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I decided to read Uprooting Anger: Biblical Help for a Common Problem by Robert Jones on my study leave. The battle with unrighteous anger or anger expressed unrighteously is never over. I was looking for more help in the struggle. I had high hopes for this book based on the blurbs by Jerry Bridges, Ken Sande, and Paul David Tripp among others.

Do you suspect where I’m going here?

While parts of the book were helpful, I was generally frustrated (angry) and disappointed with the book.

Why would I be angry with a book on anger? I’m hoping that’s not just how I roll.

I think Jones and I have different starting points, presuppositions, regarding anger that led me to find the book less helpful than I had hoped. Perhaps I’ve made my personal struggle into an idol that Jones failed to appease. I don’t know.

But it starts early in what I take as a series of inconsistencies rather than distinctions. On page 18 he notes that most references to anger are about God. This leads him to say “In one sense, God is both the most loving and the most angry person on our planet.” That I agree with precisely because God is love. Unlike Tim Keller (in his sermon The Healing of Anger), Jones does not connect the two. Anger is a response, says Keller, to what we love being threatened.

Jones’ definition is that anger is our “whole-personed active response of negative moral judgment against perceived evil” (pp. 15). On page 19 he applies that to God, leaving in “perceived”. God rightly knows good and evil, there is no perception at play in God’s anger. He follows up slightly to say that “God’s anger is his perfect, pure, settled opposition to evil.” But that he’d pedagogically begin with “perceived” bothers me. Perhaps I’m too concerned with guarding the character of God. I’m not sure. But this sort of theme will pop up from time to time.

He does say that “righteous human anger imitates God’s anger.” But then says little/none of our anger is righteous. His focus is on “sinful human anger”. Perhaps I’d have been less frustrated if I inserted that phrase into any subsequent mentioning of anger. For instance, when he says “Anger is unlike God.” on page 163. This unqualified statement (in its context) makes anger ungodly. I don’t believe that (and neither does he, I suspect).

Additionally, he doesn’t really work out the reality of the imago dei. God revealed Himself to Moses as “slow to anger” (Ex. 34:6) on Sinai in what is a frequently quoted/referenced self-revelation of God. God is not quick triggered or short-fused. He’s not no anger, but slow anger (a phrase Keller uses in the aforementioned sermon). But He does get angry.

Image result for hulk in avengers

“That’s my secret, Captain, I’m always angry.”

God is not ruled by His anger. Unlike us He doesn’t lose it and go into a Hulk-like rage (even though Hulk may be defending something he loves). His is a wise, good, righteous, balanced opposition to the evil at work. It’s not “shock and awe” for the sake of “feeling better”.

James reflects this reality in saying we are to be “slow to anger” in James 1:19. Because I’m made in the image of God, I am to be similarly slow to anger, not to have no anger. I’m not supposed to be like David Banner in the mountains practicing Zen meditation so I’m not angry. Anger serves a purpose, one that I as a sinner am prone to corrupt. This James notes in the next verse. My fallen anger doesn’t help me live righteously.

Here is the crux of my struggle with this book. I get the putting unrighteous anger to death. That really isn’t where I am (or at least think I am). I want help in being “slow to anger” and in applying the Psalmist’s and Paul’s instruction to “Be angry and do not sin”. (Jones does have an appendix on this passage which deals with this text briefly. I’ll say that the imperative being concessive doesn’t remove the point- anger is not inherently sinful but how we do it often is. He seems quite afraid of anger like some people are afraid of alcohol instead of drunkenness.)

Additionally, he seems to make a mistake some, like Jay Adams have made. In the attempt to push back against psychobabble and the ungodly attempt to avoid responsibility he appears to go too far. “We must not blame our family members, our societies, our genes, our parents, our church leaders, society, our hormones, or the devil for our anger.” (pp. 71) Instead we should own that anger as ours. Okay, we do need to own it. But this severely lacks nuance. We shouldn’t blame those people, but as we work through sin we recognize that the curse affects us spiritually, physically, emotionally, socially etc. These can be contributing factors and may be a reason for compassion in light of such sins that may have been perpetrated against us.

