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  1. Did Job see God face-to-face?

    John Scott Price, None (retired)

    27 August 2007

    In the biblical Book of Job, there is a suggestion that Job saw God. After God’s fantastic speeches “out of the whirlwind”, Job replies, and although the text is said to be difficult, most translations use the words “see” or “appear”:

    Authorised King James Version (end of Job’s last speech):

    I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear;

    But now mine eye seeth thee:

    Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.

    Mitchell’s translation (1):

    I had heard of you with my ears;

    but now my eyes have seen you.

    Therefore I will be quiet,

    Comforted that I am dust.

    Scheindlin’s translation (2):

    I knew You, but only by rumor;

    my eye has beheld You today.

    I retract. I even take comfort

    for dust and ashes.

    New English Bible version:

    I knew of thee then only by report,

    but now I see thee with my own eyes.

    Therefore I melt away;

    I repent in dust and ashes.

    The Testament of Job (SV text, ed. R.A.Kraft)

    42 (1): And after he stopped, there appeared to me through a tempest and clouds the Lord….

    Of course, we are not told what Job actually saw, but the implication is that Job saw God face-to-face, and survived! Unlike the mythical cases described by Professor Doerr, there is no suggestion that God turned away from Job. The sight of God had a profound effect on Job, turning an angry man into a humble and repentant one. It enabled him to submit. As a result of this submission, which was accepted by God, Job’s state of severe depression remitted.

    Kapusta and Frank (3) have made a careful study of Job’s symptoms, as described in his speeches, and have shown that they conform to the Feighner research criteria for depressive illness. What is less clear is the type of depression: is this depression reactive to real calamities, or are Job’s beliefs in the calamities symptomatic of a psychotic depression? In the latter case Job might be classified with Professor Doerr’s two cases in which the sight of God occurred in the context of psychotic illness, in which, as with Job, the face-to-face encounter with God had a beneficial effect.

    Let us assume that Job has a psychotic depression. In this case all his misfortunes are figments of his own mind, the result of the depressive process. He has a delusion of poverty. He has the nihilistic delusion that his children are dead. Also he has the somatic delusion that he is covered from head to foot in boils – not a likely medical condition for him to have. He believes that he is giving off an unpleasant smell. His friends find him greatly changed so that they hardly recognize him – again typical of psychotic depression. He also feels changed and expresses most vividly the contrast between his former high status and his current lack of prestige. For those readers who have not experienced the intensity of despair which occurs in psychotic depression, the following description may give some idea of the terrible nightmare which envelops the patient:

    "Everything that occurs to the [depressed] patient is interpreted in the light of the overmastering delusion. He feels himself universally despised and avoided; his sins are bruited abroad and are the subject of the contemptuous conversations of others; doctors and nurses draw aside their clothing to avoid infection as they pass his bed. Delusional ideas spring from the breeding-ground of a dominant anxiety; permanent breakdown of health, incapacity ever to work again, exclusion from all decent society, cancer, tuberculosis, death, damnation and hell stand like specters round the bed. It is hopeless to argue with the patients about these ideas; they cannot be convinced nor more than momentarily comforted, though sometimes they apparently welcome an opposition that permits an endless repetition of their ideas." (4, p. 209).

    Job does not have all the delusions which may be expressed in psychotic depression; for instance, he does not have a retrospective delusion of worthlessness; nor, of course, does he have a delusion of guilt – rather the reverse, as he vigorously protests his innocence. However, Job’s state does have the feel of the description by Slater and Roth, and their last sentence could even be based on the interaction between Job and his comforters.

    If the diagnosis of psychotic depression is correct, then Job comes into both of Professor Doerr’s categories – that of myth and that of madness. In Job’s case, if he really saw God face-to-face, madness takes precedence over myth.

    Looking back over my career as a psychiatrist (47 years), I wish I had been able to conjure up the sight of God out of the tempest and clouds to show to my patients. I would have applied for funds from the Medical Research Council to mount a randomized controlled trial of the sight of God against cognitive behavior therapy (even combined with antidepressive drugs or ECT). Joyful submission and total surrender to God, however produced, is likely to have a beneficial effect on mental health and on general wellbeing. Hallucinatory and delusional experience may not only be beneficial to the patient, but it may have social effects of some consequence(5).

    The story of Job dates from Sumerian times around four thousand years ago, and in the original tale Job never rebels against God, hence the phrase “the patience of Job”. Then around 500 BC an unknown poet added the speeches of Job and his three comforters, and of course in this new version Job is far from patient. The poetry of Job expresses the pain, anger and despair of Man confronting the apparent injustice and unknowability of God, and by expressing these feelings in such beautiful language the poetry may help to achieve some catharsis of the emotions, and to make them a shared experience of mankind instead of an individual burden.

