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by Al Maxey

Issue #772 ------- May 2, 2019
No sadder proof can be given by a man of
his own littleness than disbelief in great men.

Thomas Carlyle [1795-1881]

A Case of Joyful Disbelief
The Emotion/Conviction Confliction

It had been a rough week! The disciples of Jesus were emotionally, physically and even spiritually drained. This Jesus, whom they had hoped would prove to be their Messiah and deliverer, had been brutalized and crucified. He was dead and buried, and these men and women who had followed Him for years were now clinging to one another in a state of understandable confusion and consternation. As they reflected on their association with Jesus over the years, and as they pondered anew the events of the previous week in the city of Jerusalem, they found themselves on an emotional roller coaster ride. They truly wanted to believe, but this spiritual desire was under assault from their human emotions. Luke, the devoted physician and companion of the apostle Paul, in his treatise on the life of Christ, would provide some valuable insight into the psychological and physiological impact of these events on these men and women. His analysis is often completely overlooked by those reading the written accounts of our Lord's final week, yet Luke's analysis reveals much about how ordinary humans quite often deal with and process extraordinary events and circumstances. In this current issue of my Reflections I want to bring to your attention, for your consideration, two occasions, one pre-crucifixion and the other post-resurrection, where Luke's medical expertise exhibits itself in his analysis of the emotional state of these disciples of Christ, and how those emotions impacted them physically and spiritually at those critical moments in their lives.

The first example of what I have chosen to call an "emotion/conviction confliction" occurred the evening of our Lord's arrest at Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives. Jesus had just finished observing His last Passover meal with His closest companions, and He had also shared with them a very moving high priestly prayer (John 17) in which He beseeched the Father to guard these beloved disciples and help them grow and mature to a state of spiritual oneness. He and they are now at Gethsemane, and there Jesus urged them to spend this time in prayer. "He then withdrew from them about a stone's throw, and He knelt down and began to pray" (Luke 22:41). Needless to say, this was a time of tremendous emotional distress for Jesus. He prayed that "this cup" (of suffering and death) might be "removed from Me." He was also quick to say, "Yet, not My will, but Thine be done" (vs. 42). Luke also observes that in the midst of these fervent prayers, "His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground" (vs. 44). The author of Hebrews provides even more detail as to the emotional state of Jesus at this time: "He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death" (Hebrews 5:7). This was an intense time for Jesus: the original words used in this text indicate He was "wailing loudly." In fact, He was so distressed that "an angel from heaven appeared to Him and strengthened Him" (Luke 22:43).

On several occasions Jesus returned to the place where His close companions were waiting, perhaps hoping to find them in prayer, or hoping for some comfort from these men He loved dearly. However, the gospel accounts indicate He repeatedly found them sleeping, rather than watching and praying. Dr. Luke provides a bit of insight into the psychological state of these disciples in Luke 22:45, where he observes that Jesus "found them sleeping from sorrow." Although the majority of the major versions of the Bible read "sleeping from/for sorrow," a few alternate readings are: "He found them sleeping, exhausted from their grief" [Christian Standard Bible and Holman Christian Standard Bible] ... "He found them asleep, overcome by grief" [Common English Bible] ... "They were asleep and worn out from being so sad" [Contemporary English Version] ... "He found them asleep, drugged by grief" [The Message]. Deep, intense grief and sorrow can very easily and quickly leave one utterly exhausted, and sleep is one of the body's defense mechanisms against such emotional trauma. Luke, the physician, therefore "puts a loving construction upon it, separating between the 'willing spirit' and the 'weak flesh'" [Drs. Jamieson, Fausset & Brown, Commentary Practical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, p. 1021]. "It is, perhaps, characteristic of St. Luke that while the other Gospels state simply the fact that the disciples slept, he assigns it psychologically and physiologically to its cause. Prolonged sorrow has, at last, a numbing and narcotizing effect" [Dr. Charles Ellicott, Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 6, p. 351]. This was "a psychological touch quite in Luke's manner" [Dr. W. Robertson Nicoll, The Expositor's Greek Testament, vol. 1, p. 649], "added out of delicate feeling for the disciples, and with truth to nature, for grief does induce sleep" [ibid, p. 631].

