Religious Answers

Today's post was originally posted on my faith blog almost five years ago. Thought that this would be something you might enjoy this Sunday.

Ever read something in the bible, embrace it and regurgitate it to someone? Sure you have. I wonder if it is endemic of our need to have an answer when we don’t have a clue. Consider these passages from the first three chapters of book of Job:

Chapter 1: All of Job's children have died in one day. In that same day he lost all of his livestock. Here is how Job responded:
Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.”
Chapter 2: On the heels of this devastation Job is struck with boils all over his body. His wife is in a level of pain that very few people can relate to. Here is Job’s response to his wife:
“You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”
Chapter 3: Some time has passed … Job has been visited by friends … the pain of his loss has taken hold. Job is coming out of denial and responds:
After this, Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth.
In March of 1990 my first wife Ellen had a heart attack and kidney failure at the age of 39 … after four years of declining health and hemodialysis Ellen passed away in 1994. My initial responses to my pain were very much like Job’s. Masking my inner devastation I often spoke words that were very religious … albeit empty and devoid of inner truth.

Christian clichés did not help me but got in the way of dealing with my pain. Phrases like “God is still on the throne” or “I am a victor not a victim” or the ones that Job spoke caused me to shrink back in fear instead of addressing my plight in courage. Religious words never help because they insulate us from our pain instead of addressing it head-on.

I attended a grief group after Ellen died. It was in this group that I learned that to heal on the inside I had to step into my pain ... I had to deal with the reality of my experience in a truthful way. I believe that Job began to take this step into pain in chapter 3. This step is one of the scariest that I have ever taken … it took more courage than I ever imagined. This first step took me on a journey where I began to shed my religious answers. I am still on this journey … it is a journey where I am challenged every day to live out of my dangerous heart instead of my safe mind.

Most of Job’s story is one where he and his friends trade religious accusations and answers … this dialogue was not helpful and did not result in comfort or encouragement for Job. The next time you (or a friend) are in crisis please refrain from giving a religious answer. Get a hug or give a hug instead.


  1. If I may say, humbly, I think you might have left at least one thing out of this great post; religious cliches are empty and offer no comfort.

    However, God's word is truth, for the Scripture is the revelation of God and His Character. Appropriate words of scripture, spoken in the power of the Holy Spirit, spoken wisely, and spoken in love as one is weeping with you and hugging you are very comforting.

    How sad many people have never learned to comfort one another, (Romans 1:15; II Corinthians 1:3-4,7; Eph 6:22; I Thessalonians 3:2, 5:11, etc.)

    Thanks for your post!

  2. @Gregg - Thanks for the response. Guess they key is that phrase "spoken in the power of the Holy Spirit". It is pretty obvious that Job and his friends where not speaking from His direction or power.

    The scripture is something that we stand on and not hide behind. Sad when we tritely quote the bible and use it to hide behind our pain/problems instead of confronting them.

    I think both of these phenomena are evident most when we are living our faith from our head and not our innermost being.. all the head can really do for pain is regurgitate religiosity.


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