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A Simple One

March 27, 2014

It really helps to hit the “publish” button when you’re ready to publish, doesn’t it? I just discovered this post has been sitting here for two weeks –just when I’m looking forward to the second installment of the conference that sparked this post! I’m fresh –no, actually really tired! –off the first one-third, of the first one-third of the Faith Biblical Counseling Ministry’s regional training in Minneapolis. On the drive up I was mentally mulling New Testament epistle passages  on suffering, contextualizing each, trying to deduce whether any of them were originally written to believers who were not first-generation Christians. Why will likely become the subject of another post. But in one of those thought-left turns, those light bulb moments I can only credit to the Holy Spirit, it struck me why Pauline Boss’s work on ambiguous loss has been so surprisingly, deeply resonant. I wasn’t seeking advice on my own experience when the book arrived in my mailbox. Rather, I’m working on a history story that involves missing bodies and I wondered how loved ones process grief when there is no closure, no body to bury. A footnote in a book on the recovery of war survivors landed Boss’s book on my desk.  Yet I paid it much closer attention than I give most books I read for work. The thought?

Ambiguous Loss = Protracted Suffering

It’s that simple. Boss’s theory was an innovation when it landed in the secular psychology world in the 1990’s. But in the Judeo-Christian world, humans have lived with suffering since the third chapter of Genesis. And in between that story and the opposite bookend on suffering in the Bible –the final removal of suffering in the second to the last chapter of Revelation –the Bible is a rich, beautiful, glorious textbook on suffering (among other things). The surprise for me was finding secular psychology calling attention to protracted suffering as if it is something new. Of course the condition of human suffering is not new, even if the diagnostic labels  invented to describe it are terms foreign to anyone who lived before the twentieth century. What is new, what Boss observed correctly, is that modern western culture doesn’t recognize or understand suffering. It can’t offer much by way of help or hope to people who suffer. And that’s what struck a chord with me: Boss was using modern language, the language used by the social workers and psychologists and doctors and teachers who write homestudies and reports and IEPs and all other manner of modern proofs that insurance companies and the government deem acceptable justification for  receiving services –the language of the world of adoption, the world of living in a family with special needs — to talk about some of the same conditions some of my favorite old (as in dead a long time now) writers talk about, like Jonathan Edwards and William Cowper and David Brainerd and the apostle Paul. It was a great mindset to take into a Biblical counseling conference, where among other things, the teaching recognizes that people experience trials and suffering that originate outside of themselves. Yet that it is humanly impossible to experience of such suffering without feeling the unfairness of it, at which point the sufferer’s own sin, and the consequences of that sin, quickly become part of the experience. The latter is a process of which I am all too keenly aware and from which, until I die, I will always be repenting and healing.

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