It is indeed true that quite often our "spirit is willing," but our "flesh is weak" (e.g. Paul - Romans 7:14ff). There is a strong desire to be there for others in their time of need, yet how often we fail in that resolve by being overcome by our own circumstances and anxieties! The 1599 edition of The Geneva Bible, in a footnote to this passage, noted this human tendency: "Men are utterly sluggish, even in their greatest dangers." Sadly, quite often our intense emotions and inner personal struggles get the best of us, and the result is often the delay or even negation of our good intentions which would normally flow forth from our convictions. Jesus, we should note, did not condemn or even rebuke His disciples for being overcome by their emotions and falling asleep. Yes, He was clearly disappointed, but He also knew only too well the weakness of the flesh in such intense emotional situations (Mark 14:38). In light of His reaction, we should be a bit more charitable with our fellow disciples when we find their attitudes and actions disappointing. They may be facing trials and turmoil of which we are completely unaware. If, like Jesus, we look beyond fleshly weaknesses, which beset us all, we might just find a nobility of spirit that is hidden from our sight by the sometimes negative emotional displays of one's sojourn through this earthly existence. There is much wise counsel, and a pathway to healing, in this statement: "It would be well if deepest consideration were exhibited for noble souls that are greatly tried" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 16 - Luke, pt. 2, p. 232]. Matthew Henry (1662-1714) concurs: "This teaches us to make the best of our brethren's infirmities, and, if there be one cause of those infirmities better than another, charitably impute that to them" [Commentary on the Whole Bible, e-Sword].

The second example of what I have chosen to call an "emotion/conviction confliction," and one that is a bit more puzzling than the pre-crucifixion example discussed above, is found in a post-resurrection observation made by Dr. Luke just a couple of chapters later in his gospel record. Our Lord had arisen, and He had made an appearance to a couple of disciples on the road to Emmaus. These two men later rushed back to the other disciples and reported that Jesus was indeed alive, and that they had spent time with Him. While they were relating this story to the group, Jesus appeared in their midst (Luke 24:36). This created an immediate state of inner conflict between emotion and conviction. They were filled with joy, but also doubt; they beheld Him in their presence, but their minds were struggling to process and comprehend what their eyes were seeing. They wanted it to be true with all their heart, but it was proving to be too astounding to fully grasp. It was similar to the situation of the man who said to Jesus, "I do believe; help my unbelief" (Mark 9:24). There are simply times when our heart and our intellect experience a disconnect. Thus, these disciples, when Jesus appeared among them, "were startled and frightened and thought they saw a ghost" (Luke 24:37). Jesus knew they were conflicted, saying, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?" (vs. 38). Jesus tried to address this confliction by showing them His hands and feet, so they could see where the nails had been driven. He even went so far as to eat something in their presence. He did His best to reestablish that connection between emotion and conviction.

The statement that grabs our attention in the course of this narrative, at least it does for those of us who have backgrounds in psychology, is Luke 24:41 - "And they disbelieved for joy and were marveling." Luke has employed two interesting Hebraisms - "sleeping for sorrow" and "disbelieving for joy." In the case of the latter, I can imagine how these men and women must have "marveled" indeed at the sight of a dead man standing alive in their midst. It was astounding! It was a shocking sight! They weren't sure how to process this information flooding their senses. They were befuddled; their minds were reeling. They wanted to believe it was true, but their minds were crying out, "How can this be?!" Thus, while their joy was "through the roof," their conviction had taken "a nose dive." Again, this reveals one of those interesting inner struggles we humans often have between our emotions and our convictions and perceptions. "This is just nature. We have similar expressions in our language: 'The news is too good to be true'" [Albert Barnes, Notes on the Bible, e-Sword]. How many times have you seen someone overwhelmed with joy after receiving exceptionally good news, who kept exclaiming, "I can't believe it! No way! This can't be true!" Sometimes our hearts are so filled with joy that our minds struggle to keep up! Until that conviction rises to the level of that emotion, we find ourselves conflicted. This was the psychological state of these disciples when Jesus appeared in their midst.

Notice these words from Psalm 126, which shows us the reaction of those Israelites restored to their homeland following the Babylonian Captivity - "When Jehovah brought back His exiles to Jerusalem, it was like a dream! How we laughed and sang for joy ... What wonder! What joy!" (vs. 1-3). Their sense of wonder, their amazement, their heartfelt joy was so intense that they had difficulty grasping the reality of the situation. Some thought they were dreaming. "Surely, this can't be happening! It's almost too good to be true!" Yes, they "disbelieved for joy." They were in the midst of an emotion/conviction disconnect. They needed time to process and balance the input to both heart and mind. Until that occurred (and the process time is not the same for everyone), their grasp on reality was somewhat tenuous. "They were so overcome with the joy of His resurrection, that they did not, for some time, properly receive the evidence that was before them - as we phrase it, they thought the news too good to be true" [Adam Clarke, Clarke's Commentary, vol. 5, p. 503]. Yes, there was indeed a level of belief, otherwise they would not have been rejoicing! Yet, even while they rejoiced, the mind was struggling to validate the reality motivating the emotion. We can all identify with this inner conflict, for it is part of our nature. Dr. A. T. Robertson calls it "a quite understandable attitude" [Word Pictures in the New Testament, e-Sword]. The Expositor's Bible Commentary says of this passage: "Verse 41a is a beautifully human touch" [vol. 8, p. 1057]. "We again note St. Luke's characteristic tendency to psychological analysis. As men sleep for sorrow, so they disbelieve for very joy. What is brought before their eyes is too good to be true" [Dr. Charles Ellicott, Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 6, p. 363]. One can't help but think of the reaction of Jacob when his sons informed him that Joseph was alive and well in Egypt - "But he was stunned, for he did not believe them" (Genesis 45:26). Yet another case where emotion superseded conviction, though we must hasten to note that in most people these sometimes struggling aspects of our human nature do in time (usually sooner than later) tend to come together, thus establishing balance between heart and mind.

