Friday, May 14, 2010

What is “Mental Illness?”

Before you jump to the conclusion that you are mentally ill and that your painful, crippling symptomology means that you’re more screwed up than others, consider another perspective. What if we all – and that includes those who are deemed psychologically “healthy” – have psychological tumors that are every bit as lethal as the physical varieties? For one thing, oodles of studies reveal that we do have them – tumors of self-delusion. (11/9/05; Self-images Often Erroneously Inflated) reports:

“In one study of nearly a million high school seniors, 70 percent said they had 'above average leadership skills, but only 2 percent felt their leadership skills were below average.' Another study found that 94 percent of college professors think they do above average work. And in another study, ‘when doctors diagnosed their patients as having pneumonia, predictions made with 88 percent confidence turned out to be right only 20 percent of the time.’”

Confidence can empower, but I’d prefer accuracy over delusions of grandeur, especially from my physician. Such delusions also impose serious obstacles to meaningful relationships. Ever try communicating with someone self-deluded into thinking they’re Julius Caesar? Not much basis for real dialogue! Or let’s just take the garden variety high school senior who thinks they are the next Winston Churchill in terms of leadership ability. It’s not hard to envision relational conflicts.

Surprisingly, those who are experiencing mild depression or the results of a trauma do not readily host this nasty tumor. Shelley Taylor (Positive Illusions) writes,

“Normal people exaggerate how competent and well liked they are. Depressed people do not. Normal people remember their past behavior with a rosy glow. Depressed people are more even-handed…On virtually every point on which normal people show enhanced self-regard, illusions of control, and unrealistic visions of the future, depressed people fail to show the same biases.” (p.214)

Perhaps pain isn’t so bad? Perhaps it’s even necessary! Sadly, once the psychological torment passes, these aggressive tumors return. Taylor confesses,

“When depressed people are no longer depressed, they show the same self-enhancing biases and illusions as non-depressed people.” (p.223)

Perhaps suffering is a bridle restraining our galloping egotism? Perhaps also we might regard our emotional/mental symptomology as an opportunity for growth and maturity! No one complains when a successful cancer surgery causes pain. We accept the necessity of pain because of the potential benefits.

But surgeries are invasive and can also disfigure, as can our symptomology. How can we live with our disfigurements, failures, and weaknesses? I’ve found that this is only possible by knowing that I have a Savior who can take my blemishes and turn them into beauty marks – a Lover who is not repulsed by my “ugliness,” but instead is drawn by it:

• “The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
(Psalm 34:17-18)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Hesitant about Apologetics?

Many question the value of apologetics, the discipline that provides rational reasons-to-believe for the Christian faith (1 Peter 3:15). One friend commented that he’s seen many come to faith without any rational grease to lubricate this transition. Although this may be true, many others require some form of mental shoehorn to ease them past the doubts and intellectual objections.

I’m not trying to argue for a salvation by rationality. Salvation is clearly of the Lord (2 Tim. 2:24-26) and entirely His free gift to us (Eph. 2:8-9). However, He has demonstrated that He’s not at all adverse to using argumentation (Acts 17:2-4; 18:4), wisdom (2 Tim. 3:15) and evidences (John 10:37; 20:31; Acts 1:3; 2:22; Hebrews 2:4) to accomplish His miraculous work of salvation.

However, the rational underpinning of the faith is of paramount importance to those of us who already believe. I’ve been blessed with weakness-of-faith. My nature is fretful and doubting. Whenever a doubt entered into my anxious thought-life, I was never able to merely dismiss it. It was like an infection that had to be lanced and drained, or else it would spread. I couldn’t make believe that it wasn’t there. It was just too painful. In this way, Christ coerced me to deal with these issues.

Although this process had been so painful, I can now thank God for the weakness, because through it, He created in me assurance and strength. He has comforted me with His knowledge and has privileged me with something precious that I can pass on to others (2 Cor. 1:4). Consequently, I now enjoy going to atheist meetings and blogging in hostile environs. It gives me far more pleasure than playing tennis.

Although having this protective rational defense isn’t the faith itself, it serves as a protective shield for our spiritual life in the same way that the earth’s atmosphere shields us from dangerous rays, while it allows the beneficial rays to enter our lives (2 Cor. 10:4-5). To ignore this shield is to ignore the Bible, which gives us so many warnings against the power of bad teachings to corrupt faith and to draw many away from Christ.

