The subject of “the pool at Bethesda” alludes to the following excerpt from the Thorton Wilder play, “The Angel that Troubled the Waters.” The play is based on the biblical verses of John 5:1-4, but it changes the end of the parable. I first encountered this excerpt within the book “Abba’s Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging,” by Brennan Manning.
The play tells of a physician who comes periodically to the pool of Bethesda, hoping to to see the stir and then be the first in the water and healed of his melancholy. The angel appears and troubles the water. Everybody at the pool hopes to be the first in the pool and thereby be healed of his disability.
An angel appears and blocks the physician at the very moment he is ready to step into the pool and be healed.
Angel: “Draw back, physician, this moment is not for you.”
Physician: “Angelic visitor, I pray thee, listen to my prayer.
Angel: “This healing is not for you.”
Physician: “Surely, surely, the angels are wise. Surely, O Prince, you are not deceived by my apparent wholeness. Your eyes can see the nets in which my wings are caught; the sin into which all my endeavors sink half-performed cannot be concealed from you.”
Angel: “I know.”
Physician: “Oh, in such an hour was I born, and doubly fearful to me is the flaw in my heart. Must I drag my shame, Prince and Singer, all my days more bowed than my neighbor?”
Angel:“Without your wound where would your power be?It is your very sadness that makes your low voice tremble into the hearts of men. The very angels themselves cannot persuade the wretched and blundering children on earth as can one human being broken on the wheels of living. In Love’s service only the wounded soldiers can serve. Draw back.”
Later, the person who enters the pool first and was healed rejoices in his good fortune then turns to the physician before leaving and said:
“But come with me first, an hour only, to my home. My son is lost in dark thoughts. I — I do not understand him, and only you have ever lifted his mood.”
“Only an hour… my daughter, since her child has died, sits in the shadow. She will not listen to us but she will listen to you.”
For me, the play pierces with the ‘bullet-message’ of this wonderful line— “Without your wound where would your power be?“ This is like a slow percolating of Paul’s teaching, mainly that it’s through my weaknesses that I can truly minister to others like Jesus. It’s the Apostle Paul declaring it’s the weak things that work to create something solid and true in us. And I hope in the many lives that this ministry, brokenbelievers.com reaches.
“Lord Jesus Christ, you are for me medicine when I am sick; you are my strength when I need help; you are life itself when I fear death; you are the way when I long for heaven; you are light when all is dark; you are my food when I need nourishment.”
—Ambrose of Milan (340-397)
Our theology makes all the difference in fighting depression, writes Kathryn Greene-McCreight, Author of “Darkness, Is My Only Companion” and Episcopal priest. Here is an excerpt where she introduces the depression of Christians.
In his Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis says that suffering is uniquely difficult for the Christian, for the one who believes in a good God. If there were no good God to factor into the equation, suffering would still be painful, and ultimately meaningless.
For the Christian, who believes in the crucified and risen Messiah, suffering is always meaningful. It is meaningful because of the one in whose suffering we participate, Jesus. This is neither to say, of course, that suffering will be pleasant, nor that it should be sought. Rather, in the personal suffering of the Christian, one finds a correlate in Christ’s suffering, which gathers up our tears and calms our sorrows and points us toward his resurrection.
In the midst of a major mental illness, we are often unable to sense the presence of God at all. Sometimes all we can feel is the complete absence of God, utter abandonment by God, the sheer ridiculousness of the very notion of a loving and merciful God. This cuts to the very heart of the Christian and challenges everything we believe about the world and ourselves.
I have a chronic mental illness, a brain disorder that used to be called manic depression, but now is less offensively called bipolar disorder. I have sought help from psychiatrists, social workers, and mental health professionals; one is a Christian, but most of my helpers are not. I have been in active therapy with a succession of therapists over many years, and have been prescribed many psychiatric medications, most of which brought quite unpleasant side effects, and only a few of which relieved my symptoms. I have been hospitalized during the worst times and given electroconvulsive therapy treatments.
All of this has helped, I must say, despite my disinclination toward medicine and hospitals. They have helped me to rebuild some of “myself,” so that I can continue to be the kind of mother, priest, and writer I believe God wants me to be.
During these bouts of illness, I would often ask myself: How could I, as a faithful Christian, be undergoing such torture of the soul? And how could I say that such torture has nothing to do with God? This is, of course, the assumption of the psychiatric guild in general, where faith in God is often viewed at best as a crutch, and at worst as a symptom of disease.
How could I, as a Christian, indeed as a theologian of the church, understand anything in my life as though it were separate from God? This is clearly impossible. And yet how could I confess my faith in that God who was “an ever-present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1) when I felt entirely abandoned by that God? And if this torture did have something to do with God, was it punishment, wrath, or chastisement? Was I, to use a phrase of Jonathan Edwards’s, simply a “sinner in the hands of an angry God”?
I started my journey into the world of mental illness with a postpartum depression after the birth of our second child. News outlets are rife with stories of women who destroy their own children soon after giving birth. It is absolutely tragic. Usually every instinct in the mother pushes toward preserving the life of the infant. Most mothers would give their own lives to protect their babies. But in postpartum depression, reality is so bent that that instinct is blocked. Women who would otherwise be loving mothers have their confidence shaken by painful thoughts and feelings.
