Hollering or whimpering

Did I know what I needed? Not really. I could neither holler nor whimper. Heather Kopp wrote on her blog a couple weeks ago about the blahs she was experiencing. As she wrote about needing help, she related it to Jesus’ question to the blind man in Luke 18:35-43, and specifically v. 41:

“What do you want me to do for you?”

Then Heather comments.

In the past I’ve been taught that Jesus asks his question because not everyone who’s sick or disabled wants to be made well. Didn’t you know—maybe you’ve heard this too—that some would rather suffer than take responsibility for their lives?

I used to think that. But these days, I’m more inclined to believe that if a really sick person doesn’t want to get well, that’s a good indication that they’re far too sick to know what they want.

Which isn’t a bad laymen’s definition for active alcoholism, or for that matter, clinical depression.

http://soberboots.com/2013/04/18/holler-for-mercy/

The highlighted portion really struck me. At first her assessment seems too strong, too judgmental, too cruel? But after further reflecting on this and my own experiences with depression, I tend to agree with her. I know that at the very worst of my depression 15 years ago, I was so depressed I really did not know what I wanted. I knew something was wrong, horribly wrong, but that was all. I wanted something different than what I was experiencing, but couldn’t even put that into words.

Heather continues:

All he did was holler bloody murder for the one thing Jesus never denied a single person or ever will.

Mercy.

I couldn’t holler (yep, grew up on a farm and knew the meaning of that word!), not when I was depressed. At best I could mumble something close to desperation, nothing more, and sometimes less. But the reality is that Jesus was listening, is listening.

So, whether it is a holler at the top of your lungs, or a gasp of the breath, speak to Jesus. Even if it doesn’t make sense. How many prayers really make sense when they express the inner turmoil, hurt, desperation of the heart?

These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him. (1 John 5:13-15 NAS)

Even when I could not articulate it well, that was my confidence. This is my confidence today.

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Depression and the devil

I am teaching a seminary course on Law and Gospel. In preparation for that I am rereading C. F. W. Walther’s Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel. This is my fifth time reading the book, yet this is the first time I recall Martin Luther’s comment on 1 John 3:8. Here is the Scripture text for the last part of the verse:

The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. (NAS)

I have taught for many years that Jesus’ work was to overcome the effects of sin entering the world. That includes five items:

1. Forgive and restore a right relationship between God and humans (2 Corinthians 5:19-21)

2. Forgive and restore a person with regard to conscience (1 Peter 3:21)

3. Bring about reconciliation to others (Ephesians 4:32; Matthew 18:15-20)

4. Overcome the sinful separation of humans and creation (Romans 8:18-25)

5. Defeat the devil and all his works and ways (1 John 3:8)

Luther taught this. But then in this particular quote, Luther narrows the last item to depression as the greatest work of the devil:

Therefore, please do not turn away from the one who is coming to comfort you, to announce the will of God to you, and who hates and condemns your desperation and depression as a trial of Satan. Do not by any means allow the devil to portray Christ to you differently than what He really is. Believe Scripture, which testifies that “the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). Your depression is the work of the devil, which Christ wants to destroy, if you will only let Him. You have had your fill of anguish. You have sorrowed enough. You have exceeded your penance. (Therefore, do not refuse my consolation, let me help you…) (Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel, CPH, 2010, p. 122).

While Luther does not offer every answer about depression, it is interesting that he identifies it as the work of the devil. In my worst days of depression, it certainly felt that way to me.

And how much more powerful it is to read, hear, memorize these words:

The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. (NAS)

Yes, this is true consolation.

Book Review: Charts on Hebrews

Bateman, Herbert IV. Charts on the Book of Hebrews (Kregel Charts of the Bible and Theology). Kregel Publications, 2012.

Charts on the Book of Hebrews
Charts on the Book of Hebrews

My passion is teaching, especially the Bible. Therefore, I look for any tool that will help teach, explain, expand, and clarify. I have taught courses in congregations, college, and seminary on most of the New Testament, but not Hebrews. However, if I had one organizational tool for teaching Hebrews, this book would be it. For me, this is an ideal tool for teaching, replacing many commentaries that can be long-winded. Bateman simplifies and organizes so well.

The book is literally a book of charts and nothing more; not that it lacks anything, but there is really nothing else. I was surprised that there was no introductory chapter to explain the approach of the book and some introductory comments on Hebrews. After going through the book, I found the lack of an introduction less jarring, but still a little surprising.