It was for this reason that Paul required that elders possessed a mastery of Scripture so that they would be able to refute false teachings that were leading people away from Christ (Titus 1:7-11). Paul also warned that false philosophies, when embraced, also had such power (Col. 2:8, 18-23). Jesus wasn’t a fear-monger, but He warned His disciples against the corrosive doctrines of the religious leadership (Matthew 7:15; Mark 8:15).

When we ignore apologetics, we ignore the welfare of the Church and the commands of Scripture to defend the Church (Jude 3). Many had been devastated by reading the DaVinci Code, which suggested that the Bible was merely the product of political infighting and that many other equally substantial candidates for canonical inclusion had been arbitrarily rejected. Fortunately, a number of able apologists came forth with books and DVDs to address this potent threat.

However, if I leave apologetics (defense of the faith) at this point, I would fail show the significance of this study. Apologetics isn’t simply defensive – taking captive the challenges that come to us from science, psychology, history, and Biblical criticism, according to the Gospel – it’s also “offensive.” Apologetics also elucidates faith-building and God-glorifying intra-Biblical phenomena. It demonstrates how Christ has fulfilled prophecy. Regarding this, Jesus purposely prophesied to His struggling disciples about what would later occur so that “when it does happen, you will believe” (John 14:28-29). They needed corroborating evidences. So do we! When we lack these, we are easily muscled into silence by those who retort, “What right do you Christians have to tell believers in other religions that you have the truth and they don’t! That’s just arrogant. How do you presume that your religious experiences are any more valid than theirs? They also have their ‘revelations.’” If we can’t argue that Christ is not only our life, but He’s also the truth – and there are reasons to believe this – then their charge of “arrogance” remains.

Too often I’ve heard people say – especially theistic evolutionists – that “The Bible isn’t about proof but proclamation.” Of course, it is about proclamation, but it’s also about proof, at least according to Moses:

• “You were shown these things [miracles] so that you might know that the LORD is God; besides him there is no other. From heaven he made you hear his voice to discipline you. On earth he showed you his great fire, and you heard his words from out of the fire”
(Deut. 4:35-36).

The consistent message of Scripture is that our God doesn’t simply want to feed our hearts but He also wants to sustain our minds. Even Jesus taught that His disciples shouldn’t believe in Him without corroborating evidences (John 5:31-38).

Apologetics also shows off the wisdom of the Bible. I especially enjoy doing this in the area of psychology – showing that faith in Christ best addresses our psychological needs. In comparison, the secular counterparts are grossly inferior and all carry pricey side-effects. This glorifies our Lord and declares, by the stark contrast with the inferior alternatives, His greatness. The study of science also can accomplish this (Psalm 19:1-2).

Also, apologetics closely scrutinizes the unity of the Word of God, demonstrating the singular plan of God that neatly threads it all together. Beholding the consistency between the Old and New Testaments is no less than breath-taking. So many have been encouraged in their faith by seeing that the doctrines of our New Testament weren’t suddenly invented by our creative Apostles, but instead had been strategically placed in the Old to be fully revealed at just the right time (1 Peter 1:10-12). Consequently, apologetics and theology are intimately married.

I might be weak in faith and require more rational reassurances than most, but we all are weak to some extent. Our faith is always under construction (1 Peter 4:11). Jesus referred to John the Baptist as the greatest of mothers’ sons, however he too required rational reassurances as he languished in jail. Even though He had seen the Holy Spirit descend upon Jesus when he baptized Him, it wasn’t enough. From prison, John sent his disciples to Jesus to ascertain whether Jesus was truly the Messiah. Jesus didn’t send them back to John with the reprimand, “Oh, just tell that softy to believe and quit asking for more proofs.” Instead, Jesus provided John with evidences (Matthew 11:5-6). Sadly, I’ve heard so many testimonies where reasons and evidences couldn’t be given to inquiring church youth. They then concluded that there simply weren’t any, and they left the church.

