Physical-Spiritual Health and Feeling States
Definitions from Various Sources
In this series, I examine the topic: physical-spiritual health and feeling states through a biblical grid. In the appendix I add my study of certain Psalms that address our subject. I add my study: Was Jesus Depressed as well. There is an abundant amount of material in the appendix designed to convince of God’s approach to feeling states.
As we begin ask yourself: what is new about depression and other “feeling states?” In one sense nothing – there is ‘nothing new under the sun.’ In another sense everything is new. It all depends on how you define “feeling states” including depression. For instance, Webster defines depression as “low in spirit, sadness, dejection, gloominess, a decrease in force or activity,” and “discouragement and feelings of inadequacy.”
Webster also defines “melancholy” as a state of sadness, gloominess, broodiness, or depression of spirit. The compound term “melancholy” includes melanos – black, and chole – bile or gall. The Greeks thought of physiology in terms of humors or bodily fluids. They taught that black bile came from the kidneys or spleen and that bile caused bad feeling states. Medicine is still influenced in varying degrees to the Greek way of thinking. People do pick up on the blackness of bad feelings. They describe their situation as being in a black hole and darkness. Right there! Please catch the right there.
Biblical truth steps in and brings light to darkness. The Truth, Jesus Christ, came as the Light, Life, and Truth to set the captives free (John 8:12; 9;5; 14:6; 8:31-32)! Biblical truth shines so brightly that there is no darkness. Yet Jesus was rejected because the people loved darkness rather than the Light (John 1:1-11; 3:17-21).
When lay people speak of depression, they describe how they feel using terms such as discouraged, overwhelmed, down, blue, or hopeless. Or someone, assuming that the person is “depressed”, may ask: “What is the depression that you feel?” One patient told me that she didn’t need anything or anybody to “feel depressed” or to “depress” her, because she could “depress” herself about anything. On the other hand, medical care workers and doctors diagnose depression using various criteria including those contained in the Diagnostic and Statistics Manuel (DSM) and more abbreviated questionnaire forms.
The teaching that depression and other “feelings states” are diseases is well accepted and continues to come from some in the medical field. It appeals to our psychologized, consumer-informed, and consumer-driven society. And since “down feelings” are common, the offer of treatment appeals to hurting people which reinforces the idea that bad feelings are improved by a pill.
Functionally, the culture and psychiatry still hold to the pagan lie that feelings are the problem, and they must be changed. And medical science seems enamored with the view that chemicals are awry in the brain, neural pathways are somehow “out-of-kilter,” anatomic areas in the brain are somehow involved, and that these changes produce bad feelings. Therefore medications and mindfulness therapies are considered the mainstay of treatment of the medical disease called depression as well as other feeling states.
The emphasis on the so-called “mental illnesses” including various feeling states such as depression is based on a number of factors. The following data from the medical community is purported to give credibility to the term depression” as a “mental illnesses” and the need for its recognition and treatment. These include:
1. Frequency and under diagnosis: annually 10% of adults are diagnosed with major depression. Depression is reported to be the second leading cause of visits to the primary care physician. Its prevalence is said to double in our aging population. Figures are cited stating that between 13% and 25% of the population has depression. And some 80% of the people who are treated for “depression” have seen their family physicians before treatment.
2. Chronic nature: approximately half of those who are diagnosed as having depression will experience a recurrence within 2 years and more than 80% within 5-7years.
3. “Under treatment”: only about half of the patients with a “major depressive disorder” are diagnosed and treated. “The medical establishment” believes that primary care physicians don’t recognize depression, don’t treat it adequately, or don’t treat it to remission.
4. Impact: in economic terms, use of medical facilities, mortality, and “quality of life”: depression is reported to be bad because depressed persons have higher cardiovascular complications including myocardial infarctions (heart attacks), death, and generally have a “poor quality of life.” Depressed persons hyper-utilize medical services. Figures to verify that claim include the fact that of the top 10 reasons given for visiting an internist, “depressive disorders” rank 8th out of over 200,000 diagnoses. The number is even greater for visits to the primary care physician. One estimate is that there are 18 million office visits per year for depression, and 100 million prescriptions for antidepressants per year are written.
Moreover, many patients visit the doctor with various complaints that don’t fit a specific diagnosis. These patients are said to be “depressed” and treated with antidepressants. Moreover, even if a specific physical abnormality is found, these patients often receive antidepressants. The medical community apparently assumes that “depression” is part of life and that a “feeling state” requires medication.
5. Available medications: many antidepressants are on the market, and studies “report” varying success rates. However, subjectivity is the standard used to determine “success” or failure. The patient simply reports his feelings and his function. The appeal to feel better, especially with little effort on the part of the patient, is great. As noted above, antidepressants are among the most commonly prescribed medications in the United States.
The driving forces behind medicine’s focus on depression are: the belief and dogma that it is a common disease; people with depression have a poor quality of life; have more heart trouble; use medical facilities more frequently; and often die earlier. In other words, depression is bad for “you and your health.”
1. Society and culture are “medicalized” and “psychologized” – psychology and psychiatry heavily influence the understanding and solutions to “feelings” states.
2. Feeling states including “depression” are accepted as diseases.
3. The medical community is pushing for the earlier diagnosis and treatment of every “bad-feeling” state especially depression.
II. The influence of psychiatry and psychology
Next in the study of Physical-Spiritual health and feelings states, we are faced with a decision. All of the forgoing facts are considered a wake-up call to the medical community in particular and to society in general. The push is to have patients see the doctor in order to get a diagnosis and get treated. There is a rapid push to move diagnosis and treatment of depression into the area of primary care physicians.
Moreover, it is emphasized that it is imperative to diagnosis and treat depression as early as possible and until improvement or even remission. Therefore medicine has designed screening tools to implement the drive of early diagnosis in order to get the patient under treatment. Functionally, the definition of depression is based on only two screening questions:
1. In the past 2-4 weeks, have you felt down or depressed?
2. In the past 2-4 weeks, have you lost interest in things that you usually do?
Other questionnaires are used to monitor the alleged success or failure of the treatment regimen. As a consequence, more and more people are being placed on antidepressants. It almost appears that the hope of some medical providers and the drug industry is that these drugs become a way of life for many. No matter which criteria are used, the description of a person’s feelings or his feeling state is at the core of diagnosis making subjectivity the only standard for diagnosis.
1. The liberalization of the diagnostic criteria for depression is functionally replacing the DSM’s criteria.
2. The proposed criteria for a diagnosis of depression are based on the person’s description of his feelings, behavior, and lifestyle.
3. According to the medical community, early diagnosis of “feeling states” is mandatory if people are to be helped. Further, there is a push for frequent follow-up visits in order to insure medication compliance.
4. As a result, many more people will be on antidepressants and for a longer time.
III. Biblical counseling and feeling states
Next in our study of physical-spiritual health and feeling state, we move to counseling and the counselor. Initially, biblical counseling defined depression as giving in to bad feelings and giving up on life so that the person is functioning poorly or not at all. The definition arose out of the biblical truth that wrong thinking and wanting (the two are linked) complicates life leading to bad feelings and wrong actions. But from the vantage point of the sufficiency and superiority of Scripture for all of life rather theories and ideas unrelated to biblical truth, there must be a change in direction. The direction for helping people who are down (and perhaps down and out) centers on helping them respond to life – God’s providence – by proper thinking, wanting, and doing no matter how they feel.
Bad feelings are givens and are part of living in a sin-cursed, fallen world with a sin-cursed, failing body. God through His Son and by the Holy Spirit offers victory for every believer in any situation. But victory must be defined God’s way. The key to victory when faced with bad feelings is responding to them and the situation in which they arise by properly applying biblical truth. Only the believer can do that! The believer can and will gain victory even if the feelings and the situational context of those feelings are not removed. That last statement is a theological mountain that seems impossible to climb and even not true. When feeling bad, it is easy to live the lie that I am my feelings. It must be considered in the context of biblical truth for an accurate assessment of physical-spiritual health and feeling states.
However, many people, including believers assume the medical model in some form to be correct, and consider the “depressed” person to be a victim to outside pressure and even inside stuff such as genes, neurotransmitters, and various molecules. The person is told and taught that he and his response is not the problem. Rather, the problem is the “heat” and “pressure” of life. These two terms actually refer to God’s providence – His control. The person seems satisfied and in essence blames God for his response. He has bought the lie!
Functionally he was told that God made a mistake and even more so, God is not the believer’s hope and confidence. When faced with “feelings states” such as “depression,” even Christians rarely consult the Bible in order to find help. What can and should we do to change the playing field? The series: physical-spiritual health and feelings states address these issues.
