Reflections on Depression

Disclaimer: This offers no theological framework for depression. I am fully aware of theological arguments, etc. in relation to depression. This is a reflection, that’s it.

Depression is a subtle evil. A subtle evil that slowly erodes away every human faculty – mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual – until there is seemingly nothing left but despair.

A common misconception about depression is that it is a choice. One chooses to be depressed and, therefore, chooses to remain depressed.

But I can assure you that depression is not a choice.

I have struggled on and off for the majority of my life with depression. Most of my childhood was littered with coming and going thoughts of suicide and the vanity of life. I made several attempts to take my own life when I was in eighth grade and following through freshman year of high school. None of this was stimulated by school or friends. All of it revolved around a broken home and a broken family. School was actually my escape from the snares of a blackened reality.

But what was going on at home never seemed to be far from my mind regardless of where I happened to be.

Never once did I see it better to be depressed than to be joyful and satisfied. On multiple occasions I remember crying out, “Why? Why is this happening to me? Why can’t I just be happy? What is wrong with me?” 

It was not a choice. It was a position that I found myself in that I could not escape, no matter what I tried.

And in those moments, the only solution to escaping despair and finally entering into joy filled rest is to completely remove the negative stimuli; to be free from the pain of being among the living.

Thoughts of suicide are more often thoughts of a solution than thoughts of an escape. Just as one would remove a thorn from the flesh – or a damaged limb from the body – because of the pain associated with its presence, so depression leads individuals to desire a removal of the conscious from the minute-by-minute pain associated with being alive.

The only difference between the two is that the former offers an immediate solution to the pain while still remaining consciously active in the physical world.

But no physical pain can compare to the pain caused by depression…

… the despair caused by depression…

… the fear, guilt, shame, and loneliness caused by depression…

And its onset is never able to be determined in advance. There are no assured preventative measures. There are no assured solutions and remedies.

There is no way to be assured that depression will not hold you captive to its self-destroying nature for the rest of your life.

And that is the most terrifying thing about depression. It is a cancer with no cure. A grotesque image of a fallen and broken world that lays burdens on individuals that are much too heavy to bear.

And this cancer crept its way back into my life in May of this year. It has come in intermittent bursts perpetuated by the interactions of my sinful nature with the sinful nature of other individuals.

And typically that is how it works.

Depression is relational in nature, feeding off of the actions and words of others that align with negative, self-deprecating, images of oneself or one’s current situation that they happen to be in, especially when these words and actions come from those who are relationally closest to the individual.

Nothing is more difficult and painful than being kicked while you are already down.

And, as paradoxical as it is, nothing hurts more than the attackers being those whom you love the most.

Depression is not a choice, but I really wish that it was.

It is more important than anything else to know where your friends, family, and even colleagues stand emotionally, physically, and spiritually. The wisdom of your interactions with those individuals greatly influences the nature and onset of depression. It is when person becomes tantamount to object that the operations of a system become more important that the mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being of another.

The influence that we have on each other is far more prevalent than we realize.

Without more care for the person than the result of the person, you never know when your actions will result in serious trauma for an individual.

Maybe that is why Jesus’ taught love and wisdom above all else.

And maybe that is why Jesus remains to be the only individual that most feel truly loved and accepted by.

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Reflections on the Refiner’s Fire

It has been roughly two-years since God began gnawing away at everything I knew and believed about mission, ministry, and the gospel of Jesus Christ. And it has been roughly six-months since the culmination of my sin, the will of God, and the nature of a fallen world altered the direction my life was heading. Not surprisingly, these dramatic life events are typically what God uses to shape and grow those who commit to following Him regardless of circumstance.

For it is through the refiners fire that the dross falls and the precious material is exalted.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, So that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:3-9)

In Peter’s case, the precious material that is tested by the furnace of trials is the intangible nature of hope, love, and joy wrapped up in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

The promised result of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection? “Eternal life.” (1 John 2:25)

And the refiner’s fire – the trials that we face due to our sin and the sin of others – is primarily for the purpose of increasing our hope of, love for, and joy in 1) the “guarantee” of our future salvation, 2) Jesus’ promise to “continue the good work He began in us” so that we might “have the same mind” values, and vision He had, and 3) perpetual grace, mercy, and love that has made us inseparable from the Father in spite of our continual failure to achieve perfection. (Ephesians 1:13-14;Philippians 1:6; Philippians 2:5ff; Romans 8:38-39)

Tim Keller, in a soul-shattering article titled All of Life is Repentance, says,

“In the gospel the knowledge of our acceptance in Christ makes it easier to admit that we are flawed, because we know we won’t be cast off if we confess the true depths of our sinfulness. Our hope is in Christ’s righteousness, not our own, so it is not as traumatic to admit our weaknesses and lapses… This creates a radical new dynamic for personal growth. The more we see our own flaws and sins, the more precious, electrifying, and amazing God’s grace appears to us. On the other hand, the more aware we are of God’s grace and our acceptance in Christ, the more able we are to drop our denials and self-defenses and admit the true dimensions of our sin. The sin underlying all other sins is a lack of joy in Christ.” (emphases mine)

The refiner’s fire can never do to us what the gospel of Jesus Christ, through the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit, wants to do in us.