Bateman provides four major sections of charts: Introductory Considerations, Old Testament and 2nd Temple Influences, Theology, and Exegetical Matters. He concludes with a Chart Comment section in which he succinctly describes each of the charts with qualifications and appropriate references to source material. Although the order of the charts does not matter so much because it is a reference tool, I would have expected the Exegetical Matters chapter to be the second one (theology derives from exegesis, not the other way around).

1. Introductory Considerations

The detail on authorship provides what I would consider essential and thorough for a teaching tool. Chart 1 offers a historical overview of when an author was first proposed for Hebrews. Chart 2 expands that to show how each was developed throughout church history. Chart 3 provides the current view of commentators regarding authorship. The charts on canonical placement and related issues are very helpful for the one who teaches Hebrews. Many other charts in this section are equally essential to studying and teaching Hebrews.

2. Old Testament & 2nd Temple Influences

Charts 35-38 offer both a chart of features relative to the tabernacle/Temple, but also simple diagrams to illustrate the key features in the charts. I am teaching three courses in New Testament Survey; the same week I began teaching that course, this book arrived. Charts 42-47 were immediately pertinent  to several topics I presented. So even though not directly related to Hebrews, the book itself proved very practical and timely for my own teaching. Many of the other charts in this part are imminently useful.

3. Theology in Hebrews

Charts 60-64 reflect the role of Wisdom of Solomon in Hebrews. I had studied the influence of this writing on Paul’s writings for my graduate studies. It is nice to see it included and laid out this well. Chart 67 (“better than” Comparisons) is an example of something that is useful, but I may not have thought about it until seeing it. So also Charts 73 (“Once for all”) and 75 (“Perfection”). Chart 72 (“Covenants of God’s Program”) signals my disagreement with Bateman concerning covenants and dispensations. In the Comments part of the book, he notes on this chart:

Like the era of promise, the era of fulfillment  has two stages/time periods/dispensations: the church period where God’s promises are inaugurated and the millennial period where God’s promises are consummated and may, in fact, continue into the eternal state. (p. 248)

4. Exegesis In Hebrews

I am most at home in this part of the book. One helpful aspect was Chart 91 (“Jewish exegesis in Hebrews”), which covers an often neglected aspect of New Testament studies. Chart 97 (“Major Textual Issues”) is especially helpful for looking at critical textual issues. I like the arrangement with both the text and variant readings and which current English translations support which reading. The significance and explanation section of the chart is succinct, but complete enough to assist the reader in evaluating the textual issue. Likewise, Chart 98 (“Figures of Speech”) is extensive, as well as Charts 99-101. Excellent resource and summaries. The uniqueness charts 103-104 provide the teacher/student with a valuable tool for studying the unique words in Hebrews, but also the English translation choices associated with each.

Some Additional Thoughts

The design of the book is well suited for using charts. The layout is helpful in that all the charts are oriented in the same direction (compare Charts on the Life, Letters, and Theology of Paul. Kregel Publications, 2012). One thing that would be extremely useful for quick reference is to indicate the part in which the charts appear. For instance, on the top outside margin the title of the book is given for both facing pages. I suggest that the Book title could be on the left facing page and the Part title on the right facing page. That way the user could quickly identify into which part the table falls. While it might seem obvious with some charts, others are not so clear. And additional feature might be to shade the edges of the four parts: top 1 inch of page for Part 1, then down that much for Part 2, etc.

Concluding Thoughts

Kregel is to be commended for publishing such a useful tool, especially for pastors/teachers. As noted above I found several of the Charts immediately applicable in a non-Hebrews course. The book is both practical and extensive, often not easily done, especially with a book as complicated as Hebrews.

Note: Thanks to Kregel Academic & Professional for the review copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

On reading books

Catching up on my reading lists:

I have been reading quite a bit lately. Up until 1998 I would read 4-5 fiction books, 2-3 historical books, plus 3-4 theological books every week. But since then have not read many historical works. Now I read 2-4 fiction books per week and always have 3-5 theological books in progress. So here is my update on theological and historical reading.

Theological books to review:

Soon I will post book reviews of the following theological ones. I have finished reading the first two.

Brunn, Dave. One Bible, Many Versions: Are All Translations Created Equal? IVP Academic, 2013.