Later, he talks about one motive for putting our sinful anger to death: the model we present others. We don’t want to be a bad example to our kids or others. He notes the impact of having an angry friend, being an angry friend. But refuses to put any of this into the equation of counseling wisely to understand how sin operates in your life. I struggle with the part of the biblical counseling movement that follows Jay Adams in doing this. Sometimes the angry person is also the bruised reed and smoldering wick. Life is not frequently clear cut.

I can’t recall where in the early portions of the book, but he says that righteous anger is only that which is God-ward in focus. This means only when I’m viewing the evil as against God. With this I struggle as well. I should be angry when my kids disrespect my wife. They are sinning against her (and God). I don’t think I have to differentiate this in my mind each time I response. But I do have to make sure I’m not sinning in my anger towards them.

This book left me frustrated because I got the impression that ALL my anger was sinful. While he occasionally mentioned the gospel, I was left feeling hopeless in my struggle until Jesus returns. This is part of why I think this wasn’t the book I needed to read, it was not the right medicine for me. Now, I could be completely wrong and just need to repent like he kept telling me. But help me to know, in more than a paragraph, when my anger is a good thing even though I have to be careful regarding how I express it. In this regard, Good & Angry by David Powlison was a much better book.

The book does have good points to it. He does a good job in applying James 4 to our anger. Much of it is about our idols. In this regard he’s tracking with Powlison and Keller. He gets, as does Tripp and Powilson, into the distinction between God’s kingdom and ours and how that drives our anger. Righteous anger tends to be about God’s kingdom (more helpful than his earlier statements) and unrighteous anger tends to be about my kingdom being blocked. We do need to be asking these questions of ourselves regarding our anger. He makes good distinctions in dealing with revealed and concealed anger. But even here the table of contents (perhaps the work of the editor) has “sinful revealing” and “sinful concealing”. Not much is about how to righteously reveal or conceal anger.

One of my existential struggles is discerning in a particular instance whether my anger is about what I think is blocking God’s kingdom, or blocking my kingdom. The heart is deceitful. The lines are not always clear. Perhaps I was demanding he help me resolve this pertinent issue for me, and he didn’t.

He also addresses anger against God and ourselves well.

So, the book has merit. If you are looking for a book focused on identifying and putting your sinful anger to death, then this will be a good book. If you are looking for a book that will also help you express proper anger in helpful ways, then Powlison will be a better choice for you.

 

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I feel like I’ve been here before. That’s because I have.

I’ll be here again, too.

That’s the way it is when you love someone with Alzheimer’s. It’s like they die ten times over. There are these milestones. When they don’t know who you are anymore. It’s as if they cease to exist. Or maybe it is a part of you that dies on that day.

They they go to a nursing home, a memory care unit. It’s like they die again. That grief returns. I’m not liking this very much.

I knew it was coming. I mean it was inevitable. My father has been brave, valiant and persevering in loving the woman who no longer remembers his names, the 50+ years of marriage to him… nothing. But he still cared for her thru those Jekyll and Hyde moments. Thru the incontinence. Thru the moments of irrational fear.

He’s worn out. They were no longer sleeping in bed, but in the living room. Life reduced to her wants and desires.

He’s out of shape. Too many meals out. No longer taking walks because she couldn’t.

An opening came up. $12,000 a month for a double room. Is this what it has come to?

Thankfully another room at another facility became open. A single room for less than the double room. And Thursday he told us this will happen Monday. Heart hits the floor again. This is really happening.

The grief comes at inconvenient moments. I wish it would make an appointment for when I was available. But it comes when I need to write a sermon. I have to compartmentalize the pain so I can function. Best I can figure is that it “metabolizes” into anger.

I realize how isolated I am as a pastor. Where was the friend who would say “I’m taking you to lunch.”? I feel very much alone. Then again, I’ve been alone much of my life.

