The Sins of our Fathers..

In the bible there are numerous passages in the old testament that reference later generations bearing the iniquity of their fathers (Exodus 20:5, Deuteronomy 5:9, Exodus 34:6-7).  When I first read these passages I thought this was especially cruel and unfair.  Why should those who have done nothing suffer because of the sins of others? 

What I realized recently while working in mental health is that this is not an order of divine punishment but it is the unfortunate effect of sin.  When a father sexually abuses his daughter she will likely suffer greatly in this life through the destruction of her self-image and sense of safety. She may have lifelong depression, borderline personality, an eating disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Other verses point that one should not be punished for the sins of their abuser (Ezekial 18:20) in this present world.  Justice should be fair- the victim should not suffer further or be blamed.

Unfortunately blaming the victim has been part of our world for some time, even in Jesus’ time people were looking to understand suffering and illness and pinpoint to a person’s sin.  For example Jesus is asked whether it is the sin of the blind man or his parents that caused him to be blind from birth.  This seems so foreign today to us as we know that blindness is a generally a genetic condition. 

However mental illness is a good comparison: even counsellors find ourselves asking is it this person’s “negative thinking pattern” or “lack of motivation”,or  “personality traits” that keeps them ill or is it “genetic” or due to childhood abuse/trauma.  We want to know the why because we think it can free a person from its trap.

Jesus does not buy into this dualistic thinking as he simple states that “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” This statement alone would seem to mock the person’s plight and suffering if Jesus did not continue to bring miraculous healing and restore the man’s sight.  In this instance Jesus not only cures the sight of one man but brought new perspective to the discliples, the man’s family, and the larger society on illness, sin, and God’s restoring love for broken and wounded people.

Judging from the last few posts you may start to understand that I am starting to feel the weight of trauma, hardship and suffering that I am beginning to witness in my work.  I grieve the sins of fathers, neighbors, mothers, grandparents, wars, and societies that have hurt children; I wish that children did not have to bear that heavy burden as alluded in the old testament.  I have clients that say they cannot remember anything from their childhood and call it “horrible” and “awful”.  Although Jesus does not join in the condemnation of parents or the blind man in the aforementioned story he does have strong words for those who harm children. 

 “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea. ” (Mark 9:42)

For all those affected by the sin of their fathers that I work with I hope to develop Jesus’ view of seeing them as instruments of God’s grace and restoration, rather than just as people I am “helping” or providing “psychoeducation”. I hope that Jesus’ promise for freedom could be experienced by all like the woman who had bled for twelve years. That those who have been hurt and metaphorically bleeding out could courageously reach forward to Jesus and receive these words “Daugther[son], your faith has healed you. God in peace and be freed from your suffering”.  (Mark 5:34).

 

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Suffering and Trauma

A few days ago I picked up Trauma and Recovery by Judith Herman a book that has been recommended by various people I’ve met in the field of trauma.  Herman uses a feminist narrative to understand the history of trauma, responses to trauma, and recovery.  Right now I’m entrenched into the gory details of human suffering.  As I read the descriptives of what people have suffered in concentration camps, through rape, kidnapping, and child abuse I begin to feel that I cannot bear taking in any more stories of such pain.  It is at these moments that I feel the weight of working in the profession that I do.

In reading this book and hearing the reams of horrible nightmare-like events that people survive I’m drawn back to Job.  How in the world did he manage to cling to his faith in God during that time?  Herman in her book claims that only the smallest minority can survive intense war/kidnapping/abuse without experiencing symptoms of trauma.  She develops a hypothesis that for all there is a breaking point although that is different for some than others.

I was speaking to a colleague today and I challenged her to find a client with a significant persistent mental health issue who has not suffered family neglect/abuse or some sort of trauma inflicted by others.

It is interesting that the line of treatment for mental health issues is cognitive behavioral therapy something which is aimed at understanding and restructuring thoughts and negative core beliefs, but does not centre on pain and suffering as a central part of its framework.  However, for the severely traumatized/mentally ill most clinicians likely agree that this is rarely adequate or enough.  Many cases we file away as hopeless, at least within the bounds of a brief therapy/managed care setting.

