Archive for December, 2013

Did You Know?

December 31, 2013

A couple of quick, random facts for this last Tuesday of 2013:

A belated thank you to J.P. for sending this article my way many weeks ago.  You may not know that an increasing number of countries are providing a third option for gender designation in newborns.  Babies born with mixed gender chromosomes or genitalia can now be designated as gender X on their passports in Germany, Australia and New Zealand, and in Germany the gender designation on the birth certificate can be left blank.  No word on how many individuals actually are born with this condition, or what the difference between chromosomal mixed gender and babies actually born with mixed genitalia.  There is an emotional plea for the furtherance of this sort of option, and I have no doubt that there are some individuals who deal with this that are truly traumatized.  Though there are no statistics on how many that might be in this article.  What it seems like is a further move towards parents being required (though allowed for the time being) to leave gender as something to be decided later, ostensibly by the child.   Curious.
And did you know that the race to implement unmanned aircraft (drones) in the United States is off and running full steam?  Do you remember any great debate about whether or not this is a good idea, or something we as citizens might want?  Me neither.  But the FAA has just designated six locations around the United States to begin actively testing drone deployment.  Because whether or not we want this, we certainly want it to be safe.  Because what could possibly go wrong once the government has deemed it safe?

At Last, It All Makes Sense

December 31, 2013

When I was young, I assumed that I would be a teacher.  A professor, more specifically.  I would charge through the academic gauntlet, completing my doctorate and sharing the wisdom of the ages with younger, eager devotees.  

I began focusing on literature, but eventually more or less split my efforts between literature and ancient history, both eminently practical fields in terms of finding gainful employment.  Not that I wasn’t working, mind you.  I couldn’t afford college without working at least one and often two jobs.  But these were not what you would think of as career paths.  I wound up rather quickly in academia, but on the support staff side rather than on the faculty side – understandable since I was only 19.  I wandered through cubicle-world for almost nine years, during which time I transitioned from generic office support staff into IT.  
It was 1993 or so, and the Internet as we know it was being born.  The World Wide Web was coming into being, and I remember gazing with fascination in our basement offices at the graphics and pictures appearing on the computer screen in front of me.  Much different than the command line interface I was accustomed to!
I left corporate and academic IT support and moved into the technical training field a few years later, an act of God that saved me from what in the day we termed going postal.  I had no idea what I was doing, but there were a few people willing to give me time to learn.  I learned not nearly as much as I should have, but enough to get by and enough to gain credibility.  My oldest friends found this a source of nearly constant amusement, given me decidedly untechnical earlier years.
The technical folks I now spent my time with didn’t have a lot of patience for end users.  We referred to them by their login names rather than their full names, and liked to joke about their particular technical foibles.  Even the IT folks with a more humane streak in them didn’t have time to explain the intricacies of technology to people less versed in it.  There was a marked divide of awe or derision between those who understood the workings of computers, and those who simply needed to work with computers.
I found that this was something I could do – take technical concepts and translate them into ordinary English for people.  I wrote textbooks, taught many classes for corporate IT wizards as well as ordinary human beings.  I attempted to sell curriculum to post-secondary institutions around the country.  When the tech bubble burst in 2000, I left corporate IT training to begin teaching for a small private college that was transitioning from a vocational training institute into a full-fledged academic institute.  My combination of real-world technology experience and technical certifications, combined with my undergraduate liberal arts degree, allowed me to teach both techie courses as well as literature and history courses.  
It was mad, giddy fun, designing and teaching courses on subjects ranging from biometric security and wardriving to the Crusades and Shakespeare and science fiction as literature.  That all gradually came to an end as the institution’s accreditation grew more prestigious and therefore more picky.  But it was fun while it lasted, and it lasted over a decade before my course load was limited to areas more closely aligned with my Masters of Divinity degree.  
All of which is to say that theology and technology share more than just a few letters of the alphabet.  My practice at translating technology for people honed skills that (hopefully) today help me translate theology for people.  In both cases, the translation is never exact.  But in both fields, that level of exactness is rarely what the end user wants or needs.  
In any event, thanks to an old friend for sharing this article which I thought was quite astute and clever.  Computer folks will understand this more, but other folks might find it worth a read as well.


