Song of the Week: Pretty Amazing Grace by Neil Diamond

I don’t think Neil Diamond is a Christian — as far as I know, he’s still Jewish — but he wrote a song called “Pretty Amazing Grace,” which blows my mind because it has some strong Christian concepts behind it. Maybe he’s resolved things between him and God? Who knows?

I’m currently reading a book called Transforming Grace by Jerry Bridges. The book focuses on reminding Christians that God draws people to him based on his grace and mercy and not based on our merits or works. The Bible teaches there is nothing people can do to get to heaven. (Ephesians 2:8-9) I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior and became a Baptist 16 years after being a Roman Catholic. Coming from a Roman Catholic background, I’d view my standing with God based on a “points” system. For example, let’s start at zero. If I was nice to or complimented someone, I’d give myself a +1. But later on, if I told a white lie to my parents, I’d give myself a -1 putting me right back where I started. So I’d go back and forth on this points system trying not to reach a deficit. The new church I joined taught that there was no points system, people couldn’t earn their way to heaven, and that one had to rely solely on God’s grace — the gift he gives the people who believe in Jesus Christ.

not good enoughAfter a few years though, being a Christian became burdensome — not because of God — but because of the rules the church I attended would begin to impose in my life:

  • you’re in sin if you don’t wear a skirt past your knees
  • if you don’t go knocking on doors and proselytizing to people, you’re in sin
  • if you’re not in church every time the doors are open, you’re in sin
  • working on Sundays is a sin unless you’re a doctor or a nurse (it’s OK to heal people on the Sabbath)

The church taught one thing but did another. I began to feel as though I was never doing enough for God no matter how hard I tried. I was back on the points system.

Transforming Grace is a book intended to blow legalism out of the water. It takes legalistic concepts and casts them into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19) or puts them as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). It reminds Christians that any blessings they receive or any favor they find in God’s sight is not based on what they do, how good they are, or how many “points” they’ve racked up. After years of bashing myself as a bad Christian, this book reminds me that in and of myself, I’m a pretty bad person. (Romans 3:10-12) But with a belief in Christ, God doesn’t see me as bad; he sees Christ’s righteousness. So there’s no more points to earn. There’s nothing I can do to make God love me any less or any more.

And this is where Neil Diamond’s song “Pretty Amazing Grace” steps in. I don’t know what Neil Diamond’s spiritual belief is but somehow, he’s grasped the concept of God’s grace quite well. As a result, I’ve chosen “Pretty Amazing Grace” for the song of the week as I continue my studies in learning more about Transforming Grace. You can listen to the full song here, and the lyrics are behind the cut.
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Suicide: Understanding and Intervening – Outline

While the book had me put off, I did glean a couple of things from it, mainly things that pertain to Christians who struggle with suicidal ideation.

“The paradox is brought into full focus when a suicidal Christian wants to know if she will lose her salvation if she kills herself. The contradiction in her thinking – that the same God who has the power to condemn her eternally doesn’t have the power to help her now – seems lost on her.”

The key here for Christians is to focus on “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” This is especially difficult to do when a person doesn’t know the next path to take, what to believe, or desperately wants die. The Biblical view of Christianity holds that a person who has trusted in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior and commits suicide is not condemned to hell. However, the booklet deals with issues leading up to this point and does not focus on suicide per se.

While suicide is viewed as a psychological act born out of a depressive state, the author correctly states it is “the act of a sinful heart.” All Christians must come to terms that many mental illnesses are a result of a sinful, fallen condition. Christianity rejects the teaching that “all people are inherently good.” From a Biblical standpoint, that’s a fallacy. Psalm 53:3 reminds readers, “There is none who does good, not even one.” Those who believe in God must accept that they are fallen, sinful creatures incapable of consistently doing good in and of themselves. Depressive and suicidal tendencies stem from this sinful nature.

Black quotes G.C. Berkouwer:

“One cannot find sense in the senseless and meaning in the meaningless.”

Life as a non-Christian can be senseless and meaningless because there seems to be nothing to live for other than the self. A belief in Jesus Christ as Savior gives life a brand new sense of meaning. But even a Christian can lose track of that. Again, the inability to remain focused on God stems from a sin nature.

Black uses the apostle Paul as an example of someone who overcame trials, hardships, and suffering. In II Corinthians 4:17, Paul refers to his suffering as a “light affliction, which is but for a moment.” Black outlines how Paul is able to regard trials as light, momentary afflictions:

  1. Paul lives his entire life with purpose. He endures the suffering because of the good he knows will come out of it.
  2. His life is lived for the future, for a “far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” (II Cor. 4:17)
  3. Paul is “strengthened” to face the challenges that God has given him through the Holy Spirit.

While Black explains how Paul overcame his difficult trials with courageous faith, his application flies over the head of any depressed believer. The above may be encouraging to a believer who is disappointed by trials, but it is an application out of the grasp of someone who is suicidal. A more appropriate application would be King David in the Psalms, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” (Psalm 43:5) or rather Elijah, who after a great spiritual victory, prays to God, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life.” (I Kings 19:4) Perhaps even a suicidal person can relate to Job, “"Why is light given to him who is in misery, and life to the bitter in soul, who long for death, but it comes not.” (Job 3:20-21) Black overlooks believers with applicable moments of despair and opts to use the apostle Paul as example for hope. Here, the cliché is applicable: a person must go through the darkest part of the tunnel before he can see the light.

Not only did I feel as though Black throw Paul’s example in for a “See? This is how a true believer should act,” he immediately delves into how “suicide is a sinful act.” Pitting depressed people against a great apostle like Paul is just an awful reminder that they just don't “stack” up. Contrasting a suicidal person with a spiritual giant is yet another reminder as to why he needs to die, not to live. As I mentioned before, using Elijah, David, or Job would have been a more empathetic approach.

An underlying base of suicide is selfishness. Black capitalizes on this thought:

“My goal is not simply to get the person to repent over a specific act of lawbreaking (suicide), but to undermine his pattern of sinfully self-centered rationalization.”

He adds that suicide is an “expression of self-centeredness contrary to our position as creatures responsible to a Creator.” Suicidal thoughts remove God from being the primary focus of life and make people gods in their lives. Suicide seems like a noble way of dying (a form of narcissism) while it is essentially a slap in the face to God. Suicide says to God, “I don’t trust that you can help me through life so I’m taking matters into my own hands,” whether the individual is aware of God or not.

Daily Affirmations with Stuart Smalley

Stuart Smalley

I received this forward and it sounds like something from the SNL skit, “Daily Affirmations with Stuart Smalley,” but it cheered me up and found it worthwhile. Just something to keep in mind when you hear the lie in your head that “No one loves you.” (I think that ALL the time despite a very supportive and caring husband.)

P.S. I had NO idea that Al Franken was on SNL. I always thought it was Mike Myers. Oops.

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Truth vs. Lies

Originally written October 10, 2006

"This is the one thing I know, you said you won’t let me go, you said you won’t let me go. You’ve done a good work in me and you won’t quit till I’m free." ~ Sara Groves, "This Is The One Thing I Know"

Sometimes I need to believe thigns are true, even when I don’t feel they are.

Of the few things I learned at my outpatient therapy, three lessons (truths) stuck with me:

1. God loves me. (Romans 5:8, I John 4:9-11)
2. He will never leave or forsake me. (Hebrews 13:5)
3. The devil is a liar. (John 8:44)

I don’t feel any of the above but I’ve got to assume it’s true. Even if I’m afraid, it’s got to be enough to keep me going.