Depression is not just sadness or sorrow. Depression is not just negative thinking. Depression is not just being “down.” It’s walking barefoot on broken glass; the weight of one’s body grinds the glass in further with every movement. So, the weight of my very existence grinds the shards of grief deeper into my soul. When I am depressed, every thought, every breath, every conscious moment hurts.
And often the opposite is the case when I am hypomanic: I am scintillating both to myself, and, in my imagination, to the whole world. But mania is more than speeding mentally, more than euphoria, more than creative genius at work. Sometimes, when it tips into full-blown psychosis, it can be terrifying. The sick individual cannot simply shrug it off or pull out of it: there is no pulling oneself “up by the bootstraps.”
And yet the Christian faith has a word of real hope, especially for those who suffer mentally. Hope is found in the risen Christ. Suffering is not eliminated by his resurrection, but transformed by it. Christ’s resurrection kills even the power of death, and promises that God will wipe away every tear on that final day.
But we still have tears in the present. We still die. In God’s future, however, death itself will die. The tree from which Adam and Eve took the fruit of their sin and death becomes the cross that gives us life.
The hope of the Resurrection is not just optimism, but keeps the Christian facing ever toward the future, not merely dwelling in the present. But the Christian hope is not only for the individual Christian, nor for the church itself, but for all of Creation, bound in decay by that first sin: “Cursed is the ground because of you … It will produce thorns and thistles for you …” (Gen. 3:17-18).
This curse of the very ground and its increase will be turned around at the Resurrection. All Creation will be redeemed from pain and woe. In my bouts with mental illness, this understanding of Christian hope gives comfort and encouragement, even if no relief from symptoms. Sorrowing and sighing will be no more. Tears will be wiped away. Even fractious [unruly, irritable] brains will be restored.
Depression has been called the “common cold” of mental disorders, and one source estimates that it disrupts the lives of 30 to 40 million Americans. For many, a “cold” isn’t even close to describing their depression; it is very challenging and destructive.
Here are several things that you can do right now:
Avoid being alone. Force yourself to be with people. (I know “force” is a strong word, but if that is what it takes!)
Seek help from others. This will require some humility. Reach out to someone who will understand.
Sing. Music can uplift your spirit as it did for King Saul (1 Samuel 16:14-23). Get an iPod and fill it with good music. It is worth it.
Praise and give thanks. This can really push back the darkness. “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” 1 Thessalonians 5:18.
Lean heavily on the power of God’s Word. Write out verses; listen to the teachers on Christian radio.
Rest confidently in the presence of God’s Spirit. “Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him For the help of His countenance” Psalm 42:5. Remember that God is not against you, He is on your side.
“What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”
“God is the one who began this good work in you, and I am certain that he won’t stop before it is complete on the day that Christ Jesus returns”
Keep coming back to Brokenbelievers. On this site you will find a lot of good teaching which can help you sort things out. And if you “comment” on any post I will receive it, usually within a few hours at the most. I’m not a medical professional, however I’m an evangelical pastor, with my own history of mental illness and major medical problems. I will get right back to you. And I can pray.
See the book Healing for Damaged Emotions for more details, David A. Seamands, Healing for Damaged Emotions (Colorado Springs, Colorado: Chariot Victor Books, 1991) (ISBN: 0896939383). )
My child, I have a message for you today; let Me whisper it in your ear, that it may gild with glory any storm clouds that may arise, and smooth the rough places upon which you may have to tread. It is short, only five words, but let them sink into your inmost soul; use them as a pillow upon which to rest your weary head:
“This thing is from me“ (1 Kings 12:24).
Have you ever thought of it, that all that concerns you concerns Me too? For, “He that toucheth you toucheth the apple of mine eye” (Zech. 2:8). “You are very precious in my sight.” (Isa. 43:4). Therefore, it is My special delight to educate you.
I would have you learn when temptations assail you, and the “enemy comes in like a flood,” that this thing is from Me, that your weakness needs My might, and your safety lies in letting Me fight for you.
Are you in difficult circumstances, surrounded by people who do not understand you, who never consult your taste, who put you in the background? This thing is from Me. I am the God of circumstances. Thou camest not to thy place by accident, it is the very place God meant for thee.
Have you not asked to be made humble? See then, I have placed you in the very school where the lesson is taught; your surroundings and companions are only working out My will.
Are you in money difficulties? Is it hard to make both ends meet? This thing is from Me, for I am your purse-bearer and would have you draw from and depend upon Me. My supplies are limitless (Phil. 4:19). I would have you prove My promises. Let it not be said of you, “In this thing you did not believe the Lord your God” (Deut. 1:32).
Are you passing through a night of sorrow? This thing is from Me. I am the “Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” I have let earthly comforters fail you, that by turning to Me you may obtain everlasting consolation (2 Thess. 2:16-17).
Have you longed to do some great work for Me and instead been laid aside on a bed of pain and weakness? This thing is from Me. I could not get your attention in your busy days and I want to teach you some of My deepest lessons. “They also serve who only stand and wait.”Some of My greatest workers are those shut out from active service, that they may learn to wield the weapon of all prayer.
This day I place in your hand this pot of holy oil. Make use of it freely, my child. Let every circumstance that arises, every word that pains you, every interruption that would make you impatient, every revelation of your weakness be anointed with it. The sting will go as you learn to see Me in all things.
Laura A. Barter Snow has beautifully amplified this truth in her comments on 1 Kings 12:24, in this tract “This Thing Is From Me.”