It happens in the parking lot of the vet’s office. “Why don’t you just cry there?” “What so someone can call the police about a crazy man crying in a parking lot? So I can freak out my daughter?” Stuff it again, so I can get her new ballet shoes and batteries for the irrigation system and van fob. Wait until it turns into anger, again. The horrible, freaking anger.

I called the kids to the table last night to give them a heads up. Daddy’s parents didn’t help him learn this stuff. I hate that I am this way, and long for something better for them. I want to go someone far away so I don’t hurt the ones I love. I’ve become the Hulk. Only I don’t become big and green. While I don’t lose my clothes, I do want to smash. Crying would be better for all involved. Just not in parking lots.

Back in 1992 Andrew hit South Florida. That is sort of an understatement. Steve Brown lost his house and offices. Soon thereafter his mother passed away. He would frequently tell people, “I’m homeless and my mother died.” It was part of his way of dealing with it.

Well, I’ve got a home, but my mother keeps dying.

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In the past my experience with Alzheimer’s has been minimal. There is a Deacon Emeritus in our congregation who suffers from it. I did not have the honor of knowing him before this illness began to take its toll on him. While I felt bad for him and his family, I didn’t have much personal investment, so to speak.

At some point in the last few years I noticed that my mother was losing track of things. Her short term memory was becoming non-existent. She was faking conversations to cover up the pain and frustration she felt (or so I imagine). My father tried to eliminate every possible source of the problem.

Last fall she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. I had seen her in the summer but still didn’t realize how bad it was by the fall. There were benefits, so to speak. She no longer obsessed over her health, recounting every pain and problem. Perhaps, in a sense, that was a strange mercy for her (and us).

I was prepared for the worst when I saw her this summer. Or so I thought. I was prepared for to not recognize me. She thought I was one of my father’s friends. I thought I handled it well.

I must give kudos to my Dad. He’s doing a great job with her. She looks well-cared for, and he was patient with her while we were out to eat (and she kept trying to order different meals). It has to be a great strain on him. She calls him “the Boss” which leads me to believe she doesn’t really know who he is either. That has to break his heart, but he continues to care for her.

I must admit that I don’t do “sad” very well. I tend to stuff those feelings deep inside. I hate the sense of powerlessness. I hate the reality of what produces it. I’m angrier than usual, and have a short fuse. Anger seems easier than sadness. At least for me, but not for anyone around me.

Eventually the sadness catches up to me, I just don’t know when it will happen.

What is it like to have a mother with Alzheimer’s? It is like she has vanished. There is someone walking around who looks like my Mom, but really isn’t. There is no warmth, no “glad to see you.” There is no delight in my kids as cherished grandchildren. It is like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. She has been replaced with a person who doesn’t respond like she did, act like she did or share a common history.

I’m not really sure what to do with that. I’m not angry with God as if this shouldn’t happen in a world filled with sin and misery. I’m angry because I can’t fix it. I can’t make it better for my Dad. Yet, like most people, I have and hate that sense of our powerlessness and weakness.

Yet that weakness is everywhere right now. I feel weak as a parent trying to raise four kids. Sometimes I’m just overwhelmed by their needs, their sin and their foolishness. I feel weak as a pastor in the midst of a renovation project that seems to produce an unforeseen crisis (costing more money we don’t really have) each week. Weak as I try to manage church conflict and miss friends who have moved away. I see those empty seats where a few families used to sit and wish we could have another meal together.

Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12

I hate my weakness. Instead of boasting in my weakness and boasting in the power of Christ (whose power is made perfect in my weakness) I rage. Stupid, I know. Foolish, indeed. An act of unbelief.

But nothing can change the fact that my mother is gone, and I can’t say ‘good-bye.’ There is the sense of loss, but no opportunity to say ‘good-bye’ unless I manufacture one. But then I will see the person who looks and sounds like her.

In the months and years to come I will learn more about this disease and its effects on families, on the soul. I’m not really looking forward to that. There will be things that I wish I could forget.

