Thursday, August 25, 2011

Welcoming Jeff Johnson to the Blog

I am happy to welcome Jeff Johnson to the blog. Jeff has been the primary teaching elder at Grace Bible Church in Conway, Arkansas, for the last 11 years, and he and his wife, Letha, have a son named Martyn.

Jeff graduated from Central Baptist College with a B.S. in Bible and earned his M.Rel. in Biblical Studies and a Th.D. in Systematics from Veritas Theological Seminary.

Jeff is also the author of The Fatal Flaw of the Theology Behind Infant Baptism (perhaps the single best book on the issue from a Reformed Baptist perspective, in my opinion) and the forthcoming books Behind the Bible: Introduction to Textual Criticism and The Church: The Nature, Purpose, Functions, Worship, Membership, Discipline and Authority of the Local Church.

I look forward to any future contributions Jeff may wish to make to the blog.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Toward a Biblical Perspective on Depression: Case Study #7

The final case study I would like to examine may surprise many of the blog's readers. I want to set forth the example of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as one who I believe encountered depression as well. For instance, I think it is safe to say that Jesus experienced depression as He faced His coming betrayal and death on the cross, where He would experience the Father's wrath being poured out on Him:
NKJ  Matthew 26:36-37 “Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, 'Sit here while I go and pray over there.' 37 And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed.”
I hope we can agree that being “sorrowful and deeply distressed” would qualify as depression. And the fact that Jesus could or would experience such depression shouldn't surprise us, since it is one of the ways in which He was tempted as we are, yet overcame so that we can know that we have a Great High Priest who sympathizes with our weaknesses (Heb. 2:17-18; 4:14-16). Indeed, we could even say that it was prophesied that He would be a man familiar with depression, as Isaiah said:
NKJ  Isaiah 53:3-4 “He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows [meaning that sorrows would be characteristic of His life] and acquainted [יָדַע, yāḏa] with grief [meaning that He would be experientially familiar with grief]. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. 4 Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.”
Why was Jesus to be a man familiar with sorrow and grief? Why was He to experience what we would call depression? Because He was to carry our sorrows and griefs. It was a part of His role as our Great High Priest who would offer Himself for our sins. But this means that depression was a part of God's plan for Jesus all along, doesn't it? And I would submit to you that the same may be true for some of us as well.

Of course, all of us will experience some depression, sorrow, and grief living in this fallen world, but it could be that God has planned that some of us should be more acquainted with depression that others, as Jesus was. Regardless how much depression God does or does not have planned for us, however, we should look to Jesus as an example of how to face it. This leads us back to Matthew 26:
NKJ  Matthew 26:38-41 “Then He said to them, 'My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.' 39 He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, 'O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.' 40 Then He came to the disciples and found them asleep, and said to Peter, 'What? Could you not watch with Me one hour? 41 Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.'”
Observe the way in which Jesus handled His depression. He did at least two things:

First, Jesus shared how he was feeling with those close to Him. He told His inner circle of disciples, Peter, James, and John (vs. 37), not only that He was extremely sorrowful, but also that He was so sorrowful that he felt He could die (vs. 38). Now that is depression! In fact, a parallel passage tells us that the weight of the depression was so great that it affected Jesus physically. This is found in Luke's account:
NKJ  Luke 22:40-44 “When He came to the place, He said to them, 'Pray that you may not enter into temptation.' 41 And He was withdrawn from them about a stone's throw, and He knelt down and prayed, 42 saying, 'Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.' 43 Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him. 44 And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”
Dave Miller of Apologetics Press has written the following in an online article entitled, Did Jesus Sweat Blood?:
A thorough search of the medical literature demonstrates that such a condition, while admittedly rare, does occur in humans. Commonly referred to as hematidrosis or hemohidrosis (Allen, 1967, pp. 745-747), this condition results in the excretion of blood or blood pigment in the sweat. Under conditions of great emotional stress, tiny capillaries in the sweat glands can rupture (Lumpkin, 1978), thus mixing blood with perspiration. This condition has been reported in extreme instances of stress (see Sutton, 1956, pp. 1393-1394). During the waning years of the twentieth century, 76 cases of hematidrosis were studied and classified into categories according to causative factors: “Acute fear and intense mental contemplation were found to be the most frequent inciting causes” (Holoubek and Holoubek, 1996). While the extent of blood loss generally is minimal, hematidrosis also results in the skin becoming extremely tender and fragile (Barber, 1953, pp. 74-75; Lumpkin, 1978), which would have made Christ’s pending physical insults even more painful.