And it is this power, this surreal – and yes, it is often times very surreal – love, that compels every fiber of our being to submit to Him when we make any attempt to follow Him. Our submission to Him requires that we fall to our knees and confess our unworthiness to even be in His presence. The truth of that confession is paradoxically contrasted by the certainty that He will lift us up, and bear the weight of our guilt and unworthiness for us.

They took Jesus and He went out, bearing the cross… and they crucified Him… He was pierced through for our sin, crushed for our rebellion” (John 19:17-18; Isaiah 53:5a, 5b)

The bearing of the cross is illustrative of Jesus bearing the weight of our unworthiness. Because He bore that weight, we no longer have to avoid coming before Him in complete honesty, ready to be molded back into the “masterpiece” He created us to be. (Ephesians 2:10)

I have spent more time trying to avoid the refiner’s fire than trying to avoid anything else in my life. The real irony is that avoiding the refiner’s fire simply allows for more impurities to cling to the surface of something that is otherwise valuable.

And when it comes to following Jesus, revealing the true worth and value of His children is far more important to Him than our comfort and satisfaction dwelling in grime and excrement.

While many attempt to avoid it, there really is no following Jesus without going through the refiner’s fire. Avoiding the fire is equivalent to avoiding the all-loving, all-powerful, all-about-you-being-perfected, God of the Bible. There is no one without the other.

But you must know it will be painful.

You will fail.

You will run.

You will hurt other people.

You will be hurt by other people.

The method that Jesus has chosen to employ to ensure that we become more and more like Him is the direct result of our failures, of our running away, of our hurting other people.

When you hurt others and experience the consequences of those actions, it is painful. When you fail, even though countless hours of time and effort have been put into succeeding and avoiding that failure, it is painful. When you are hurt by others – due to their sin or the consequences of your own – it is painful.

DO NOT let any believer in Christ tell you anything contrary to this: the refiner’s fire is painful.

And let no one contradict this: the Refiner loves you more than you know, and no matter how much pain the fire brings, He bore the most painful parts on His shoulders so that you would not have to.

Without that, the refiner’s fire simply becomes a nuisance without a purpose that is cast off by numbing the pain by any means necessary. The Refiner is the most important part of the process.

He understands the pain. So tell Him about it. He knows what is best for you. So trust Him to bring you through it. And He loves you. He loves you.

Here’s the irony in my story. I recently found a prayer journal dated February, 2014.

What did it say?

“God, I feel like my life has been smooth sailing for far too long. I’m scared to say this, but I’m ready.

Lord, break me.”

Reflections on Interpretation

DISCLAIMER: THERE ARE MANY PARTS OF THE BIBLE THAT ARE TO BE TAKEN FOR WHAT THEY LITERALLY SAY. THIS IS NOT ABOUT INTERPRETING THE ENTIRETY OF THE BIBLE ALLEGORICALLY OR EISEGETICALLY (READING THINGS INTO THE TEXT). This is about being objective, and faithful, to the text.

Interpreting the Bible Literally vs. Interpreting the Bible Accurately

The problem with interpreting all of the Bible literally is that the Bible does not interpret all of the Bible literally.

Here are but a couple of examples:

“He remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I called My Son.’” (Matthew 2:15 interpreting Hosea 1:11 figuratively/typologically)

“Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, ‘And to seeds,’ as referring to many, but rather to one, ‘And to your seed,’ that is, Christ.” (Galatians 3:16 interpreting Genesis 12 and 15 figuratively/typologically)

Interpreting the Bible literally does not always lead to interpreting the Bible accurately, contrary to traditionally held belief. It requires a lot more work than simply glossing one’s eyes over the text to understand the “living and active Word of God” in all of its literary majesty.

A well rounded understanding of hermeneutical principles will aid in the proper interpretation of the Bible. Simply put, hermeneutics is the science of interpretation.

A few things before we begin:

1) I believe in the Verbal Plenary Inspiration of the Bible

What does this mean?

  • God so moved the authors of Scripture, through the Holy Spirit, that the resulting product was the Word of God written, totally without error in the original autographs, in every area including theology, history, geography, and science.
  • I allow for the fact that the interpreted versions of the Bible that we have today have multiple errors in translation and grammar none of which affect the meaning or truth behind scripture. It is still the living Word of God which He has protected in order that it could be read by us and future generations.