Without the protective shield of evidences and proofs, we become highly vulnerable to the assaults of doubt. Jesus’ crucifixion caused His disciples to doubt and flee. However, Jesus restored them through the compelling proofs of His resurrection (Acts 1:3). Conversely, a rejection of apologetics becomes an invitation to hungry viruses to invade and to take us captive, instead of our fulfilling our mandate to take them captive (2 Cor. 10:4-5).

None of us is above doubting (1 Cor. 10:13). Jesus promised that the power of false teachings and signs can be so overwhelming that even His chosen ones would be deceived (Matthew 24:11, 24). Indeed, He will not allow this to happen. However, don’t count on His protection if we reject the commands to defend His faith (1 Peter 3:15).

Sunday, May 9, 2010


Mental health professionals recognize that living in accordance with our moral convictions is an important factor for mental health. Accordingly, Karen Wright wrote,

"Eudaimonia refers to a state of well-being and full functioning that derives from a sense of living in accordance with one’s deeply held values."

This is so obvious. Even atheists perceive this and are intent upon living moral lives. However, they ascribe their moral programming to evolution. For example, Richard Dawkins writes:

"Natural selection, in ancestral times when we lived in small stable bands like baboons, programmed into our brains altruistic urges, alongside sexual urges, hunger urges, xenophobic urges and so on."

Consequently, altruism has nothing to do with truth or a right and wrong, but chance processes. Why then follow these altruistic urges? Appealing to our genetic programming isn’t adequate. Should we be “xenophobic” (fearful of strangers) merely because we had been “programmed” with this reaction? Of course not! Why then be altruistic? For the atheist, the only possible answer is pragmatic. Altruistic behavior works; it benefits the doer with good feelings. It’s solely a matter of cost/benefit analysis.

Atheist, humanist, and author of the Humanist Manifesto II, Paul Kurtz affirms that pragmatism is the “only” possible justification for morality:

"How are these principles [of equality, freedom, etc.] to be justified? They are not derived from a divine or natural law nor do they have a special metaphysical [beyond the material world] status. They are rules offered to govern how we shall behave. They can be justified only by reference to their results."

However, pragmatism isn’t adequate. Sometimes it isn’t pragmatic to be moral. Hiding Jews from the Nazis wouldn’t pass the cost/benefit analysis. The price of a bullet in the head of the entire family is just too high! Therefore, non-theists can not live in harmony with both their rationale and the law of God written upon their conscience (Rom. 2:14-15). Either they hide Jews and violate their pragmatic rationale or they don’t hide Jews and violate their conscience. Heart and mind (pragmatism) are divided and in conflict. In either case, their mental well-being will suffer, because they are unable to live “in accordance with one’s deeply held values.”

More fundamentally, the one who denies God and therefore denies the moral absolutes of the conscience will fail to derive the benefits of eudaimonia. There is little satisfaction in living in accordance with the dictates of the conscience if we understand it to be no more than a tyrannical electro-chemical reaction that demands us to make sacrifices that go against our desires and then punishes us with guilt feelings. In other words, just take a conscience-numbing drug!

In contrast, for the Christian, the conscience and the Word (heart and mind) represent the will of God, the source of all truth, joy, peace and love. We have every reason to regard it as a tremendous privilege to follow Him. Understandably, living according to His truth is a delight (Psalm 1:1-3; John 4:34).

For Mothers

Rebekah had made the most promising Biblical debut imaginable. She had been gloriously and unequivocally chosen by God for the child-of-the-promise, Isaac (Genesis 24). And it also seemed that their union had started out on just the right note (Genesis 24:67).

It possessed all of the earmarks of a charmed life, but signs of family discord would soon become manifest. “And Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob” (Genesis 25:28).

Such favoritism eventually led to treachery. Rebekah inspired her son Jacob to deceive his blind father into giving Jacob the blessing intended for his favorite son, Esau. Initially, Jacob objected to his mother’s deception, but not for moral reasons:

“And Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, ‘Look, Esau my brother is a hairy man, and I am a smooth-skinned man. Perhaps my father will feel me, and I shall seem to be a deceiver to him; and I shall bring a curse on myself and not a blessing.’ But his mother said to him, ‘Let your curse be on me, my son…’” (Gen. 27:11-12).

