Is God ever glorified in our suffering?

An acquaintance of mine posted this on her facebook feed this morning:

The fact of the matter is we have come to accept sickness and illness as a normal part of life. The truth is Jesus Christ took every sickness and disease on His body so that yours could be whole….ALL DISEASE… That includes, colds, flus, allergies, arthritis, MS, cancer, measles, mumps, asthma, lupus… ALL. No exceptions, no exclusions. God wants you whole. Suffering with illness does not glorify God, equally, dying suffering does not bring glory to God or have people lining up to be a Christian. The Christian life must look different every way to the world. Time to get your current reality to line up with God’s truth….By His stripes you were healed.

I was tempted — sorely — to reply on facebook itself, but I’ve recently given that up. It’s just a bad venue for serious conversation, and I had a feeling that my response was going to be a lot longer than would have been reasonable for a comment. Good thing I have a blog.

Dear R,

I saw your post this morning about God’s desire that we should be whole and healed. I love how passionate you are about praying for healing for the sick (and I thank you for praying for me as you have done in the past). I love your desire to encourage the body of Christ to seek God’s healing. Those are wonderful things.

Your post also left me with some nagging questions. I offer the following points for discussion:

1) I agree with you on principle that God desires our healing and wholeness. I firmly believe that God will heal his people. But I don’t believe that all of that healing will happen in this life — in fact, most of it won’t. Our final (physical / mental / emotional / spiritual / psychological) healing will not take place until we are united with Christ after our deaths (*and/or his return, should that happen first). In the holy city God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev 21:4) … but those things have not passed away yet. Christians live — somewhat uncomfortably — in what we call “the already-but-not-yet”. The victory is won, but the mop-up battles continue. The kingdom is here, but it’s not here fully. I acknowledge that there is a serious tension here! But to deny the “not yet” is as bad as denying the “already” — to leave out either half is to deny the reality in which we live. How do we deal with the fact that some  of our healing is already, but some of it is not yet?

2) If God promises healing with “no exemptions, no exclusions” what do you say to those (many) who are not healed? I am exceedingly leery of a theology that proclaims, for example, that some are not healed because of a defect in their faith. Shall we tell our brothers and sisters who suffer with cancer or MS or what-have-you that they are simply not working hard enough? believing enough? praying enough? What will make them good enough to be healed? When Jesus was on earth he healed many, but he by no means healed all — consider John 5, the account of the healing at the pool at Bethesda. The Gospel account tells us that there was “a multitude of invalids [there]—blind, lame, and paralyzed” (John 5:3). Christ saw the multitude, and he healed… one. Was this one so worthy, or the others so unworthy? Or are the plans and purposes of God simply more inscrutable than we wish they were? Does saying “no exemptions, no exclusions” make our healing a matter of Law, rather than Grace?

3) You quote Isaiah 53:5 at the end of your post: “by his stripes we are healed”. Are we sure that this text refers to physical healing? Here is the verse in context, with some emphasis of my own:

4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
 we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
 so he opened not his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
9 And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
 he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
 he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.

I see a lot in there about our unrighteousness. I do not see anything about our physical healing. The context of 53:5 shows that the healing bought by Jesus’ stripes is spiritual. (Again, I have no quarrel with the premise that God heals; I just don’t think that this is the verse on which to hang your hat.)

4) One day, something is going to kill me. Ideally, I would like to die from simply being too old to live, expiring gracefully and peacefully in a well-appointed bedroom while a soft lavender-scented breeze blows through the window and my thirty-seven grandchildren sing Abide With Me in five-part harmony. That sounds pretty good (and pretty unlikely). More realistically, I might die quickly: have a heart attack, or get hit by a bus. Or I might die slowly: skin cancer, maybe, or Alzheimer’s. I don’t know what it will be (nor do I want to), but someday, somehow, I am going to shuffle off this mortal coil, and there is nothing — save Christ’s return — that can prevent that. Christians die. Christians die suddenly and too young. Christians die by inches for years. Sin has broken us, the universe is entropic, and it’s going to happen. Does a proclamation that all diseases and illnesses will be healed square with the reality and inevitability of death?

