1276) “Don’t Look Now, But I’ve Got the Blues”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OYVXqr7M7QY

———–

Don’t Look Now, But I’ve Got the Blues, 1958, by the ‘King of the Blues,’ B. B. King (1925-2015)

My pockets are empty, I feel so low
If somebody loves me, ain’t said so
And I got holes, in both of my shoes
Don’t look now, but I’ve got the blues.

There ain’t nobody on this old earth
Who’ll give a nickel for what I’m worth
I got more worries that I can use
Don’t look now, but I’ve got the blues.

Troubles everywhere
I act like I don’t care, but it’s not true
‘Cos I remember things, so many many things
But mostly, I remember you.

I’m gonna go some place else
And cry these tears all by myself
I ain’t got nothing left to lose
Don’t look now, but I’ve got the blues.

————————

“Blues” is a musical form which developed among African-Americans in the Deep South around the end of the 19th century.  Wikipedia notes, “Early blues frequently took the form of a loose narrative, often relating the troubles experienced in African-American society.”  This form of music has developed in many directions over the last 100+ years, but the focus on singing about life’s troubles has remained the same.  The phrase “singing the blues” has entered the English language as a description of any expression of sadness over one’s troubled life.

Sometimes the Christian life has been portrayed as always happy because faith in Jesus is just bound to make everything better.  Believing in Jesus does give us an eternal promise that can give us hope no matter what we go through, but in this world we will still be troubled.  It is foolish to pretend otherwise, though some Christians have attempted to do so.  But even the Bible ‘sings the blues,’ and it does so a good share of the time, as pointed out in the reading below.  The Psalms is the songbook of the Bible, and many of the Psalms ‘sing the blues’ (they are called ‘laments’), and so do many other parts of the Old and New Testament.  There is even an entire book in the Old Testament that sings the blues from beginning to end– the book of Lamentations.

The following was posted on Randy Alcorn’s website, http://www.epm.org, on October 7, 2016.  Alcorn has written more on the subject of evil and suffering in his 2009 book If God is Good.

———————–

     Laments make up more than one-third of the psalms.  The contrast between Israel’s hymnbook and the church’s hymns says a great deal about our failure to acknowledge suffering.  If we don’t sing about suffering and struggle, why shouldn’t our people feel surprised when it comes?

     Read Psalm 88, arguably the most discouraging portion of the Bible:  “My soul is full of trouble and my life draws near the grave….  You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths.  Your wrath lies heavily upon me; you have overwhelmed me with all your waves….  My eyes are dim with grief….  Why, O LORD, do you reject me and hide your face from me?”  And this is how it ends:  “You have taken my companions and loved ones from me; the darkness is my closest friend.”

     Yet even then the psalmist cries out to “the God who saves me” (verse 1).

     The Psalms of lament grant us permission to express to God our honest questions, doubts, griefs and despair.  That our heavenly Father chose to include these as inspired Scripture suggests that parents should encourage emotional honesty in their children.  They should learn to voice to God and to us their disappointments, fears, and frustrations along with their dreams, happiness, and gratitude.  Certainly we should resist whining and self-pity, both in ourselves and our children.  But we should also guard against pretense and the silent seeds of disillusionment and bitterness.

     The book of Psalms brims with honest questions to God about evil and suffering and asks why God doesn’t intervene:

Why, O Lord, do you stand far away?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? (10:1)

I say to God, my rock:
“Why have you forgotten me?
Why do I go mourning
because of the oppression of the enemy?” (42:9)

Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord?
Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever!
Why do you hide your face?
Why do you forget our affliction and oppression? (44:23–24)

     By including laments in His inspired Word, God graciously invites our cries, so long as we remain willing to listen to His response.

     Musician Michael Card writes:

My experience with lament and with the living God occurred several years ago, when I was diagnosed with a degenerative liver disease.  My father had died when I was seventeen, and now faced with the possibility that I might die, leaving behind my seventeen-year-old son and fourteen-year-old daughter, I was overwhelmed with feelings of anger and confusion and pain.  When I finally let go and cried out to God, it was in fury and frustration that I unleashed on Him, accusing Him, questioning Him.  It did not make any sense to me.  How could a loving God allow my children to go through the pain that I had?  I had done all that He had asked of me.  I had been a faithful servant and made the right choices and sacrifices.  Why was He doing this to me?  How dare He?  I was certain that I had pushed Him too far, that I was now going to experience His wrath and condemnation for my ranting and unbelief.  But what I found instead was great mercy and tenderness.  I experienced His loving-kindness in a way that I never had before.  He had been waiting all along for me to come to the end of myself and fall on my knees before Him.  He had been waiting for me to be completely honest with who I was, instead of who I thought I should be.  And I realized that it was in my brokenness and weakness that I was truly able to know the tremendous love that my great God has for me.  He could take anything that I hurled at Him.  He was not going to let me go.  (Michael Card, A Sacred Sorrow, NavPress, 2005, page 9)

*******************************************

Lamentations 1:20a  —  See, Lord, how distressed I am.  I am in torment within, and in my heart I am disturbed.

