Originally Published on July 20, 2010 in “Psychology Today”
Let me start by acknowledging what is well known: Manic Depression or Bipolar disorder can be a devastating illness. Affecting at least 1% of the population, it can, untreated, result in suicide, ruined careers and devastated families. Bipolar disorder is often accompanied by alcohol and drug abuse and addiction, criminal and even violent behavior. I acknowledge this, because I do not want to make light of the burden this illness places on people’s lives, their families and communities.
On the other hand, the history of the world has been influenced very significantly by people with manic depression (see website www.wholepsychiatry.com for details).They include:
“It seems clear that for at least some people with Bipolar disorder, there is an increased sense of spirituality, creativity, and accomplishment. It may be that having bipolar disorder holds great potential, if one is able to master or effectively channel the energies, which are periodically available, to some higher task. This would of course presume the ability to abstain from harmful drugs and alcohol, to have good character, and at least some supportive relationships and community networks.”
It might be helpful to consider a reconceptualization. Perhaps instead of it being a disorder, we can think of people with bipolarity as having access to unusual potency. This potency will find a way to be outstanding-either in a
destructive way, or in a constructive way. If such a choice is presented to the person, perhaps it can open some doors.
Originally Published on July 20, 2010 in “Psychology Today”
“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them”
23″Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. 24You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. 25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. 26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
Psalm 73, ESV
Continuity is a medicine for us who are always on the edge of losing control. One patriarch in the Book of Genesis was told that “he was unstable as water.” And this pretty much describes me as I struggle with Bipolar Disorder. But the promise from Psalm 73 is for a continuous presence. There is no flickering, no jumping about. He is steady. He does not flit or fluctuate. He is always, and forever, constantly focused with you.
He provides guidance, ‘free of charge’. We can experience many confusing days. We make the attempt to walk through them, but we quickly grasp our ineptitude. It goes very much better when He is speaking into our hearts. Since He is present with us on a continuous basis anyway, let us turn to Him for direction.
There is a realization in verse 25.“Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.” This statement declares “point blank” who and what is real. Try reading this verse and emphasise the “you.”
The psalmist has an ‘umbilical cord’ attached to heavenly places. This feeds him and gives him a radical strength to stand up and ‘to be’. The writer is completely over with the things of this earth. He desires only heavenly things, that which really matters after looking down the long corridors of eternity.
In verse 26 he admits a desperate weakness. He understands the foolishness of his flesh. He knows that it is pathetic and feeble. There is absolutely nothing he can do about this. He has tried and tried repeatedly. His heart is like a colander that drains away all the grace and mercy that comes. He can hold nothing. He must stay under the faucet.
But still, there is a profound realization that God is strengthening his heart. He has done this on an eternal level. What this means is this: He has touched me and by that touch has made me eternal, like Him. The rest of this Psalm extends and states certain things that the Psalmist has learned himself.
27″For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. 28But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.”
Psalm 73, ESV
Proximity determines everything. Some will bounce to the other end of the spectrum. Being close to Him confers life. Moving away from Him brings nothing but certain death. The issue in this Psalm is of ‘unfaithfulness’. This is a biggie. Being unfaithful means treachery, and a wagon load of deception, and nothing good will ever come from it.
“Every man is as holy as he wants to be.”
God draws a person, but coming near is always your choice. The Psalmist sees that his “nearness to God is my good.” He realizes that by taking refuge in God there is something that will be quite wonderful. There is some effort that must happen. So he makes God his refuge. The Lord God is now a ‘bomb shelter’ or a covering for our souls. He continues this process with the deep commitment to sharing ‘the works of God’.
Before I entered college I hardly gave a thought to cancer and terminal illness. But ever since those college days death by disease has walked beside me all the way. Two of my college acquaintances died of leukemia and cancer of the lymph glands before they were 22. At seminary I watched Jim Morgan, my teacher of systematic theology, shrivel up and die in less than a year of intestinal cancer. He was 36. In my graduate program in Germany my own “doctor-father,” Professor Goppelt, died suddenly just before I was finished. He was 62—a massive coronary. Then I came to Bethel, the house of God! And I taught for six years and watched students, teachers, and administrators die of cancer: Sue Port, Paul Greely, Bob Bergerud, Ruth Ludeman, Graydon Held, Chet Lindsay, Mary Ellen Carlson—all Christians, all dead before their three score and ten were up. And now I’ve come to Bethlehem and Harvey Ring is gone. And you could multiply the list ten-fold.