Let me purpose a way so that as Christians including biblical counselors we don’t talk passed one another. Let me explain. One key issue is the definition of the depression. Some in Biblical counseling have defined “depression” very specifically and concretely – the person gives up on life because he gives in to feelings. The definition does not address the origin of the feelings. It does address the person’s response to them.
A corollary key issue is the origin of those feelings. The medical community would like to think that the brain – the body – is the culprit and have gone to great lengths to demonstrate changes in various parts of the brain. Changes of varying sorts and in varying degrees may be found in some people. Many interpret these findings as an advance over the “neurotransmitter” theory.
However, no one knows the level of a normal neurotransmitter. If one could show the level had changed or was changing the issue is still one of cause and effect. If the level could be determined as abnormal, the issue remains: is it the effect or the cause? I suggest that the same type of questions should be asked and answered in regard to neuroimaging findings. What is the significance of the putative changes reported in neuroimaging studies? Are they the chicken or the egg? Are the abnormalities correctible and if so how and why?
These latter questions move us into the area of anthropology – what is man, who is man, how does he work, and what is the influence of the outer man (including the brain) on the inner man and vice versa. Faced with the questions and assuming the answers to them and the standard one uses to interpret them are vitally important. The is only source to consult: the Word of God!
Too often people use feelings as their guide – if “I feel good, life is OK and I do function” (perhaps not much!). But if “I feel bad I don’t function.” When feelings are “really bad” a person assumes that he has a “body” problem, and he may function even less. His focus is on the feelings and relief (please see the discussion of biblical counseling’s description of depression in VI, VII, and VIII).
Addressing this dynamic and its understanding is most important. There are the people that are down and out. A diagnosis of depression will follow based on bad feelings and his response. There are others who are diagnosed as depressed because they complain of “feeling bad.” They are down but not out. These people visit a health system often reporting various symptoms such as aches and pains. Generally, these people are “unhappy campers” who attribute their feelings to everything and anything except their own thinking and responses to life including to their “bad feelings.” Usually they function to some degree, and often they are convinced that they have a body problem. They will receive a diagnosis of depression from a medical practitioner, and will be prescribed antidepressants. Now what?
I suspect many churches have people who carry the label of depression. Bad feelings abound! Rather, and more accurately, people who report and complain of bad feelings abound. They may or may not be on medications. They are still functioning. What is the proper approach for helping people who complain of bad feelings? We can continue the status quo and embrace the medicalized and psychologized approach and mindset. If we do, there will be a continuing tsunami of antidepressant use and people drowning in feelings. As a result, the superiority and sufficiency of Scripture for all of life will be undermined and marginalized. Improving feelings and function will continue to be the major therapeutic target; when a person reports he feels better because of medications, he will assume all is right with his world – even though it isn’t (Ecclesiastes 5:1-3).
In order to develop a biblical handle on physical-spiritual health and feeling states, I propose that we refrain from the use of such terms as “depression,” “bipolar,” “grief reaction,” “general anxiety disorder,” “panic attacks”, and “posttraumatic stress disorder.” Rather let’s simply consider these bad-feeling states. Why? The Bible, our source for life, speaks volumes in regard to feeling states.
Therefore, we should move from the Bible to the person. A person’s feelings – their origin and his response to them – are a spectrum. Medicine and people in our culture seemingly understand that and are trying to reach and treat people for every aspect of “bad feelings.” They have labeled a “feeling state” as disease which they believe gives them credibility and warrant for continuing this approach to life.
Rather, the Bible is a book from and about the very awesome God. The word awesome intends to emphasize and even scream out God’s greatness, beauty, magnificence, power, holiness, and otherness. The Bible is full of feeling words, and it gives answers for all feeling states.
After hearing a person’s story regarding his feeling state, we are in a position to present God’s truth. We avoid the controversy of “what is depression” (or any other feeling state). We simply examine how Scripture handles people with bad feelings. Bad feelings may come from organic problems. While medication – not for the feelings but the physical problem – may be useful, the key issue is responding to bad feelings in a God-honoring manner. Help God’s way requires knowledge of the origin of bad feelings and the person’s response to them. Helping people who feel bad is the key to godly living.
By God’s design, some portions of Scripture are more detailed in this area while others are not. The temptation can be to pull words and terms from their Scriptural lattice and context that sound like feeling words and draw conclusions based on our own thinking or that of the culture. We must be careful. Biblical counselors are required to understand God’s truth in its context and to bring it to our people.
1. In order to correctly evaluate physical-spiritual health and feeling states, we must learn how the beauty of biblical truth applied. A proper response to God’s providence is being undermined by the liberalization of the diagnostic criteria for depression and the abundant use of antidepressants.
2. The culture and the medical community realize that there are many functioning people who feel bad, visit the doctor often, utilize the health care system in greater numbers, and die earlier and more often. These people are considered “diseased” and need to be medicated.
3. Requiring a “functional shutdown” – inertia as a result of giving up on life – for the definition of depression misses the number of people who are diagnosed medically as being depressed based on medicine’s liberalized criteria.
4. The Bible documents the majesty and power of a good God who is in control for His glory and the good of his people. The Bible speaks volumes about feeling states and is the source for victory for all of life. It gives principles for determining the source of and responding to bad feelings. God’s goal is use situations including bad feelings to grow and change and to become more like Jesus.
5. The specific medical diagnosis, depression, is immaterial and often a hindrance to biblical counselors. The Bible becomes only an adjunctive tool for the believer.
6. The term feeling state should replace the use of specific labels that are used by physicians, psychiatrists, nurses, psychologists, and social workers. This simple change enables to the person to get to the heart of the matter. Moreover, the will be less confusion as to the problem and God’s solution.
IV. The Bible’s sufficiency and superiority: a must for evaluating physical-spiritual health and feeling states.
We continue the series: physical-spiritual health and feeling states. When people, including believers, hear the term depression (or the label for any other feeling state), they rarely search the Scripture for help or search it based on a preconceived premise. In that way, the person interprets Scripture through non-Scripture. Unfortunately, many Christian doctors follow that pattern as well.
A person may go to Scripture but then filter biblical teaching through the grid of what culture and science has to say. In that case, he has imported secular thought into the Bible thus allowing culture and medicine to define the problem and solution. The culture and medicine seem to have a monopoly on defining what feelings states are, they monopolize the solution and the care of the sheep.
Apparently the person who follows culture is not convinced that the Bible has answers for life; or he is not confident in presenting and using those truths. Importing secular thought into the Bible results in several problems:
1. Biblical counselors and believers often talk around each other never defining what each means by the word depression. Consequently, God’s word will be minimized. And there will definitional, descriptive, and directional distortion in addressing the problem.
2. When words in Scripture describe what sounds like depression, the Christian with a secularized-psychologized mindset, draws unwarranted conclusions. Sometimes the conclusion that a person is depressed is based on the reading of various translations of the Bible without understanding what the word means in the original language. While everyone can’t be scholars of the original language, it is mandatory to view the Bible’s use of feeling words in the context of the whole person. If not, various wrong conclusions will be made and used as a basis for help. Consider several examples in which people have concluded:
• Paul was depressed based on 2 Corinthians 1:8-10; 4:8-10; 7:5-6.
• Jeremiah (8:18), Moses (Numbers 11:15), David (Psalm 6:1-3; 13:1-2), and Job were depressed (Job 6:2-3).
• Pushed to its logical conclusion, Jesus was depressed (see the last article in the appendix entitled: Was Jesus Depressed?).
3. We will miss the beauty of using God’s truth for the many patients who are and will be diagnosed as having depression but who are not down and out.
1. The application of biblical principles is the key in helping patients with feeling problems. This occurs based on a proper evaluation of physical-spiritual health and feeling states.
2. There are pitfalls in the use of the Bible when addressing feeling states.
A. Epistemology: a necessary ingredient for evaluating physical- spiritual health and feeling states.
At stake is an epistemological issue: How does one know what he knows? What standard does one use to guide his truth? Is his truth God’s truth? Everyone is a theologian based on the facts that everyone has a belief about God and a relationship with Him. Everyone lives in God’s world as a dependent, covenantal being. Therefore everyone is a thinker and a knower. Since man is the image of God, man is a rational being because God is a rational, thinking Being.
God designed Adam and Eve as rational, morally responsible, revelation receivers, revelation interpreters, and revelation implementers. They received counsel and direction from outside of themselves. God endowed them with the capacity to understand His words/counsel. He rightly and lovingly expected them to understand and to apply it in their lives. Such is true today. No one receives direct revelation from God, but believers have the Bible and the indwelling Spirit. Both the believer and unbeliever have a reference point for life – a relationship with God and knowledge of Him. All men are to think, desire, and act according to God and His truth as their reference point and interpretative grid. Only the believer can do this.