December 29, 2013

Or it could be Bri.  Or Bree.  I assume it’s spelled like the cheese, but who knows, really?  All I know is that I’ve been seeing this young lady once a week for the last six months.  Every Sunday almost without exception, as the sun is just creeping up over the mountains.  

She has the Sunday morning shift at the coffee shop I go to on Sunday mornings to grab a bagel and tea before heading to the office for last minute sermon touch ups (or toss outs) and other miscellaneous last minute work.  She knows to expect me around 6:45 AM or so, and generally has my tea started and a bagel set aside ready to toast.  We make small talk about the previous week’s events.  She has family up in Oregon.  I pay and leave.  Our exchanges last about five minutes at the most.
At some point or another, months ago, she asked about what church I worked at, but by this point my collar is background noise.  The routine is set.  She knows I’m not going to whip out a Bible to smack her with.  She seems to have the generic sort of theology that is more and more popular these days.  Nothing specific that might either cause offense or require submission.  The generic sort of idea that the universe has some sort of benevolent personality that can be implored to provide her with help when she needs it.  Otherwise, she takes care of herself, works at the coffee shop and Trader Joe’s to make ends meet, and probably doesn’t ask or expect a lot of people and situations.
A colleague shared an article on Facebook this morning about atheism as a luxury of the self-sufficient.  If we have things under control, then we don’t see a need for something or someone larger than ourselves.  Certainly we aren’t willing to trade our autonomy for the expectations of a Higher Power.  Self-sufficiency is not just a matter for the wealthy, though.  Whether a multi-millionaire or hustling two jobs to make ends meet, we all are desperate to feel capable, to feel as though things are under control, predictable.  I recognize that drive in myself.  Brie seems to respond to that drive in her own way.  
I haven’t found a compelling way to share the Gospel yet.  I hope that I represent my collar well, and perhaps that’s the only step required of me.  But I prayed this morning as I drove away, that if there is a larger role for me to play in this young woman’s spiritual awakening, that the Lord would clue me in to it.  I’m grateful for a smiling face and my bagel and tea, but there’s so much more to be exchanged, I just don’t know the best way to do it yet.  In the meantime, I’ll pray, and try to be a good customer.  And remember that she and I are far more similar than we are different.  My trust in Christ is not my own doing, because I’m so clever or wise or mature or good.  It is a gift.  A gift that is best shared.  

Reading Ramblings – January 5, 2014

December 29, 2013

Date:  Second Sunday after Christmas, January 5, 2013

Texts: 1 Kings 3:4-15; Psalm 119:97-104; Ephesians 1:3-14; Luke 2:40-52


Context: What matters most when a child is educated?  What information is most pertinent to their health and well-being and success?  Educational models and standards change every few decades, yet Scripture points to wisdom grounded in the Word of God as a standard of education and wisdom that never needs to be revamped or updated.  Seeking wisdom from God is indeed the most important aspect of any person’s knowledge and education, regardless of their age or vocation.

1 Kings 3:4-15 —Solomon is described as exceedingly wise, but his wisdom is not an innate attribute or the result of education, but a gift from God.  Solomon’s humility in seeking wisdom from the Lord is the model for our lives as well.  Whatever we think we know, whatever we have achieved or received, we are to wait on the wisdom of the Lord, knowing that any other gift or ability or achievement pales in comparison with aligning our wisdom with God’s.  At a moment when Solomon might be expected to exalt himself, he humbles himself, and we learn that those who are humble in the Lord need never be ashamed!

Psalm 119:97-104— Psalm 119 is an acrostic, where each section of the psalm begins with a letter from the Hebrew alphabet.  The odd-sounding headers for each section are the different names of Hebrew letters.  But the psalm is unified around an exaltation of the Word of God, which is indeed what all the psalms are.  We immediately pick out the wisdom theme in verse 98, and verse 99 points towards the Gospel lesson in Luke 2.  But what infuses these verses is joy and delight—delight in the wisdom gained through the Lord’s Word.  This is often something that gets lost in exhortations to read the Bible and engage in Bible study—we come to these endeavors as privileged, invited guests of God.  Our time in His Word should improve our lives by making us wiser and by showing us the proper way to live. 

