe trajnim të vazhdueshëm, shumë njerëz tani po kërkojnë këshillim brenda kishave të tyre lokale. Disa pastorë shqiptarë i kanë përfunduar provimet e tyre të certifikimit dhe po këshillojnë tashmë, dhe disa nga gratë e tyre po ndihmojnë duke këshilluar gra dhe duke përkthyer libra.

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Fryti i shërbesës së përkthimit

Deri tani janë përkthyer në shqip 23 tituj në lidhje me këshillimin biblik, duke përfshirë këtu librin e Pol Trip, “Instrumente në duart e Shpenguesit”, një numër jo i vogël, sidomos kur e krahason me vendet fqinje ku teologjia e Reformuar dhe këshillimi biblik janë pothuaj të panjohur. Bashkësia e Hirit, kisha dërguese e Blerit dhe Suanës në Amerikë ka siguruar financa dhe njerëz për të ndihmuar; megjithatë, këshillimi biblik nuk është shpikje amerikane. Apostulli Pal, në letrat e tij, na jep modelin e parë të një këshilluesi i cili është vërtet biblik. Ai përdor Fjalën e Perëndisë për të mësuar besimtarët e rinj, për të inkurajuar kishat e përndjekura, për të bindur për mëkat besimtarët dhe për të pajisur ata që ishin në shërbesë. Pasi Bibla vetë u përkthye në gjuhë të tjera, Ungjilli u përhap në më shumë popuj sesa do të kishin arritur misionarët me mësimet gojore. Në mënyrë të ngjashme, parimet e këshillimit biblik mësohen kryesisht përmes konferencave, por koncepti prezantohet edhe më gjerësisht përmes literaturës.

Disa herë shërbesa e Fjalës duket se ndodh vetvetiu. Bleri tregon një incident kur makina e tij kishte nevojë për lavazh. Ai kishte qindra librushka të përkthyera në ndenjësen e pasme të makinës, në kuti që po shqyheshin. Ai me kujdes i vendosi ato në trotuar ndërsa kishte lënë makinën në lavazh dhe dy burra shqiptarë treguan shumë interes në atë literaturë. “Çfarë janë këto? A mund t’i shikojmë?”. Bleri u shpjegoi me gëzim që ato ishin librushka që flisnin për Perëndinë dhe se si të jetosh në mënyrë që t’i pëlqesh Atij. “A mund të blejmë disa?”, pyetën burrat.

Lajmi është përhapur në vendet fqinje të Ballkanit në lidhje me këtë këndvështrim “vetëm Shkrimi” të këshillimit të krishterë. “Ne tani kemi kontakte në Maqedoni”, thotë Bleri. Disa pastorë nga Shkupi morën pjesë në trajnimin e kohëve të fundit në Kishën e Hirit, dhe një kishë në Kosovë, që e ka mbushur librarinë e saj me materiale këshillimi, ka treguar interes për të dërguar përfaqësues.

Nga qumështi te mishi… progresioni i trajnimit

Deri tani janë mbajtur katër konferenca vjetore për trajnim në këshillimin biblik, të mbajtura në Durrës, Tiranë dhe Korçë. Bleri dhe pastorë të tjerë që kanë dhënë mësim atje, janë inkurajuar nga rritja që kanë parë në besimtarët që marrin pjesë. Tani, më shumë pastorë lokalë po e marrin trajnimin vetë në seminare një herë në dy muaj që quhen “module trajnimi.” Ato fokusohen në tema më specifike këshillimi si martesa, depresioni dhe problemet e kombinimit të psikologjisë me Biblën. Bleri thotë që ky trajnim i specializuar është efektiv dhe i ndihmon pastorët të mësojnë si t’u shërbejnë besimtarëve me Fjalën brenda kontekstit të kulturës së tyre. “Ne japim një rast studimor në çdo sesion dhe pjesëmarrësit diskutojnë se çfarë do të bënin”, shpjegon ai. “Është shumë e mrekullueshme të shohësh se si pjesëmarrësit po e përvetësojnë mësimin dhe se si procesi po hedh rrënjë”.