I tend to hope that even a short-term therapy interaction that can provide a person a sense of safety, a holding place to process their emotions and begin to understand their thoughts and feelings could be helpful.  I believe this because I have faith that most of the change in people’s life happens outside of the therapy session, through the community, extended family, and social engagement.  However this change may not be initiated or engaged when a person continues to be captive to the negative and false beliefs about themselves that were necessitated by an oppressor (especially one who they loved).  How can we give the fit of beginning on the path to change and healing without falling off that path all together?

For many we do not do enough and some will leave the opposite feeling disappointed and abandonned again, by us as mental health professionals.

Some, however, I hope (with God’s grace and care) are carried onward by a significant experience of care and understanding in therapy.  For this these individual are able to begin to acknowledge their pain, sit with it, process it, and then through re-imagine the world based on new experiences  and then regain a realistic trust in the world and see themselves as worthy and lovable human beings.

The Dialectics of God’s Love and Radical Acceptance (DBT musings part 3)

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy has the aim of teaching people to both accept themselves as they are and at the same time realize their need for change.  It works on shifting a person’s assessment of themselves (and the world) from one of dialectical thinking (either all good or all bad) to one of non-judgement, and acceptance.

In the previous post, commenter Sean challenged the view that Christians can be non-judgemental in all circumstances and clearly differentiated circumstances which warranted  refraining from judgement (being judgemental) and those that warranted judgement (i.e. to identify sin.).  This is a dialectic in itself and merges well with DBT’s aim to encourage its participants to both accept themselves and realize their need for change.

This dialectic of acceptance and change is one that is inherent in the Gospel.  We learn through Jesus that God loves the world so deeply that he gave his only son (John 3:16).  However, God’s love requires reciprocation, action, and relationship as the rest of the verse says “whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.

Time and time again in the New Testament Jesus demonstrates God’s extravagant love to those considered the most outcast, hated (not loved) and rejected including the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4), the woman who lavished him with perfume (Luke 7), the tax collector (Luke 19), etc.  He was accused by the religious of frequenting with “sinners and tax-collectors”.  This likely aggravated the religious folk because they feared that he was accepting of sin, as it seems contradictory that you could both accept and reject at the same time.  Indeed it can be.

The key to handling this dialectic is forgiveness.  God’s amazing ability and offer to forgive to all who seek it provides a true and radical acceptance a bridge between being who we are and changing to becoming more like God/Christ.

When Jesus teachers his disciples to pray he teaches this practice of continually coming to God in for forgiveness, realizing that at the same time we are his beloved Children, we are also deeply fallen and sinful creatures who need God’s love.  Many people get stuck in this process.  They find it hard to let go and believe that God could truly love them and forgive the things in the past that were truly sinful.  Another problem we have is blindness to our own sinful nature- especially as people who have been trying to follow God for a little longer- we haven’t committed some of the “big” sins and so we figure we are “Ok” and fail to look more deeply at the nature of our selves and have come to accept too much of our desires and yearnings that are in fact more worldly (“Me” centred) rather than Godly (God-centred).  So we both need acceptance and forgiveness to engage in the radical acceptance and transformation that God offers through Jesus.

You may wonder how this differs from the “Radical Acceptance” espoused in current psychological treatments.   Radical Acceptance in DBT is based on Buddhist principles that we will endure pain but we have a choice to suffer- radical acceptance may entail accepting a situation or a person as they are rather than striving to change it, or bemoan it.   To stop dwelling on things that we may or may not have control.

There are passages in the bible and whole books (Job) which talk about suffering.  Paul regards suffering as purposeful,cleansing us from selfishness, as a place of joy (Colossians 1:24) and connecting us to Christ’s suffering (2 Cor. 1:5-7). Jesus also admonishes us that those who follow Him will be persecuted for righteousness. In this way Radical acceptance may at times be advisable to Christians.  In addition the reasons or results of enduring pain, for the Christian, may be different from those espoused by Radical Acceptance in DBT.

Enduring pain seems justified for those who suffer apart from their actions, but can Christians advocate radical acceptance when suffering is self-inflicted?

That’s a very good question.

What do you think?