In other words, life is fundamentally vertical and therefore is theological. This vertical reference is to control how a person responds to others. Every person lives in relationship to God whether acknowledged and acted upon cognitively or not.
The unbeliever (or the believer who functions as an unbeliever) will use feelings, experience, and secular logic and reasoning to explain life and solutions to various problems. In contrast, the biblically-informed believer will turn to Scripture as his source of truth.
Therefore when the call is for a double blind, placebo, controlled study to prove the efficacy of the biblical approach to life including feeling states, the believer must say Whoa! It is clear from Scripture that the workings of the Holy Spirit are not under the guidelines of so-called empiric or scientific methods (John 3).
B. Science and the Bible: their role in a proper evaluation of physical-spiritual health and feeling states
This section offers its own obstacles to a proper evaluation of physical- spiritual health and feeling states. God’s self-revelation is considered twofold: general or natural revelation (nature: the physical and created realm of the universe); and special revelation (the Bible). Both come from the hand of God and are not antithetical. Both were present pre-fall.
Natural revelation is limited in its function, but it is not defective. It reveals that God is and He is the powerful Creator. It declares His existence, power, and glory. However, since the fall, it also declares God’s wrath against sinful humanity. Fallen man suppresses these truths about God, self, and the world (Romans 1:18-23, 32).
At and since the Fall, man exchanges the truth of God for a lie. Moreover, nature does not reveal the fullness of God – what He is really like. It does not reveal that He is Savior and Deliverer and it does not reveal how to live a God-pleasing life. That was not God’s intent and function for it. Special (word) revelation is required to properly understand God and His ways (Savior and Judge) and man and his desperate condition (his deadness and lost-ness).
However, special revelation was present pre-fall. God revealed Himself directly. Adam and Eve knew God personally and walked with him. Post-fall, special revelation brings God and man together. It opens up the Triune God and His saving ways if the person is a believer.
True science – observational science not historical and origin “science” – studies God’s creation: the natural, physical world – and the laws that God uses to govern his creation. God has provided for man to discover them. This science is not antithetical to saving faith and the Bible. God is the God of science – it is His world. The scientist may not consider the God of the universe as his God. That only demonstrates the person’s rebellion. Science is never the problem. The scientist is the problem!
Many proclaim that religion is faith and science is fact and the two should not be interposed. The statement and conclusion is a statement of faith not fact. If all is life is theological –it is – and every person is a theologian – they are – and if we live in God’s world – we do, the issue is faith in science and sinful men who practice it or faith in the God of the universe who explains the physical world in true science. To assume all is natural to the exclusion of the supernatural is a tenet based on faith and not fact.
We must remember that not all that is called science is science. Science focuses on human discovery and not revelation. Through God’s common kindness, unbelievers continue to discover facts but they distort and misinterpret them because they separate them from God as Creator and Controller. Only unchanging biblical truth, properly applied, can correctly interpret human discoveries including scientific ones.
Therefore true science and biblical truth should not be contrary. Faith and reason are not competitors. Both are linked and are given from the hand of God. As an aside, to believe that something came from nothing is absurd and is a wrong use of God-given human reasoning and a wrong object of faith. When the biblical truth and so-called science AND reason and faith appear to contradict, the fallacy is not in God and His Word. Rather the problem lies with man and his limited understanding of God and His world.
God’s Word must be used to rightfully interpret scientific knowledge. But it is not more faith and less science or medicine. It is not more science and medicine and less faith. Science and faith will never compete when they are placed within the framework of God’s truth and under the guidelines of Scripture. Reason and saving faith are linked as well. Reason flows from belief and faith in that belief; faith seeks understanding and understanding seeks to bolster faith (Augustine and Anselm).
The reasons for the above are these: God is God and His ways and thoughts are perfect. A person can’t nor should he even consider to attempt to place the Holy Spirit in a test tube or under observation as if the Spirit was performing for man. The Holy Spirit and His work is never to be the subject of a double-blind controlled study. A person knows the truth of God and His activity through the study and understanding of the inspired and infallible Word of God authored by the Holy Spirit. The fruit of that trust is demonstrated by faithful living which includes a right understanding and even promotion of scientific discoveries or alleged scientific discoveries that witness to God’s truth.
Everyone knows by several means: pragmatism, trial and error; common sense or intuition; circumstances; reason/rationalism; experience and empiricism (the scientific method; and God’s truth. Any or all these serve as a grid to evaluate the information that comes to a person. By God’s design, man through his senses takes in information; he then appraises, evaluates, and interprets the information both in his brain and inner man (his heart); he draws a conclusion; he thinks, desires, and acts. If his interpretative grid is not biblical truth properly known and applied, he misinterprets God, himself, God’s world, and facts in it.
Science is said to be objective based on the validity of premises/theories through the scientific method. However, discovering facts and understanding God’s revelation is not the same thing. The only logical option for the believer, physician or non-physician, is always to begin with Scriptural truth and filter that which culture and science calls truth through the grid of the Bible. Saving and non-saving faith looks for understanding. Faith and understanding are linked.
C. Application of Proverbs 26:4-5
Biblical truth applied flows from a proper evaluation of physical-spiritual health and feeling states. The believer should be aware of those who oppose God either out of ignorance or arrogance or both. Proverbs 26:4-5 makes it clear that we must make some attempt to understand the thinking of the culture and the counselee (“Don’t answer a stubborn fool according to his folly; otherwise you too will be like him; Answer a stubborn fool according to his folly; otherwise he will be wise in his own eyes”). The purpose is to give an answer so that the believer-counselor is not foolish, and so that the counselee will not appear to be “wise in his own eyes.”
These facts are incredibly important as we discuss physical and spiritual health and feeling states including the issue of depression and other feeling states. As I have established, the word depression is accepted in our culture in part due to the emphasis it is given by the mental health fields. It carries its own stamp of approval and it is considered a disease: a physical problem even though no organic pathology has been implicated as causal. In explaining the occurrence of the bad feelings called depression, science blames depression on any number of things: a person’s genes, biology, nurture, environment, and an exposure to something outside of himself. Behind this reasoning is the belief in the medical model of disease (MM), the biopsychological model of disease (BPM), or the biopsychological-spiritual model of disease (BPSM).
1. Knowing what you know and being confident in using it are theological issues.
2. Science and saving faith are not in conflict as they both come from God.
3. The roots of the science of medicine are intrinsically and functionally atheistic although individual doctors may not be.
a. Initially, man’s body was functionally separated from the whole person. Man was body and medicine focused on body management.
b. This was one the legacies of the Medical Model of disease
c. Subsequently and in part based on pragmatism, other models of disease came on the scene in order to explain man’s medical problems.
V. Descriptions of various individuals: inductive approach
Continuing our series: physical-spiritual health and feeling states, we return to the Bible. The Bible is the believer’s handbook and owner’s manual for life graciously given by God. Its answers are both sufficient and superior to living victoriously in this sin-cursed world with sin-cursed bodies. Since the Bible has answers for all kinds of conditions including bad feelings, we as Christians need to help people especially those in the medical field acknowledge that the Bible says much about “feeling states.” Acknowledgement is only the first step but it is crucial. Therefore the issue should be less focused on the diagnosis of depression (and other feeling states) and more on what the Bible says about feeling states. What is the best way to do that?
Some early in the field of biblical counseling have looked at the cultural definition of depression and have tried to view it through a biblical grid. For instance, consider the statement: “To consider depression biblically, we will look at two people in the Bible and we see what we learn from them.” Or, “Almost anything can be at the root of the counselee’s depression:…” In other words, it seems that early on biblical counseling used an inductive approach by going to the Bible with the known cultural “definition” or more correctly the culture’s description of person with the diagnosis of depression. It then developed a biblical definition and proposed a biblical solution to the problem culture calls depression.
The stories of Cain and Elijah have been used as examples of wrongly responding to problems in life (Genesis 4:1-10; 1 Kings 19). Notice: wrongly responding is the key. The Bible highlights God’s activity in each person’s life. For Cain’s benefit, God makes a point of pinpointing Cain’s countenance falling. Cain had a long face. He was not a happy camper! He would have received many psychological labels. God’s counsel was intended to reverse his downward spiral of generating bad feelings through sinful thinking and wanting leading to sinful actions; feelings were not to be his guide.
Cain was sinful in his wanting and thinking about himself, God, sacrifice, and others long before he murdered Abel (Hebrews 11:3-4). Whole-person murderous actions followed and flowed from a heart at enmity with God. He had a problem with God that was manifested not only toward his brother but toward others as well (Genesis 4:14-16, 17-24). He did not father his children well. Cain was an unbeliever living the lie which he continued to do.