However, the plot began to spiral out of control. Rebekah learned that Esau wanted to kill Jacob as a result of the stolen blessing:

“Now then, my son, do what I say: Flee at once to my brother Laban in Haran. Stay with him for a while until your brother's fury subsides. When your brother is no longer angry with you and forgets what you did to him, I'll send word for you to come back from there. Why should I lose both of you in one day?" (Genesis 27:43-45).

However, sin has a way of recoiling against the sinner and we reap the fruit of our own ways (Proverbs 1:31-32). As far as we can tell, Jacob never again heard from his beloved mother. He remained with Laban for twenty years, and when he finally returned to the Promised Land, there this no indication that he ever saw Rebekah.

How can what had seemed to be so right and so of God have ended so badly? Rebekah was so clearly chosen of God. Besides this, she married a man who had been designated as the child of the promise. Nevertheless, it also seems obvious that Jacob had inherited his mother’s cheating ways. However, before we try to answer this question, we need to see that it’s part of a much greater question. How is it that we, who are chosen by God from the foundation of the world – saved, sanctified and sealed – perform so badly at times? How is it that our lives seem to fail to reflect our glorious heavenly calling?

The Apostle Paul claims that there is a good reason for this:

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (2 Cor. 4:7, NIV).

Our Lord leaves us in our imperfections that we might better show off His perfections and the surpassing hope we have in Him. King David was a “man after God’s own heart,” but he certainly had his failings. Although he had numerous wives, this didn’t prevent him from taking an additional wife, even from one who had been his faithful subject. He then murdered him and surpressed the entire matter. However, the matter wasn’t hidden from God. As a result David lost his child from his wife of adultery, Bathsheba, despite all his prayers.

However, Bathsheba became pregnant again, and David named his son with the unusual name of “Shlomo” (“Solomon” in English, meaning “peace”). It probably had been David’s profound hope and prayer that there would now be peace between him and God, however unlikely this possibility might now be, by virtue of his grievous sins.

It’s hard for anyone to believe that God could bless the fruits of such an unholy union, but God wanted to show that, out of David’s weakness and sins, He was able to do exceedingly, beyond anything that we could dream. He therefore instructed the prophet Nathan to inform David that He had His own name for Solomon:

“Then David comforted his wife Bathsheba, and he went to her and lay with her. She gave birth to a son, and they named him Solomon. The LORD loved him; and because the LORD loved him, he sent word through Nathan the prophet to name him Jedidiah” (2 Samuel 12:24-25).

Jedidiah means “beloved of God.” God informed David, in the most poignant way, that He would do better than “peace.” Solomon would be beloved of God, once more demonstrating that He could and would take our most imperfect and contemptible “jars of clay” and exalt them for His glory.

Our Savior is glorified most in the midst of the greatest darkness. He was glorified most in the midst of our greatest sin – the crucifixion of Christ our Lord (John 13:31)! His surpassing glory is most joyously worshipped from the pit of our own “jars of clay.”

Jacob had the hubris to wrestle with God and force a blessing out of Him, only by His willingness, of course! Nevertheless, this was a culpable and punishable sin before God (Hosea 12:2-4). Despite this fact, Jacob found blessing. Not only was his name changed from the unenviable Jacob (“cheater”) to Israel (God’s wrestler”), but he was also introduced to the Gospel of our Lord. God had blessed him in the midst of his sin, his abuse of God – the essence of the Gospel itself. Two thousand years later, our Lord would again allow Himself to be abused by our sinfulness, and again, from the blood of His Cross, would flow the greatest blessing that humankind could ever conceive.

After the ailing Jacob had been reunited with his beloved Joseph in Egypt, Joseph called upon him to bless him and his family. Jacob made reference to the Angel (God) from whom he had presumptuously wrestled a blessing:

“And he blessed Joseph, and said: ‘God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, The God who has fed me all my life long to this day, The Angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless [this term is in the singular, indicating that Jacob understood the Three as One!!] the lads…” (Genesis 48:15-16).

Jacob understood that his wrestling match with God wasn’t merely a matter of a name change. It represented redemption itself – God paying the price for Jacob’s sin. But it required that Jacob realizing that he was a “jar of clay.” In the midst of the wrestling, the Angel touched Jacob’s hip and he became a lifelong cripple. He could not longer trust in his abilities run and escape. He would now have to trust in the One who redeemed him “from all evil.”