5) It’s true that the Christian life is supposed to look different. But that difference is not found in the fact that we don’t suffer, but in what we choose to do with that suffering — and in that, absolutely, God is glorified. I will give you an example: This past winter, a (faithful, believing, Christian) professor at our school died of leukaemia. It was quick, as these things go: there was only about a year between her diagnosis and her death. And she absolutely glorified Christ in both her suffering and her death. Her steadfast faith — even in and through her very real suffering — was a testimony to her doctors and nurses, as well as to the many who knew her before her illness struck. Her life and death proclaimed that God is faithful to us in the midst of trial; that though trouble may come we are never abandoned. She praised God until the end, and reposed to be with him in glory. This is what it means to die with dignity. This is what it means for our suffering and death to glorify God. This is what it means for the Christian life to look different in every respect. To deny such a witness would be the grossest of errors. Can we really look at the Christians we know who have died, and died well, and say that there was nothing there? No redemption, no grace? Is there really no way for our suffering to bring glory to God?

R, I am so glad that you have known Jesus’ healing power in your own life and that you are so eager to share that with others. I would suggest, however, that the issue of our earthly healing is more nuanced than your facebook post would suggest. I hope that this post will bring an opportunity for further reflection on healing, and not offence.



[also see follow-up post here]

Please tell me you're kidding

So I read a lot of blogs, and some of them are on tumblr — and because I can’t figure out how to comment on tumblr without having an account, I’ll just rant here a bit.

Ok, here is the post (bowdlerizing mine):

yesterday i was hanging out with a friend of mine who i really like and we were talking about the hobbit (he’s seen it, i haven’t)

and we were talking about the movie and the book and etc. and i mentioned how disappointed i was that there weren’t any female characters in the book (and therefore likely not in the movie)

and this friend of mine was like “well it’s not like it’s EXPLICIT that there are no women”

and it’s just like

your barometer is so [expletive]

[expletive] [expletive] i should not have to try this hard to find a character to identify with in your series

i should not have to rely on “well the author doesn’t explicitly say ‘THERE ARE NO FEMALE DWARVES’ so i mean, that means there’s probably AT LEAST ONE, SOMEWHERE, and so he’s not a misogynist!!1”

just….. what? are you being serious right now?

ESPECIALLY when the companion series has a seven to one male to female character ratio and all of the female characters are ultimately super [expletive] disappointing

i’m not saying you can’t like tolkien/lotr/the hobbit/whatever,

i’m just saying let’s not pretend it’s not a [expletive] problematic series if you happen to be a woman

(or a person of colour! but i’m not even gonna get into that)

This kind of thing makes me tired.

A short quiz for the post author:

1) Imagine that I change your summary to read “i mentioned how disappointed i was that there weren’t any male characters in the book” and “the companion series has a seven to one female to male character ratio and all of the male characters are ultimately super [expletive] disappointing”:

a) Would there still be a problem here? Or would you just assume you were reading, say, Judy Blume?

b) If you don’t have a problem with a 7-to-1 female/male ratio or “super … disappointing” male characters in a novel or movie, please elaborate: why is it only a problem the other way around?

2) Regarding the term “problematic series”, please explain:

a) Why does the inclusion or exclusion of a certain demographic make a series “problematic”?

b) Seriously, what do you mean by “problematic”? Does it hurt you? Does it hurt women? Is it problematic to write about men? Are men problematic?