Psalm 22:1  —  My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?

Jeremiah 15:18  —  Why is my pain unending and my wound grievous and incurable?  You are to me like a deceptive brook, like a spring that fails.

Habakkuk 1:2  —   How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?  Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save?

Matthew 26:38-39  —  (Jesus) said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.  Stay here and keep watch with me.”  Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.  Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

*******************************************

“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

–Jesus, Mark 15:34

1168) Depression in the Bible (b)

Elijah Fed by an Angel, Ferdinand Bol  (1616-1680)

———————–

     (continued…)  In I Kings 19 Elijah is depressed.  

     Elijah stood almost alone as a true prophet of the Lord during some of Israel’s worst times.  The nation was ruled by the wicked King Ahab, and the temple was dominated by priests and prophets who worshiped the false god Baal.  Israel was in a severe drought, without rain for three years.  God told Elijah to proclaim to all that the drought was the judgement of God, punishment for their unfaithfulness.  However, King Ahab, in his wickedness, blamed Elijah for the famine.  So Elijah was a hunted man and had been hiding out in the wilderness.

     I Kings 18 tells the story of Elijah’s most spectacular testimony to the power of God.  He had come out of hiding to issue a challenge to King Ahab and all his priests. He would meet them on Mt. Carmel, and there, Elijah would single-handedly take on the false priests of Israel in a winner-take-all battle. It would be 400 to one, and all would pray to their own God to send fire down from heaven to ignite and burn the sacrifices each had prepared. All day long the 400 priests of Baal prayed– but there was no response from their god.  Elijah then soaked his sacrifice with water and offered one brief prayer.  Immediately a fire came down from heaven so intense that it burned up not only the sacrifice, but even the very stones of the altar and all the soil around it.  Seeing the miracle, the people immediately returned to the true God.  To further vindicate Elijah, it finally rained and the long drought ended.  It should have been a time of great joy for Elijah.

     However, in the very next chapter that we find Elijah so depressed that he prays to God that his life may be ended.  One of the many things that can be said about depression is that it can come at the strangest times.  In fact sometimes, like for Elijah, it comes at the times that should bring the greatest happiness.  I recall the story of former football and baseball great Deion Sanders, and how he came to faith in Jesus Christ.  An All-Star in both sports, Sanders helped lead his football team to the very pinnacle of success, a Super Bowl victory.  But on the very night of that triumph, Sanders found himself in such a deep despair that he tried to commit suicide.  As a young man he had already achieved everything he could have hoped for– money, fame, and success, and still it wasn’t enough to fill his life.  Elijah, like Deion Sanders, seemed to do better when he was struggling than when he was succeeding.  One cannot begin to figure all this out, but we can do what the Bible does, and say ‘this is what happened to that person at that time,’ and then see where it goes from there.

     An angel of the Lord appeared and helped Elijah in some simple and basic ways.  The angel allowed Elijah to rest, then brought him some food, and then he allowed him to rest some more.  Finally, God spoke to Elijah.  Elijah had come to the conclusion that he was all alone in his faithfulness, but God encouraged him with news of 7,000 other faithful people in the Israel.  And then God gave him another job to do.

    The New Testament reveals a deeper comfort, one based on an eternal hope.  There are more examples of people in despair, but in the New Testament, this despair is always seen in the context of Jesus, who said, “I have come that you may have life and have it abundantly,” and, “Whoever believes in the Son of God shall have eternal life.”

     In II Corinthians (chapters one and four) the Apostle Paul gives a profound description of the move from despair to hope in his experience.  Paul begins with a word of praise to God who has brought him through some rough times, both physically and spiritually: “Praise be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles” (1:3-4).  Paul then goes on to describe the troubles he has been having:  “We do not want you to uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia.  We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life itself” (1:8)(He sounds like Elijah there– he has had enough, even of life).  Going on, he tells the Corinthians, “Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death.  But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.  He has delivered us from such a peril, and he will deliver us again.  On Him we have set out hope” (1:9-10) “And so we are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.  We are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body…  And so with the spirit of faith we believe and we speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus” (from 4:8-14).