In 1 Kings 19, Elijah, a mighty man of God, seemed to have jettisoned any belief about God’s power, love, and protection. He had just completed a divinely-motivated and energized activity: he slew 450 humiliated and sinful prophets of Baal and then ran some 25 miles. He was on a high so to speak and may have received a diagnosis of mania. However upon hearing from Jezebel and her threats, he ran. He did not run to God but ran away from Him. He may well have received a diagnosis of panic or stress disorder.
However, God did not leave him. Elijah had neglected good stewardship of both his body and inner man. God made a point of taking care of his body by giving him physical food and rest. But this action was in the context of revealing Himself – He fed Elijah spiritually – with Himself! In this way God prepared him for further ministry.
There are various other references to people with bad feelings and “bad” circumstances. These include Job in the book that bears his name; Hannah in 1 Samuel 1; the psalmist in a variety of Psalms including Psalms 6,13,42-43,73,77, and 88; and Paul in 2 Corinthians 1:8-10 and 4:8-10;7:5-7; 12:1-10, and Jesus. See the appendix at the end of the article addressing the Psalms and the article entitled: Was Jesus Depressed?
What are we to do with the Bible’s description of various individuals and their feeling states especially in light of the acceptance of the culture’s definition of depression? How are we to develop a proper theology of physical-spiritual health and feeling states? We must state categorically that God’s Word needs no consensus or justification for applying it to help the believer solve problems in any situation. True wisdom is mandatory for knowing the how and when of bringing truth to bear. Relationship matter as well.
The scientific culture either pays lip service to “spirituality” or rejects spirituality totally as an aid in the care of patients. I was told that I dare not speak of religion in the office. A bad patient complained how I manifested my Christianity. Sadly, Christians are too often counted in those numbers. When spirituality is considered important, it is defined in non-biblical terms borrowed from Eastern, New Age religions and psychology: you and your inner- connectedness. The goal is either to set “you” free or harness “it” for your benefit. Self takes center stage. There is no concept of the Holy Spirit working in the hearts of believers for God’s glory and the believer’s benefit in the context of problems.
Others that say “yes” to religion and spirituality in the care of patient want facts in order to prove their worth. They consider the application of biblical principles as only one of many different and reasonable approaches to the care of a patient. In order to verify the utility of the biblical approach for patient care, there is the mindset, if not the outright call, to subject it to empiric and scientific methods. Functionally, double blind, controlled, placebo studies are thought to trump God’s word.
Summary points: physical-spiritual health and feeling states
1. In Scripture, God has provided many examples of people with “bad feelings” and Scripture is full of many “feeling” words.
2. Biblical counselors must be careful when moving from the culture to the Bible with a non-biblical term such as depression, panic attack, or posttraumatic stress disorder.
3. The secular communities realize that the medical model doesn’t explain all symptoms and have provided other models that are Creator-denying.
4. Spirituality is a buzz word and is (almost) never defined biblically.
VI. Deductive approach to physical-spiritual health and feeling states
For any number of reasons, psychiatry and psychology have taken over the purview of defining normal and abnormal, and of determining treatment approaches for so called “mental-health” problems including depression and other feeling states. ”Depression had been considered a pastoral problem under the term “melancholy” (A Theology of Christian Counseling, Jay Adams, Introduction page x and footnote 7; Zondervan). How do we recapture the care of souls? One way is to look at what Scripture says about bad feelings in an attempt to encourage both physician and patient as to the value and beauty God’s truth even applied to all of life.
A. Bad feelings from the Bible’s perspective
I order to properly asses the topic: physical-spiritual health and feeling states, what should we as Christians do with the term depression? More importantly, what do we do with a person/patient who is complaining of feeling bad, his goal is relief, and his “reason” for not functioning or functioning poorly is because of those bad feelings? The term is here to stay; it is ingrained in the cultural mindset. Many would answer the first question with: nothing! Our task is to see what the Bible has to say on the subject.
As I have mentioned, the Bible frequently speaks of people who have bad feelings. There are many biblical terms that express such states that may be interpreted as depression using the secular definition. When the culture speaks of people feeling bad, it may be referring to a person who is sad, discouraged, blue, sorrowful, or down and even out. In a fallen world, with sin-cursed bodies, these are common occurrences. However, because there commonness is no reason to ignore biblical truth concerning them and the people who have them.
Sometimes a person has a pattern of bad feelings and behavior that accentuates bad feelings. A cycle ensues or has ensued. The target of treatment is better feelings even if a person is to change his thinking by some form of psychotherapy. The mental health field labeled this as depression.
There are advocates who accept the diagnosis of depression based on bad feelings for a very short period of time (remember: less than two weeks). For a physician this approach is rather simple and clean. A diagnosis is made, treatment prescribed, and the patient is dismissed. If this approach does not “work” another medication is used or a referral to mental health is forthcoming. As more people fit into the category of depression more medications. will be used. I suspect Churches will be full with these type of saints.
B. Scripture is foundational
To reiterate, any discussion of the term depression or any feeling state should begin with the premise that God’s word is our authority when considering bad feelings. Therefore we must learn from it and proceed from the Bible to the culture and not the other way around. Both culture and the Bible describe people with bad feelings. The culture teaches that these feelings are unrelated to thinking and that a person’s thinking is due to feelings. Patients also speak of feeling bad. They attribute their resultant behavior to the feelings and the feelings to either something inside (“that is just the way I am”) or to something outside that makes them feel bad. Therefore, according to this logic, feelings and their removal predominate. In this scenario, functionally, the so-called science of medicine and medications trump the Word of God.
C. Potential pitfalls
When addressing feeling states it is important to remember that one is evaluating physical-spiritual health and feeling states. It is important make sure that no organic pathology (a specific disease such as brain disease or a systemic disease such as thyroid problems) has been found in and with the person that may explain the bad feelings of any particular person. Please notice, I said may explain. Patients abound who are down and even out and who have been diagnosed as being hypothyroid. They receive thyroid replacement. But in spite of normal thyroid levels they are still down and maybe even out.
By God’s design, man is a duplex being and whole person: inner-man (the immaterial side of man: heart, soul, spirit, and mind are used sometimes interchangeably) and outer-man (body – the material side of man). Problems in one can lead to problems in the other. Interestingly, there is unity between the outer and inner man in unbelievers. The unbeliever is antigod, pro-self, and pro-Satan as a whole person. The inner and outer man is in sync. As a whole person, the unbeliever is on the run from God.
On the other hand the believer has a problem – a war within. He is changed. His heart changed has produced whole-person changes so that his body of sin is made ineffective in serving Satan as described in Romans 6:6: For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with that we should no longer be slaves of sin. Some interpret the old self and old man as the patterned thoughts, desires, and actions when the believer was an unbeliever post-fall (Ephesians 2:1-3). It was a life characterized by feeling-directed behavior. It is one manifestation of suppressing the truth of God (Romans 1:18-23).
Unbelievers live in and love the darkness (John 3:16-21; Ephesians 5:8-14; Proverbs 4:18-19). Self is on the throne. In principle always and often in practice expressed visibly in varying degrees and in a variety of ways. The unbeliever demonstrates the wickedness of his heart although at times he appears less sinful than the believer. Functionally, God has no place in the unbeliever’s life. Because of the believer’s prior membership in Satan’s family and kingdom, he too functions at times as if God has no place in his life.
This truth may seem strange to believers but it is the reality of the remaining sinfulness and habituation from prior membership in Satan’s family. For the believer, his old self was crucified and died with and in Christ. Something was done to him – for him and in him.
Some interpret the phrase: body of sin (Romans 6:6) as being the same as the old self. Some assume the term refers to the outer man, the physical body. However, Paul is not localizing sin in its entirety to the body. The body itself was not sinful. It is part of the whole person and the body as well as man as man – the whole person – is cursed (Romans 5:12-14; 2 Corinthians 4:16-18). I believe Paul is referring to what some call the old nature or indwelling sin. I think the term remaining sinfulness is a good one as it incorporates remaining corruption, the inclination to sin, and the legacy of patterned and habituated self-pleasing. One of the goals of the Christian life – progressive sanctification – can be expressed as closing the gap between what one is in Christ and the remaining corruption in his whole person.
Another way of picturing this is in terms of asynchrony. As unbelievers the outer and inner man are in sync. As a whole person, the unbeliever is steeped in varying degrees to self-pleasing. Self-pleasing is expressed in a variety of ways as he lives out his enmity toward God. When he is saved the believer has a war within. His inner man is changed directly but the outer body must follow the lead of the inner man. The habituation is in the whole person – not just the body including the brain. Inner and outer habitation must and will occur because the believer is new creature in th4e new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).