    1. Mitchell S: The Book of Job. London: Kyle Cathie, 1989.

    2. Scheindlin RP: The Book of Job. New York: W.W.Norton, 1998.

    3. Kapusta MA, Solomon F. The book of Job and the modern view of depression. Annals of Internal Medicine, 86, 667-672, 1977.

    4. Slater E. & Roth M. Clinical Psychiatry. (Third edition). London: Bailliere, Tindall & Cassel, 1969l.

    5. Price, J.S. A creativity myth: madness and the creation of new belief systems. In: Creativity, Madness and Civilisation, ed. R. Pine. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Press, pp. 21-32, 2007. (Text available at http://www.johnprice.me.uk/site/default.asp?k=493)

    Competing interests

    None recognised

  2. No distinctive difference between visions in madness and religion

    Maths Jesperson, INTERVOICE

    13 September 2007

    The question at issue presented in this article is very interesting, but when you read the article you get disappointed. The basic material used in the investigation is not only insufficient but also inadequate. The conclusions of the research are because of this of no value.

    The starting-point is easy to grasp: the authors have an a priori belief that there must be a distinctive difference between "mad" and religious encounters with divine beings. The authors believe in the psychiatric ideology (the medical model), which proclaims that madness is an "illness" and that the visions and interpretations of "mentally ill" persons are "hallucinations" and "delusions". At the same time they know that very similar visions have been described innumerable times in ancient myths as well as in holy texts of the big religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam). These visions were seen by people who - according to the mythical and religious texts - were not "mentally ill". On the contrary, some of them were extremely wise and discerning persons - and some were also founders of religions, which have been of tremendous importance for millions of people through thousands of years.

    In accordance with the prejudices of the psychiatric ideology there must be a distinctive difference between "mad" persons and other persons (mystics, religious) who tell about encounters with divinities. So the two authors set off to find and "prove" such a distinctive difference.

    But their research doesn’t prove any such finding at all, although they proclaim that they have found a distinctive difference.

    Namely, that "mentally ill" persons describe their visions as an encounter with a divinity face to face, which means that they can give a detailed description of how the divinity looks - whereas encounters in ancient myths and religious texts describe the vision of the divinity to have been seen only in a short moment, when the divinity after a conversation turns away to disappear, which means that the encounter is not face to face and no detailed description of the divinity could be given.

    To "prove" their thesis the two authors give four examples from mythological and religious texts, but these examples are arbitrarily chosen by the two authors themselves. There are thousands of other mythological and religious texts that describe encounters with divinities in other ways: as an encounter face to face, described in details - just as the encounters described by the two "mentally ill" persons in the article!

    Let's look at the four examples:

    1. As an example of an encounter with a divinity described in a mythological text, the two authors have chosen a passage from the Aeneid, where king Aeneas (a human being) in a vision encounters his mother Venus (a goddess). But the Aeneid is not a mythological text! It is an artistic, literary treatment of old, ancient stuff. The Aeneid was written by the Roman poet Virgil, who lived from 70 BC to 19 AD (about the same time as Jesus). In his book he tells the mythological story of Aeneas and his journey from Troy to that place at the Italian peninsula where he laid the foundations of the city of Rome. The Aeneid is written in the pattern of Homer, who wrote the Iliad and the Odyssey approximately 700 years earlier. And the mythological story of Aeneas took place about 1200 years before Virgil wrote his book! How could a passage from this literary work be used as a credible testimony of an encounter with a divinity in a myth, when this encounter happened 1200 years before it was written down!

    2. The other three examples are all from the Bible. First of all: Why have the two authors not made any distinction between encounters with Jahve and encounters with Jesus. Within the Biblical framework as well as the following Christian tradition, there is a distinct difference between encounters with Jahve (the Father) and encounters with Jesus (the Son). Jahve cannot be seen by any human being face to face (not by Moses or anybody else). Even Jesus says that no one can see the Father except the Son (John 6:46 and 1:18). But Jesus himself can - also after his resurrection - be seen by human beings, face to face, and in concrete details.

    3. Why do the two authors only pick out the encounter with the risen Jesus at Emmaus? There are numerous other examples from the Gospels as well as the Acts of the Apostles where his disciples encounter the risen Jesus face to face, talk with him, share a meal with him and even touch his body (as when Thomas with his hand touches the wounds at the body of the risen Jesus). Why don't the two authors mention these examples? Of course, because these examples would falsify their thesis!