Directly before his encounter with the Angel, Jacob was informed that his aggrieved brother Esau was approaching with 400 armed men. Terrified, Jacob hatched a Jacobesque plan. He would divide his company into two. The forward group, which would first encounter Esau, was comprised of his least esteemed possessions, the latter company of his wives, children and himself, of course. If anything happened to the first company, he would then flee with the second.

However, he had now been rendered a cripple, but he also had become more intimately acquainted with God and His redemption. Consequently, it was Jacob himself who led the way to the fearful encounter with his brother, as everyone else watched.

Rebekah, although gloriously chosen of God, was a highly imperfect vessel, but this fact could not interfere with the plan of God. Indeed, she gave birth to Jacob, and Jacob to Judah, and Judah to the Savior of humankind. Her failings actually served the plan of God. We are all jars of clay, we all have imperfect mothers, and we all carry the scars of sin, whether emotional or physical. Nevertheless, He uses our weaknesses to perfect His glorious and mysterious work.

“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen” (Romans 11:33-36).

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Some Things are Absolutely Wrong, But Why?

Some atheists deny the existence of moral absolutes – like genocide and rape are absolutely wrong – knowing that acknowledging them leads inevitably to God’s front door. It’s hard to maintain that certain behaviors are absolutely wrong, without also acknowledging an absolute Source that makes them absolutely wrong! For example, atheist Bertrand Russell wrote, “Ethics arises from the pressures of the community on the individual.” Likewise, Michael Ruse wrote, “Morality is just an aide to survival and reproduction…any deeper meaning is illusory.”

Other atheists, embarrassed by the denial of self-evident moral absolutes, embrace them as absolutes, but try to pry them loose from God’s bosom. This latter option was taken by atheist and professor of philosophy and legal studies at Dartmouth, Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, in his debate against the Christian William Lane Craig. He insists that we don’t need God in order to believe that our morals have an objective and absolute basis:

“Morality in the philosophical sense can be objective, even if people’s beliefs about it are subjective – [People disagree about everything!] After all, scientific beliefs have biological and cultural origins as well. Just as it is objectively true that the earth moves around the sun, although biology and culture lead some people to believe otherwise, so rape is objectively morally wrong.”

So far, so good! Even if people disagree subjectively about whether rape is morally wrong, this disagreement doesn’t mean that rape isn’t absolutely wrong. Similarly, scientific disagreement about the relative movements of earth and sun doesn’t prove that there isn’t a correct and absolute scientific answer.

However, what is it that makes rape absolutely wrong, whether the masses agree or not? Sinnott claims the “duty not to rape is owed to the victim.”

The Christian agrees. After all, we are our brother’s keeper, and we owe everyone the obligation to be ultimately committed to their best interests as Christ has committed Himself in love according to our best interests. However, when the atheist eliminates God, he also eliminates the moral underpinning necessary to make his case. After all, what obliges me to the victim or to anyone else? My first duty is to survive and to pass on my genes to as many as I can.

Sinnott anticipates this objection:

“Even if atheists were stuck with saying, ‘It just is immoral,’ that would be a problem for atheism only if theists could give a better answer. They cannot.”

Sinnott is correct. Theism would have to be able to demonstrate that it’s superior to atheism. He believes that invoking “God” offers nothing additional to the moral equation:

• “Why should we obey God’s commands? The answer cannot be that God will punish us if we disobey, since might does not make right. Even if a government commands you to turn in runaway slaves and will punish you if you don’t, that does not make it morally wrong to hide runaway slaves [Correct!]. Some theists answer that we should obey God’s commands because God gave us life. But our parents also gave us life, and yet, at least in modern societies, we do not have to marry whomever our parents tell us to [Somewhat correct! Nevertheless, we do owe a debt of gratitude and obedience to our parents]. Theists might argue that it’s simply immoral to disobey God, but that claim is no more illuminating than when atheists say that it is simply immoral to cause unjustified harm. A better answer is that God has good reasons for his commands. God commands us not to rape because rape harms the victim. But then that harm (not the command) is what makes rape immoral. Rape would be just as harmful without God, so rape would be morally wrong without God.”

That would be like saying that drinking this glass of water would be just as refreshing without God. Well, without God, there wouldn’t be water or anyone to drink it. Likewise, without God, there could not be any life, moral indignation or victimization.