     “Therefore,” Paul concludes, “we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary afflictions are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  And so we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, for what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (4:16-18).

     Knowing and believing in this hope does not guarantee that despair will never come over us.  Despair came in the midst of faith for Elijah, Paul, Jeremiah, David, Habakkuk, and many more, including Jesus himself who wept over Jerusalem and despaired in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Faith does not guarantee that despair will not come, but that it will not last; and that even in the midst of it, God will hold us in him arms, and will carry us through.

************************************************

O Christ Jesus,
when all is darkness and we feel our weakness and helplessness,
give us the sense of Your presence, Your love, and Your strength.
Help us to trust in Your protecting love and strengthening power,
so that nothing may frighten or worry us,
for, living close to You, we shall see Your hand,
Your purpose, Your will through all things. Amen.

–Saint Ignatius of Loyola  (1491-1556)

1167) Depression in the Bible (a)

I Kings 19:4 — (Elijah) went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it, and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”

—————————

     “I have had enough,” Elijah said.

     Have you ever ‘had enough?’  Enough of conflict, enough work, enough of your career, enough of dealing with people, enough stress, enough illness, enough of kids, enough of _______.  I am sure you have something you could fill in that blank.  Sometimes, we may even get enough of everything, enough of life itself, and feel like Elijah who said, “I have had enough, Lord, take my life.”  Elijah, you remember, was one of the most faithful and courageous people in the whole Bible.  If even a strong man of faith like Elijah could get such feelings, anyone can.

     The Bible never uses the word ‘depression,’ but today we would say that Elijah was most certainly depressed.  If his despair was related to his work, which does seem to be the case here, we might say he was suffering from that form of depression we call ‘job-burnout.’  Everyone has an occasional bout with depression; a few are depressed much of the time; and at any given time, in any group, there will be a significant number of people struggling with depression.  Sometimes, such depression is deep and severe.

     How can one say anything of value in a short meditation about a topic so broadly defined, so varied, and so complex?  For example, think of the wide variety of conditions which can cause depression.  There is big a difference between the despair of a 23 year old who is depressed because she cannot find the right shoes to wear to her friend’s wedding, and the despair of a woman whose husband of 49 years was just killed in a car accident.  There is no way one can briefly describe depression in all its forms, and then briefly outline the steps to cure it.  It is just too big, too varied, and far too complex for simple descriptions and solutions.  All I can do here is say a couple things about it.

     One way to say something about depression is to do what the Bible does, which is to simply tell stories of individuals who have who have been depressed, and see how they dealt with it.  Though the Bible never described anyone as ‘depressed,’ it contains many stories of people who are what the Bible sometimes calls ‘troubled in spirit.’  

–There is Job who loses everything, and who desperately, angrily, and despairingly questions God’s justice.  But Job does keep talking to God, standing firm in his faith; and in the end, God blesses him for his faithfulness.  

–On the other hand, there is Saul, a man often troubled in spirit, but who responded not in faith, but in jealousy and anger and unfaithfulness.  His rebellion and disobedience took him farther and farther away from God, and in the end, Saul did not receive God’s blessings.  

–There is also Jeremiah, nicknamed the ‘weeping prophet,’ who filled an entire book of the Bible with his despairing observations called ‘Lamentations.’  But Jeremiah also had the faith to write some of the Old Testament’s most wonderful descriptions of God’s grace, love, forgiveness, and future hope.

–Habakkuk began his Old Testament book by asking, “How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?;” and ended the book still without the help he had prayed for, but declaring that no matter what happens, he would trust in, wait for, and rejoice in his Savior God.  

–And, there are the Psalms, filled with cries for help in the midst of despair, and also filled with expressions of gratitude, trust, and hope.  To give just one example, Psalm 34 says: “I sought the Lord and he answered me, and delivered me out of all my terror…  I called in my affliction and the Lord heard me and saved me from my troubles…  The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and will save those whose spirits are crushed…  I will glory in the Lord, and his praise shall ever be in my mouth.”  In the 22nd Psalm David began his prayer with these words: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?”  It sounds like David is depressed.  

–Even Jesus felt that way, and quoted those very words from the cross in his time of despair and suffering.  (continued…)

***********************************************************

Daniel 7:15  —  I, Daniel, was troubled in spirit, and the visions that passed through my mind disturbed me.

John 13:21b  —  …Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.”

Habakkuk 1:2a…3:16b-18  —  How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?…  Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us.  Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LordI will be joyful in God my Savior.

Psalm 119:25  —  I am laid low in the dust; preserve my life according to your word.