What shall we say to these things? Something must be said because sickness and death are threats to faith in the love and power of God. And I regard it as my primary responsibility as a pastor to nourish and strengthen faith in the love and power of God. There is no weapon like the Word of God for warding off threats to faith. And so I want us to listen carefully today to the teaching of Scripture regarding Christ and cancer, the power and love of God over against the sickness of our bodies.
I regard this message today as a crucial pastoral message, because you need to know where your pastor stands on the issues of sickness, healing, and death. If you thought it was my conception that every sickness is a divine judgment on some particular sin, or that the failure to be healed after a few days of prayer was a clear sign of inauthentic faith, or that Satan is really the ruler in this world and God can only stand helplessly by while his enemy wreaks havoc with his children—if you thought any of those were my notions, you would relate to me very differently in sickness than you would if you knew what I really think. Therefore, I want to tell you what I really think and try to show you from Scripture that these thoughts are not just mine but also, I trust, God’s thoughts.
Six Affirmations Toward a Theology of Suffering
So I would like everyone who has a Bible to turn with me to Romans 8:18–28. There are six affirmations which sum up my theology of sickness, and at least the seed for each of these affirmations is here. Let’s read the text:
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. (RSV)
1. All Creation Has Been Subjected to Futility
My first affirmation is this: the age in which we live, which extends from the fall of man into sin until the second coming of Christ, is an age in which the creation, including our bodies, has been “subjected to futility” and “enslaved to corruption.” Verse 20: “The creation was subjected to futility.” Verse 21: “The creation will be freed from slavery to corruption.” And the reason we know this includes our bodies is given in verse 23: not only the wider creation but “we ourselves (i.e., Christians) groan in ourselves awaiting sonship, the redemption of our bodies.” Our bodies are part of creation and participate in all the futility and corruption to which creation has been subjected.
Who is this in verse 20 that subjected creation to futility and enslaved it to corruption? It is God. The only other possible candidates to consider would be Satan or man himself. Perhaps Paul meant that Satan, in bringing man into sin, or man, in choosing to disobey God—perhaps one of them is referred to as the one who subjected creation to futility. But neither Satan nor man can be meant because of the words “in hope” at the end of verse 20. This little phrase, subjected “in hope,” gives the design or purpose of the one who subjected creation to futility. But it was neither man’s nor Satan’s intention to bring corruption upon the world in order that the hope of redemption might be kindled in men’s hearts and that someday the “freedom of the glory of the children of God” might shine more brightly. Only one person could subject the creation to futility with that design and purpose, namely, the just and loving creator.
Therefore, I conclude that this world stands under the judicial sentence of God upon a rebellious and sinful mankind—a sentence of universal futility and corruption. And no one is excluded, not even the precious children of God.
Probably the futility and corruption Paul speaks of refers to both spiritual and physical ruination. On the one hand man in his fallen state is enslaved to flawed perception, misconceived goals, foolish blunders, and spiritual numbness. On the other hand, there are floods, famines, volcanoes, earthquakes, tidal waves, plagues, snake bites, car accidents, plane crashes, asthma, allergies, and the common cold, and cancer, all rending and wracking the human body with pain and bringing men—all men—to the dust.
As long as we are in the body we are slaves to corruption. Paul said this same thing in another place. In 2 Corinthians 4:16 he said, “We do not lose heart, but though our outer man (i.e., the body) is decaying (i.e., being corrupted) yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.” The word Paul uses for decay or corrupt here is the same one used in Luke 12:33 where Jesus said, Make sure your treasure is in heaven “where thief does not come near and moth does not corrupt.” Just like a coat in a warm, dark closet will get moth eaten and ruined, so our bodies in this fallen world are going to be ruined one way or the other. For all creation has been subjected to futility and enslaved to corruption while this age lasts. That is my first affirmation.