Ephesians 1:3-14 — This passage has led to great confusion, primarily because of some of the wording Paul uses.  Words translated as predestined have led some Christians to profess that God ordained at the dawn of creation who would and would not be saved.   Lutherans reject this interpretation of this passage because it flies in the face of passages in Scripture which clearly indicate that the Lord desires that all would be saved, and opens up the possibility of salvation to everyone.  Predestination theology is not a necessary interpretation of this passage, and relies on inserting an idea or thought into the passage that isn’t there:  and not others.  “he predestined us (and not others)”, “even as he chose us (and not others)”.  This thought is not in this passage though, and doesn’t need to be either! 

What is Paul talking about then?  God has chosen all people from the foundation of the world—intending that all should be holy and blameless. Sin has muddied the waters, and now not all people accept this choosing or recognize it, preferring to live their lives on their terms rather than God’s. 

Paul’s main thrust here is that the blessings in Jesus Christ are not new, but have been part of God’s plan from the beginning.  Jesus is not God’s Plan B to deal with Genesis 3 and the Fall into Sin—Jesus has been the plan from the beginning, just as God has known (as opposed to determined) from the beginning who would receive faith in Jesus Christ to salvation.  In Jesus we are blessed with salvation according to the wisdom of God, so that God might be praised and glorified in all things. 

Luke 2:40-52 — This is the only passage in Scripture that relates anything about Jesus’ childhood.  Jesus grows normally as a human child, but also He is blessed with the favor of his heavenly Father, so that He is wise beyond his years. 

Is Jesus disobedient in vs.43-47?  Not necessarily.  Jesus gets caught up in the discussion and debate with some of the finest minds in Israel.  Is his response disobedient  in verse 49?  Not necessarily—certainly Jesus does belong in his Father’s house, and Mary and Joseph of all people should have known to look for him there.  He does not reject their authority as parents, as He returns with them to Nazareth.  It is this same Temple that Jesus will continue returning to throughout his life, and that He will visit for the last time to cast out the moneychangers.  The Temple of the Lord is to be a place of learning about the Lord, seeking his wisdom, rather than as a place for commerce and exploitation of one another. 

Luke reiterates that Jesus grows in wisdom, a term that no doubt Luke’s hearers would associate with the Old Testament and particularly the Psalms and Proverbs.  Jesus does not come with some otherworldly wisdom.  He does not come with some new teaching or revelation.  Rather, He comes and is built up in wisdom through the Holy Scriptures, preparing him for his ministry ahead.  This also ties in with Paul’s words in Ephesians.  Jesus is not something brand new—He is the fulfillment of what God the Father planned from the beginning.  As such, He is the essence and embodiment of God’s wisdom in human form. 


We do not need to seek new wisdom or private inspiration and wisdom from God.  We have the Word of God in our hands and in our hearts and minds already!  When we are seeking God’s wisdom, this is the surest place to find it.  We might hear many fine ideas and thoughts in our heads, but how do we discern where those originate?  Whose voice speaks them?  Is it the Holy Spirit?  Is it our own wants and desires?  Is it Satan seeking to mislead us?  We are left uncertain.  But the Holy Scriptures remain our objective source for God’s wisdom.  This doesn’t mean that God the Holy Spirit can’t speak a word of wisdom directly to someone, but it does mean that we should not necessarily expect this or make this some subjective measure of holiness.  God has indeed spoken to us through his Son, and the account of his Son is recorded in the Bible.  What greater wisdom could we ever want or need?


Representation Without Taxation

December 26, 2013

I posted a month ago about how a judge has begun the process of eliminating the much-coveted tax benefits that clergy receive in America by ruling such exemptions illegal.  What will follow will be some impressive number of appeals and other attempts to derail or fast-track the elimination of these benefits.  It could be years before the matter is settled, but I have absolutely no doubt that it will not be settled until the exemptions are eliminated.

And I don’t necessarily have a problem with that.  I benefit from these exemptions greatly.  My congregation benefits, and so does every other legitimate clergy member and their congregations in our nation, regardless of creed.  There are undoubtedly abuses, and that is lamentable – as are any abuses and attempts to benefit where one is not entitled.  So while I like the benefits I receive, and while I could muster some arguments to somewhat support the idea that such benefits are a good thing ultimately for our country as a whole, I’m not sure my arguments would be very convincing, even to me.  
That being said, it ought to also be made well-known that if we’re going to be looking to eliminate tax exemptions and other benefits, clergy should not be the only ones affected (and perhaps they should be the last ones affected).  This little article points out (completely unrelated to the clergy taxation issue) that other groups who do intend to make a profit (unlike non-profit religious organizations) are not always taxed.  Groups like the National Football League.  
I don’t think I would have a problem making a compelling argument that for-profit businesses ought to have their tax benefits re-examined before clergy benefits reach the chopping block.  It might well be argued that all such exemptions should be eliminated across the board, and I’d be just fine with that.  But I wouldn’t be fine with losing my exemptions for the type of work I do, knowing that major businesses raking in a lot of money remain exempt.  I’m all for fairness, but I like it to be fair.