Let me sum up with the following observation by Dr. Paul E. Kretzmann, whose analysis is quite insightful, and with which I fully agree: When Jesus appeared alive in their midst, these disciples of Christ were "lifted out of the depths of despair, doubt, suspicion, and fear to the very pinnacle of glorious assurance, the reaction proves too much for the weakness of the disciples. They stood there huddled together in wonder and amazement, not knowing whether they dared credit the evidence of their senses or not. Just as a great light which suddenly bursts upon a person in the depths of a dark dungeon blinds him for some time and makes him unable to use his eyes, so it was with the disciples at this time. And therefore Jesus makes use of all patient kindness toward them, giving them time, above all, to get their bearings, and to let the truth gradually penetrate into their understanding" [Popular Commentary of the Bible: The NT - vol. 1, p. 401]. Our Lord is patient toward us, for He knows only too well the weaknesses of our human nature. Perhaps one of our greatest tributes to our Lord would be to go and do likewise: demonstrating loving patience toward those who are still conflicted within themselves at the enormity of the reality of our Father's grace, which fills their hearts with joy, even though their long held convictions struggle to catch up. Let us love them into a state of spiritual balance and freedom!


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Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Louisiana:

Thank you so much for your latest study: "The Naaman Narrative: Does This Syrian's Seven-Fold Dipping Suggest a Sacramental View of Baptism?" (Reflections #771). As you are aware, I have been involved recently in a discussion related to baptism as "the avenue to salvation," and the example of Naaman, as always, came up in that discussion. Basically, it was suggested that there was a "plan of salvation" for all mankind (i.e., hear, believe, repent, confess, be baptized), and the example of Naaman was brought up because he had to do seven washings to be cleansed. Therefore, we have to do five things to be saved, with baptism, of course, at the very end, thus making it the ultimate act in order to be saved. It is a good thing, I suppose, that Naaman was not asked to wash just five times; that would have really given the sacramentalists a field day. Anyway, your scholarly presentation of the Naaman story was most enlightening, and it punches a lot of holes in the teaching that the Naaman account is proof for the dogma that one's salvation is secured by immersion in water. I especially liked the part in your study about the motivation behind Naaman washing in the Jordan river, and the stated fact that he did not believe until AFTER he was cleansed of his leprosy. Maybe we should tell prospective converts to just get in the water and be baptized, and that everything will be made clear AFTER that. Then, of course, we will have to make "curiosity" a part of the "plan of salvation." Perhaps this is a bit unkind to those who hold the belief that baptism is the very point of salvation. I have been there, and it took me a long time to get beyond this, as well as many other things that I was taught growing up in the Churches of Christ. Thank you, Al, for opening the eyes of so many of us who were once blind, but now we see! Grace and peace to you and your family! PS: Have a great Resurrection Sunday tomorrow. HE IS RISEN!! Praise God!

From a Reader in Tennessee:

How I wish that I'd found your Reflections years ago!! Add my name to the list of people who were "born and raised" in the conservative Churches of Christ, but who have had questions for a long time! Therefore, I've been on my own personal journey of seeking Truth from the Scriptures for a good while now, and I have arrived at exactly the same place in my understandings as you have. It is only recently, though, that I have finally been able to understand the true purpose of baptism, and have come to realize that we are not saved by baptism in water, but by grace through faith. Baptism is simply a symbol that reflects the Good News about Jesus, whom we had already accepted by faith, and by whom we are already saved. I now understand that our "invitation" should be: give your life to Christ, for it is HE who is able to save your soul and to reconcile you to God through His sacrifice. Now, I flinch every time I hear a preacher say that one must "hear, believe, repent, confess, and be baptized in order to be saved." This shows a lack of understanding of these things, and it also puts the emphasis on (dare I say it?) our own works. It's been so refreshing to me to find that there are others out there who don't make water the saver of the soul. Yes, I absolutely believe in baptism; I just have a much different understanding of it now.