2. An Age of Deliverance and Redemption Is Coming
My second affirmation is this: there is an age coming when all the children of God, who have endured to the end in faith, will be delivered from all futility and corruption, spiritually and physically. According to verse 21, the hope in which God subjected creation was that some day “The creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” And verse 23 says that “We ourselves groan within ourselves waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” It has not happened yet. We wait. But it will happen. “Our citizenship is in heaven from which we await a Savior, the Lord, Jesus Christ, who will transform the body of our lowliness to be like the body of his glory” (Philippians 3:20, 21). “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet, for the trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised incorruptible and we shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:52). “He will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and there shall be no longer any death; and there shall be no longer any mourning or crying or pain; the first things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
There is coming a day when every crutch will be carved up, and every wheelchair melted down into medallions of redemption. And Merlin and Reuben and Jim and Hazel and Ruth and all the others among us will do cartwheels through the Kingdom of Heaven. But not yet. Not yet. We groan, waiting for the redemption of our bodies. But the day is coming and that is my second affirmation.
3. Christ Purchased, Demonstrated, and Gave a Foretaste of It
Third, Jesus Christ came and died to purchase our redemption, to demonstrate the character of that redemption as both spiritual and physical, and to give us a foretaste of it. He purchased our redemption, demonstrated its character, and gave us a foretaste of it. Please listen carefully, for this is a truth badly distorted by many healers of our day.
The prophet Isaiah foretold the work of Christ like this in 53:5–6 (a text which Peter applied to Christians in 1 Peter 2:24):
But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (RSV)
The blessing of forgiveness and the blessing of physical healing were purchased by Christ when he died for us on the cross. And all those who give their lives to him shall have both of these benefits. But when? That is the question of today. When will we be healed? When will our bodies no longer be enslaved to corruption?
“You may think you can condemn such people, but you are just as bad, and you have no excuse! When you say they are wicked and should be punished, you are condemning yourself, for you who judge others do these very same things.”
Romans 2:1, NLT
One of the spiritual diseases endemic to the Christian believer is “fault finding”. For some reason, (and I’m still trying to figure out why), is we have a strong inclination to pass a judgement on people (those whom Christ died for!) We don’t throw stones (far be it from me)– however, we certainly do and will point fingers. And perhaps we feel that its our religious duty, or maybe even our ministry (!).
Almost always, there a sense of certain and attainable righteousness. or our generated holiness involved. This should not be dismissed or overlooked. Because I believe I am right, and have religious grounds, I put all of the “evil sinners” on trial, and then I pronounce my verdict. (And they certainly deserve whatever I decide.)
Much of the same type of thinking was used in Romans 2. Paul castigates those who were judging others. He goes on a scathing and sizzling rebuke directly at those who were destroying others by their overly-righteous attitude.
” And we know that God, in his justice, will punish anyone who does such things. 3 Since you judge others for doing these things, why do you think you can avoid God’s judgment when you do the same things? 4 Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?.”
Without a doubt this whole subject is highly complex and nuanced. Hundreds of verses should be worked through. But this blog is not that place. However, I will advance this– I read this written by the Desert Fathers.
“Correct and judge justly those who are subject to you, but judge no one else. For truly it is written: ‘Is not those inside the church whom are you to judge? God judges those who are outside’.
Macarius of Alexandria, 296-393 AD
A Simple Poem of a Quiet Wisdom
Pray, don’t find fault with the man who limps Or stumbles along the road Unless you have worn the shoes that hurt Or struggled beneath his load There may be tacks in his shoes that hurt, Though hidden away from view Or the burden he bears, placed on your back, Might cause you to stumble, too.
Don’t sneer at the man who’s down today Unless you have felt the blow That caused his fall, or felt the same That only the fallen know. You may be strong, but still the blows That were his, if dealt to you In the self same way at the self same time, Might cause you to stagger, too.
Don’t be too harsh with the man who sins Or pelt him with words or stones, Unless you are sure, yea, doubly sure, That you have no sins of your own. For you know perhaps, if the tempters voice Should whisper as soft to you As it did to him when he went astray, ‘Twould cause you to falter, too.
(I found this poem– it’s unattributed, but known to God)
This is redacted from an earlier post, but fresh, and thoroughly worked over.