This morning I read some Martyn Lloyd-Jones on the subject of trials. I know God is using this to develop patience in me (Romans 5; James 1). This means He has to reveal the impatience in me- the impatience that drives my anger. It is a painful process and an ugly process. But the result will be good. He will hang on to me, so to speak, through the process

In the midst of all of this I am reminded of the final recorded words of John Newton: “My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things: That I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Savior.” May I never forget these two things.

 

 

 

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I don’t actually go to the movies very often. Way too expensive to happen as often as when I was younger. So, I wait for the movies that beg for the big screen: action. The Avengers is one of those movies whose siren call I could not resist. And I was not disappointed.

I really wasn’t into comic books as a kid. Some of my friends were. The medium was just lost on me. Seemed too much like the children’s books. I don’t know. But I’ve always enjoyed the movies starting with the Superman series when I was a teenager. Okay, just the first two. Did they make any others?

This year will be comic book hero heaven as they wrap up the Batman series, re-boot the Spider-Man series with a darker take (why did they do this again?) and introduce The Avengers series. They have been building toward this with the 2 Iron Man movies and then both Thor and Captain America last year. Those two movies introduce some key elements to the plot of The Avengers. I only saw Captain America, but I was fully able to follow along with what was happening in The Avengers. Some of the other characters appeared in some of the Iron Man movies.

Mark Ruffalo is in there, somewhere

So, you walk into the movie having back stories on some of the Avengers. This is the third movie for Hulk, and the third actor playing him. The second was essentially a reboot of the first (and much better). Edward Norton did a great job as Hulk, but apparently fans just miss Bill and Lou because Hulk, despite his incredible strength and jumping ability can’t get off the ground as a series of movies. Enter Mark Ruffalo with his take on Hulk (this is turning into the first Batman movie series: both Kilmer and Keaton were very good, and Clooney utterly horrendous). It is almost like the other two movies didn’t exist. Mark is sort of the hippie Hulk. The laid-back genius who is supposedly angry all the time. He was better than Eric Bana, but … Apparently I am in the minority because Ruffalo has been signed to additional movies. Sadly, Edward Norton has gone the way of Val Kilmer: a great actor with a bad reputation for working well with others (rumor has it, that in Val’s case the directors probably should have listened to him more often but you know how that goes).

Hawkeye and Black Widow share a moment

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I am currently reading (among other books) The Great Work of the Gospel by John Ensor.  In proclaiming the greatness of God’s work for our salvation, John takes a very different approach than Rob Bell.  Bell, during his Sex God tour, talked about how God was not angry with sinners, but sinners only seemed to think he was.  Bell’s upcoming book seems to allude that God is not an angry God.

Ensor, on the other hand, spends a chapter on the great need for the great work of the gospel.  He focuses there on the justice of God’s judgment, or the reality of God’s wrath.

11 God is a righteous judge, a God who expresses his wrath every day.  Psalm 7

In one of his sermons on Colossians 3, Matt Chandler distinguishes between God’s active and passive wrath.  His active wrath is clearly seen in judgment upon nations and people.  Think the flood, or Sodom and Gemorrah.  His passive wrath, as noted in Romans 1, is to give us over to our own dark desires.  He gives us over to the sin we love that it might ruin us.  Then, some of us cry out for mercy.

Ensor notes that the frequency with which the Bible speaks of God’s wrath should lead us to some startling conclusions.

“Either our sin and guilt is far, far greater than we ever knew, or God’s punishment far, far exceeds the crime.”

If God is just (and He is), then the latter proposition is not the case.  In other words, our sin and guilt are far greater than we ever imagined.  As Anselm noted to Boso, “You have not yet considered how great the weight of sin is.”  We need only look to the cross to discover the greatness of sin and guilt.  Our perception is off, by a large margin.  Instead of seeking mercy, we tend to excuse, overlook and ignore our sin and guilt.

Ensor, like Chandler, brings Romans 1 into the picture.  Our sin suppresses the clearly seen truth about God and his invisible attributes revealed in creation.  We exchanged the real God for any number of fake gods in creation: the Creator for the created.  We have turned our backs on God, and sought life in a wide variety of created goods- sex, money, family, music, food…

Hulk Smash!