While I think that all of the reasons cited by Sinnott carry some moral weight, I think that there are better reasons to affirm that the Christian has a far better moral foundation than does the atheist:

1. We can’t even make any credible moral judgments apart from stable, unchanging, rational measuring sticks. While the Christian worldview can account for unchanging judgments – God – the atheistic worldview can only account for what they see: molecules-in-motion. If change is the rule, how can we make an judgment absolutely? With change, perhaps tomorrow rape would be OK.

2. People are always changing. What they need is also in flux. Therefore, moral truth can’t be solely based upon our obligation to the victim, otherwise our system of moral absolutes is rendered incoherent. It must be based on a changeless God.

3. It has to be uniform in its application. Rape has to be wrong in all societies and in all places and at all times. It can’t change according to social/cultural/historical conditions. Without a moral uniformity that can come only from God, it isn’t logically possible to argue against a culture that uses rape as a form of criminal punishment.

4. Absolute moral law must come from a singular and transcendent source. It has to be great enough to trump all of our selfish, pragmatic concerns. If instead, there are multiple sources or gods, then there is no reason to not have conflict among the various gods. Sinnott has nothing higher to which to appeal. In his world, there is no court of last appeal, just a cacophony of conflicting voices without a Law by which to adjudicate among them.

5. Moral absolutes have to be authoritative. It’s not good enough to equate moral laws with physical laws. We can defy the law of gravity with impunity by getting on an airplane. This shouldn’t be grounds for a criminal charge. Rape is another story. It breaks an authoritative moral law, and we know that it deserves punishment, not like flying in a plane. This is all to say that authorities must be personal and not mindless objects or laws.

6. Even if these moral laws are authoritative, this Authority must be able to make an adequate claim for our faith and obedience. If the moral laws are just impersonal, although punitive – gravity can hurt you if you jump off a building – then we return to the oppressiveness of might-makes-right. How dare gravity hurt me! In contrast, while there are negative consequences for not following the Law of Christ, it can also prove to be a great joy and privilege to serve the One who created us, has died for our sins, and continues to love us despite our own unworthiness.

I’m glad that Sinnott affirms the existence of moral absolutes, but how much better it would be for him if he had an adequate reason – a God reason – to believe in them!

Monday, May 3, 2010


Depressed people need hope more than anything else. They have been fighting a foe that is greater than they and have despaired of their own efforts. Psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl, had observed many struggle and finally acquiesce to the verdict of the death camps. In Man’s Search for Meaning, he writes:

"The prisoner who had lost his faith in the future—his future—was doomed. With his loss of belief in the future, he also lost his spiritual hold; he let himself decline and become subject to mental and physical decay."

Frankl understood that the best elixir for despair was hope. The Bible concurs: “A man's spirit sustains him in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?” (Proverbs 18:14, NIV). But how does one obtain hope? In The Noonday Demon, termed by one reviewer as “the definitive book on depression,” Andrew Solomon, himself a long-time sufferer, writes,

"Since depression is highly demotivating, it takes a certain survivor impulse to keep going through the depression, not to cave into it. A sense of humor is the best indicator that you will recover; it is often the best indicator that people will love you. Sustain that and you have hope."

A sense of humor is a great gift. Some have a natural endowment of it, while others have to learn it. However, it’s more than a skill; it’s also a vision of life. It can laugh at itself and one’s foibles, because they are foibles when compared to eternity (Rom. 8:18-19), and not the actual substance of life. Solomon understands the difficulty of laughter in the context of his reality:

"Of course it can be hard to sustain a sense of humor during an experience that is really not so funny. It is urgently necessary to do so…Whatever time is eaten by a depression is gone forever. The minutes that are ticking by as you experience the illness are minutes that you will not know again. No matter how bad you feel you have to do everything you can to keep living, even if all you can do for the moment is breathe. Wait it out and occupy the time of waiting as fully as you can. That’s my big piece of advice to depressed people."

