“Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.”
“God created the world out of nothing, and so long as we are nothing, He can make something out of us.”
Consider this: the jawbone of a donkey, a sling shot. and barley loaves, a woman’s tears, a young boy’s lunch, a young colt, and a talking donkey, they all suggest that God touches the common and the insignificant. He uses what we consider of minor importance. We often turn to the talented and gifted far too readily.
Peter and John are being seen by the Sanhedrin (the Jewish “Supreme Court”). They are to give account of themselves before the highest court of the land. There had been a healing, and there was the matter of preaching as well. Both Peter and John exude a confidence that these religious leaders couldn’t deny. Their perception was that they were ignorant men. Uneducated and common. But. They also knew they had been with Jesus.
In the minds of the leadership, they were nothing more than religious “white-trash.”
God loves to use what we consider common. His revealed history has been to take anything at His disposal and utilize it to redeem lost souls. A staff or a sling-shot are used with an adroitness that seems extraordinary among men. The things we think are simple and common are used to further God’s work among mankind.
But the message always returns back to the preachers. The Sanhedrin knew of the disciples preaching. They had absorbed the fact of a miracle; a crippled man had just been healed. (This they couldn’t deny.) But they were troubled. And they didn’t really know what to do.
What more could this be, but a direct intervention of God? And yet, God is working through “common people.” Then look…
“…if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed,”
Within this preaching was woven this healing. The Holy Spirit was ‘rocking their world.’ The people who came in contact with these disciples would never be the same. Paul tells the Corinthian church that:
“Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful.”
1 Corinthians 1:27, NLT
If God has a specialty it would be this. He desires all the glory. He goes out of the way to use the broken and weak. He shows His strength through insignificant and minor things and people.
“We are all wounded. But wounds are necessary for his healing light to enter into our beings. Without wounds and failure and frustrations and defeats, there will be no opening for his brilliance to trickle in and invade our lives. Failures in life are courses with very high tuition fees, so I don’t cut classes and miss my lessons: on humility, on patience, on hope, on asking others for help, on listening to God, on trying again and again and again.”
Edgar Degas, Melancholy/ c. 1874, oil on canvas, Phillips Collection, Washington D.C.
The sadness flows from this painting. Degas caught the dark despondency of his model. Her inertia becomes something we can gaze on carefully and at leisure.
This is one of my favorite paintings. For me, it captures an essence of what depression “looks” like. The anguish and the whole sense of being is seen in the expression of her face. She is frozen in her despair.
Depression immobilizes and then lays waste all that it touches. It is a vicious blight on the human soul.
I remember as a boy seeing a prehistoric bug caught in amber. It struck me as a bit macabre. This poor insect frozen for all to see.
Little did I realize that this was going to happen to me.
For almost 20 years I’ve tangled with clinical depression. It was initiated by a brain tumor in 2002 and has been evident since then.
Depression to me is like being frozen in a deep sadness that clings to my soul. It shows me no mercy when it is active, but I can go several weeks at a time without it being an issue.
There is a dual aspect to this. My experience is like a complete suppression of the good and optimistic, combined with an increase of despair and despondency. I despair of any future good that might occur. Everything becomes bleak and black.
My life becomes a meltdown; a cascading effect of worsening feelings.
A few points that have helped me:
A main point for me is to doubt the “certainties of despair.” I believe that God’s promises to me contain a “future and a hope.” This is vital. At times I feel too far gone, and completely irredeemable. I must doubt the lies of the enemy.
Freedom come through a real faith in God’s grace. I believe that His Holy Spirit empowers the weak. He holds my hand as I stumble in the path. My confidence is in His promises to this “weak lamb.”
Scripture tells me that Jesus’ present ministry is one of intercession for my soul. “Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Rom. 8:34.)
Jesus has the power to keep His flock. He also gives me a few select companions. I meet with some of “my fellow sheep” at my local church. These know me, and their friendship encourages me. They don’t condemn.
I hope that some of this helps, if anything I hope you have a window into my convoluted faith. I don’t want pretend to have all the answers. I’m not a guru. I’m a “work in progress,” and some ways far behind you, the reader.
“Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.”
“In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.”
“No erudition, no purity of diction, no width of mental outlook, no flowers of eloquence, no grace of person can atone for lack of fire. Prayer ascends by fire. Flame gives prayer access as well as wings, acceptance as well as energy. There is no incense without fire; no prayer without flame.”
“Catch on fire with enthusiasm and people will come for miles to watch you burn.”
“You can see God from anywhere if your mind is set to love and obey Him.”
“He remembers our frame and knows that we are dust. He may sometimes chasten us, it is true, but even this He does with a smile, the proud, tender smile of a Father who is bursting with pleasure over an imperfect but promising son who is coming every day to look more and more like the One whose child he is.”