Ensor reveals the compatibility of love and anger.  The sermon by Chandler, and one by Tim Keller, takes the same approach.  We tend to think of love and anger opposed to one another.  But anger is the proper response to a threat against that which is loved.  God hates sin because sin threatens to destroy creation, and people.  In the most recent version of The Hulk, the Hulk’s rage is greatest when the woman he loves is in danger.  Wrath seeks to eliminate the threat.  Sinful anger is sinful, in part, because it takes out more than the threat.  It adopts a scorched earth policy.  But love must get angry when the object of love is threatened.  If you don’t get angry when your spouse (or child) is physically or sexually assaulted, you don’t love them.

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The Incredible Hulk is something of a restart after a subpar intial effort to bring the Hulk to the big screen.  Ang Lee’s The Hulk was too angst ridden, which is what Ang does best.  It had the depressed pacing of most of his movies.  So they punted on everyone involved with The Hulk and started (almost) over.

They brought in Edward Norton (big improvement), Liv Tyler (I preferred Jennifer Connelly), William Hurt (an equal exchange for Sam Elliott) and thankfully didn’t revisit the storyline with his father.  The script here is heavier on action, and less on emotional storylines apart from Bruce’s longing for Betty while he wanders the world in an attempt to stay ahead of General Ross’s attempts to capture him.  They “redo” his initial transformation into the Hulk during an experiment gone wrong as part of the opening credits.  It differs from the Ang Lee version.  There is a quick glimpse of some Stark Industries blueprints [sonic(?) cannons used in a battle scene], setting up Tony’s appearance at the end (cameo by Robert Downey Jr.).  The story runs essentially concurrently with Iron Man.

This movie is more playful than Ang Lee’s.  You catch a quick glimpse of Bill Bixby’s old TV gig as Eddie’s single dad.  Big Lou makes a cameo as a security guard as well.  They answered the question of how come his pants stay on as well- elastic waistbands.  They obviously stretch too far, adding a bit more comedy as Bruce tries to keep his shredded pants on.  This version is much more like the other superhero movies, and I’m sure much more of what Marvel had in mind in the first place.

The story is about Banner’s quest to eliminate Hulk.  He fears how the military will use the “technology” used to create Hulk if they can capture Banner and figure it all out.  Banner has been working with another scientist to find a cure.  But he needs the data from the event.  To get this he must return home, during which he hopes to connect with his love, Betty Ross.  Of course, General Ross is hot on his trail with his own special soldier.  When they discover the ‘cure’ they aren’t sure if it merely suppresses and episode or completely cures him.  Suddenly they need Hulk to become a hero.

Hulk is more creative in his rage.  He uses parts of cars as shields, brass knuckles etc.  His rage is more apparent.  He seems more dangerous, scary and less “corny”.  He’s not jumping outrageous distances.  He’s also more human, which is what adds to the terror in some ways.  He retains knowledge of Betty.  His love for Betty is the one thing that can control his behavior.  It is more of a love story than the previous take on Hulk.

After rescuing her during a battle on the college campus, there is a scene reminiscent of King Kong.  They are hiding in the cleft of a rock face.  She is both afraid and drawn to him.  I could not help but think of Christ- He is not safe, but he is good and reborn hearts are drawn to Him despite the fact He is mighty and awesome.

Both General Ross and Blotsky want Bruce’s power for themselves.  Like Adam, they fell for the original lie, and have a desire to be gods.  Their quest for personal power drives them in different ways.  Ross wants to control Hulk, to harness technology.  Blotsky wants to defeat Hulk, seeing him as the ultimate rival.

The movie is quite intense, particularly when Abomination arrives on the scene for a climatic battle with Hulk.  Hulk appears to be no match for Abomination until Betty is threatened.  I was unclear if he actually killed Abomination ( I don’t want to give away too much in the odd chance you haven’t seen it).  But if he didn’t, how did they end up restraining him?

Aside from the violence, there is almost a sex scene that would be inappropriate for the kids.  But they have produced a much more enjoyable movie this time round.  I look forward to the next one.

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