It is true that the Holy Spirit indwells the whole person primarily through the indwelling in the believer’s heart (Romans 5:5; 8:9-11; 2 Corinthians 6:14-18). It is also true that the put off-put on dynamic involves the whole person (Romans 13:11-14; Ephesians 4:22-24; Colossians 3:8-10). And it is true that habituation involves the whole person. Thoughts and desires are produced and stored in the heart and in the brain (outer man). Sinning seems almost second nature to the believer (Romans 7:14-25). The body at times seems to have a “mind” or pilot of its own.
From the above paragraphs, we are moving toward a proper understanding of physical-spiritual health and feeling states. It is biblical to understand the what and how of inner-man problems affecting the outer man. Conversely, outer-man problems affect the inner man. Outer-man problems can influence the inner-man in terms of thoughts, desires, actions, and feelings. The story of Elijah is a prime example of this truth. However as I wrote above, it is not simply that God took care of his physical problems without addressing his inner- man problems. God ministered to his whole person.
The above truth flows from the inner man to the outer man as well. Inner-man problems can produce bad feelings in the whole person including the body. David is often used as an example. David knew what trouble was like. Yet he wrote that he slept in the midst of that trouble given his dependence on God (Psalm 3:5; 4:8). He is often referred to as an innocent sufferer (Psalms 34-37). However, in Psalms 32 and 38, he is the guilty sufferer. He had unconfessed sins as he played the hypocrite and imposter. As a result of unconfessed sins, guilt from rebellion produced bad – terrible – feelings. He was burdened by the presence of the inescapable God (see Psalm 139 – God is man’s environment)!
The key to handling bad feelings in a God-honoring manner is the person’s response to them as well as what may be producing them. These two factors hinge on the person’s view of himself and of God. Please NOTE: It is important not to assume that every bad feeling or the person’s response to it is related to sin or an outer-man problem (see Job’s three friends; Luke 13;1-5; John 9). Further, some people may want to confess their way out of bad feelings when there is no specific sin. God will not be used or mocked!
Having determined the status of the person’s outer man (whether true disease is present and not simply a label), we are in a position to apply biblical truth to any person who presents with bad feelings. A word of caution is in order: sometimes it is difficult to determine whether it is the physical problem itself or the person’s response to it that is producing bad feelings. In any case, it is very important to know your Bible well.
Summary points: physical-spiritual health and feeling states
1. We can learn much about feelings states from the Bible.
2. The Bible has provided a vast array of feeling words and descriptions of feeling states and actual life experiences of real people in real times.
VII. Practical definition of certain feeling states
Biblically speaking, the feeling state is more than bad feelings. That becomes obvious as you talk to any person who is functioning poorly based on his feelings. If you have ever spent time with a person diagnosed with depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, or panic disorder, you will note that the person expresses life (God’s providence) in terms of his feelings and his response to them. Moreover, these people are ignorant of the influence of their thinking and wanting on their feelings and vice versa. They perceive themselves as victims but deny the very bondage that holds them captive and therefore God’s solution. They live by and for good feelings which motivates them to “get going.”
Sometimes the person labeled as bipolar fluctuates between very high and very low activity. Some would label the hyperactivity as manic and the other as depression. Their life is a yo-yo. The person reports that bad feelings come and lead to a downward spiral of unmet wants and expectations; demands for better feelings may come followed by depression: giving in to feelings and giving up on life. In the manic state, people often tell you that they are trying to get everything done because they feel better because they won’t when they feel done.
They are their own prophets. During this time, they may say my life is going so well – no problems. Yet when they are down, they will tell you that their life is the “pits.” The reason they give: nothing is going my way or something to that effect. Problems seem bigger than them and God is not in their picture or His not caring. They reason: He can’t be because I feel so bad. Truly these people consider themselves victims to God’s providence. They don’t seek Him because He can’t help or they don’t want His help. They are medicated and become wards of the medical system.
In general, when you talk to people who are living by feelings, you will hear many I can’t, I don’t, and I won’t. These people have altered their function, sometimes drastically, based on the bad feelings and the desire to have relief. The bad feeling (sometimes called emotional pain) and the desire to have it gone become dominant in the person’s life. Focusing on feeling bad, he often becomes a couch potato (a description of a person’s sedentary physical and mental lifestyle and activity in response to bad feelings and the desire to have it gone. There is much inertia). The more he focuses on the unpleasantness of life and his bad feelings the more responsibility he relinquishes, the less he does, the worse he feels, and the downward spiral continues.
There is another and quite common scenario. A patient who complains about poor physical function, pain, and fatigue will often receive a diagnosis of depression. It is thought that depression can lead to specific complaints of fatigue and pain. They are many theories that are said to explain this observation. The person may say that he is discouraged and tried; it blames his body – his body is not functioning the way it used to and like he wants.
He may say that he doesn’t feel like doing anything, and he doesn’t. Often the person says that there is nothing going on in his life that should make him feel the way he does. He says that his family, job, and life are “just fine.” He may even say that his body is the problem and not his thinking or his wanting. His goal is to feel better. He may even pray for that feeling. One person told me that he had been praying for 20 years for relief but God had not answered him. He still pushed for relief and expected God to give it him. He said he had to do better job of praying.
What the culture has called depression based on the DSM is in stark contrast to that which was initially at least tacitly accepted by biblical counseling. Biblically speaking, the feeling state of depression involves a person’s thinking and desires such that the person gives in to feelings and gives up on life, and God, based on his understanding and conclusions about life, himself, others, and God. He ceases to function responsibly. He uses bad feelings as a reason and motivation for not functioning properly and to explain his thinking and acting.
VIII. Ultimate questions in all “feelings states”
Biblically speaking, what the culture has diagnosed as depression” (or any feeling state for that matter) is a whole-person activity predominantly an inner-man activity, which is focused on self, circumstances, control, and outcome. The person describes himself as being overwhelmed. As a consequence he doesn’t function as a new creature in Christ. A new creature is called and transformed so that he walks – conducts himself – by saving faith and true hope instead of sight.
I have mentioned this in my book, Depression Through a Biblical Lens: A Whole-Person Approach, that some people may be more susceptible to bad feelings. Someday a gene, a receptor, or a neurotransmitter defect (too much, too little, or the wrong kind) may be discovered. It would be similar to the discovery of a gene that makes it easier for a person to get drunk or get angry. The fact remains: it is still the body that God has given the person and good stewardship is required and blessed. Body problems make it easier for someone to sin but it is not causative. The believer is not a victim to the body that God has given them. This simple truth helps clarify the transgender issue. For God there is no debate!
Everyone lives through and out of their senses. The person takes in information – the facts. Everyone has a sensual experience the moment they awaken. They encounter God’s world and respond. They may consider themselves under the circumstances. This is a result of misinterpreting God, self, and their circumstances through the grid of feelings and circumstances rather than through biblical truth and fear of the Lord. The person says he can’t. He does not make it his ambition to please God; rather he is focused on self and his problems. In that sense, he is in bondage. Jesus came to set His people free (Luke 4:18-22). However, for them, good feelings trump God’s Word and the Holy Spirit.
In contrast, victory can come and does come when the believer is motivated and compelled by Christ’s love rather than feelings and circumstances to honor Him (2 Corinthians 5:7,9,14-15,17). He then views the circumstances as part of God’s plan and providence. He focuses on God’s presence, plan, promises, power, purpose, and provisions. He recalls Israel’s wilderness experience and their response many of which were sinful responses.
He remembers Joshua’s call to Israel in 24:14-15. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the living God. The wilderness time for Israel had been long and treacherous. Patterned rebellion was a characteristic of the people. But God did not leave them. Moses and Joshua pointed the people vertically. They were told to change their focus. Some never did and their misery increased in this life and probably in the next. I am sure many of them would have been diagnosed with depression and other feeling-state conditions.
As I meet a patient or a friend who complains of bad feelings, I ask at some point and in some form: where is God in your thinking? Too often, the concept that all of life is theological and he is a theologian is denied, ignored, or never known or considered. Every person has beliefs about God and lives in relationship to God whether acknowledged or not. These truths are foreign to the person and the doctor. Therefore the person doesn’t apply biblical principles to himself in order to handle the problems of life including bad feelings. Practically, Medicine has convinced people that the Bible is not needed and is not sufficient and superior for all of life.
In all the cases described above, the biblical description of depression and other feeling states boils down to bad feelings as the person’s guide and control. Bad feelings control the person’s thoughts, desires, and behavior. Also the person’s thoughts and desires especially ones that are unfilled lead to bad feelings. The linkage: thoughts, desire, actions and feelings build on each other.