From these factors, it is evident that even before Jesus endured the torture of the cross, He suffered far beyond what most of us will ever suffer. His penetrating awareness of the heinous nature of sin, its destructive and deadly effects, the sorrow and heartache that it inflicts, and the extreme measure necessary to deal with it, make the passion of Christ beyond all comprehension.
Now, back in Matthew 26, notice also that when Jesus asked Peter, James, and John to stay and watch with Him, He expected that they would stay alert and be in prayer, not only for Him but also for themselves (vs. 41). Sadly, they let Him down in this instance, which may actually have added to the depth of sorrow He felt. But this didn't stop Him sharing His struggle with them anyway.

But do we share our depression with others? Some of us do, but in my experience many of those who struggle most with depression never talk about it with their brothers and sisters in the Lord. I think Jesus would counsel us to do otherwise. To be sure, some of them will fail to understand and will let us down, as Jesus' disciples failed to understand Him and let Him down. But there will be those by the grace of God who will listen and who will pray for us faithfully, and we need them!

Second, Jesus prayed about what was causing His depression. In this case it was the task that the Father had given him to do, involving His coming death on the cross, which He refers to here as “this cup,” that was leading to His deep sorrow.

But what precisely was the “cup” to which Jesus referred? Was it just the coming torture and death by hanging on a cross (as if that weren't bad enough)? Or was it something more? Answering this question will help us to understand more fully just why He described Himself as being “sorrowful even unto death.” I believe that the answer is found in the Old Testament references to the cup of God's wrath. For example:
NKJ  Psalm 75:4-8 “I said to the boastful, 'Do not deal boastfully,' and to the wicked, 'Do not lift up the horn. 5 Do not lift up your horn on high; do not speak with a stiff neck.' 6 For exaltation comes neither from the east nor from the west nor from the south. 7 But God is the Judge: He puts down one, and exalts another. 8 For in the hand of the LORD there is a cup, and the wine is red; it is fully mixed, and He pours it out; surely its dregs shall all the wicked of the earth drain and drink down.”

NKJ  Isaiah 51:17 “Awake, awake! Stand up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk at the hand of the LORD the cup of His fury [or wrath, as in ESV]; you have drunk the dregs of the cup of trembling, and drained it out.”
This metaphor is also used later in Revelation of God's judgment on those who worship the beast:
NKJ  Revelation 14:9-11 “Then a third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, 'If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10 he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.'”
It is my contention that the cup metaphor was being used by Jesus in Gethsemane as a reference to the cup of God's wrath which He knew He would have to drink for our sakes when He died on the cross as the propitiation for our sins (see, e.g., Romans 1:18; 3:25; 5:9). No wonder the author of Hebrews speaks the way he does about Jesus' suffering that night in Gethsemane:
NKJ  Hebrews 5:6-8 “As He also says in another place: 'You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek'; 7 who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear [God did not remove the cup of suffering, but He did send an angel to strengthen Him, Luke 22:43], 8 though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered.”
Now let's return back to Matthew 26 and pick up with verse 40 again:
NKJ  Matthew 26:40-46 “Then He came to the disciples and found them asleep, and said to Peter, 'What? Could you not watch with Me one hour? 41 Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.' 42 Again, a second time, He went away and prayed, saying, 'O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.' 43 And He came and found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy. 44 So He left them, went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words. 45 Then He came to His disciples and said to them, 'Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise, let us be going. See, My betrayer is at hand.'”
Here are a couple of other – albeit secondary – reasons for Jesus' sorrow, namely that His closest friends failed Him in this trial (as we have already seen), and that He knew He was also going to be betrayed by one close to Him (and such betrayal is never an easy thing to endure). But notice also that Jesus persisted in prayer because He had complete trust in the Father's sovereign will. This can be seen in the way that He prayed three times that the Father might let this cup pass from Him but all three times declared basically the same thing, “nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will” (vs. 39, 42, 44). This was a key to His overcoming the depression and anguish that could have paralyzed Him.

Another key to Jesus' victory in the garden of Gethsemane is revealed both by John and by the author of Hebrews:
NKJ  John 17:1-5 “Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: 'Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, 2 as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. 4 I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. 5 And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.'”

NKJ  Hebrews 12:1-3 “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.”
I think it is important to remember that, although we see in Gethsemane the culmination of the sorrow Jesus felt when facing death on the cross for our sins, He was always aware that he was going to face this. It was, then, a sorrow that He carried throughout his life and ministry, not to mention the many others sorrows of life He had to face. But it was not a sorrow that robbed Him of the joy He had in looking forward to the experience of the glory He had with the Father even before the world was created and the joy He had in doing the Father's will.

Jesus always obeyed the Father's will, including when He died on the cross, and He did so because He knew there was something that made it all worthwhile. And this is one reason why the author of Hebrews wants us to look to Jesus in His sufferings whenever we are being overwhelmed with our own trials. But this means that we need to constantly turn to Scripture and listen to what God says to us there about Jesus' gracious work on our behalf.