***********************************************************

 PSALM 30:1a…2-3…5b…11-12:

I will exalt you, Lordfor you lifted me out of the depths…

Lord my God, I called to you for help, and you healed me.  You, Lord, brought me up from the realm of the dead;
    you spared me from going down to the pit…

Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning…

You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.  Lord my God, I will praise you forever.

695) Disappointment With Jesus (part two of two)

   Conscience (Judas), Nicolai Ge 

     Conscience, by Nicolai Ge, Russian painter  (1831-1894)

Judas watches as the soldiers lead Jesus away

———————————

     (… continued)  In the same way, Philip Yancey and the couple that lost their son to cancer, in spite of disappointment and confusion, kept looking to God.  And though they were disappointed and heartbroken, sadness and tragedy did not get the last word.  In the Old Testament book that bears his name Habakkuk cries out “How long, O Lord, must I cry out to you and you do not listen to me… and you do not save me?”  Habakkuk has to wait a very long time, but by the end of the book he decides that no matter how long it is and no matter how bad it gets, he will keep crying out to the Lord.  The book ends with Habakkuk still calling out to, “My God and my Savior and my strength.”

     Judas, though misled by Caiaphas, disappointed in Jesus, and overwhelmed by despair, still could have been alright. He just didn’t wait long enough.  He should have kept looking to Jesus, even in his despair and confusion.  Judas saw that things did not go as he had hoped, and he gave up.  He took all his regret and remorse and put it on himself, and he wasn’t big enough to handle all that guilt.  No one is big enough or strong enough to handle all their guilt.  That was why Jesus went to the cross that very day.  But Judas made the mistake of not waiting for Jesus.  When he learned that Jesus was going to be killed, he thought that was the end of hope.  If he would have just kept the faith, he would have found that Jesus was stronger even then death; and strong enough even to forgive Judas– as Jesus forgave Peter for denying him, and the others for deserting him.  But it was too late.

     Think of the difference in the reaction of the women who were with Jesus in his last days.  These women appear often in the story, especially in the last days.  They are there to help Jesus and the others in whatever way they can, and their faithfulness is remarkable.  They are there at the foot of the cross, and, they are the first ones up on Sunday morning, the day after the Jewish Sabbath, to see to the proper anointing of the body for burial.  One can only imagine the depth of their disappointment and despair at the death of Jesus, and how confused and hopeless they must have been.  But even then, they did not give up on Jesus.  They remained faithful and kept doing whatever they could do for Jesus, even if it was nothing more than seeing to a proper burial for him.

    In their faithfulness, they received a great blessing.  They were the first to see the empty tomb, the first to hear the message from the angels that “He is Risen,” and the first to proclaim that Good News that death has been defeated.  It looked to Judas like it was all over, and he gave up.  But even when from the women’s limited perspective it was over, they still did not give up.  How long, O Lord?, asked Habakkuk.   The women with Jesus showed us how long.  They showed us that if need be, we can wait even longer than life itself.  We can wait even until life is over.  We can know that even then, there is the resurrection promise for all who believe in Jesus.

***************************************************

Matthew 27:3-5  —  When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders.  “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.”  “What is that to us?” they replied.  “That’s your responsibility.”  So Judas threw the money into the temple and left.  Then he went away and hanged himself.

Luke 24:1-6a  —  On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb.  They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.  While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them.  In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here; he has risen!”

***************************************************

How long, O Lord, must I call for help…?

–Habakkuk 1:2a

694) Disappointment With Jesus (part one of two)

     A friend of mine was telling me about some friends of his.  “Years ago they would always go to church,” he said of the friends, “but then their daughter was killed in a car accident, and they have not been back to church since the funeral.  They are upset with God for letting that happen, and they have given up on faith.”

     Someone else I know had been raised in the church, but years later he and his wife had drifted away from the faith.  Then, he told me, their son died of cancer when he was only 21, and that brought them back to God.  Life’s tragedies and afflictions can bring us closer to God, or can drive us away from God.

     Philip Yancey wrote a book called Disappointment with God.  On the dedication page of the book, Yancey wrote, “To my brother, who is still disappointed.”  In other books Yancey has written about the harsh, judgmental church in the South that he and his brother attended as children.  The members of that church were not loving, but were self-righteous, mean, and racist.  He had much to be disappointed about.  But he learned more about God later, and was then able to separate his disappointment with the church from his faith in God.  His brother, however, had not yet been able to do that, and gave up on God.

