Monday, November 28, 2022

Angry with God

Angry with God: An Honest Journey through Suffering and Betrayal, Brad Hambrick (New Growth Press, 2022) 

This is the fifth and final book in the new Ask the Christian Counselor Series by New Growth Press. Brad Hambrick skilfully leads the reader through an exploration and processing of their anger and grief due to suffering, betrayal or loss. As such, it’s quite specific - aimed at the Christian who is angry with God or others for what has happened to them. Hambrick helps with processing the hot emotions of grief in a way that allows for self-reflection, honesty, discovery, and growth. 

With very small, bite sized chapters, Hambrick logically leads through a compassionate exploration. He starts by considering anger itself, and how to pace oneself along the path of exploring it. He guides in the construction of a timeline of events and topography of pain to chart the emotion connected with it. He strongly encourages the finding of close friends with whom you can walk the path. These are helpful set-ups for the deep work he later encourages. Starting to address the theological complications of how to view pain and suffering, he comforts with the truth that your pain is not a riddle to be solved (why? why me?), but an experience to be processed and a journey to be endured. 

Section 2 (Articulating your pain) leads the reader to analyse the events that led to the anger and distress. Explore what was good amongst the pain, what happened factually (enabling you to move from primarily emotions to learning and considering). Whether things that God’s people did affected your relationship with God, and what other things made the pain worse. All of these help to move from angry grief to memorialising grief. Section 3 is a detailed exploration of the multifaceted effects of the pain played out in emotions, thoughts, relationships, choices, and our view of God. This is where honest assessment of how we have reacted to our situation has played a part and how we have choices moving forwards. Section 4 is where resolution begins to come as our faith matures, we understand suffering as part of life, we accept that we only understand partially. So, we make decisions of how to live moving forwards, and how to move towards hope. Section 5 brings the reader back to the gospel through the lens of creation, fall, redemption, sanctification, and glorification. Having done the hard work of grief and anger processing, hopefully the promises of God for this life and the life to come now bring further hope and understanding. 

There is a lot of value in this short book. Hambrick uses counselling skills and processes skilfully, and sensitively combines them with gospel truths. It is a counselling tool in your own hands. Additionally, a counsellor could use this to assist a client through a grief process. While not naming them, many concepts he flagged were familiar to standard counselling practice - the timeline, Neimeyer’s meaning making through grief, Stroebe’s & Schut’s dual process grief model, and various CBT concepts. A very helpful resource.

I was given an ecopy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  

Monday, November 14, 2022

When the Noise Won't Stop

When the noise won’t stop: A Christian guide to dealing with anxiety, Paul Grimmond (Matthias Media, 2022)

Current figures indicate that anxiety is the most common mental health condition in Australia, with 1 in 4 people experiencing it at some stage in their life (Beyond Blue). Therefore, this new book by Australian pastor and teacher, Paul Grimmond, is a timely offering exploring anxiety for Christians. Grimmond shares his own long-term struggles with anxiety as well as that of others. It is theologically and biblically rich, considering how anxiety impacts the believer, whether anxiety is a sin, and how to live with its challenges.
“This book is an attempt to create a biblically faithful framework for understanding anxiety and then to apply the framework to living with anxiety” (p. 19)
The book engages with anxiety as a mental health condition (not the stresses of day to day life). Its main focus is for “people who struggle with the distress and difficulty of living with anxiety”, but also for those who support others, be they family, friends or pastors. Grimmond notes that the the topic is neither simple nor does he want to be simplistic, so the book goes a bit deeper because it requires considered thought. I appreciated this warning, but at 200 pages it doesn’t feel overly long. It is longer than most books these days, but its structure, style, and personal touches means it doesn’t feel overblown.

Starting with a quick history of psychology and some presuppositions, Grimmond then turns to God’s word. Up front he concedes that Phil 4:6 (Do not be anxious about anything…) is the most challenging passage for many with anxiety, and has led some to conclude that anxiety is sin. He wants us to have a broader, more nuanced lens considering anxiety, concerns, and fear as presented in the bible. Fear and
anxiety are “emotional responses to God and his world that can be either helpful or unhelpful, healthy or sinful” (p. 53).

Exploring the concept of living in fallen minds and bodies, Grimmond points out that anxiety exists because we live in a world broken by sin, because our biology is affected by the fall, and because there is a psychological component to it.

The then draws three conclusions which shape the remainder of the book:
  • anxiety is a complex problem with a complex solution 
  • those with anxiety are both sinners and sufferers (as is every person), and 
  • we need to take responsibility, while also acknowledging that we are not fully in control 
He leads the reader to see the that gospel is indeed the answer to anxiety, but not in a simplistic way.
“If anxiety is a complex reality, affected by the fallenness of the world, shaped by the chemistry occurring in a body that awaits its final renewal, and arising in a person who still struggles with sin, then shouldn't our normal expectation be that rather than beating anxiety, the goal is to learn to live wisely with it in a way that honours Jesus?” (p. 87)
He then considers how sin contributes to anxiety. I felt he explored the balance carefully here. He is quick to point out that having anxiety is not sin, yet our sinfulness can contribute to our anxiety. So, sometimes that will mean facing the unhelpful patterns and behaviours that contribute to our sinfulness (which every person on earth has), and how they might feed our anxiety, or be impacted by it. Then, he exhorts the reader to find the security to confront sin - by confessing, trusting in our heavenly Father as his beloved and precious children, trusting the Lord knows our hearts and struggles, and always resting in God’s grace and mercy.