3) Regarding “i should not have to try this hard to find a character to identify with in your series”, please explain:

a) Is the author ethically, morally, or otherwise obligated to include a character of any particular demographic in his or her novel, regardless of whether said character fits into the story he or she wishes to tell?

b) Would you really rather have a character of a particular demographic included in a story for the sake of including a character of that demographic? Isn’t that what we call “token characters”?

c) If part of the draw of fiction, especially of the science fiction or fantasy variety, is the ability to encounter and empathize with characters who are not like us, is it possible that you’re missing the point?

d) If we’re only relating to characters based on their surface characteristics (race, sex, etc.) rather than on their interior characteristics (personality, emotions, etc.), isn’t that bit on the shallow side? Not to mention the racist/sexist side which you are trying so hard to position yourself against?

e) If you find it impossible to identify with characters who aren’t just like you, is that the author’s problem, or yours?

All of which is to say nothing much at all

First posts are about getting words on the page, not about saying anything particular, amiright? They’re about overcoming paralysis.

This is why all of my university essays started with two paragraphs of lorem ipsum. I would otherwise sit for hours, staring at the blank page of the word processor, too hesitant to start. A post-less blog template creates much the same feeling.

My first blog post ever (way back in 2003) said this:

Hey look, a blog! 

Had to sign up with Xanga to add a comment to Ruth’s page. 

Well, we shall see where this goes. Maybe this time I’ll actually stick to a blog after making it. 


Xanga! Does anyone use Xanga anymore? (Does anyone use blogger anymore?)

Things I Hate About Libraries

Well, it’s one thing, really. But it’s a doozy.

When I was in grade nine, one of the big projects for my art class was to find a painting — I think it had to be by one of the Group of Seven — and reproduce it with a graph scale. I chose Northern Lights, by Tom Thompson (below) which I found in an art book from the public libraryTom_Thomson_Northern_Lights_L.

And time went by, and I eventually finished the project (pencil crayon on sketch paper, slightly skewed) and handed it in, and that was that. Except, and there’s always an “except”, it had taken longer than I projected time allotment to finish the darn thing, and my library book — my big, expensive-looking library book — was now overdue.

And it was overdue, and then very overdue, and then crazy overdue. And it wouldn’t have been so bad if I had been able to get it back to the library within the first week or two of it being past time. The fine would have been reasonable, but more to the point, the shame would be somewhat mitigated by the fact of its being so barely overdue. I mean, everyone is a few days late with a library book sometimes, right?

But it didn’t work that way. I didn’t get it back within a reasonable amount of time, and the phone calls from the library kept coming, and the book lay on my bedroom floor thinking nasty thoughts at me. After a time the thought of actually bringing the book back just made me writhe. What would they think of me, Book Thief, who had it out for so many extra months? How big would my fine be? Would the librarian glare? Would they restrict my card? I was mortified that I still had this book, but I was even more mortified at the thought of returning it.

(I did eventually return in; the fine was about $14 and the librarian was very nice. And it all would have turned out all right in the end, except for the fact that forgetting to bring library books is not, shall we say, a rare occurrence for me.)

Fast-forward nine years, and my copy of War and Peace is currently overdue. I know it’s overdue. It’s sitting right there on my desk, waiting patiently to be returned, should I ever get my butt in gear to actually do so. I do plan on returning it, but I feel I must at least make my case for why it’s overdue: I simply had no idea of the due date.

I realize that this is a bit of a cop-out. I am a grown woman. I am able to look up due dates online. I know how to look at a calendar and figure out what day it is. And yet I can’t keep a date in my head — and especially not for this particular loan, which was quite a bit longer than usual, perhaps because War and Peace is a giant chunkster of a book, or perhaps because they figured nobody else would want it in the meantime. I don’t know. So the first indication I had that a deadline was near or missed was that annoying computer voice on the telephone telling me that I blew it again.

What is the deal?

When I was in university, the library would automatically email you two days before an item became due. This is a fantastic system, my friends. Even if you can’t keep your loans straight, it can, and two days is more than enough warning for a return or renewal.