As Ed Welch reminds us:
Listening sounds passive, but it is hard work. The book of James reminds us that we are prone to “merely listen,” like people who look at ourselves in a mirror and quickly forget what we look like. So when you read or hear about truth and love, don’t just merely listen; really hear.

What will you hear? When the triune God speaks, He inevitably talks about Jesus. Jesus is the one who had compassion on those who suffer, and He understands those who suffer because His pain exceeded our own. Have you ever noticed that when you listen to someone else’s suffering, especially if that suffering was overwhelming and intense, your own troubles seem lighter? At least, such listening diverts attention away from our own suffering, and we see that we are not alone. This is what happens when you look toward Jesus and listen.

Keep listening, though. Even though you may feel rejected by others, Jesus won’t reject you (Ps. 27:10). Turn to Him in faith —even with a small speck of faith — and He will never leave or forsake you (Heb. 13:5). He swears this to you. (Words of Hope for Those Who Struggle with Depression, Journal of Biblical Counseling, Vol. 18, No. 2, Winter 2000, p. 41-42,, website of the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation)
What do we hear from these passages we have examined about Jesus? We hear that He moved through His sorrow and anguish by trusting His Father and by keeping His mind focused upon the joy set before Him. Jesus did not sinfully react to the things which brought on depression, and He did not allow these things to paralyze Him or rob Him of the joy He had in His relationship with the Father and in doing the Father's will. He trusted in the Father's love and in the Father's will, and it made all the difference. Indeed, I think He shows us that it is perfectly possible through faith to have joy in the midst of sorrow or pain. And I think any contemplative believer knows this deep in his heart. But we will come back to this idea later, when we examine some of the Biblical teaching about joy.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Michele Bachmann Cannot Properly Be Submissive Either to Her Husband or to Christ as President

I was glad to hear that Michele Bachmann understands that the Bible says that a Christian wife is to be submissive to her husband, for such is indeed the clear teaching of Scripture. For example:
NKJ Ephesians 5:22-24 "Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. 24 Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything."

NKJ  1 Peter 3:1-6 "Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, 2 when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear. 3 Do not let your adornment be merely outward-- arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel -- 4 rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God. 5 For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands, 6 as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose daughters you are if you do good and are not afraid with any terror."
Given such clear teaching of Scripture, I have to agree that Michele Bachmann should indeed be submissive to her husband. But I wonder why she didn't exactly say that in her response to the question she was asked. I wonder why she instead described her and her husband's idea of submission as a mutual respect between them. After all, wouldn't this sound to the world around her just like their own common understanding of marriage as a mutual partnership with no clear head or leader? And doesn't it sound like she is thus attempting to avoid the connotations of authority that the term submission actually communicates? I certainly think it sounds that way, and I suspect that is precisely why she answered as she did.

But of even more concern to me is the matter of why Mrs. Bachmann doesn't actually live out this Scriptural teaching in a consistent way. After all, how could she possibly live in submission to her husband and still be in authority over him as President of the United States? As I see it, there is no possible way she could do so, and I think the reporter who asked her the question was perceptive in seeking to highlight this very issue.

In addition, I see no way that Mrs. Bachmann could possibly continue to run for public office amid the whirlwind of media frenzy and so much opposition and heated debate and still maintain what Peter described as "a gentle and quiet spirit."

This leads me to think that Mrs. Bachmann could do far more good to publicly recant her words, bow out of the race for public office, resign her place in the House of Representatives, and explain that she is doing so in submission not to her husband, but to Christ. In doing so, she too could find her place alongside Sarah as a truly godly example to women everywhere (1 Pet. 3:6).

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Toward a Biblical Perspective on Depression: Case Study #6

Note: Although the author of Lamentations is not given in the text, the book has traditionally been attributed to the prophet Jeremiah. Since I see no good reason not to accept this traditional view, I will assume in this post that Jeremiah is indeed the author. However, nothing I will address here will be affected by this issue.