In exploring how to respond to anxiety, first we are to engage our minds in fellowship with others. This chapter explored the benefits of counselling, the importance of healthy self-talk (“stop listening to yourself and start talking to yourself”), and persevering in the basics of the Christian life (church, fellowship, bible reading, etc). We are also to care for our bodies with good diet, exercise, sleep, breathing and relaxation. He notes how that medication can be of value, and that we should make wise choices to expose ourselves to our anxiety (rather than avoid situations that lead to it). There is discussion about prayer, and how it can be hard for the anxious person, yet God keeps inviting us to come to him.

One chapter focuses on those who support others with anxiety, encouraging godly friendship with emotional awareness and healthy mutuality not dependence. He also has some very pastorally gentle encouragement for those who care for those with anxiety while also struggling themselves (eg. parents with their children).

In the end, Grimmond encourages hope for those who are wearied by anxiety. It will get better, God will use the struggle, and in the end, he will bring us home.

This is a great book for the Christian with anxiety and those who want to help them. It is biblically rich and theologically sound, giving a framework for understanding. Grimmond is pastorally sensitive and gentle, he speaks the truth in love, and encourages change and hope for believer with anxiety.

Monday, November 7, 2022

I Want to Escape

I want to escape: Reaching for hope when life is too much, Rush Witt (New Growth Press, 2022) 

On first glance at this title, I assumed it was about someone contemplating suicide. While it does indeed address that topic, the escapes that Witt talks about are much more wide ranging. As such this book is more widely applicable that I first thought.

Witt notes the overwhelming desire we have to escape. Whether it’s through distraction, denial or destruction, we all have a tendency to avoid the challenges of life and to choose what seems to be an easier path.

I liked Witt’s honesty throughout. He is compassionate as he explores the many reasons and ways we choose to escape. Yet, he calls us to a better way - a courageous dependence on God in midst of our challenges. 
“When life overwhelms us, we often see escape as our only option. But through Scripture, God welcomes us to walk his better way: the way of grace-enabled, faith-directed, Christ-centered, Word-delivered, glory-focused dependence on God.”
His goal is:
  • To gain a better understanding of why escape appeals to us 
  • To learn to draw near to Jesus, who remains closer than a brother 
  • To develop practical plans to shape our response to trouble
Early on he chooses 1 Cor 10:13 as a key verse:
No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
On this he notes: “our trouble is common, our God is faithful, and that courageous dependence is the way toward peace and rest”.

The plan moving forwards is three-fold:
  • pray with humility 
  • believe with gospel hope 
  • act with courageous dependence 
This plan is then applied over following chapters to the four main escape routes that people take:

1. Denial 

Denial doesn’t work in the end, we need to face our problems. There is benefit to enduring trials - they prove the genuineness of our faith, they make the beauty of faith appear, and they purify & increase our affection for Christ.

2. Distraction

We distract ourselves in so many ways - some more mindless (maybe TV, gaming, social media). Others may cause more harm - substances, overeating, etc. Others might look good - always being busy or always saying yes to serving, but still function as a distraction from our concerns.
“Our idolatry takes center stage when we turn to a myriad of distractions and discredit God’s power and purposes. As we’ve seen, every escape route begins with a false belief or promise. I often find in my heart the belief that some distracting activity is surely better or more enjoyable than facing trouble with God.”

3. Deflect & destroy (deflecting responsibility and behaving in self-destructive ways). This one is harder to face because it’s anchored in us showing we are right, others are wrong and someone else is to blame.

However, we meet our challenges with gospel hope:
“When facing a difficult situation we should profess with confidence, I am here (1) by God’s appointment, (2) in his keeping, (3) under his training, and (4) for his time. The only way to work through overwhelming hardships is by remembering God’s loving care in all times. When we feel cornered by circumstances we can’t control, we can know God holds us and our circumstances in his hands.”
4. Death

This honest and gentle chapter included a detailed contribution from Witt’s wife Kathryn who shares her personal struggles with depression and wishing for the release of death.

He focuses here on 1 Cor 10:13 again - you are not alone, your troubles are ‘common to man’, others have faced what you are walking through and help is found in Christ through his Spirit.

Witt finishes bringing the reader back to the reminder that “after darkness, there is light”. We have hope in Christ, he walks with us, and so we turn to him in prayer, we believe the gospel, and we act with courageous dependence, trusting in him to be alongside us as we walk the difficult path.

A gospel-focussed, short and instructive book that helps people to identify their own escapes and avoidances, and encourages a more fruitful path. Another helpful addition to the Ask the Christian Counselor series.

I received an ecopy of this book in exchange for an honest review.