Archive for February 2013

Be Bold to Believe: Charles Spurgeon’s Spoken Word, February 23

February 23, 2013

I will never leave thee.”—Hebrews 13:5.

Be bold to believe, for He has said,
“I will never leave you, nor forsake you.”
In this promise, God gives to His people everything.

“I will never leave you.”
Then no attribute of God
can cease to be engaged for us.

Is He mighty?
He will show Himself strong
on the behalf of them that trust Him.

Is He love?
Then with lovingkindness
will He have mercy upon us.

Whatever attributes
may compose
the character of Deity,

every one of them to its fullest
extent shall be engaged on our side.
To put everything in one,

there is nothing you can want,
there is nothing you can ask for,
there is nothing you can need in time or in eternity,

there is nothing living, nothing dying,
there is nothing in this world,
nothing in the next world,

there is nothing now,
nothing at the resurrection-morning,
nothing in heaven which is not contained in this text—

“I will never leave you, nor forsake you.”

Getting A Whirlwind for Depression — Not a Wellbutrin: Carl Trueman on God’s Curious Bedside Manner With Job

February 18, 2013

Do we make too much of suffering?  Is depression sinful?  Is it always the result of personal sin?  Or poor preaching?  Or defective theology and unbalanced homiletic emphases?  I am convinced that this is not so.   Once one moves in that direction, one is positing a tight and necessary connection between personal issues and specific suffering.   That is not biblical and is pastorally very dangerous.  Yes, suffering can sometimes be that way: the man who cheats on his wife and loses his family suffers as a direct result of his personal sin.  But is the depressed person necessarily suffering because of some specific sin?   The Bible, I believe, teaches that this is not so.

Job boils.jpgPreaching through Job recently, I was very struck by the Lord’s final intervention.   Job has suffered incredibly throughout the book; and we, the readers, know that none of this is his fault.  It is the result of the battle between God and the Accuser and, if anything, Job’s suffering is thus the result of his devotion to the Lord, which Satan wishes to test.   And by the end of Job’s last big speech (Job 31) he is depressed, and with good reason.  The man has lost everything.

When God finally comes to Job, to this man who has suffered so much devastation, it is stunning that he comes in the whirlwind.  No still small voice here: he comes in the whirlwind (and a brief search of ‘whirlwind’ passages in the Old Testament indicates that is not indicative of what we might call good bedside manner).  Further, the Lord tells Job to arm himself as a man (‘man up’, I guess, would be the modern cliché) and then, rather than telling Job to deal with his own sin or even expressing the tiniest fragment of sympathy for him in his suffering, he subjects Job to a blistering lecture about divine greatness and sovereignty.  Then, when Job has been crushed into silence, the Lord pushes on relentlessly, describing two terrifying beasts, Behemoth and Leviathan.   If Robert Fyall’s exegesis is correct (and I believe it is) then Leviathan is Satan; thus, only at this point does God offer any real help (as we might understand it) to Job, as he lifts the curtain just a little and allows Job to grasp that his suffering is a function of a greater and more complicated universe than he can possibly imagine, and that, whatever the empirical facts, the Lord has ultimate and overall control.

As I preached on this passage, I highlighted the fact that, by the criteria of today’s world, even by the criteria of modern pastoral theology, the Lord is a total failure.  Far too abrupt, harsh and unsympathetic.  This is even more striking, given that the Lord knows that Job’s suffering is nothing to do with any specific sin Job has committed or harbours in his heart. Job is not responsible for his own suffering: that is, after all, the basic premise of the book.Yet the Lord comes in the whirlwind.   Not exactly touchy-feely pastoral, is it?

The Lord knows Job’s suffering is not Job’s fault.   Thus, he does not tell Job to examine himself to root out his sin.  Further, he seems to show no sympathy for Job; he berates him from the whirlwind; he offers no kind words of encouragement; and he does not even restore Job until after the sacrifice and intercession of the last chapter.  We should also ask: how complete was Job’s restoration?  This man had lost ten children.  Yes, he receives ten more.  But children are not like iPods: they have individual identities, faces, histories, personalities.  The loving father knows that each and every one of his children is, quite literally, irreplaceable.  How many nights in later life would Job have lain awake, remembering with a broken heart the names and faces and the stories and the good times of his first children?  And none of this was anything to do with Job’s own sins or faults.

