In my last post, I quoted from a book by Eugene H. Peterson. I usually quote from books and authors that have helped me. I know that when I read posts like that, I sometimes buy the book. But now I feel I should not have encouraged anyone to buy one of his books.
After reading good things about Pastor Peterson and his translation of the Bible called, “The Message,” I bought three paperbacks written by him. I started reading two of them, but was put off by his attitude towards non-Christians. He wrote of them, not in terms of love and pity, but with unkind judgement.
I did not finish those two books, but started “Life at It’s Best.” I thought I might have judged him too harshly myself and decided to give him another try. I did like the opening chapters, as I said previously, but when I came to chapter 14, I came upon that same unloving attitude.
He tells a story of his life when he was in the hospital to have surgery on his nose. The surgery was over and he lay in bed in pain. A new patient entered the room who was to have a tonsillectomy. He was in his early twenties, nice looking and friendly. I will now quote from the book leaving some sentences out for brevity:
“He came over to me, put out his hand and said, ‘Hi, my name is Kelly. What happened to you?’ I was in no mood for friendly conversation, did not return the handshake, grunted my name and said that I had had my nose broken. He got the message that I did not want o talk, pulled the curtain between our beds and let me alone…
Later in the evening the young man asked Peterson, “Well, what do you do?” Peterson writes, “I’m a pastor.” ‘Oh,’ he said and turned away; I was no longer an interesting subject.
In the morning he woke me, ‘Peterson, Peterson wake up.’ I groggily came awake and asked what he wanted. ‘I want you to pray for me; I’m scared.’ And so, before he was taken to surgery, I went to his bedside and prayed for him.
When he was brought back a couple of hours later, a nurse came and said, ‘Kelly, I am going to give you an injection that should take care of any pain you might have.’
In twenty minutes or so he began to groan, ‘I hurt. I can’t stand it. I’m going to die.’
I rang for the nurse and when she came said, ‘Nurse, I don’t think that shot did any good; why don’t you give him another one.’ She didn’t acknowledge my credentials for making such a suggestion, told me curtly that she would oversee the medical care of the patient, turned on her heel and left. Meanwhile, Kelly continued to vent his agony.
…he began to hallucinate, and having lost touch with reality began to shout, ‘Peterson, pray for me, can’t you see I’m dying? Peterson, pray for me.’ His shouts brought nurses, doctors and orderlies running…’”
His story ends there but it is how he would not shake hands with the young man and be interested in him that bothered me at the very beginning. You may say, “Well, he was in pain.” Yes, but Jesus was in pain on the cross and he spoke with love and mercy to the man hanging beside him. He saw there a man he loved and was dying to save.
Peterson next makes a conclusion about the young man in the story. He seems to wash his hands of him. I will quote what he wrote here:
“The parabolic force of the incident is this; when the man was scared, he wanted me to pray for him, and when the man was crazy, he wanted me to pray for him. But in between, during the hours of normalcy, he didn’t want anything to do with a pastor. What Kelly betrayed in extremis is all many people know of religion; a religion to help them with their fears, but which is forgotten when the fears are taken care of; a religion made of moments of craziness but which is remote and shadowy in the clear light of the sun and in their routines of every day. The most religious places in the world …are not churches but battlefields and mental hospitals…”
Peterson goes on to say how much better Christians are:
“Nevertheless, we Christians don’t go to either place to nurture our faith. We don’t deliberately put ourselves in places of fearful danger to evoke heartfelt prayer and we don’t put ourselves in psychiatric wards so we can be around those who clearly see visions.”
He goes on to say Christians have stability etc. Really? All Christians? Well, stability would be lovely to have, but I’ve met many Christians who are not stable and I am mentally ill so stability in my feelings is not normal for me. I have to pray and work hard on having stability.
Also, yes people pray when they are in danger. God uses that all the time. For the first time in their lives, some people may face death; and it makes them stop and think about eternity and God. That is a wonderful thing, a blessing from God! He will gladly take us just as we are, in that very moment when we are frightened. The criminal who died with Jesus probably had heard all about him and what he taught. He saw how Jesus treated the soldiers who crucified him. He saw how he took care of his mother. He heard the shouts of people who hated Jesus and said, “He said he is the Son of God.” So, he turned and looked on Jesus and said, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus promised him he would be with him in Paradise.
Jesus looks on those who are lost with the greatest pity and love. God does everything he can to save them. We should look on each person in the world as a person with a spirit and soul that Jesus longs to save.
As I said, I don’t know what title to give this post. I’m sorry I sort of recommended Peterson and his books. I rarely agree completely with every Christian book I read; but I’ve never felt like I had to apologize for encouraging people to read something. I do this time; I’m sorry.