Ndikimi i këshillimit biblik po fillon të njihet edhe përtej mureve të kishës lokale, ndërsa Bleri, Suana dhe Koalicioni i Këshillimit kanë krijuar marrëdhënie me shkolla dhe klinika mjekësore. Klinika e krishterë ABC në Tiranë ka dërguar punonjës për të dëgjuar leksionet mbi ankthin dhe depresionin dhe u kanë kërkuar Blerit dhe pastor Genci Cesulës t’u dërgojnë këshillues biblikë.

Tabloja e madhe – kisha si pjesë e jetës

Ashtu si çdo kulturë post-moderne, edhe Shqipëria po përballet me pro-blemet e saj që shumë njerëz thonë që nuk kanë rrjedhoja shpirtërore. Pastor Cesula rreshton depresionin dhe problemet martesore midis çështjeve më të mëdha të këshillimit, por gjithashtu përfshin edhe pornografinë në atë listë. Imoraliteti seksual (veçanërisht pornografia) po bëhet shumë më i dukshëm sesa në vitet e shkuara, dhe pa një themel biblik, moraliteti konsiderohet subjektiv. Një nga synimet e dishepullimit dhe të këshillës vërtet biblike, është ta sjellësh ungjillin në të gjitha fushat e jetës së personit. Burrat dhe gratë e përfshira në shërbesën e këshillimit biblik përpiqen të komunikojnë që ‘kisha’ nuk është ndërtesë, por një trup dinamik besimtarësh të lidhur me njëri-tjetrin që ndihmojnë njëritjetrin të rriten. ‘Këshilla biblike’ nuk është thjesht të japësh përgjigje apo të citosh vargje; ajo kërkon që Kisha të veprojë ashtu siç e projektoi Perëndia – si një institucion dishepullbërës. “Është ngazëllyese të shohësh se si Perëndia po ngre njerëz nga e gjithë bota që janë të uritur për të mësuar përgjigjet biblike për jetën e tyre, dhe inkurajuese të shohësh përkushtimin e popullit të Tij kudo”, tha një pastor.

Shqipëria, e bukura “Tokë e Shqiponjave”, po përtërihet në forcë. Në Shkrimet, shqiponja është simbol i forcës dhe i aftësisë për të mbajtur shumë peshë (Eks. 19:4; LiP. 32:11). Në të njëjtën mënyrë metaforike, Shqipëria është ngritur brenda një brezi nga shtypja e ateizmit në një vend me një nga mjediset më të forta të krishtera në Ballkan. Falë punës së palodhur të një brezi të ri pastorësh dhe këshilluesish biblikë, ajo në mënyrë të sigurt po “ngrihet me krahë si shqiponja” ndërsa besimtarët e rinj e bëjnë të njohur Emrin e Tij.

photonotchevabookMari Noçeva (Marie Notcheva) është shkrimtare dhe këshilluese biblike e certifikuar nga INS nga Masaçusetsi. Libri i saj i parë, “Redeemed from the Pit: Biblical Repentance and Restoration from the Bondage of Eating Disorders” (Calvary Press, 2011) (“Shpenguar nga gropa: pendim dhe restaurim biblik nga skllavëria e çrregullimeve të të ngrënit”) është libër reference për këshilluesit që punojnë me njerëz me probleme anoreksike dhe bulimike. Maria është kontribuese e rregullt e blogut të Koalicionit të Këshillimit Biblik (The Biblical Counseling Coalition blog), dhe shkruan për revista të krishtera në Shqipëri dhe Bullgari. Ajo punon si përkthyese me kohë të plotë e bullgarishtes në Boston dhe ka katër fëmijë.
1 Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor, reprinted (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1860), p. 346