I've said for a long time that we must know why we believe what we believe or we run the risk of trying to stand on ground that's not solid after all. I think there are many in the Churches of Christ who don't even know that our whole body of theology is based on CENI, and that much of what we do or don't do is because of "patternism" and "the law of silence." In our congregation, a sort of middle-of-the-road Church of Christ, we are gradually allowing small things that legalists would not countenance: like women participating in giving missions reports, a praise team, women being named as heads of ministries, etc. My concern is that many who don't object to these still have no idea why we do things one way or the other. That's as much a cause for concern as those who object because they are strict "patternists." I guess I should tell my elders and the preacher this so they can encourage teaching in this area. But, I also know that no one wants to lose members. Okay, I'm rambling. Thank you for your work. May the Lord bless you and keep you!

From a Reader in Unknown:

Al, I have read a good many of the things you have written over the years. There's a lot of work there! In one of your articles you wrote, "I understand that it is hard for some to separate baptism in water from what they have been indoctrinated to believe: that it, some how and in some way, IS the act that secures our forgiveness and/or salvation." I honestly am not sure what you mean. On the one hand, it sounds like you're saying, "You don't have to be baptized in water as you have been indoctrinated." But, looking more closely, you might be saying, "Baptism in water IS the act that secures forgiveness and/or salvation." What I THINK you're saying is, "You don't have to be water-baptized to have either forgiveness of sins or the indwelling gift of the Holy Spirit." I hope you would be willing to set your written materials aside, for now, and study mine to KNOW God's Word.

From a Reader in Idaho:

Thank you for your book "From Ruin To Resurrection." I haven't finished it yet, but I really appreciate your thorough treatment of this topic (the nature of man and his eternal destiny). It makes good sense to me that a loving God would not "torture" His creation. In light of the fact that both you and Edward Fudge came to similar conclusions on the proper interpretation of Hell, I can't help but wonder: why can't we have a new translation of the Scriptures that takes into account the original language meaning, cultural influences, etc. (what you and Edward both had to do during your research) to arrive at a better understanding of what God intended for us to know about all this? Thank you, Al, for all you are doing!

From a Minister/Elder in Kansas:

I have run across your materials over the years, especially on the Internet. I've had a number of questions about baptism that seem very difficult to resolve. I was raised in an ultra-conservative Church of Christ where self-acclaimed preachers taught "pattern theology" until it spilled out of their (and my) ears. I just read several of your Reflections articles on baptism, and I still have a few questions, but then I saw that you had written a book on this topic. I decided that it probably contains the answers I was seeking to my questions. So, enclosed is my check for a signed copy of your book "Immersed By One Spirit: Rethinking the Purpose and Place of Baptism in NT Theology and Practice." Al, I'm amazed that our fellowship has ignored 1700 years of church history as though it didn't occur. That has created problems for me, along with our fellowship's belittling and ignoring the wisdom of countless men and women down through the centuries. Thank you for your work. May the Lord bless you in your search for fuller Truth, and may He bless me as well.

From a Reader in Georgia:

I agree with your assessment in your article "The Naaman Narrative" that the most significant "player" in this account is the little girl who had enough faith in God, His power, and His mercy, that she would suggest that her pagan master could be healed by God's prophet. It seems the whole story begins at this point. Nothing would have happened had this little girl not declared her firmly held belief in the power of God to heal. Alas, most would prefer to talk about the power of water to save, rather than the faith of a little girl (which changed her world).

From a Reader in Canada:

Hello Brother. WOW, what an interesting study ("The Naaman Narrative"), and so well-done! I have often seen God reaching out to all people in verses where we typically only see Jewish folk. For example, the children being like the sands of the sea was not only the Jewish children, but ALL children, and especially those who are faithful to God. Jesus loves all the children of the world ... and in full color! That's my story, and I'm sticking to it. Love ya, brother!

From a Minister in New Zealand:

Al, thank you for your latest Reflections on Naaman. I now have something to teach on Wednesday night. Your article was very enlightening. It is significant how many times God is seen reaching out to Gentile people in the OT. This story reminds me of John 5 in some ways: someone begins with little to no faith, but progresses to an encounter with Jesus. We all have to start somewhere. Also, I did a lesson on Phinehas (Numbers 25) last week. We have had many ramifications here resulting from the Christchurch terrorist tragedy. One attack was on the Bible: some tried to suggest the perpetrator of this terrorist attack might have gotten some of his inspiration from Numbers 25 and the incident involving Phinehas (which, of course, had nothing to do with white supremacy, but in actual fact had to do with idolatry and immorality). Again, it is amazing how some people will cast aspersions and make wild accusations completely devoid of proper understanding. Have a great week, brother!

From a Minister in California:

Al, I decided to open one of your Reflections and read it. But, as always, it was so lengthy that I just had to tell you again, "Keep it short!" I haven't time to wade through 4400 words. Are your sermons that long? It's much harder to edit and keep thoughts short, terse and inviting. I am missing a lot from you because of your penchant for wordiness. Paul asked, "Have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?" (Galatians 4:16). My opinion, of course.

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