2) The hermeneutical model described below is called the grammatical-historical method of interpretation

3) Much of this material has been gathered from sources, edited, and reproduced. Some of these authors include R. Laird Harris, F.F. Bruce, Jim Leffel, and Dennis McCallum. Credit to whom credit is due.

Principles of the Grammatical-Historical Method of Interpretation

  1. INTERPRET GRAMMATICALLY:

    Take the normal meaning of the words, phrases and sentences unless it is impossible to do so. The interpretation must correspond to the words and grammar in the text in a reasonable way. Otherwise, there is no objective control over the interpreter. Most of the Bible can be interpreted by simply taking the language (either in the original or in translation) in the usual way. In other words,

“If the plain sense makes sense, seek no other sense.”

Qualifications:

Allow for figures of speech 

A plain sense reading should not be confused with a literalistic interpretation.

Psalm 91:4 He will cover you with His feathers, And under His wings you may seek refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark.

Luke 22:19ff “. . . this is my body . . . Where was Jesus’ body when he said this? See his other metaphors about Himself (door; bread; etc.).

Allow for symbolism 

If a passage is symbolic or contains symbols, this should be indicated in the text, either by textual cues or because symbolism is required in order to make sense of the text. The Bible itself explains most symbols.

Revelation 1:9-20 – The symbols are identified as such (“like,” “as,”) and explained. Most biblical symbols are handled this way. As another example, many more symbols in Revelation have been previously explained in Daniel.

  1. INTERPRET HISTORICALLY:

    Historical interpretation means that taking into account the historical background of the author and the recipients. This does not mean asking, “What does it mean to me?” but rather, “What did it mean to the original audience?” Bible dictionaries, encyclopedias, commentaries, or other sources are proper to learn more about customs, money, geography, etc. Understanding the original intent is crucial to understanding modern application.

Genesis 15:7-21 – “Cutting a covenant” solemnized a contract between two parties. It was normally bilateral (both parties walked through), but only God goes through this particular covenantal agreement.

1 Corinthians 11:4-6 – Short hair was typical of Aphrodite priestess-prostitutes; shaven heads were typical of convicted adulteresses (vs. 5).

  1. INTERPRET CRITICALLY:

    Any interpretation must make rational sense. The entire Bible is the product of one author (God) at the same time that it is the product of many authors. Therefore, it is reasonable to expect a consistent message throughout the Bible. Some of these rules are logical implications of a belief in the verbal plenary inspiration of scripture.

FIVE PRACTICAL RULES OF CRITICAL INTERPRETATION

Interpret in light of the context of the passage (which author? book? passage?)

Never view a passage in isolation from its surroundings. The context should be considered the most important kind of evidence in the interpretation of a passage. Only when no critically feasible interpretation can be found can we claim that a break in context was intended.

Matthew 16:28 – Referring to the transfiguration (in context of passage) “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.” 2 Peter 1:16- confirms that Peter was an eye witness of Christ’s “majesty.”

James 1:6-8 – The “doubter” is not simply any Christian who has occasional doubts. He is the “double-minded man,” whom James further describes in 4:8 (in context of book) as Christians who posture themselves as loving God but really love the world.

Interpret in light of progressive revelation

(Hebrews 1:1, 2) God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.

Hebrews 8:13 When He said, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.

While God’s purpose for man has never changed, his strategy in accomplishing that purpose has changed. He has dealt with man under different “covenants,” or “dispensations.” Therefore, it is important to ask, “Under which program was this written?” Primary application of the passage will be to the people operating under that program, but not necessarily to others. There may be secondary applications for other programs based on principles which have universal application.

Theocracy was commanded in the Old Testament, but secular government is affirmed in the New Testament (Romans 13:1-7; Matthew 22:21).

Interpret scripture in harmony with other scripture

Since the Bible is inspired by God, it does not contradict itself. Therefore, never interpret scripture in such a way that it clearly contradicts other scriptures. If a passage can be legitimately interpreted in more than one way, choose the interpretation that doesn’t contradict other scriptures.

Acts 2:38 refers to baptism as an expression of faith; faith that salvation is obtained by grace alone through Christ, not through baptism.

Interpret the unclear in light of the clear

Every major, essential truth is taught clearly and many times.

1 Corinthians 15:29 “Otherwise, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why then are they baptized for them?” . . . mentions an obscure, unknown practice used in Corinth. Paul doesn’t affirm this practice; he just asks why they’re doing it if they do not believe in resurrection. Today, the Mormon Church uses this passage to elevate dead ancestors to a higher status in the afterlife.

Interpret in light of the literary style

The literary style (genre) affects understanding of a Biblical passage. For example, Proverbs should be interpreted in light of general maxims, not absolute promises

Proverbs 22:6 – Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it.

Not every child will go in the right direction, but many will

Proverbs 15:1 – A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger

Gentle words do not always turn away wrath, but in most cases it works

Contrast these with passages like Romans 8:1, which do contain absolute promises