     Psalm 88 is the most despairing of all the Psalms.  Of the 150 Psalms, this is the only one that does not express a single word of hope.  Many Psalms list the writer’s troubles, describe his despair, and even wonder out loud about God’s faithfulness.  But in every other Psalm, the writer will eventually change his tone and say, “but then I remembered all that God has done for me,” or “but then God lifted me up out of the pit,” or something like that; and then go on to express again his faith and trust and hope in the Lord.  But not Psalm 88.  The tone of this Psalm is complete hopelessness and despair in every verse, from beginning to end.  There is no what a friend we have in Jesus here; rather, the last verse says ‘the darkness is my only companion.’  Other verses describe how all he sees is trouble, terror, God’s anger, and God’s rejection.  “My life is at the brink of the grave,” he says in verse three, and later, “you have hidden your face from me, O Lord.”  This Psalm expresses no hope or trust in God.

     Judas Iscariot is probably the most despised person in the Bible.  It is incredible to think that Jesus, more worshiped and respected and loved than any other person in history, was betrayed by one of his closest friends.  There is much speculation about why Judas did what he did, but all we can do is guess.  The Bible tells us nothing about his inner motives.  Some scholars speculate that perhaps Jesus was not going far enough for Judas, and Judas thought that if arrested, Jesus might be forced into a more radical ministry.  Others have wondered if perhaps Judas was the conservative one, and he thought Jesus was moving too fast, and that an appearance before the authorities would chasten Jesus force him into a more traditional approach.  There are many theories and no way to prove any of them.  But I think it is safe to say that for some reason, Judas was disappointed with Jesus.  Maybe he wanted to change Jesus, and maybe he was giving up on Jesus.  But he was disappointed; disappointed like the couple who quit going to church after their daughter was killed, disappointed like Philip Yancey’s brother– disappointed with God like we all probably are at one time or another.

     Following his disappointment, Judas became hopeless.  Judas did not expect Jesus would be sentenced to death.  Perhaps Judas was naïve, or perhaps he was deceived by the chief priests.  But when Judas heard that Jesus was to be executed, he became desperate and hopeless.  He went back to the chief priests and expressed his remorse, admitting that he had betrayed innocent blood.  But they sent him away saying, “What is that to us?”  Judas, then without hope and filled with guilt, threw the blood money at them, went out from them, and took his own life.  The consequences of his actions left him completely hopeless, like the writer of Psalm 88.

    That was where it ended for Judas.  He died disappointed with Jesus and without hope.  But there is a difference between the hopelessness of Judas and the hopelessness of Psalm 88.  There isn’t a word of hope in the entire Psalm, but there is something of faith in the way it is written.  Filled with despair as it is, the words of the Psalm are still all spoken to God.  It begins with these words, “Lord, you are the God who saves me.”  Down and out as the writer is, he is still speaking to God.  He goes on to say, “your anger weighs heavily upon me… you have rejected me… you have put my friends far from me;” he even blames God for all his troubles.  But he is still speaking to God, and that takes faith.  He is hanging on by a thread, but he is hanging on; and by faith, he is expressing his despair to  God.  (continued…)

***************************************************

PSALM 88 (portions)

Lord, you are the God who saves me;
    day and night I cry out to you...

I am overwhelmed with troubles
    and my life draws near to death.
I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
    I am like one without strength...

You have put me in the lowest pit,
    in the darkest depths.
Your wrath lies heavily on me;
    you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.
You have taken from me my closest friends
    and have made me repulsive to them.
I am confined and cannot escape;
my eyes are dim with grief.

I call to you, Lord, every day…
   I cry to you for help, Lord; in the morning my prayer comes before you.

Why, Lord, do you reject me
    and hide your face from me?

From my youth I have suffered and been close to death;
    I have borne your terrors and am in despair.
Your wrath has swept over me;
    your terrors have destroyed me...
You have taken from me friend and neighbor—
    darkness is my closest friend.

552) Staring at the Void

By Marvin Olasky, in World magazine, October 18, 2014, page 72.  See:   http://www.wng.org

     He’s very smart, my childhood best friend, and very faithful in his atheism.  When he was 6 he was clever as clever, but now he’s past 60 and knows he will not live for ever and ever.  Yet now, as in years past, even the most modest mention of God brings a growl:  “Don’t proselytize me.”

     He called me this summer and pleaded that I come visit him, so I hopped on a plane and did.  He has many physical problems for which doctors have prescribed this and that, with meds for one ailment making another worse.  He has worse psychological problems, which he first summarizes with sociology speak:  “I lack a support network.”  Then he speaks more plainly:  “I’m all alone.” 