“I am coming soon. Continue strong in your faith so no one will take away your crown.”
Rev. 3:11, NCV
Some of you know I have lived in Alaska for almost 30 years. It is always so beautiful, even in places you don’t expect. Admittedly it does have an “edge” as well. It can get very cold, and we can have snow piled up waist high in just a few hours. The winter nights can be excruciating long and dark. (Bad news for depressives like me.)
But my freezer is full of salmon, halibut, caribou and of course, moose meat. We pick berries in the summer, with a wary eye for bear. We kayak, ski and snow machine for fun. My son snowboards. We get chased by moose.
I have always had a connection with eagles. You can find them throughout most of North America, from Alaska and Canada to northern Mexico. About half of the world’s 70,000 bald eagles live in Alaska. And that is a lot. You can see them everyday here if you want. (And you never let your small dog out, he can become dinner for the eagle. Seriously.)
I’ve been thinking about eagles. When I went to the dump recently I saw several of them working the trash heaps. I don’t know, but it really bothered me. They had the form of an eagle; the wing span and the aloofness, but they were pathetic. Their feathers were matted down, and they looked completely disheveled. They were scrounging for scraps, competing with the crows. The dump here is like a “crack house” for eagles.
And perhaps the saddest thing was they were losing their distinctive white heads. They had given it up for dump food. This is a big problem in many towns here in Alaska. Their heads turn in color to a dark grey. You have to look a little closer to see that they are still bald eagles.
In the Bible, God is identified with being an eagle. But so are Christians. There is something quite unsettling and tragic to encounter a believer addicted and controlled by their appetites. Soon they will change, as they grow more pathetic and disheveled. They give up soaring and become wretched souls, without joy or purpose.
Those of us who struggle can’t live out of a landfill. We don’t belong, and it isn’t who we are. You see, we were meant to soar, strong and free. No matter who you are– addictions, compulsions, or mental illness. We can still become eagle Christians.
But the people who trust the Lord will become strong again. They will rise up as an eagle in the sky; they will run and not need rest; they will walk and not become tired.
Isaiah 40:21, NCV
I often struggle with debilitating depression and and nasty paranoia. But I never want to surrender to it. I resist living out of the dumps. It is a heavy struggle at times, but we were re-created to soar. Please, never forget that.
Stuck in the wonderful convolutions of scripture we can start a great study of Leah and her sister Rachel. These two daughters of Laban have become Jacob’s wives.
Now, we may question this polygamy when all we know is monogamy. These kind of decisions may be criticized and even outright challenged, but we will change nothing (and does it really matter)?
Jacob longs for Rachel. She is his “soul mate” and because he is so much in love, the customs and technicalities of the day somehow get by him. Because of this, he will have to take on Laban’s subtle trickery, where daughters get exchanged, and he must sort out who is who. Laban’s deception really creates a crisis. But it seems Jacob just rolls with it. I suppose deception has always been Jacob’s strong suit. (But when a deceiver gets deceived, that can’t be all bad, I suppose).
Jacob is so in love with Rachel that he works for seven years for the right to marry her. This may be a bit outrageous. But we really must weigh these issues. I believe Jacob really is a monogamist at heart (shh… don’t tell him). He can only see that one girl that he is crazy about, his true love, Rachel. But it’s Leah that I think about. Her own issues are unique. Genesis 29 explains it a bit cryptically,
“Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful in form and appearance.”
I must tell you that there is confusion by commentators about the “weak eyes.” Some take it literally (as in, she in very “near-sighted,”) others who look at the original Hebrew find the words to be a bit looser and vague. They think that this is a polite way of saying she really wasn’t pretty. IDK, but I think I can gain from either interpretation.
In the long view, Leah would birth four patriarchs for Israel. But she would struggle with jealousy over her younger sister’s beauty and favor. Her pain was real, and she would hurt deeply over this.
I think I may understand Leah. She is wounded, and life requires that she live as unwanted. She sticks out as a woman of tragedy and broken hopes and dreams. She will always live as a reject. At best, she will always be a distant second, and perhaps a bit scorned and neglected for this.
