This is the bones of my sermon from this past weekend (Sunday, June 10, 2018). I shared a few more stories interspersed, but this is the substance of the sermon. Mental health issues are as real as cancer and should be considered as such. I have known far too many Christians who view depression, anxiety, bipolar, addiction, and so on as “a choice” and something one can change with enough will. Some have said it is a sin to go to a counselor or psychiatrist rather than trusting in prayer and God. Well, prayer has shown me that God has provided us with counselors and psychiatrists, physicians and therapists. We do have to choose to live a healthy life, spiritually, mentally, and physically, but none of us should try and make it on our own. We weren’t created to be alone but to be in relationship with God and others…
We Believe and So We Speak
“4:13 …we also believe, and so we speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will bring us with you into his presence.”
This week, if you caught even the smallest bit of news, you heard about two celebrities who took their own lives: Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. They were people who, to the outside world, had everything: fame, fortune, and family that loved and cared for them. But they were suffering. And they are not alone. Every day for the last month I have been doing 22 pushups, a challenge from a friend who is a retired Navy physician in memory of the 22 service men and women who take their own lives each day.
The news was also filled with the on again/off again summit with North Korea, talk of the size of nuclear arsenals, and the every day news of drug addiction, abuse, and simple sickness. We could be forgiven for thinking that the world is worse today than it ever was before. But it is not.
There is a reason our Bible begins not only with the beautiful description of the creation of all cosmos, but also with the story of human rebellion. Our Old Testament reading for today is from Genesis 3, the chapter that begins, “Now the serpent was the most crafty beast of the field that the LORD God had made.” It is a story of temptation, desire, and willfulness that led to humanity distancing ourselves from God. Then,
3:8 They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.
Humanity had disobeyed God and ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and now, when God wanted to come and walk with them, to be with them as he had intended when he first created humanity, they hid themselves.
We were made to be with God. This world was created for us, but we were not created to be alone. We were made to take care of creation, to be with one another, but also to be with God. Yet given a chance, we exert our own will, over and against God’s. Often for what we believe to be the best of intentions, for example, to know more, to seek out knowledge and truth. That was the great temptation presented to the woman (and the man “who was with her“). Disobeying God seemed a small thing for the prize of knowledge, even of evil. And that is the result, a world with Good and Evil.
The Bible begins with these stories to help us understand the world we live in today, a world where we are separated from God and, all too often, from one another. You hardly need a preacher to tell you that life is hard, that the world is full of suffering and hurt. We might not be persecuted for our faith as some are in Africa and China, for example, but we all age, we get sick, and we die. And we believe that we must hide ourselves from God, that we are unwelcome.
This is what Paul is confronting in our epistle today. In last week’s reading, just a few verses before our reading, Paul wrote
2Cor. 4:8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;
Paul has many critics in today’s world, even in the church,1 but he cannot be accused of not being a realist. He knew the hardship of the world, he understood prison and privation, he had experienced persecution that none of us are likely to face. Yet he also knew that this material world is not the end. Because of Jesus, we no longer need to hide from God, as the man and the woman did in the Garden. We may feel beaten up and burned out, but in Jesus we are renewed and strengthened. More importantly perhaps, we are welcomed into his family, we are his brothers and sisters, loved and precious.
That doesn’t mean that life will be easy, far from it. Paul has no such illusions and neither do I. When I was in college I was once challenged that my faith was simply a “crutch.” The accuser was shocked when I said, “Yes. Yes it is a crutch. Because I am lame. We all are limping along. It would be foolish not to accept the support that is offered.”
The reality is that we all need support, we cannot make it on our own. Not only can I not forgive myself of my sins, something only Jesus can do, but I need the strength that comes from the presence of the Spirit of God in my life. Who among us is not in need of this interior, spiritual support?
So Paul, the realist, knows that this world is a hard and harsh place to live and encourages us, “For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure.”
This is the reality with live in, the tension of a full life: a broken, hurting world BUT the sure knowledge that this is temporary, what is eternal is life in Christ, that we shall rise from the dead and be made better, more than whole, we will be perfected. Like a small seed that looks nothing like the plant it will become, so this perishable, mortal body will be transformed (1 Cor. 15:35-58).
So what does that actually mean for us? Do we just embrace the resurrection and forget about this life? No! We have been made by God for this life and for this time. It is the knowledge of our ultimate joy that should encourage and strengthen us through these hard and overwhelming times.
My first year of college was tough. I was going to be a “real doctor” but within a few weeks I realized that simply was not my path forward. I was depressed. But I was blessed to have (and still have) a mentor who is a psychiatrist. He did not treat me himself (that is unethical), but urged me to go meet with a counselor at the student health center. Now, I should note, this was in the mid-80s. College counseling has gotten a LOT better. His first question, which I now know all of us working in this area of higher ed are trained to ask, was “Have you had thoughts of suicide?” To which I said, “Sure.” He then asked, “Have you acted on those thoughts?” I said no, not at all. He asked, “Why haven’t you?” And I said, “Well, it may seem naive, but I am a Christian and I believe that God made me for a reason and a purpose. I don’t know what it is yet, but it is not up to me to shorten the process.” He said, “I still don’t get it. Why would that keep you from trying to take your own life?” I thank him for his time and said I should probably find another counselor. And I did, someone who shared my faith and worldview and it helped me immeasurably.
The truth is, I still don’t know “my purpose.” I can look back on different times in my life and see that God has been acting in my life and using me to serve and help others. I still know that I am to keep walking forward, through the darkest of valleys, embracing the truth of the resurrection and being open to the Spirit of God working in my life to support others and in the lives of others who support me.
Paul reminds us that we are to be encouraged and to encourage. We are to accept the grace of God and share it with others, so that they too may be strengthened and assured. Let us keep our focus on this Promise and we will be able to persevere, as Paul said, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair”
“4:13 …we also believe and so we speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will bring us with you into his presence.”
We believe and so we must speak. We believe and so we must share our belief, share this encouragement, the great hope.
We also believe and so we speak.
If you are thinking about suicide or self-harm, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text the Crisis Text Line, a free text message service available 24/7, at 741-741.
- I suppose only in the church. If you weren’t in the church, why would you care about Paul? [↩]