The lessons of Job are manifold but it seems that a few rather stand out: this is aJob family.jpg complicated, fallen, evil world; Christians can expect to suffer – hey, we all die in the end, no matter how jolly we might feel at points in the interim, so we had better get used to the idea; Christians are no more exempt from depression than they are from cancer or strokes; and the idea that these things are necessarily linked to our lack of faith, to our personal sin, to our outlook on life, or, indeed, to anything intrinsic to us, is nonsense and unbiblical.  A pastoral theology which has not grappled with the whirlwind and the speeches of the last part of Job is sub-biblical; and preaching which does not take these things into account is not biblical preaching.  One might add that perhaps one of the key lessons of Job (and the Psalms, for that matter) is: it is OK to be depressed.  It is horrible and grim and dark.  But it may not be your fault, any more than cancer or a stroke are your fault.  Above all, it does not mean that you are forgotten by God, even if God only ever seems to come to you in the whirlwind; and, finally, it does not mean that you will not participate in the glorious resurrection when all the travails of this world will be definitively left behind.

(From Carl Trueman’s blog, here)

A Response to Calls for Mandatory Treatment in the Wake of Newtown

February 2, 2013

There are so many clamoring for forced treatment of the mentally disordered. Last week, Gabby Gifford’s husband testified about her assailant,  that “he was never reported to mental health authorities.”   It is sobering to think of the kind of   “authorities”  who would be appointed for this purpose, when the American Psychiatric Association is itself in such disarray. The New York Times has invited responses to its recent editorial about this issue, and this is my attempt at it:

Dear Sirs:

To mandate psychiatric care in a system so manifestly broken seems a cruel and inhumane treatment for those suffering mental disorders. Those who argue that the system is not in crisis should be ignored, as they are not paying attention, or  they are likely the ones  who broke the system in the first place.  Please listen instead to those with lived experience, who have issued a mandate for care. I someone who has learned the hard way that the system is so, so broken. The symptoms of  Psychiatry’s dysfunction are overwhelming, and space constrains me  to name  only a few.

  • The APA has not even a consensus on proper diagnoses  in its newest diagnostic manual. “The gross incompetence of DSM-5 will likely return us to a Babel of many languages — different people using different methods of diagnoses” says Dr. Allen Frances, its leading critic, and he urges  practitioners to ignore its ten worst changes.   Some urge a boycott.
  • It has no meaningful disciplinary system — the government  recently settled against GlaxoSmithKline for 3 billion for their criminal marketing behavior, but the ghost writing authors of   “Study 329” had no similar correction from the JAACP, and  the Key Opinion Leaders GSK bought  and paid to spread the word that the whole world could be “happy, horny and skinny” with Wellbutrin are still writing prescriptions.
  • Perhaps its worst injury is that  Psychiatry does its greatest harm to those who are most weak and marginalized
    —  to those who are young and those who are minorities.   Dr. Frances in his scathing critique of the DSM-V I linked to above, rightly rebukes  Child Psychiatry for expanding its  diagnostic dragnet with Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder rather than repenting of its “sorry  track record” and calls  the field  to “engage itself now in the crucial task of educating practitioners and the public about the difficulty of accurately diagnosing children and the risks of over- medicating them.” And when persons of color are given a stigmatizing diagnosis like schizophrenia at a higher rate, and given harsher treatments for their mental disorders –it is what  this author calls  Psychiatry’s  “darker side of cultural variance, as not only does it affect the diagnosis, but it can also negatively effect the patient’s treatment.”  There is a reason it is people of color who are largely the ones housed in the nations largest mental health facilities,  that is, our county jails.

I have loved ones who have been treated by the psychiatric system. Twice I have had to place involuntary psychiatric holds, so  I know intimately the anguish of this decision, and the helplessness one feels when it seems little can be done to help a dear one spinning out of control. But I know equally well the futility  of such mandated care — the bureaucratic nightmare Psychiatry’s inapt answers  and broken delivery system forces upon the already suffering extended family.  The crisis is especially acute in the care of adolescents at risk.

When my own loved ones began showing symptoms,  we went through psychiatrist after psychiatrist. I found out again that the system is so, so broken. The meds  prescribed off-label made things so much worse, adding paranoia, weight gain and tardive dyskinesia into the volatile mix of symptoms .  These brave dear ones have defied the system and their psychiatric labels.  They did the research, cheeked their meds and tapered themselves off  psychotropics completely, and in the process they educated me. Their days are not without struggle, but they hold a narrative of hope and recovery now that emboldens them to persevere in the fight for a dignified life. They refuse the psychiatric  establishment’s  story that they have a crippling chemical imbalance in their brains that dooms them  to a lifetime of substandard living.

I wish I had never gone bankrupt with that first 5150 years ago — it  depleted our resources , financially and emotionally. I found out too late that forcing treatment does more harm than good. I wish I had never made use of these kinds of empty answers for those souls in distress so many years ago. I learned too late that I have something greater than Psychiatry’s bad ‘physic’. I have the Great Physician. I have the Gospel, and I have the helping community a healthy church demonstrates, and what the psychiatric system consistently fails to provide.

Until there are better proven outcomes from Psychiatry’s failed methodology, I think I will  do better to stay in my own camp for now. On the edges of accepted society, among the marginalized, is where Jesus did his doctoring, and that place  suits me just fine.