The four-link chain can be broken at any link. Change any one especially thoughts and desires and the others fall in line. This contrasts the culture’s definition and explanation of depression. Believers should agree that bad feelings are part of living in a sin-cursed world. This fact hinges on the reality that people are sinners and God cursed mankind and creation as the just Judge of all the earth.
Sin produces problems, bad feelings being one of them. They may result from any number of causes: a failing, sin-cursed body; medication; various diseases; being sinned against; sinning (a hangover from too much alcohol or a hand that hurts because of a fracture that occurred when striking an unmovable object when angry); and or unbiblical thinking about any number of things including one’s circumstances and bad feelings. No matter: God in His Word by the Holy Spirit has answers. Sometimes people don’t know the answers or don’t like them.
Depression and other feeling states are not the result of the situation or another person. It is easy to blame one or both thereby blaming God. The various feeling states result when a person’s focuses is on the bad feelings irrespective of their cause and the desire to have them removed. That focus is accompanied by choice: the person chooses to wrongly focus – think and want – on his wants that become demands. Self-focus in the form of relief control his thoughts, desires, and actions. In response to the bad feelings, he ceases to correctly view life vertically and therefore fails to fulfill his God-given responsibilities.
In addition, failing to view life vertically leads to bad feelings as well. Often people have trained themselves to live and evaluate life (God’s providence), God, self, and others through feelings. It is a patterned way of life. Helping people requires a look at the pattern of one’s life as well as the present situation. This fact is often overlooked and or ignored to the detriment of the person. Bad feelings and a response to them are often the result of how one has handled many different aspects of life whether “small” or “big” problems.
Relying on feelings is a patterned response such that the person is habituated to this type of response. He usually considers himself a victim to life, the God of life, and bad feelings. Too often believers live the lie. The believer functions as if he is a loser and not the winner that he is in Christ. Functionally, he does not believe that Christ is the Winner.
In response to God and His providence which includes bad feelings, the believer engages in or continues wrong thinking and wanting. At this point, it is biblical to consider the origin and pattern of the bad feelings. That is one element of good stewardship (See my book: How to be A God-Pleasing Patient). Taking care of the body for God’s glory is generally blessed by God. Being a Christian does not immunize the person from bad feelings and physical and spiritual problems. It does motivate the believer to believe and act on the fact that victory comes in many forms and is guaranteed – the believer is more than a conqueror/victor in Christ (Roman 8:37-39). Therefore he will run the race as Christ did (Hebrews 12:1-3).
He will remember that the inner man affects the body and physical problems can influence the inner man or heart. This linkage is twofold: 1) man is a whole person – inner and outer man and the two are linked; 2) there is a linkage between thoughts, desires, actions, and feelings; changing thoughts and desires changes actions and feelings. The spectrum of the subject matter of man’s thoughts and desires is vast and includes the person’s body including a particular physical problem; life in general; self; and God although so often denied. When wrong motivations continue wrong actions follow all of which leads to further bad feelings. Patterned thinking, wanting, and actions must be addressed not simply bad feelings.
Here is my second question: It is helpful to ask a person who is feeling down a second question (the first question: where is God in your thinking?): how can something outside of him cause him to feel the way he does? Most people haven’t thought through the answer to that question. People are convinced that pressure – however defined – from the outside somehow causes problems on the inside. This is in spite of the realized fact that there was no physical contact from that which is reported to be outside of him.
A biblical understanding of man, pressure, and feelings is summarized by remembering that a person feels the way he does because of his thinking and wanting. I feel and do what I do because of what I think and what. Conversely, I want what I want because of how I feel. All three influence what he does or doesn’t do. All four (thoughts, desires, actions, feelings) are intertwined and must be taken into account when faced with a person who says he is feeling badly and uses those feelings as the reason to function or not function.
IX. Summary: Physical-spiritual health and feeling states
A. Focus of culture and scientific community:
The culture bases the diagnosis (label) of depression purely on the description of one’s feelings and the observation of one’s behavior. It is purported that science proves this. Consider these questions and concerns s you decide for yourself:
• If that is the case, what about all the descriptions of person with bad feelings in the Bible?
• Are we to conclude that God left His people without resources to respond in and with bad feelings?
• Medically: the source of bad feelings is considered to be pathological and the result of a physical – bodily problem even if it can’t be found.
• Feelings are considered to be determinative of the patient’s behavior.
Science and culture say that the problem is a person’s feelings. The feeling problem is due to abnormal brain chemistry. The patient is considered to at the beck and call of those feelings and not responsible for them or his response to them. The person’s response to his feelings and what may have produced them (e.g.: his response to pressures of life) are not considered important. Removing the person’s bad feelings is considered most important because they determine behavior and the use of medical facilities. Yet both biblically-speaking and practically-speaking, a person’s feeling” are a result of who he is and what he is thinks and has thought and what he wants and has wanted.
B. The Bible
In contrast, the Bible focuses on the whole person. It speaks of the believer as a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17) who lives by saving faith – rather than sight – what he can feel, understand, and experience according to his senses unaided by biblical truth (2 Corinthians 5:7). These verses speak of man’s re-creation in the image/likeness of Christ. Specifically the Bible describes this re-creation in terms in knowledge (thinking), righteousness (desires and affections: the believer desires to live according to a right standard in the power of the Holy Spirit); and holiness (volition that includes orientation and motivation as well as willful actions).Thinking and affections are both inner- and outer-man activities that are demonstrated in actions. The Bible teaches that man’s motivational and volitional center is not the brain but the heart. Therefore we should begin with and where the Bible does: in the whole person – inner and outer man always moving to the heart (1 Corinthians 2:16; 2 Corinthians 10:5; Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10).
The answer for bad feelings is biblical truth rightly applied. One does that by having and applying – to all aspects of life – the right view of God, circumstances, others, and self. If the culture is correct, Jesus Christ should have been the most depressed and emotionally-disturbed person Who has ever lived. Such would be the same for any hero of faith. As Christians and especially for biblical counselors, we know that is not the case. Bad feelings are not to control a person’s motivation. They influence the whole person but they are not causative or determinative. Rather, living with a proper vertical reference due to saving faith and true hope, the believer’s goal and focus will be to please God – which is victory. Better and good feelings may follow but getting them is not as important as it had been.
Pleasing God for who He is and out of gratitude for grace will be manifested by using what the believer doesn’t like to grow and change. Knowing that he is pleasing God has its own rewards. It is not necessarily good feelings but the joy of one’s salvation lived out. Joy speaks to holiness and to victory in pleasing the God of circumstances; happiness speaks to self-directed relief and the change in happening. God’s “prescription” is holiness and growth in Christlikeness for all of life including bad feelings (John 4:31-34; 2 Corinthians 5:7, 9, 14-15).
We must be very careful when we import into Scripture cultural terms and meanings. The culture has given its own meaning to the term depression and has not consulted Scripture. Too often Christians have followed the deceptive tendency to read the Bible with a perspective based on cultural wisdom and logic. Rather we must begin with God’s truth and move out from the Bible teaching people and the culture what God in His Word says.
In applying this fact to people, I suggest that we simply gather data: find out from the person just what he means by the term depression and bad feelings. Further question should include discovering what type of behavior might have led to the diagnosis of depression or any other feeling state and what does he believe is behind those feelings. In addition, help him understand the dynamics involved in his response to bad feelings. After appropriate data gathering, the application of biblical principles follows as is appropriate. This approach is fundamental to almost any condition that medicine has labeled as a disease but no organic pathology is present to explain the symptoms and signs. This would include a myriad of conditions.
Psalm 6: Feelings, Reason, and Experience: Part I
Psalm 6 is often labeled as one of the so-called seven penitential psalms (Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143). The confession of sin is considered fundamental for Israel’s (and the Church’s) restoration, blessedness, and prosperity. Each of the five books of the Psalter contains individual psalms that include confession of sin. Those specific psalms present a plea for forgiveness by a penitent sinner and include Psalms 6, 28, 32, 38-41 from book I; Psalms 51, 65 from book II; Psalms 78, 85 from book III; Psalms 103, 106 from book IV; and Psalm 130 from book V. However in Psalm 6, the psalmist falls short of actual confession of sin and there is no recorded repentance in the Psalm.
Context is important in understanding the Psalms and is often overlooked. Psalm 6 is located in book I of the Psalter. The theme of book I is confrontation and conflict with enemies as David, God’s agent, worked to establish the messianic kingdom of peace and righteousness. He was attacked by those within Israel and from without. David is the author of all the psalms in book I with the possible exception of Psalms 1 and 2. Psalm 6 is a prayer of someone who is deeply troubled but is in relation to God. Whatever the circumstance, his vertical reference to life events (actually God’s providence) took center stage. Consequently, he prayed to God. His prayer was an expression of his gifts of saving faith and his relationship with God.