    4. The two authors say that these kind of mystic-religious visions are scarce nowadays. But that is not so. It's just that the media doesn't cover these events, because "in our scientific age" such things "cannot happen". One example is the six children (now grown-up), who since 26 years in Medjugorje in former Yugoslavia (now Bosnia) every day have encountered the Virgin Mary face to face. These six children are no "mental patients" and have led normal lives although their daily visions. One has made his military service, some of them are now married, one has become a hairdresser - and still they have their daily encounters with the Virgin Mary, face to face, in visions that they can describe in details. These revelations of the Virgin Mary in Medjugorje are not officially acknowledged by the Catholic church yet, but many bishops and priests have already acknowledged the visions as being true. Millions of people have come to Medjugorje, where they have experienced numerous miracles, like sudden healings. A number of scientific and medical investigations have been conducted on the visionaries in Medjugorje. All of the investigations have come to the conclusion that the revelations are true and that the six children have no signs of any psychiatric problems.

    5. The visions - the encounters with Jesus - described by the two “mental patients” in the article are actually very similar to thousands of visions described by saints and ordinary people throughout the history of the Church.

    Competing interests

    None declared

  3. Other encounters with God are prevalent

    Adrienne Giacon, No specific organisation

    25 September 2007

    I find that the study the author has made of encounters with God is very limited. What about other religions? The Bhagavad Gita for instance.

    http://hinduism.about.com/library/weekly/extra/bl-gitatext11.htm

    Krishna:

    Gaze, then, thou Son of Pritha! I manifest for thee Those hundred thousand thousand shapes that clothe my Mystery: I show thee all my semblances, infinite, rich, divine, My changeful hues, my countless forms. See! in this face of mine, Adityas, Vasus, Rudras Aswins, and Maruts; see Wonders unnumbered, Indian Prince! revealed to none save thee. Behold! this is the Universe! - Look! what is live and dead I gather all in one - in Me! Gaze, as thy lips have said, On God Eternal, Very God! See Me! see what thou prayest!

    . . . . . . . Thou canst not! - nor, with human eyes, Arjuna! ever mayest Therefore I give thee sense divine. Have other eyes, new light! And, look! This is My glory, unveiled to mortal sight!

    Sanjaya:

    Then, O King! the God, so saying, Stood, to Pritha's Son displaying All the splendor, wonder, dread Of His vast Almighty-head. Out of countless eyes beholding, Out of countless mouths commanding, Countless mystic forms enfolding In one Form: supremely standing Countless radiant glories wearing, Countless heavenly weapons bearing, Crowned with garlands of star-clusters, Robed in garb of woven lustres, Breathing from His perfect Presence Breaths of all delicious essence Of all sweetest odors; shedding Blinding brilliance, overspreading Boundless, beautiful - all spaces From His all-regarding faces; So He showed! If there should rise Suddenly within the skies Sunburst of a thousand suns Flooding earth with rays undeemed-of, Then might be that Holy One's Majesty and glory dreamed of!

    So did Pandu's Son behold All this universe enfold All its huge diversity Into one great shape, and be Visible, and viewed, and blended In one Body - subtle, splendid, Nameless - th' All-comprehending God of Gods, The never-Ending Deity!

    But, sore amazed, Thrilled, o'erfilled, dazzled, and dazed, Arjuna knelt, and bowed his head, And clasped his palms, and cried, and said:

    Arjuna:

    Yea! I have seen! I see! Lord! all is wrapped in Thee! The gods are in Thy glorious frame! the creatures Of earth, and heaven, and hell In Thy Divine form dwell, And in Thy countenance show all the features

    Of Brahma, sitting lone Upon His lotus-throne; Of saints and sages, and the serpent races Ananta, Vasuki. Yea! mightiest Lord! I see Thy thousand thousand arms, and breasts, and faces,

    And eyes, - on every side Perfect, diversified; And nowhere end of Thee, nowhere beginning, Nowhere a centre! Shifts Wherever soul's gaze lifts Thy central Self, all-willing, and all-winning!

    Infinite King! I see The anadem on Thee, The club, the shell, the discus; see Thee burning In beams insufferable, Lighting earth, heaven, and hell With brilliance blinding, glorious, flashing, turning

    Darkness to dazzling day, Look I whichever way. Ah, Lord! I worship Thee, the Undivided, The Uttermost of thought, The Treasure-Palace wrought To hold the wealth of the worlds; the shield provided

    To shelter Virtues' laws; The Fount whence Life's stream draws All waters of all rivers of all being: The One Unborn, Unending: Unchanging and unblending! With might and majesty, past thought, past seeing!