     He puts his head on the table and says, “I don’t know what to do.”  He’s haunted by unused potential:  “I’ve wasted my life.”  He programmed computers for others but never worked on any trend-setting products.  He knew some women but never married.  No children.  He knows he could go underwater with hardly a ripple.  He doesn’t look back proudly at anything in his life, including military service.  Seems noble to me, but he says all he learned was, “It’s better to be a live coward rather than a dead hero.” 

     For a time he took satisfaction from his financial worth, having socked away maybe $2 million, but he long expected a stock market crash, kept his money in cash and commodities, and missed recent run-ups.  He’s angry about that, and blames the Federal Reserve.  He blames politicians.  He blames Obama, for whom he voted. 

     He says he would be suicidal except that he fears death and oblivion.  When he was working, he could keep his brain busy on computer problems.  When he stopped working, he could keep his brain busy learning a new language and his legs busy by learning how to dance.  But at some point the void within him became unbridgeable by activity.  He stared at the void and reacted with the cry of Ecclesiastes from 3,000 years ago:  “Meaningless.”

     Some Christian writers have understood what my childhood friend is going through.  Blaise Pascal wrote in 1670:  “I see those frightful spaces of the universe which surround me.  I find myself tied to one corner of this vast expanse, without knowing why I am put in this place rather than in another, nor why the short time which is given me to live is assigned to me at this point rather than at another of the whole eternity which was before me or which shall come after me.  I see nothing but infinities on all sides, which surround me as a shadow which endures only for an instant and returns no more.  All I know is that I must soon die.”

     The Scream (1893), by Edvard Munch (1863-1944)

An iconic image of despair and fear by a painter who struggled with mental illness

     Walker Percy described the contemporary secular man as one who “works, grows old, gets sick, and dies and is quite content to have it so, living as if his prostate were not growing cancerous, his arteries turning to chalk, his brain cells dying off by the millions, as if the worms were not going to have him after all.” 

     But what happens when secular man wises up and is no longer content? 

     I spent three days with my childhood friend as his world was disintegrating.  He was in despair, but I can’t consider that a bad thing:  With his hostility toward God, he should be in despair.  He has to hit bottom before he can rise, and maybe his only chance is to hit bottom.  But how will he then bounce up?  Augustine wrote in his Confessions that he was “speaking and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when, lo! I heard from a neighboring house a voice, as of boy or girl, I know not, oft repeating, ‘Take up and read; Take up and read.’” 

     Augustine did that, picking up Paul’s Epistle to the Romans.  When others will not take up and read, true change seems impossible.  

     Except, except … with God, nothing is impossible.

**************************************************

Ecclesiastes 1:2-3…14  —  “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher.  “Utterly meaningless!  Everything is meaningless.”  What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun?…   I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

Ecclesiastes 12:1  —  Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them.”

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14  —  Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter:  Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.  For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.

John 10:10b  —  (Jesus said), “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

**************************************************

A PRAYER FOR ONE IN DESPAIR:

Heavenly Father, I know I am close to despair.

I feel so tempted to give up, to withdraw from life, and simply let the world carry me along.
Everything seems so meaningless and nothing appeals to my better instincts.
Help me to remember that Jesus gave meaning to everything in the world.
Let me put my trust and hope in Jesus, and get over this time of despair.
Help me to believe in the depths of my being that there is a reason for living.
Show me the reason for my life and tell me what I must do.
Bring home to me that I am never alone, but that You are with me even in the depths of despair.  

Remind me that no matter what I may endure now,
an unending joy awaits me in the future, if I but cling tightly to You.  Amen.

 –author unknown

488) A Story from Alcoholics Anonymous

The Meeting With Joe, by Gary S.  (source lost)

     One cold winter morning as I looked out my bedroom window at the gray, bleak landscape I wondered, What is my life worth?  Where do I fit into the scheme of things?  I felt completely overwhelmed by rejection.  I couldn’t see any hope in my future.  And when I considered my past, I didn’t like anything I saw.

     I was 45 years old, and had recently lost my job.  I was getting no response to the dozens of resumés I sent out.  The idea of taking a drink occurred to me, but I had already been down that road.  Alcohol had wreaked havoc on my life, but I’d been sober now for eight years.  For what? part of me sneered.  Alone in my house, I sank deeper and deeper into despair.  My head ached as I fought one black thought after another.  Am I losing my mind?

     I kept picturing the 12-gauge shotgun in the attic.  Over and over my mind took me back to that loaded gun.

     Suddenly a new thought came out of nowhere:  Go see Joe.

     I had met Joe at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.  A straight-talking trucker and farmer who was as opinionated as people come, he was as different from me as could be.  But I admired his frankness and eventually asked him to be my sponsor, another recovering alcoholic I could always talk to one-on-one.