Bateman, Herbert IV. Charts on the Book of Hebrews (Kregel Charts of the Bible and Theology). Kregel Publications, 2012.

Kierspel, Lars. Charts on the Life, Letters, and Theology of Paul (Kregel Charts of the Bible). Kregel Publications, 2012.

Harvey, John. Interpreting the Pauline Letters: An Exegetical Handbook (Handbooks for New Testament Exegesis). Kregel Academic, 2012.

And a change of pace

I have read many history books over thepast 45 years. Usually I will read several books on a specific topic or time period, then move on to another. In early adulthood, I read much on World War II; my father, uncle, and father-in-law all served in the Pacific, so it was close to my heart and family. A neighbor had been a survivor of the Bataan Death March. When I went into the Navy in the early 1970’s Watergate was becoming big news. So for a few years that topic interested me.

World War I also fascinated me, because several of our neighbors had fought in the War. I helped several of them with their farming, etc. They never talked about it, but one had suffered miserably from it. I had read a few books over a period of 4-5 years, but eventually quit reading anything on it.

The futility of WWI and the stupidity of many leaders finally overwhelmed me. The stubbornness of leaders sending hundreds of thousands of troops into certain death just did not set right with me. This last week when I was looking for more books to read, my wife picked up one on display. She looked at it and I checked it out.

Groom, Winston. A Storm in Flanders the Ypres Salient, 1914-1918: Tragedy and Trumph on the West. New York, NY Atlantic Monthly Press, 2002.

Cover of "A Storm in Flanders: The Ypres ...
Cover via Amazon

And so I begin another journey into this war. My heart still aches at the senseless suffering and death. But this book is so well written that I am drawn into it. The author does more than present the agony of death; he invites us into a better sense of it throughout the 4+ years of fighting.

Voskamp on Depression

Ann Voskamp has a way with words and images. Her post from Monday looks at the need and opportunity for the Church to minister to those who hurt. She challenges the Church to be Church for those who suffer and the families who endure.

What Christians Need to Know about Mental Health

I once heard a pastor tell the whole congregation that he had lived next to the loonie bin and I looked at the floor when everyone laughed and they didn’t know how I loved my mama. I looked to the floor when they laughed, when I wanted them to stand up and reach through the pain of the flames and say:

Our Bible says Jesus said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a doctor, but those who are sick.” Jesus came for the sick, not for the smug. Jesus came as doctor and He makes miracles happen through medicine and when the church isn’t for the suffering, then the Church isn’t for Christ.

Thanks, Ann, for setting before us once again to be what Christ has called us to be.

Here is today’s post: so good!

When Life Burns… What We Could Do for Each Other

Depression—a pleasant surprise

This post is one that I thought I would never write. Not because it is bad, but the opposite. I have battled severe depression for at least the past 30 years, always between the end of January to the beginning of April (except for 1997-1999 when it went on for three full years and three more years to recover). You can read about some of that in these posts.

Depression—the triggers that surprise

Depression and Memory

 The blessings of family and friends

Sometimes it is hard

Have you hugged your porcupine today?

So what has happened this year? I have not sunk to the depths of despair and depression as in the past (with no medicine!). It is so unusual that each night for the past 12 weeks, I have gone to sleep thinking: will tomorrow bring that pit? Will this day end with the plunge into depression tomorrow? It’s almost as if this is too good to be true. Will the “other shoe drop”?

And yet, it has not! There has not been the crash, the loneliness, the isolation, that I keep expecting. This is so unusual that I am still getting used to this. Right now I can’t even point to something that changed in my life. I am very thankful to God that I have gone through this period without depression. I don’t remember the last time that was true.

At this time I understand a little better and appreciate what Paul wrote:

Our bodies are made of clay, yet we have the treasure of the Good News in them. This shows that the superior power of this treasure belongs to God and doesn’t come from us. In every way we’re troubled, but we aren’t crushed by our troubles. We’re frustrated, but we don’t give up. We’re persecuted, but we’re not abandoned. We’re captured, but we’re not killed. We always carry around the death of Jesus in our bodies so that the life of Jesus is also shown in our bodies. (2 Corinthians 4:7-10 GW)

In quiet thankfulness and humility, I praise God for this respite! But still I am sensitive to those who battle depression. We can pray for them, asking God to bring relief. Thank you for family and friends who have walked both the good and bad. This is one of the good times.