“It is scarcely possible in most places to get anyone to attend a meeting where the only attraction is God.”
“A pharisee is hard on others and easy on himself, but a spiritual man is easy on others and hard on himself.”
“An idol of the mind is as offensive to God as an idol of the hand.”
“The Christian life is not a constant high. I have my moments of deep discouragement. I have to go to God in prayer with tears in my eyes, and say, ‘O God, forgive me,’ or ‘Help me.'”
“The church that is not jealously protected by mighty intercession and sacrificial labors will before long become the abode of every evil bird and the hiding place for unsuspected corruption. The creeping wilderness will soon take over that church that trusts in its own strength and forgets to watch and pray.”
“Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer.”
This evening I got tired of the TV. Or maybe tired of the control it emits over me. I picked up one of the many Bibles I have in my loft. I do think it is ‘funny/sinister’ of the real pressure it takes to open its pages. I have no doubt it is the darkness of my flesh and the wickedness of demons. Melodramatic? I think not.
But this is what I read and thought.
“Jesus climbed into a boat and went back across the lake to his own town. 2 Some people brought to him a paralyzed man on a mat. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man,“Be encouraged, my child! Your sins are forgiven.”
Matthew 9:1-2, NLT
Jesus is mobile. He moves and goes where His Father goes. At this moment He is needed in Capernaum. He is to meet a small crowd– and a paralyzed man on a mat. Jesus travels, but this man can only be carried. So Jesus Christ the Son of God, comes to him.
The Lord’s eyes alertly move over these people. People are the reason He came. This crippled man has been waiting. Jesus looks, and all He sees is “faith.” And He knows that the Father has led Him here.
The Word says that He could see their faith. Funny. What does faith look like? It seems like that is the first thing He saw, and noted. I’m not sure about the man on the mat. Did he have faith? Or had it been ‘burned out of him’ by too many doctors, and too many ‘treatments’? It is good to surround yourself with others who will believe when you can’t.
Jesus finally spoke, and its worth noting His first utterance was to proclaim forgiveness. Not healing. Forgiveness! What did this man’s friends think? I see them feel tenative, and maybe a bit shocked about this. What evil did their friend commit? What had he hidden from them, the way we try to hide things from each other?
The healing is going to come. This man will stand. He will carry his mat and go home. (V. 6). But perhaps the paralysis wasn’t the main reason he was there.
Maybe, his biggest need was to be forgiven?
Man has two basic needs.
One, to be forgiven of awful sin. Washed and cleansed. Forgivemess.
Two, to become a good person. Kind and humble. Healing.
There will always be those looking on who will condemn and challenge what is taking place. For them, it has nothing at all to do with the hearts of people. That means nothing to them. Rather for these, it has to do with a rigid and lifeless religion– with its 613 laws, and tithing of dill and mint.
What do you really need? Forgiveness? Or something else? Psalm 103:3-4, are verses for the redeemed.
“He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases. 4 He redeems me from death and crowns me with love and tender mercies.”
“God pardons like a mother, who kisses the offense into everlasting forgiveness.”
From an article in Christianity Today, February 9, 1998
“The only army that shoots its wounded is the Christian army,” said the speaker, a psychologist who had just returned from an overseas ministry trip among missionaries. He summed up the philosophy of the group he worked with as:
1. We don’t have emotional problems. If any emotional difficulties appear to arise, simply deny having them.
2. If we fail to achieve this first ideal and can’t ignore a problem, strive to keep it from family members and never breathe a word of it outside the family.
3. If both of the first two steps fail, we still don’t seek professional help.
I have been a Christian for 50 years, a physician for 29, and a psychiatrist for 15. Over this time I have observed these same attitudes throughout the church—among lay leaders, pastors, priests, charismatics, fundamentalists, and evangelicals alike. I have also found that many not only deny their problems but are intolerant of those with emotional difficulties.
Many judge that others’ emotional problems are the direct result of personal sin. This is a harmful view. At any one time, up to 15 percent of our population is experiencing significant emotional problems. For them our churches need to be sanctuaries of healing, not places where they must hide their wounds.
THE EMOTIONAL-HEALTH GOSPEL
Several years ago my daughter was battling leukemia. While lying in bed in the hospital, she received a letter, which read in part:
Dear Susan, You do not know me personally, but I have seen you in church many times….I have interceded on your behalf and I know the Lord is going to heal you if you just let Him. Do not let Satan steal your life—do not let religious tradition rob you of what Jesus did on the cross—by His stripes we were healed.
The theology behind this letter reminded me of a bumper sticker I once saw: “Health and Prosperity: Your Divine Right.” The letter writer had bought into a “healing in the atonement” theology that most mainstream evangelicals reject.