    Silver of moon and gold Of sun are glances rolled From Thy great eyes; Thy visage beaming tender Over the stars and skies, Doth to warm life surprise Thy Universe. The worlds are filled with wonder

    Of Thy perfections! Space Star-Prinkled, and the place From pole to pole of the heavens, from bound to bound, Hath Thee in every spot, Thee, Thee! - Where Thou art not O Holy, Marvellous Form! is nowhere found!

    O Mystic, Awful One! At sight of Thee, made known, The Three Worlds quake; the lower gods draw nigh Thee; They fold their palms, and bow Body, and breast, and brow, And, whispering worship, laud and magnify Thee!

    Rishis and Siddhas cry "Hail! Highest Majesty!" From sage and singer breaks the hymn of glory In holy melody, Sounding the praise of Thee, While countless companies take up the story,

    Rudras, who rides the storms, Th' Adityas' shining forms, Vasus and Sadhyas, Viswas, Ushmapas, Maruts, and those great Twins, The heavenly, fair, Aswins, Gandharvas, Rakshasas, Siddhas, Asuras,

    These see Thee, and revere In silence-stricken fear; Yea! the Worlds, - seeing Thee with form stupendous, With faces manifold, With eyes which all behold, Unnumbered eyes, vast arms, members tremendous,

    Flanks, lit with sun and star, Feet planted near and far, Tushes of terror, mouths wrathful and tender; The Three wide Worlds before Thee Adore, as I adore Thee, Quake, as I quake, to witness so much splendor!

    I mark Thee strike the skies With front in wondrous wise Huge, rainbow-painted, glittering; and thy mouth Opened, and orbs which see All things, whatever be, In all Thy worlds, east, west, and north and south.

    O Eyes of God! O Head! My strength of soul is fled, Gone is heart's force, rebuked is mind's desire! When I behold Thee so, With awful brows a-glow, With burning glance, and lips lighted with fire,

    Fierce as those flames which shall Consume, at close of all, Earth, Heaven! Ah me! I see no Earth and Heaven! Thee, Lord of Lords! I see, Thee only - only Thee! Ah! let Thy mercy unto me be given!

    Thou Refuge of the World! Lo! to the cavern hurled Of Thy wide-opened throat, and lips white-tushed, I see our noblest ones, Great Dhritarashtra's sons, Bhishma, Drona, and Karna, caught and crushed!

    The Kings and Chiefs drawn in, That gaping gorge within; The best of all both armies torn and riven! Between Thy jaws they lie Mangled fell bloodily, Ground into dust and death! Like streams down driven

    With helpless haste, which go In headlong furious flow Straight to the gulfing maw of th' unfilled ocean, So to that flaming cave These heroes great and brave Pour, in unending streams, with helpless motion!

    Like moths which in the night Flutter towards a light, Drawn to their fiery doom, flying and dying, So to their death still throng, Blind, dazzled, borne along Ceaselessly, all these multitudes, wild flying!

    Thou, that hast fashioned men, Devourest them agen, One with another, great and small, alike! The creatures whom Thou mak'st, With flaming jaws Thou tak'st, Lapping them up! Lord God! Thy terrors strike

    From end to end of earth, Filling life full, from birth To death, with deadly, burning, lurid dread! Ah, Vishnu! make me know Why is Thy visage so? Who art Thou, feasting thus upon Thy dead?

    Who? awful Deity! I bow myself to Thee, Namostu Te Devavara! Prasid!2 O Mightiest Lord! rehearse Why hast Thou face so fierce? Whence did this aspect horrible proceed?"

    END OF QUOTE

    Or doesn´t other religous aspects of God count? There are numerous accounts in Indian traditions of Saints male and female who very close encounters with the Gods and goddesses. I am sure that it wouldnt take much scratching around to find many examples within other cultures.How many people have had visions of the saints,? aspects of Godliness in some form.

    If we look at the documented encounters from more recent saints within christianity we find other examples - Teresa of Avila for one:

    This site has the story, it is very interesting reading

    http://www.mcs.drexel.edu/~gbrandal/Illum_html/Teresa.html

    "Over time, the passionate love that she had previously turned towards various men in her life became focussed on Christ. When she was almost forty she began a series of remarkable visions, seen "not with the eyes of the body but the eyes of the soul."