Do better, try harder! That’s not very hopeful—especially not for those who really need hope. Indeed, we must often wait, but we also need to know that, when we are at our weakest and lowest, we are actually at our highest (2 Cor. 12:9-10)! We need the assurance that even in the midst of depression, our dear Lord is drawn to us in our pain (Isa. 57:15; 66:1-2; Psalm 34:17-18), is suffering along with us (Heb. 4:15; Isa. 63:7-11), and is working even our defeats and failures towards a blessed and eternal conclusion (Rom. 8:28; Phil. 1:6; John 6:37-40)!

Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Traveled, writes 15 years later about his journey from Zen Buddhism to Christianity. He had repeatedly observed that his Christian clients would improve, no matter how serious their psychiatric condition. He concludes,

"The quickest way to change your attitude toward pain is to accept the fact that everything that happens to us has been designed for our spiritual growth…We cannot lose once we realize that everything that happens to us has been designed to teach us holiness…We are guaranteed winners!"

If our hope is in ourselves rather than in our omnipotent and all-loving God, we have no guarantees except death and decay. Solomon also appreciates the power of faith:

Frankly, I think that the best treatment for depression is belief, which is in itself far more essential than what you believe in. If you really truly believe that you can relieve your depression by standing on your head and spitting nickels for an hour every afternoon, it is likely that this incommodious activity will do you tremendous good.

Indeed, it is a well-demonstrated fact that the placebo effect is powerful. If we believe in something, anything, it will make a difference, at least for the short-run. However, unless a faith accords with reality (our experiences and observations) and is nurtured by compelling evidences, it will subside and so too its positive influences.

God has not left His suffering people destitute of compelling reasons-to-hope. He has not been slack in providing authenticating miracles (Mat. 11:5-6; John 5:31-36; 10:37; 20:25-31; Acts 1:3; Heb. 2:4) and fulfilled prophecy (Luke 24:25-27, 44-45; John 14:28-29; 16:1-4, 32-33; Acts 17:2-4; 18:4; 28:23) to reassure our fretful minds.

The alternative to a trust in God is a trust in self. Such a trust is constantly under the attack by our experiences that indict this notion. We’re not worthy of self-trust, and consequently, it can only be maintained through a most repressive form of denial. Nevertheless, we yearn to trust, but trust can only flourish when finally married to its intended Husband.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Drug of Self-Trust

“You just gotta trust in yourself,” I overheard him say.

This message feels so right. It puts me in charge and hands me the steering-wheel. I’m in the driver’s seat, the captain of my own ship. I call the shots. No one can tell me where or how to navigate my vessel.

It’s a win-win. I win and can’t possibly loose! No hidden costs from what I can tell. I’m lifted up, exhilarated. My feet are off the ground. What feels so right can’t be wrong.

But it’s the appealing fruit that the serpent gave to Eve, and then Eve passed on to Adam. Just one taste will make me the creator, at least of my own life. But who could read the small print? Who would even try? Which captain would surrender his ship? And which creator would willingly step down? It’s just too intoxicating. Perhaps no longer intoxicating, but addictive – a drug I can’t jettison without dire psychological consequences.

No one tells you that trusting in yourself becomes an intolerable burden, a ship that requires constant maintenance, a diet that needs constant defense, an image that demands total upkeep, a front that depends on daily paint-jobs. It’s a hot-air balloon that’s always calling for more hot air, compliments, affirmations, reassurances and successes.

Self-trust became a monster that must be fed with the foods of attainment and recognition, or else it turns against you and consumes the host. It’s so tempting to believe that I’m a morally superior person. At first, it’s a drug high, but that high becomes increasingly elusive. This illicit trust demands positive feedback and denies the negative. It’s always got to be right and has lost the ability to receive correction.

Self-trust declares war against conscience and refuses to listen to anything that might contradict its line. Instead, it proclaims, “I am fine the way I am. I don’t need to change. I am a good and deserving person,” as friends quietly slip away and I’m left to struggle against conflicting inner voices.

Reality becomes a deadly enemy. Constructive criticism is a vicious personal assault. After all, they contradicts every distortion that self-trust is built on.

Self-trust demands payments in the form of rationalizations, excuses, and down-right denials. While it builds an impregnable edifice against truth, it keeps me within these walls – captive to obsessive introspection and negative comparisons, always looking for the next fix. It pays me dividends in the form of anxiety, self-consciousness and depression.

“What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God--through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
(Romans 7:24-25)

I think I’d rather trust in God, who accepts me as I am, so I can accept myself.