And Another Thing…

December 26, 2013

Just to bring you up to date on the Thrivent issue that I reported on earlier here and here, below is the official Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod response to the issue:

With the recent Thrivent announcement to reconsider their Choice Dollars® Program, the LCMS is encouraged to learn that Thrivent is beginning to recognize the serious concern its members have when their choice dollars are stewarded toward organizations such as Planned Parenthood that directly support the abortion industry and the killing of unborn children.

“We are very happy that Thrivent was willing to reconsider this issue. However, the LCMS and every one of its entities and congregations are both pro-life and nonprofit, so we certainly hope that Thrivent will continue to support such pro-life, nonprofit organizations,” said the Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.

LCMS members are urged to express their concerns directly to Thrivent Financial during this time of re-evaluation of the Choice Dollars® Program.

A Shot in the Dark

December 24, 2013
A couple of science-related articles caught my eye today.  
First off, this interesting report about scientific data being lost.  No, this is not some conspiracy theory issue.  It just points out the fact that data, like every other kind of information in our life, can get lost in the shuffle of life.  Data used to produce research reports and journal articles and the like has to be stored somewhere, and data storage methods evolve, just as the people who compiled the data age and change focii in their lives.  
The result is that even for data that’s only 20 years old or so, the odds of that data being recoverable (the researchers knowing where it is, it being on a data storage format that is easily accessible, etc.) are only 20%.  On top of this, the odds of even being able to find some scientists and researchers from years ago decline markedly year by year.  The results (which themselves will probably get lost some day) are that data and researchers are being lost.  The results may remain, in the forms of published papers and journal articles, but all of the actual data used to create those summaries is being lost.  
I sorta figured that scientists were a little more obsessive-compulsive about this sort of thing.  In some ways, it’s reassuring to know they aren’t.  In other ways, it’s kind of scary.
Almost as scary as mandatory vaccination programs (how’s that for an awkward segue?).

I thought that this informal essay from Scientific American was interesting.  The article argues, if somewhat passively, for the mandatory vaccination of healthcare workers.  

The I would diagram the argument this way:  
  • Implied Premise: Vaccinated employees reduce the transmission of illnesses & diseases to patients in hospitals.
  • Premise #1: Not all healthcare institutions have mandatory vaccination policies for employees
  • Premise #2: At some of these hospitals (two, specifically) patients have gotten sick or died at institutions where a high percentage of staff were not vaccinated
  • Premise #3: Many institutions are beginning to require mandatory vaccination
  • Premise #4: Such institutions are not experiencing significant backlash against such policies
  • Conclusion: All healthcare institutions should mandate vaccination for their employees
I have my concerns about our obsessions about vaccinations in terms of long-term side-effects as well as spotty efficacy rates.  But that’s not my objection to this essay.
My objection is that the way the argument is framed doesn’t lead to the conclusion, primarily because there is absolutely no evidence given (in the article) that mandating vaccinations statistically reduces the number of infections passed on to patients.  Even in the cases cited where unvaccinated staff might have contributed to patient illness, there is no hard corroborating data.  Rather it is an assumption that the lack of vaccinations was the problem.  Without corroborating data about institutions who have implemented mandatory vaccinations (which would be difficult, to say the least, to get), we can only assume that mandating vaccines would reduce patient infection rates.  
The essayist also completely ignores the fact that with flu vaccinations, there is no guarantee that the particular strain(s) you are vaccinated against will be the strains floating around during the flu season.  The flu vaccine is not a vaccine against any and all flus – it is very specific to the flus that researchers believe will be most active in a particular season.  If their guesses are off, you can still get the flu.  You might even get a flu you’ve been vaccinated against.  But you certainly could get a flu that wasn’t part of your vaccination.  
Vaccinations might be good.  My contention is we don’t know nearly as much about them as we think we do, and that until we know more about them, we ought to use them cautiously.  Mandating that people receive vaccines that may in fact not have any actual effect seems unwise.  I far more agree with the idea that employees in healthcare institutions who are sick should go home and be paid sick leave until they get better.  That is a FAR better policy to my way of thinking.  