Psalm 6 is deeply relational. David goes to God in prayer. This activity was part of a habitual, patterned lifestyle. David knew that God had a relationship with him and he had a relationship with Yahweh. It was from that vantage point that David sought Yahweh as his refuge and strength.
The situation is not clearly stated but David was in trouble. He was burdened in response to God’s providence. There was no indication that his situation was a direct or an indirect consequence of personal sin. As noted above, there was no mention of confession of sin and repentance. It is noteworthy that the psalm is full of feeling words. The words in the original language used in verses 2 (bones in agony), 3 (soul in anguish), 7 (mine eyes are troubled), and 10 (my enemies will be troubled) indicate an internal agitation, a disturbance, a churning within, and even “noise in the soul.” The Septuagint translates Psalm 6 (v.2-3, 7, 10) uses the same word (tarasso) as does John in his gospel. He frequently used the word to indicate an inner-man response in a number of people including Jesus (John 11:33.38; 12:27; 13:21; 14:1, 27).
In psalm 6, the many feeling words are variously translated as dismayed, terrified, groaning, agony, worn out, and troubled. However, it is best to understand the words in the original as a powerful expression of inner-man angst. David’s inner-man turmoil had physical consequences. He may have had bodily afflictions such as a sickness (see verse 2) as part of his inner-man response.
David expressed himself in terms of feelings/affections but predominantly in thoughts, desires, and actions. David’s whole person was involved (see verses 2-3). David wanted very much to praise God while on this earth (verse 5). He thought vertically. Therefore he prayed (verses 1-2, 4-5, 8-10). He concluded that God was a rightful Judge, a merciful Father who heard and answered prayer. David knew his relationship with God warranted his prayer. David knew where to direct his attention and in what format. Not any old prayer would do! At that the time, he was without material and personal resources. As Paul did, David looked upward and beyond himself. (2 Corinthians 1:8-10; 4:8-10; 12:7-10; Philippians 4:13).
Verse 4 records a turning point. David pleads with God based on His chesed – covenantal faithfulness and unfailing love – to return to him. Had God left him? David knew God made promises and kept them. This was a cornerstone for David’s life. No, but circumstances, feelings, and experience seemed to say otherwise. David’s request of God’s return carried the idea of deliverance. The word in the Septuagint is a powerful one found in Colossians 1:13. There the believer is rescued supernaturally from the kingdom of darkness and delivered to the kingdom of darkness. It too is a powerful word. David had not denied God’s control, power, authority, and His use of it. In fact he assumed it. This knowledge and David’s gift of saving faith and its use motivated him to pray to God as his Deliverer. David wanted help not simply good feelings. He asked God to do a seemingly about face.
David knew that God does not leave or forsake His people, corporately or individually. David knew he was not truly forsaken. However, David felt as if God had forsaken him. Even though David’s feelings told him that God had withdrawn His favor and presence, David knew better. Therefore, he held tightly to truth and he did not give up by giving in to feelings (see Paul’s exhortat6ion in 2 Corinthians 4:1, 16 -18 and the psalmist’s (one of the sons of Korah) in Psalms 42:5, 11; 43:5 – he counsels himself in regards to true hope and the Giver of true hope).
1. Compare David’s inner-man angst in Psalm 6 (v. 2, 3, 7, and 10) with John’s use of the same term in his gospel: 11:33; 12:27; 13:21; 14:1, 27. What do you learn?
2. Jesus’ simple and yet profound answer for inner-man angst is what? Trust – see John 14:1, 27.
3. Two truths: the twin pillars of love are trust and obey and trust flows from a relationship that involves knowledge and results in obedience: John 14:15, 21, 23, 31; 1 John 5:3:
a. How do these truths appear in your life when faced with God’s providence that is unpleasant?
b. Record the results.
Psalm 6: Feelings, Reasoning, and Experience: Part II
v.1: O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath.
v.2: Be merciful to me Lord for I am faint/languished; O Lord, heal me for my bones are in agony.
v.3: My soul is in anguish. How long O Lord, how long?
David is under duress and distressed (see verses 2-3, 7, and 10). His exact situation and reasons for it are unknown. Conflict and confrontation is the theme of book I. Throughout book I of the Psalter two groups of people are set forth, the godly and the ungodly. God’s messiah is the prototypic godly person. He professes saving faith and practices a corresponding lifestyle in response to Yahweh’s Torah (instruction and teaching). In contrast is the ungodly, wicked, and unrighteous that are opposed to and determined to defeat God and His messiah.
David as the lesser messiah and God’s agent did what any believer should do and what the greater Messiah always did – he communicated with God. He knew he had a relationship with Yahweh but at that moment God’s presence or assumed lack of it was a burden. This picture fits Job. Job out of a vital, working relationship with God could not understand his situation. He came to view his circumstances from the perspective of God’s presence as a burden (Job 6:4; 7:17-20; 13:25-25; 14:16; 19:13-22; 30:16-19). Both Job and David were speaking as a person who had a loving relationship with God. They desired to know the how and why of their situations. Further, David prayed to God for a light hand of compassion in contrast to a heavy hand of God’s providence. Job and David never denied God’s sovereignty. Unlike Job who initially prayed for and later demanded an explanation, David prayed for mercy as he explained the reasons for his requests (v.3).
v.4: Turn O Lord and deliver me, save me because of your unfailing love.
v.5: No one remembers you when he is dead. Who praises you from the grave?
v.6: I am worn out from groaning; all night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears
v.7: My eyes grow weak with sorrow; they fail because of all my foes.
As I said previously, verse 4 represents a turning point in the psalm and in the psalmist. As part of God’s chesed (covenantal trustworthiness), David acknowledged God’s sovereignty and control. David was aware of Yahweh’s dealings with people – friend and foe alike. He was aware of sin: his own, those against him and those against God. David described himself in terms of his whole person: thoughts, desires, and actions in both his inner and his outer man (body). We are not told what precipitated this request. It is a bold request as David asked God to do an about-face.
David made an about-face as these verses demonstrate. David was praying for deliverance and not necessarily relief. Better feelings were not David’s goal. They would come but he embraced the bigger picture. He would come to understand circumstances from God’s perspective and not understand Yahweh from the circumstances. He was faced with living the falsehood that Yahweh was impotent and or uncaring or living the truth that Yahweh is in control and His control is good.
David adds a reason for his request for God’s deliverance: David can’t praise him if he is dead (verse 5). In verses 6-7, David honestly assessed his own frailty and weariness. We are not the source of his weariness. His foes must have many and their attacks multiple and relentless. Jesus spoke of that situation in John 15:18-21; 16:20-22. The world does not like God and His people!
David perceived himself as a man without resources. Yet through it all David knew Yahweh was with him and he had Yahweh although it did not feel like it. He relied on truth and not on feelings. Thus, he was able to live by truth about Yahweh and himself.
v.8: Away from me all who do evil; for the Lord has heard my weeping.
v.9: The Lord has heard me cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayers.
v.10: All my enemies will be ashamed and dismayed; they will turn back in sudden disgrace.
David closes the Psalm with a note of confidence. His confidence was based on the fact that relationships do matter. Circumstances must be interpreted in that context. David knew that he was heard. He was a man of wisdom. He knew that God was in the problem, up to something, and that something was a good.
There was no vengeance on David’s part. He was satisfied that the Lord hears and he was heard. Paul echoed David’s reasoning as recorded in Romans 8:35-37 when he said (paraphrased): if God is for me and I am building His kingdom who can be against me? The answer that David and Paul gave is no one. Only a believer can separate himself from God but the separation will never be complete or permanent. God holds on to His people to the end and into eternity (John 10:28-30). Because Christ was forsaken in the place of individual sinners, God will never forsake those who Christ bled and died as their substitute. God did not forsake David.
1. Compare verse 4 with Luke 15:17-18 and Psalm 73:16-17: how are they similar?
2. Did David live by feelings? Were they his guide?
3. What motivated David to go to God and plead with Him?
4. What was the basis for David’s confidence?
Psalm 6: Feelings, Reasoning, and Experience: Part III
David wanted to praise God while on earth (verse 5). In his situation, as in all situations, God’s glory was at stake. David’s desire to glorify Yahweh was a major reason for his request of deliverance (verses 4-5). This point is of extreme practical importance. Throughout the Psalm David expressed himself in terms of feelings but also in thoughts, desires, and actions. We must be careful not to miss the point that underlying his feelings were thoughts and desires. Actions would follow changed thought and desires. David’s whole person (inner and outer man) was involved (see verses 2-3).