     “Sure,” he had agreed.  “Helping you helps, me.”  I had no idea what I could possibly offer him.

     Afraid of what I might do if I stayed alone, I forced myself to get into my car.  I drove the three miles to Joe’s and found him in his barnlike garage, standing near his wood-burning stove.  He acted as though I was just the person he wanted to see.  Soon he was telling me about things that were hurting him, trying to sort them out.  He must have gone on for two hours, with me just listening, both of us sitting by the stove, tossing in a log every once in a while.  Finally we said good-bye.

     On my drive home I realized I had made it through the day.  My troubles weren’t over, but hearing about Joe’s struggles had really helped me.  I almost had to smile.  Joe, you don’t know it, but you saved my life today.

    At an AA meeting about a week later, I nodded to Joe across the room.   The group recited the ‘Serenity Prayer,’ then we took turns talking.  Joe said, “A week ago my life seemed hopeless.  In fact, I had decided to end it.  I picked out a rope and the beam I was going to throw it over.  But then, unexpectedly, another recovering alcoholic came by.”

     I almost fell out of my chair.  I had no idea!

     Joe looked at me. “God used that alcoholic to save my life.”

****************************************

Galatians 6:2  —  Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

II Corinthians 1:3-4  —  Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

Proverbs 11:25  —  Be generous, and you will be prosperous. Help others, and you will be helped.  (Good News Translation)

****************************************

The AA Prayer of Serenity

God, give us grace to accept with serenity
The things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.

Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
Amen.

79) Being Satisfied with the Best (part two)

     (…continued)  For almost a century Winston Churchill walked like a giant on the world’s stage.  But even that was not enough to satisfy him.  He knew, as we all know, that whatever he had going for him, it would only be in this world, and only for this century– and then, that would be it.  And how could even all that ever be enough?  Or as Jesus said, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”  Or as Augustine would say a few centuries later, “Our hearts are restless, O Lord, until they rest in you.”

     Life in a world without God has been compared to staying in one’s house with the windows and doors closed and the shades down all the time.  All that you know, all that you can see, and all that you can do is limited to what is in that house.  We would see such limits as confining and depressing.  But as Churchill found out, even the whole world can be confining, and in the end, the limits of this life and this earth will be depressing.  Belief in God, on the other hand, is like putting up the shades and opening the windows and doors.  Faith in God opens up our time to all eternity and our home to all of heaven and our hearts to the presence of Jesus.

     On every page of the Bible eyes and lives are opened up to far more than what can merely be seen and felt here in the smallness of this world and the little bit of time we have here.  Moses is given supernatural help to gain freedom for a his enslaved people from the most powerful nation on earth.  Gideon is given miraculous help from on high to win an otherwise hopeless battle against invaders.  Esther is called on to risk everything for a higher duty and purpose.  The women at the tomb have their eyes opened to the power of God to give life beyond the grave.  Peter and the apostles are called on to proclaim that message from another world even if it means disobeying the powers that be in this world.  “We must obey God and not men,” they said.  And Saul literally has his eyes opened to the eternal Christ after he was first blinded by the light of that Christ.  In each story, and many more in the Bible, the shades are raised and the windows are opened so that people can see beyond the dark limits of this little world.

     There is much in the Bible that tells us what TO DO:  be honest, be faithful, love and serve your neighbor, do not lie, do not cheat, do not steal, and so forth.  One of the best known parts is the 10 commandments, that very important list of things that we should do, or, not do.  There is indeed much in the Bible about what we should do.  But actually, there is probably even more in the Bible about what we should see.  As Paul says in II Corinthians we should no longer see things from a worldly point of view.  Jesus has opened our eyes to a whole new way of seeing everything.

     The world says, “You can have it all.”  God in the book of Proverbs says, “It is better to have only a little and have peace, than to have great wealth and nothing but strife.”  From a worldly point of view, when you get old and your health is gone, you are done for.  But from God’s point of view, even at the end of our days, we can say with Paul, “Brothers and sisters, our SALVATION is nearer now than when we first believed.”  From a worldly point of view, the time comes for us all when our time is up and as the old expression goes, ‘we haven’t got a prayer.’  But with God, no matter how hopeless the situation looks, one always has a prayer.  Jesus, beaten and hanging on the cross, with the life quickly draining out of him, still had a prayer.  He prayed, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.”

     The Bible tells us all kinds of things to do, but first of all, it tells us how to SEE–  how to see the world, and life and death, and other people, and everything from a whole different point of view.  And it is in that new way of seeing that we are, as Isaiah wrote many centuries ago, ‘led forth in joy and can go out in peace.’