According to this traditional faith-healing perspective, Christ’s atonement provides healing for the body and mind just as it offers forgiveness of sins for the soul. The writer meant well, but the letter created tremendous turmoil for my daughter. While evangelicals have largely rejected “health and wealth” preaching—that faithful Christians will always prosper physically and financially—many hold to an insidious variation of that prosperity gospel. I call it the “emotional-health gospel.”
The emotional-health gospel assumes that if you have repented of your sins, prayed correctly, and spent adequate time in God’s Word, you will have a sound mind and be free of emotional problems.
Usually the theology behind the emotional-health gospel does not go so far as to locate emotional healing in the Atonement (though some do) but rather to redefine mental illnesses as “spiritual” or as character problems, which the church or the process of sanctification can handle on its own. The problem is, this is a false gospel, one that needlessly adds to the suffering of those already in turmoil.
This prejudice against those with emotional problems can be seen in churches across the nation on any Sunday morning. We pray publicly for the parishioner with cancer or a heart attack or pneumonia. But rarely will we pray publicly for Mary with severe depression, Charles with incapacitating panic attacks, or the minister’s son with schizophrenia. Our silence subtly conveys that these are not acceptable illnesses for Christians to have.
The emotional-health gospel is also communicated by some of our most listened-to leaders. I heard one national speaker make the point that “At the cross you can be made whole. Isaiah said that ‘through his stripes we are healed’ … not of physical suffering, which one day we will experience; we are healed of emotional and spiritual suffering at the cross of Jesus Christ.” In other words, a victorious Christian will be emotionally healthy. This so-called full gospel, which proclaims that healing of the body and mind is provided for all in the Atonement, casts a cruel judgment on the mentally ill.
Two authors widely read in evangelical circles, John MacArthur and Dave Hunt, also propagate views that, while sincerely held, I fear lead us to shoot our wounded. In his book “Beyond Seduction”, Hunt writes, “The average Christian is not even aware that to consult a psychotherapist is much the same as turning oneself over to the priest of any other rival religion,” and, “There is no such thing as a mental illness; it is either a physical problem in the brain (such as a chemical imbalance or nutritional deficiency) or it is a moral or spiritual problem.”
MacArthur, in “Our Sufficiency in Christ”, presents the thesis that “As Christians, we find complete sufficiency in Christ and his provisions for our needs.” While I agree with his abstract principle, I disagree with how he narrows what are the proper “provisions.” A large portion of the book strongly criticizes psychotherapy as one of the “deadly influences that undermine your spiritual life.” He denounces “so-called Christian psychologists and psychiatrists who testified that the Bible alone does not contain sufficient help to meet people’s deepest personal and emotional needs,” and he asserts, “There is no such thing as a ‘psychological problem’ unrelated to spiritual or physical causes.
God supplies divine resources sufficient to meet all those needs completely.” Physically caused emotional problems, he adds, are rare, and referring to those who seek psychological help, he concludes: “Scripture hasn’t failed them—they’ve failed Scripture.”
A PLACE FOR PROFESSIONALS
When adherents of the emotional-health gospel say that every human problem is spiritual at root, they are undeniably right. Just as Adam’s fall in the garden was spiritual in nature, so in a very true sense the answer to every human problem—whether a broken leg or a burdened heart—is to be found in the redeeming work of Christ on the cross. The disease and corruption process set into motion by the Fall affected not only our physical bodies but our emotions as well, and we are just beginning to comprehend the many ways our bodies and minds have been affected by original sin and our fallen nature. Yet the issue is not whether our emotional problems are spiritual or not—all are, at some level—but how best to treat people experiencing these problems.
Many followers of the emotional-health gospel make the point that the church is, or at least should be, the expert in spiritual counseling, and I agree. Appropriate spiritual counseling will resolve issues such as salvation, forgiveness, personal morality, God’s will, the scriptural perspective on divorce, and more. It can also help some emotional difficulties. But many emotional or mental illnesses require more than a church support network can offer.
I know it sounds unscriptural to say that some individuals need more than the church can offer—but if my car needs the transmission replaced, do I expect the church to do it? Or if I break my leg, do I consult my pastor about it? For some reason, when it comes to emotional needs, we think the church should be able to meet them all. It can’t, and it isn’t supposed to.
This is why the emotional-health gospel can do so much harm. People who need help are prevented from seeking it and often made to feel shame for having the problem. Thankfully, more and more people in the Christian community are beginning to realize that some people need this extra help. If professionals and church leaders can recognize the value of each other’s roles, we will make progress in helping the wounded. Forty percent of all individuals who need emotional help seek it first from the church, and some of these will need to be referred to mental-health professionals.
Church leaders should get to know Christian therapists in their communities so they can knowledgeably refer people with persistent emotional problems.