Is there a reason that the public library can’t do this? They certainly jump on it the moment you cross the line to overdue territory. If they can phone me then, why not two days before? Why can’t I attach an email address to my library card, so that I can be sent the same sort of message in text form? Is the technology not there? Are they just trying to get more fine money? Or does it not matter, because everyone else on the planet is so much more diligent about these things?

Tell me. Does anybody”s public library offer this kind of service? Librarians, have you any yeas or nays? I want to know!*

*so I can wave it in my own library’s face, obviously.

The Ethics of Royalties

Those of you who have been following this blog for a while will know, beyond doubt, that I am a huge fan of purchasing, acquiring, and reading used books. The first post that I wrote to really make it big in terms of comments and social media talked about why I love second-hand books. And a few weeks ago I wrote about how it’s important that second-hand book markets exist.

One point that came up in both posts (and to which the second was a partial rebuttal/exploration) was the issue of royalties: that is, the question of whether it is ethical to purchase used books, on the grounds that the authors of said books do not receive royalties for said purchase. My argument was that things like libraries and used book stores support authors (and the general reading community) in plenty of ways besides with royalties, and that it’s not the end of the world if you can’t buy new very often.

And, yup, here’s another post on the subject. This is obviously something that I’m still thinking through.

Various commenters chimed in on both posts, with diverse opinions, and also with some ingenuous ways of supporting authors. Mark B wrote,

Here’s an idea to support an author you like – especially a new one. Find their address and mail them a five dollar bill. Tell them what you enjoyed (or didn’t) about the book and thank them for their work.

And Ali said,

If the author is my friend, I’ll buy their book new as a personal show of support. Otherwise, I support authors by reading their books and talking/writing about them, by showing up at their readings/signings, by choosing something other than the latest bestseller to read and then sending the author an email about it.

These are well and good, but I’m still not completely satisfied. I mean, yes, I do talk about books and recommend them to people, review them — but is that enough? What debt, if any, do I as a reader owe to the authors whose books I read? I know that these kind of referrals work, because I’ve acquired many a book after another blogger has reviewed it. But book bloggers are going to buy books anyway — most of us are talking to each other, not to the vast unwashed non-reading public, right? So while such things may be effective, I don’t know if we can reckon them as particularly super virtuous.

What, then, of our own purchases? Heavy readers know that it’s hard to sustain a reading habit while buying new books — that is, author-supporting and royalty-paying books — exclusively. Books are expensive, and are to some extent luxury items, and used bookstores and libraries remain brilliant and necessary outlets for those who cannot necessarily pay full price for everything (or anything) they read. I think that most people are able to accept this.

At this point I will turn to my friend Glumpuddle:

As an author, I’ve worked hard to write a book – but a living wage for that work are non-existent. As a general rule it isn’t authors who make big bucks off books – it is publishers and re-sellers. While everyone might not have equal access, not every one gets a living wage for their work… so I’m afraid I’m still in theoretical favour of buying so authors get something out of it.

Right. Living wages. Historically, being able to make a living wage from artistic endeavours of any sort has been a relatively rare thing. There’s a reason that painters and musicians and what have you sought out wealthy patrons to support their endeavours — and that’s why so many of them seemed to die broke, too. Broke and/or crazy. You know. And authors who were paid a penny a word for their serial novels would have to keep pumping them out like the dickens (haha, I kill me) in order to support themselves. So the ability to support oneself solely from artistic endeavour is historically rare, and has never been a guaranteed thing.

Yet it’s probably not acceptable for us to point at these facts and conclude that authors don’t have to make a good wage from their work now, simply because most of them haven’t before. To make a slightly hyperbolic comparison, you could as easily say, “Well, these people over here have historically been enslaved — so why should we change that now?”. Because things have always been this way is usually not an adequate support for — well, anything, really. If we are preserving old traditions, modes of thought, etc. it should be because they are good, not simply because they are old. Age is not a particular virtue; everything attains it if you wait long enough. And, in theory at least, I think that most people are in favour of authors making a living off of their books — after all, that means that they won’t have to take other jobs in the meantime, and can write more books. Yay authors. Yay books.