Jeremiah is a classic example of depression due to extreme suffering. This man had to witness the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. and saw many of the most terrible atrocities imaginable. He knew that all of this was the predicted wrath of God upon Judah for all of her sins, but this knowledge didn't help take away the awful sting to his heart. Let's examine one passage in which he describes the toll it took on him to have to survive it all while helplessly watching it happen:
NKJ Lamentations 3:1-8 “I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of His wrath. 2 He has led me and made me walk in darkness and not in light. 3 Surely He has turned His hand against me time and time again throughout the day. 4 He has aged my flesh and my skin, and broken my bones. 5 He has besieged me and surrounded me with bitterness and woe. 6 He has set me in dark places like the dead of long ago. 7 He has hedged me in so that I cannot get out; he has made my chain heavy. 8 Even when I cry and shout, he shuts out my prayer.”
Notice how Jeremiah has begun to think that God is not hearing his prayers any more. This is a fairly common thing for depressed people, and it is one of the reasons they often quit praying. But it isn't true that He has stopped listening, as Jeremiah will later indicate.
NKJ Lamentations 3:9-16 “He has blocked my ways with hewn stone; he has made my paths crooked. 10 He has been to me a bear lying in wait, like a lion in ambush. 11 He has turned aside my ways and torn me in pieces; He has made me desolate. 12 He has bent His bow and set me up as a target for the arrow. 13 He has caused the arrows of His quiver to pierce my loins. 14 I have become the ridicule of all my people -- their taunting song all the day. 15 He has filled me with bitterness, He has made me drink wormwood. 16 He has also broken my teeth with gravel, and covered me with ashes.”
Notice how Jeremiah continues the description of the terrible things he has endured by explaining them as being done ultimately by God. He knows not only that it is God who has brought destruction upon Jerusalem, but also that it is God who is ultimately sovereign over his own sufferings as well. Even though he, as a true believer, has been spared experiencing God's wrath, it doesn't mean that he has been spared suffering as part of God's plan for his life. And we shall not be spared suffering either. Remember, for example, Paul's words that “the Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together” (Romans 8:16-17).
NKJ Lamentations 3:17“You have moved my soul far from peace; I have forgotten prosperity.”
Notice here that Jeremiah changes from speaking of God in the third person to addressing Him directly in the second person. He is talking to God now, and it will begin to change his point of view.
NKJ Lamentations 3:18-20 “And I said, 'My strength and my hope have perished from the LORD.' 19 Remember my affliction and roaming, the wormwood and the gall. 20 My soul still remembers and sinks within me.”
Still speaking to God, Jeremiah tells Him about how far into depression he has sunk, to the point where he feels completely helpless and completely hopeless. And he simply cannot forget the horrors he has witnessed and the sufferings he has personally experienced. In fact, he apparently keeps reliving it over and over again, and he keeps feeling helpless and hopeless over and over again. In our day, at the very least he would probably be diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

It is depressing for us just to think about what he went through! We can only imagine how bad it was for him! But as bad as it was, Jeremiah has more to say, and it may shock some of us.
NKJ Lamentations 3:21 “This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope.”
Now, when he says, “this I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope,” he cannot mean the things he has been remembering up to this point, because these things led him to feel hopeless. He must, then, be introducing a new line of thought, one that does give him hope. Let us see what we find, then, in the following verses.
NKJ Lamentations 3:22-23 “Through the LORD'S mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. 23 They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.”
Notice how he remembers what he knows to be true about God, despite the circumstances he has endured and cannot put from his mind. And notice how he shifts from remembering God's mercy and compassion to praising Him for His faithfulness. You see, as real as his suffering was, it didn't eclipse in his mind the reality of who God is! But he doesn't just speak to God and praise Him for His faithfulness, he also speaks to himself in the next verse.
NKJ Lamentations 3:24 “'The LORD is my portion,' says my soul, 'Therefore I hope in Him!'”
Jeremiah reminds himself that God really is enough for him. In fact, one gets the impression that had he not been brought so low he may not have realized this fact so clearly as he does at this moment. Isn't it true that we often don't see that God really is enough for us until He strips away everything else that we may have been hoping in? And isn't it good for us when He does this? Jeremiah thought so, as the next couple of verses demonstrate.
NKJ Lamentations 3:25-26 “The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him. 26 It is good that one should hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.'”
These words are spoken by a man who had no other choice but to wait upon the Lord, and he has gone from thinking God never hears his prayers (vs. 8 above) to a calm assurance that He does hear the one who waits upon Him and does not quit seeking Him, no matter what the circumstances. In fact, Jeremiah says it is good that we should be put in the very kind of situations that require us to wait for God and to seek Him earnestly, situations that bring us to the very end of ourselves and make us wonder if there is any hope at all. Only then we will truly know the Hope of the hopeless.

What about you and I? Do we really want to know God as Jeremiah knew Him? Do we really want to experience how good it truly is to have to wait upon Him and desperately seek after Him? Well, then, perhaps we should expect some very difficult and depressing circumstances to be a part of His plan for us. And perhaps we should not be surprised if He asks us to endure a great deal of heartache. In addition, if we really want to be used of God as men like Jeremiah, David, and Moses were, then perhaps we should be willing to suffer as they did as well. After all, the lives of these men are still speaking to us today for a reason!