A Thief in the Night

December 24, 2013

If you are a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien’s work as I am, and if you are frustrated by Peter Jackson’s hijacking of Tolkien’s The Hobbit to create some new, twisted and overly-pretentious trilogy, then you might find this a worthwhile read.  I certainly enjoyed it, and the irony is bitter indeed.  

Reading Ramblings – December 29, 2013

December 22, 2013

Date:  First Sunday after Christmas, December 29, 2013

Texts:  Isaiah 63:7-14; Psalm 111; Galatians 4:4-7; Matthew 2:13-23

Context: The Gospel lesson for this morning is a heartbreaking reminder of the seriousness of the birth of Christ.  We attempt to sentimentalize the birth of Christ, to reduce it to Hallmark cards and sanitize it for mass consumption.  But the reality of the birth of the Son of God is far more real and complex.  The powers of evil move to crush God’s victor and Son while he is most helpless and defenseless, and as all too often happens, people in the wrong place at the wrong time are broken and cast aside.  We must never forget that the coming of the Son of God into our world is a move of great power and intent by our God, the opening gambit to crush the powers of sin, death, and Satan forever.  Satan will not sit idly by and watch his power overturned. 

Isaiah 63:7-14 —God works through his Law and his Gospel.  His Law crushes the sinner and destroys evil, while the Gospel promises forgiveness to the repentant and the victory of God in reconciling creation to himself.  Isaiah 63 opens in a scene of violent judgment as the Lord crushes the surrounding nations in righteous destruction.  Verse 7 signifies a shift—the hearer is not to fear this Lord in his righteous fury because of the relationship between this God and his people.  This God has given goodness to his people, going so far as to be afflicted for and with them (v.9), a reference to the suffering of the Incarnate Son of God. 

Yes, there were times when God’s people rejected him, requiring once again his righteous law to convict and condemn (v.10).  Yet the Lord’s goal always is mercy, and is demonstrated in his ages-old love and care for his people, as signified in the central event of the Old Testament, the rescue of the Israelites from Egypt in the Exodus.  We need not fear this God, but trust his mercy and forgiveness.

Psalm 111— This psalm of praise declares various reasons for praising the Lord, leading the hearer to engage in that very praise themselves.  This psalm is used in communal worship (v.1) and begins by calling the assembled to praise God for his marvelous works of nature (vs.2-3).  More than this though, God is to be praised because of his care for his people (vs.4-8), culminating in his salvation of his people under his eternal covenant promises (v.9).  Our praise reaches a crescendo in this verse, before being reassured that to fear the Lord—to follow him and obey him and love him and worship him—is the source of all true wisdom.   He has given us his Word that we might grow wise and understand properly, for which He alone is to be praised yet again!

Galatians 4:4-7 — Paul neatly connects the dots for the church in Galatia and for us today.  The incarnation of the Son of God as Jesus of Nazareth is the means by which you and I are freed from slavery to sin and adopted by God the Father as sons and daughters of the King.  We are in a new relationship with God the Father precisely because of the obedience incarnate of God the Son.  We are free—and our freedom and our relationship as the children of God entitle us to an intimate relationship with him characterized by familial closeness rather than fear and uncertainty.  We need not wonder at God’s intentions towards us—his intention is that we should inherit through Jesus eternal life as heirs of God the Father. 

Matthew 2:13-23 —The slaughter of the innocents, as this event is called, is a powerful reminder that the baby in the manger is a real threat to the powers and principalities of this world.  Satan as the prince of this world recognizes the threat that this baby poses, and orchestrates the worldly powers under his influence to try and destroy this young child.  The juxtaposition of the might of worldly military power sent against a toddler, wielded mercilessly against defenseless children is a reminder that Jesus is a threat to every human and spiritual power in this world. 