I so love Leah and I do understand her.Her life is a long tragedy and very full of sadness. For the next 30-40 years she will always be a cast-off, someone who has been broken on life’s hard wheel. I look at her with a painful bit of understanding. She reminds me of being a struggler and a survivor. Her sad life is comparable to us who have to fight so hard over our own illness or handicap.
I suppose its “Leah’s eyes” that catch me. I have no idea what the issue was. But I know that she was weak, and challenged by this terrible weakness. I understand this. My own life has been “topsy-turvy” and a really hard struggle. Somehow it seems we must work through way too much. It doesn’t seem fair. But than again, we are the ones who must drink our adversity straight; and the ones who get to know special comfort.
For those of you who are confined to a ‘chair,’ and the others who must deal with mental illness. Leah should be our hero.
Those who have been betrayed by addiction, or who have felt rejected through a bitter divorce. Leah speaks to us. For she is for every loser and for failures of all stripes. But through all of our “set-backs” and messes, we must realize that God does love us– even as we weep.
We may have “Leah’s eyes,” but we also have His grace.
One more thought that might be relevant:
“When you encounter difficulties and contradictions, do not try to break them, but bend them with gentleness and time.”
Evil has completely saturated the world of human beings. We are being drenched with a thousand variations of sin and rebellion. In olden times, an enemy would surround a city, and essentially let the inhabitants starve until they would surrender. I wonder at times, if this tactic is not working in us today, on some kind of level.
Clinical depression takes on many forms. It is very much like being surrounded and being brought to our knees. For those of us who go through this meat grinder, we find it completely dismantles us. Depression assaults us; and leaves us mute and deaf to His grace.
There seems to be three distinct varieties of depression. I’ve thought about this for some time now, and I’m coming to the point where I want to share.
1) There is a depression that comes from guilt.
There is a corrosive place that eats us up, it’s where we sin, and continue to sin. We fully understand our guilt and our sin. Sin however, will always will stain us. Banks will often place “dye packets” into stacks of money. A robber grabs the money, only to find that something explodes on him. He then, is marked indelibly. There isn’t anything he can do; he has been stained. The following verses explain this dynamic.
“When I kept things to myself, I felt weak deep inside me. I moaned all day long. 4 Day and night you punished me. My strength was gone as in the summer heat.
5 Then I confessed my sins to you and didn’t hide my guilt. I said, “I will confess my sins to the Lord,” and you forgave my guilt. “
Psalm 32, NCV
2) There is a depression that is organic.
It simply resides in us as if it were eye color, or a talent to play music. This type of depression is hard wired in us. It is just a natural inclination, or propensity toward melancholy. We typically gravitate toward a negative outlook. We are not ‘a cheery lot.’ The glass is always half empty, and that is our certain perspective.
Some have diabetes, and others are deaf. We have been saddled with certain issues. We did nothing to warrant such challenges. They are just the part and parcel of the human condition. We need to see our depression as sort of diabetes of the emotional world. Very often we will need to take meds to restore our sense of balance and wholeness. Sometimes all we need is to rest, as fatigue can become a serious issue.
3) There is a depression that is reactionary.
We find ourselves responding to trials and difficulties, and they just overwhelm us. Persecution and attacks slam into us, and our reaction is to hide, or shut down. Paul had to endure major attacks. This ‘depression’ is found in situations and issues. It can come about by Satan or ungodly authorities.
“So we do not give up. Our physical body is becoming older and weaker, but our spirit inside us is made new every day.17 We have small troubles for a while now, but they are helping us gain an eternal glory that is much greater than the troubles.18 We set our eyes not on what we see but on what we cannot see. What we see will last only a short time, but what we cannot see will last forever.”
2 Cor. 4:16, 18, NCV
As we look at ourselves, we can honestly determine which of the three kinds of depression that we face. It seems we can have all three working in our lives. But it is very helpful to find our particular variety, or our certain inclination. Seldom will we identify with just one ‘variety’, as all three can be working at once. Understanding the three will hopefully give us a definite advantage.
We can ask ourselves: Is this depression coming from sin or guilt? Is this something organic or ‘hardwired’ in me? Could it be that I’m reacting to the evil that is coming at me so fast? Distinguishing between these three can be very useful, and direct us as we build our discipleship.