*******************************

2 Corinthians 5:15-17  —  And (Jesus) died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.  So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.  Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:  The old has gone, the new is here!

Matthew 16:26 — (Jesus said), “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”

Luke 23:46 — Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.

*****************************
Almighty God, teach us by your Holy Spirit, what to believe, what to do, and where to take our rest.  Amen.  –Erasmus

78) Being Satisfied with the Best (part one)

English: Sir Winston Churchill.

Sir Winston Churchill

     I saw printed on a t-shirt these words:  “The best is good enough for me.”  Perhaps whoever wrote that got it from Winston Churchill who once said, “My tastes are simple; I am easily satisfied with the best.”  And Winston Churchill (1874-1965), for all of his 90 years, did have the opportunity to enjoy the very best of everything life had to offer.  He was born into British royalty, wealth, and privilege.  From the beginning, he had servants waiting on him hand and foot; he was educated by the best tutors England had to offer; as a child he had the opportunity to meet the world’s rich and famous; and he was blessed with a brilliant mind.  Throughout his life, he could go wherever he wanted to go and do whatever he wanted to do, all the while enjoying the best food, the best cigars, and the best whiskey.  He first wanted to be a soldier, and saw action all over the world, rising to the ranks of First Admiral of the Navy.  He also wanted to be in politics, and he was in Parliament by the time he was in his early 30’s.  He eventually served two terms as Prime Minister, along the way inspiring and leading Great Britain in its resistance to the Nazis, their ‘finest hour,’ as he called it.  And, he wanted to be a writer, saying, “I know history will be kind to me because I intend to write it;” and he won the Nobel Prize for Literature.  Wealth, challenge, prestige, fame, and success in many areas– Churchill had it all and enjoyed it all.  And so he knew what he was talking about when he said, “My tastes are simple; I am easily satisfied with the best.”  He had always enjoyed the best of everything.

     But Winston Churchill was actually not satisfied with the best.  He enjoyed all of the best life had to offer, but even so, he oftentimes found life itself to be most unsatisfying.  Having it all did not make Winston Churchill happy, and he fought a lifelong battle against despair.  His depression was so severe at times that he would not stand too close to the edge at a train station or too close to a cliff, fearing that he might not be able to resist the impulse to jump out and end it all.  It was perhaps the intensity of his inner despair that drove him to get his mind on so many other things with such intense levels of outward activity and accomplishment.  There is no way to know for certain the psychological causes of his despair, but it is a well known fact that Churchill battled depression all his life.

     The prophet Isaiah wrote, “Why do you spend your labor on that which does not satisfy?  The Lord says, ‘Come to me and hear me so that your soul may live.’  Seek the Lord while he may be found…  Call upon him while he is near, and then you will go out in joy and be led forth in peace.”  This verse does not mean that a believer will never get depressed.  We continue to be sinners in a sinful world, and times of despair will come to us all.  Isaiah wrote those words to believers then, and they apply to believers now, as well as to unbelievers.  I do not know if Winston Churchill believed in Jesus or not, but such belief does not mean one will never be depressed.  However, what the verse does tell us is what will satisfy us and what will not.  The things of this world, wonderful as they are, will never satisfy, even if we get it all and enjoy it all for 90 years, as did Churchill.  And we should, as Churchill did, give of ourselves in duty and service to others.  That is good and admirable and what we are called to do.  But even that, by itself, will not satisfy us.

     What the verse does do is it points out the way; it points to the only place that true joy and peace can be found.  “Seek the Lord,” it says, “Call upon him,” it says, “and then you will go out in joy and be led forth in peace.”  It does not say that we will never experience a lack of joy or peace, but that we will be go out in joy, and be led forth in peace.  There is movement suggested there.  The verse points to where peace and joy are found, and speaks of our movement towards those things.  In the New Testament Paul would write of such the peace and joy that is found in faith and then add, “not that I have already attained all that, but I press on toward what is before me.”  With Jesus, we may not always be at perfect peace yet, but we know where it is found, and we know that we can be on our way to that place where there will be that peace that passes all understanding.  “My peace I give to you,” said Jesus, “and that is peace not like the world gives, which is a peace that will be taken away.”  But, said Jesus, the peace we will find in him will be an eternal peace.  (continued…)

*************************************

Isaiah 55:2-3a  —  Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?  Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.  Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.  I will make an everlasting covenant with you…

Isaiah 55:6…12a — Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near…  You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace… 

John 16:33 — (Jesus said), “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Philippians 3:12 — Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.

************************************

You have made us for yourself, O Lord,

and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.  –Augustine