Are we saddened and shocked at the values we have taken for granted and held dear are now being deposed by our culture?  Are we stunned to find ourselves maligned, the focus of ridicule and anger and revenge?  Look no farther than this passage in Matthew 2 to see that this has always been the case.  The world must hate Jesus, because Jesus comes to transform and overthrow the powers of this world.  His kingship admits no peers, no equals, and certainly no superiors.  He cannot be bribed, influenced, blackmailed, or resisted.  He is the perfect, ultimate threat to every human being or institution that insists on maintaining their power. 

We should not be amazed—but we should not give up hope, either.  The children of Bethlehem are corpses, but the work of God the Father through God the Son continues, and those corpses will live again!  Satan and the powers of this world could not succeed in destroying the Son of God as a child, and they certainly cannot do so today now that he awaits his return at the right hand of God the Father!  Not that the powers of the world won’t try! 

We should expect to be maligned, mistreated and mocked.  We need not enjoy it, but we dare not resist it through the same techniques used against us.  We are called to stand firm, to love our enemies, to pray for them, just as our Lord did as they mocked him, battered and nearing death by crucifixion.  The world may succeed in killing our traditions and rituals and even our bodies, just as it succeeded in crucifying Jesus.  But the world’s success is short-lived.  Victory has already been determined in the empty tomb.  We trust that our tombs as well will be empty one day.  The Herod’s and other powers and principalities of this world that act in opposition to the Kingdom of God will one day stand in judgment.  It is they who need our prayers, because their danger is real and not confined to a matter of a single lifetime. 


Book Review: The Problem of Pain

December 21, 2013

The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis

This book is an excellent philosophical and logical examination of the issue of pain.  One of the oldest arguments against the idea of a sovereign, good god (Christian or otherwise) is that no truly good or truly all powerful god would allow suffering and pain in creation.  Either god has the power to alleviate pain and has chosen not to, in which case he is not a good god, or she wishes to alleviate pain but does not have the power to do so, in which case she is not an all-powerful goddess, or else there is no god at all.  The argument is old and is restated any number of ways.
Of course, it presumes a fair number of things – it presumes that we are not ourselves to blame for pain, that a god exists primarily to eliminate the possibility of pain, even if we as creatures insist on creating it for ourselves and others.  It also assumes that the only appropriate response by a god to pain is one that is undertaken prior to the pain occurring.  It does not account for the possibility that a god might have already undertaken a solution to the problem of pain, but the solution has not yet fully manifest itself.  What appears at first as a very solid logical refutation of pain quickly dissolves into a bevy of unsupportable assumptions.  
Lewis addresses the idea of pain rationally and philosophically.  As such, he belongs by and large to a bygone era when thought and conclusion were held in high esteem – higher esteem than the particular circumstances of any one situation or individual.  Lewis is quick to point out that his logical dealing with the issue of pain in no way means that he is going to handle pain any better than someone else might.  Pain is hurtful, and no rational person desires hurt. 
Lewis’ basic premise is that if we are to interact with other beings, there must needs be a mutual backdrop in which that interaction can occur – a backdrop that is not fully under the control of any one being.  It must be neutral, to a certain extent, so that it is also predictable and therefore can provide meaningful contextualization for interaction.  Reality must be a fairly predictable and stable backdrop that all creatures must deal with on relatively equal footing, or else no real interaction is possible.  This in and of itself leaves open the possibility that what is helpful and good for one creature may be interpreted quite differently by another.  The storm that waters the crops in one area may also bring flooding in another area.  If the backdrop of reality as we encounter it is flawed in some way, then this is even more the case.  
I disagree with some of Lewis’ theological perspectives that are raised in the book.  I’m not sure that we would be in complete agreement on the nature of original sin, and I’m quite sure that his willingness to accommodate evolutionary theory and natural selection is not tenable Scripturally.  His speculations on the nature of hell are fascinating, and while I can see some value in them, I’m sure there are other Christians who would find them wholly unacceptable.  
This is a relatively short read.  Lewis intends it for the lay reader and overall he succeeds, though there are a few sections that would be good to read through more than once to follow his train of thought.  Lewis makes it clear that he also writes as a lay person, rather than a trained theologian.  However I would prefer that more theologians had Lewis’ training, rather than that Lewis should have had more of ours!  
This is not a book to recommend to someone in the throes of suffering pain or loss.  It is not devotional or soothing in that sort of way.  But it provides very interesting and worthwhile food for thought as we consider philosophically and theologically the problem of pain.