But how to go about it? It is true that it’s not authors who make the big bucks off of these expensive trade paperbacks. POD publishing might change that (see Wil Wheaton and his offer of Sunken Treasure as a book from Lulu and an electronic version, most of the profit seeming to go directly to himself) but it largely hasn’t happened yet. We need to work within the existing system, it seems, where publishers get some money for new books, and no money for used.

Given all of these things, it seems that the best thing to do is to support authors directly whenever possible, by purchasing their books at new prices, as galling as that may sometimes seem. As stated above, however, most of us cannot afford to buy all of our books new — there are simply too many books we want to read, and too few dollars to spend on them. So what do we do? How do we go about picking and choosing which authors are supported and which aren’t?

Amy voiced her opinion:

In fact, it would seem that most people who don’t buy new only buy new when it’s a big name author. I would really encourage you if you have the money to buy new when it’s a midlist author, not a best-selling author. Many of these authors are losing opportunities and getting their contracts canceled. Why not help out a little IF YOU CAN.

So: mid-list authors. It still seems a bit sticky to me, though: who’s defining what “mid-list” really means? It’s the sort of vague descriptor that lends itself to manipulation, and I could see myself moving authors around through it depending on my purchasing impulses and not on their actual status. And that’s not so great, right? Right.

After much ponderation, I’ve decided to go with this method: Before purchasing a book, I shall endeavour to find out if the author is still alive. If he/she is I will buy new if possible. If he/she is not, I will use the library or buy used without qualm. I think that’s a logical approach: I will be supporting living authors who are (conceivably) still writing and still in need of money to live off of, but I need not trouble myself over supporting the estates of the deceased.

Seems fair to me. What do you think? Is this something you trouble yourselves over, or am I just thinking too hard?

Pimp my High School Library

I chanced to reconnect, the other day, with the excellent head librarian from my high school days. She’s still there, but she’s retiring at the end of this year — and looking forward to it very much, I might add. During the conversation, it chanced to come up that she still has a fair amount of book budget to spend before she leaves.

Now, when I was a wee bairn in grade nine, I informed her in no uncertain terms that the YA collection she had was… inadequate. I believe my exact words were “after a while, you realise that all YA books are the same”, and I soon moved on to the science fiction and classics sections. In the intervening years, however, I’ve come to realise that there’s lots of really, really good young adult fiction out there, whatever my earlier impressions might have been. And after avoiding said genre like the plague, I am now coming around and highly enjoying most of what I’ve read.

So here’s the thing: I’ve promised her a list of books that she should buy for the library before she goes — a retirement bequeathal, if you will. I want to put together a list of some really kick-butt YA (in any genre), but I need some help.

Here’s the list I’ve come up with off the top of my head, in no particular order:

  • An Abundance of Katherines (John Green)
  • Looking for Alaska (John Green)
  • Paper Towns (John Green)
  • The Book Thief (Markus Zusak)
  • The Book of Lost Things (John Connolly)
  • Zoe’s Tale (John Scalzi)
  • The Amulet of Samarkand (Jonathan Stroud)
  • The Golem’s Eye (Jonathan Stroud)
  • Ptolemy’s Gate (Jonathan Stroud)
  • The Graveyard Book (Neil Gaiman)
  • The Bromeliad (Terry Pratchett)
  • When We Were Romans (Matthew Kneale)

What am I missing? I’m not terribly well-read in terms of YA, and so I will eagerly add your suggestions to the list — leave them in the comments for me, or contact me more directly. I’m going to try to send it to her by the end of the week.

(Note: you’re of course free to suggest other types of books than straight YA — but that’s where I want to concentrate, since I remember the YA collection being particularly uninspiring.)

What’s the best YA being written right now?