    "One day, when I was at prayer, the Lord was pleased to reveal to me nothing but His hands, the beauty of which was so great as to be indescribable ... A few days later I also saw that Divine face, which seemed to leave me completely absorbed." And finally: "There stood before me the most sacred Humanity in the full beauty and majesty of His resurrected body ... " The visions were lit by an unearthly light: "It is a light so different from what we know here below that the sun's brightness seems dim by comparison ... It is like looking upon very clear water running over a bed of crystal and reflecting the sun, compared with a very muddy stream running over the earth beneath a cloudy sky. It seems rather to be natural light, whereas the other is artificial."

    And her most famous vision, the subject of the statue by Bernini:

    "I would see beside me, on my left hand, an angel in bodily form ... He was not tall, but short, and very beautiful, his face so aflame that he appeared to be one of the highest types of angel who seem to be all afire ... In his hands I saw a long golden spear and at the end of the iron tip I seemed to see a point of fire. With this he seemed to pierce my heart several times so that it penetrated to my entrails. When he drew it out, I thought he was drawing them out with it and he left me completely afire with a great love for God. The pain was so sharp that it made me utter several moans; and so excessive was the sweetness caused me by the intense pain that one can never wish to lose it, nor will one's soul be content with anything less than God."

    While the visions are today the most famous part of her spiritual experience, she considered them inferior to the quiet sense of union with God that she was to achieve later in life. The visions were disorienting and an embarrassment, although she did her best to hide them from her sisters. They were also dangerous. It was not unusual for visionaries to wind up at the stake. Teresa's autobiography was already being examined by the Inquisition for signs of heresy; and as a woman and the descendant of Jews, she was especially suspect. Increasingly, those around Teresa tried to disassociate themselves from her. At the same time, Teresa felt drawn to a more strict life of poverty and self-denial."

    This would no doubt explain why most people kept their visions to themselves.

    The other one whose story contains many visions is Padre Pio from Italy

    "The Life of Padre Pio ISBN 08189 08319

    Here is an excerpt that shows that rather than a faceless divinity, this vision was in full view and physically wounded him.

    "God bestowed on him the gifts of the spirit: substantial touches, fusions of hearts, and wounds of love. August 5 1918, an extraordinary phenomonen occured at San Giovanni Rotondo. This is how Padro Pio described it to Padro benedetto

    " I was hearing the confessions of our boys at five oclock in the afternoon when all of a sudden I was filled with extreme terror at the sight of a heavenly being who presented himself to the eye of my intellect. He held some kind of weapon in his hand, like a long metal lance with a sharp point at the end. And it looked as if fire were shooting out of it. At the very moment I saw all this, the heavenly being thrust the weapon into my soul with all his might. It was only with the greatest difficulty that I refrained from crying out, for it felt as if I was dying. I told the boy to leave the confessional because I felt ill and did not have teh strength to continue.

    This agony continued without ceasing until the morning of August 7. I cant tell you how much I suffered during this period. Even my internal organs felt torn and ruptured by that metal weapon... since that day, I am, mortally wounded. It feels as if there is a wound in the centre of my being that is always open and it causes constant pain ( Epistolario I, 1065)

    Padre Pio beleived that he had been the recipient of "a new punishment inflicted by divine justice". but Padre Benedetto reassured him by saying that what had happened was not a "purgation" but a "painful union" and an effect of Love"

    As a matter of fact, Jesus had bestowed on the Capuchin Monk one of his most marvelous gifts. The Transverberation. The term is used in mystical theology to describe the estraordinary phenomenon in which a spiritual being, such as an angel, is seen in an inteleectual vision and seems to pierce the side of a mystic with a lance or sword. St teresa of Avila experienced the same phenomenon, and describes it in her autobiography (Life) Chap 29) Some authors go so far as to specify that the angel is a seraph, because the Seraphim are angels of the highest order and relate to fire, purgation and flames of love. Although the pain of the transverberation is extreme, it is also accompanied by a sweetness and joy that can only be described as excessive."

    I am sure there are many more examples of encounters with God or divinity as per Padre Pio in situations outside of the psychiatric institututions, however many people may not be so keen to share them with a psychiatrist!!

    Many would dismiss the experience of divinity that those who are in psychiatric care experience as delusions.Why is that? Does God only visit those that are very good, such as saints, nuns and priests? I tend to think not. Where else would God be found in someones darkest hour, but beside them, talking to them, comforting them and holding their hand. Especially when he knows that he has their full undivided attention.

    Regards

    Adrienne Giacon

    Competing interests

    None declared

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