Throughout the Psalm, David thought vertically. His question of how long in verse 1 is often heard in the psalms. It is a bold statement that reflects the intensity of the trouble and flows from the perceived significance of God’s relationship to David and his relationship to God. David had concluded that God was a rightful Judge, a merciful Father who heard and answered prayer. Logically, purposefully, and willingly he prayed (verse 1-2, 4-5, 8-10). He knew where to direct his attention. People are more motivated to look upward and beyond themselves when they are without resources but believers must be careful how they go (Luke 15:17-18; 2 Corinthians 1:8-10; 12:7-10; Philippians 4:13). God is still holy and His presence is still worthy of our humility.
In verse 4, David asks God to return to him. Had God left him? No. The idea of return is deliverance. David did not deny God’s control, power, authority, and His use of it. It was precisely that mindset that motivated David to pray to Yahweh as his Deliverer. He knew God was a kingdom builder who had plans for David. David eventually embraced these truths about Yahweh and himself.
David desired help not simply good feelings. He asked Yahweh to do an about face. The request is a bold one based on relationships: God to David and David to God. David knew that God does not leave or forsake His people. David knew he was not truly forsaken. However, he felt as if God had forsaken him. Even though David’s feelings may have told him that God had withdrawn His favor and even presence, David knew better. Therefore, he did not trust or follow his feelings. In fact, he knew that truth and right thinking trumped feelings no matter how bad things might be. He knew feelings were linked to thoughts and desires. David grasped the truism that biblical thinking grounded in the truth of Who God is produces a right view of God, self, and the circumstances. What follows is right doing and blessing (John 13:17; James 1:25).
If left to his feelings David would have believed the lie about God and himself. That mindset gives rise to several approaches. One, he could assume that God owed him (Yahweh was a debtor God) and he could approach and demand Yahweh to get busy. Two, he could consider Yahweh untrustworthy and that a relationship with Yahweh doesn’t count for anything but misery. Being the messianic king was not all it was cracked up to be. Living according to either expression of falsehood would perpetuate bad feelings and the burden of bad feelings would increase (Proverbs 3:5-8; 5:21-22; 13:15b; 26:11). Verses 1-3 can be understood from several vantage points but I think it is best to simple say David was a man of God in right relationship to Him. He knew the God of circumstances and he cried to God for help as a person who knew his God and His help.
Verse 4 is a turning point in the psalm. By training and discipline David had developed a lifestyle of confident trust in God and His purposes. David called upon God out of his relationship and knowledge of Him. David had come to his senses (see Psalm 73:16-17; Luke 15:17-18). David knew things about Yahweh and himself. He knew God was the ultimate Promise-maker and –keeper who heard and answered prayers. David spoke with his God! What a wonderful blessing that can be lost if one is depending on feelings.
David knew he was a special agent of God – the messianic king – sent to establish a kingdom of righteousness and peace. God would not let him falter in spite of David himself and those around him. David never attacked God’s sovereignty or goodness. He never attacked Yahweh. He prayed to be heard and for mercy. The word for mercy is the same word in Genesis 6:8: Noah found favor with the Lord.
David was praying for grace and blessing in a time of need. David knew his resources were exhausted in terms of his own strength. His position was similar to that of Paul as documented in 2 Corinthian 12. Paul did not ask for his vision into third heaven. He did not volunteer for the thorn in his flesh. Based o his relationship with God, he cried out to Him – remove it. God’s answer was no and gave him a reason. Strength is made perfect in weakness when you respond properly. Paul did: give me more he told God. Paul was no masochist. He desired to be strong in the Lord not himself. Such it was for David. He prayed that God would remove his enemies who were Yahweh’s enemies so he could complete his task as the messianic king. He had God’s business as a major concern.
The psalm closes on a confident note (verses 8-10). He knew that the Lord had heard. That settled it for David. Therefore he expected victory, not so much for himself but for God and His kingdom people. Trouble handled God’s way for His glory points to victory for the Church and individual believers in all ages.
1. What is the link between feelings, thoughts, desires, and actions?
2. What did David know that you know?
3. How did that knowledge influence David and how does it influence you? What are the results?
4. How does your relationship with Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit influence you in times of pleasantness and unpleasantness?
Psalm 13: God’s Answer for Troubled hearts: Part I
Inner-Man Turmoil and Anguish
Psalm 13 is short (six verses) and is authored by David as are almost all of the Psalms in Book I (Psalms 1-41). Book I centers on the rise of the Davidic kingdom. The theme of the Book is confrontation and conflict with both David’s and God’s enemies within Israel as well as outside of Israel. David is establishing a kingdom of peace and righteousness but there is much anguish. Kingdom building is hard work! The historical context of Psalm 13 is not known.
v.1: How long O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
v.2: How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemies triumph over me?
v.3: Look on me and answer, O Lord my God. Give light to my eyes or I will sleep in death;
v.4: my enemy will say I have overcome him, and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
v.5: But I must trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.
v.6: I will sing to the Lord for he has been good to me.
Establishing the messianic kingdom as God’s agent and anointed one was perilous, exacting, and pressure-packed. Unlike Jesus Christ, David did not volunteer. God chose him whereas Jesus Christ, in submission to the Godhead, humbled Himself and came to do His Father’s will (John 4:31-34; 6:37-43). How much theology David knew we are not told. But it is clear that David knew God and he knew God knew him. The Triune God is relational and He created man a relational being. Relationships do matter. David knew this and acted upon it. Moreover, God holds His people close to Him. These truths were fundamental for Jesus the greater David and for David. They are to be precious and acted upon by every believer.
David trained himself in regard to his response to God as he was being prepared to assume his position as king. His position as a young, lowly shepherd was a most fitting place for David to start his training. As God’s chosen man, David would not kill Saul who was ruling as the Lord’s anointed whereas Saul had one aim: to kill David (1 Samuel 24:4-7; 26:9-11).
Psalm 13 tells us that David was faced with another but unknown to us pressure-packed situation. Armed with the truth that he had an inseparable, personal relationship with God, David went to God humbly and yet confidently and courageously (verses 1-2). He knew God heard and answered his prayer. Jesus Christ, the greater David, was in relation to the Father. He, too, knew that the Father heard and answered every prayer. So, too, should every believer.
Verse 1 presents facts about David and not about God. In his situation, David honestly asked how long God would hide himself – the situation would continue. Yet, David prayed to his hidden God! In spite of the circumstances, David knew God was not far away but based on his feelings it appeared He was. Both Job and David felt alone and their prayers were seemingly not heard. But both David and Job eventually learned and appreciated the truth that they could not let circumstances or feelings dictate truth.
Verse 2 continues to express his inner-man churning and turmoil. David asked how long he would have this anguish. He wanted relief. However from another perspective David asked when would God prove victorious? David was trying to make sense of God’s providence. David knew that God was in control. He was thinking through so many things: God and His control and His trustworthiness; himself as God’s chosen messiah, his present situation, and his trust or lack therefore of God. The latter part of the verse gives insight into at least one aspect of David: he knew that his enemies were God’s enemies. Would they triumph? If so, what would happen to the kingdom? What would happen to God’s honor? Self took a backseat for David as it did for the greater David (Matthew 26:36-46 and parallels).
In verses 3-4, David pleads with God to turn on the lights. These pleas were based on David’s knowledge of God’s relationship to him and him with Yahweh. We all need the lights turned on. Too often we live in the darkness of our own ignorance and arrogance blaming bad feelings on God’s providence. However, the Holy Spirit was alive and well in the Old Testament as well as in the New! Paul, like David, wanted to be in the light and experience the presence of God. Both David throughout the Psalms and Paul prayed for enlightenment for themselves and their people (Ephesians 1:15-23; 3:14-21; Philippians 1:9-12; Colossians 1:9-11).
Verses 5-6 records David’s humble but joyful and wise response. He would and did trust, rejoice, and sing. David knew His God was present, powerful, purposeful, and promise-keeping. God is the covenantally-faithful God of the universe including David’s world. David grabbed and embraced this truth and held on to it. David acted on truth and not feelings. He correctly interpreted circumstances. Consequently, he rejoiced!
1. When faced with God’s providence, what was David’s response?
2. What is the purpose of telling God how you feel?
3. What was David’s and what is your basis for trusting God?
4. How do you need to grow as a God-trusting person?
Psalm 13: God’s Answer for Troubled Hearts: Part II
Inner-Man Turmoil and Anguish
We are examining Psalm 13 in the context of the structure and unity of the Psalter.
v.1: How long O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
v.2: How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemies triumph over me?
v.3: Look on me and answer, O Lord my God. Give light to my eyes or I will sleep in death;
v.4: my enemy will say I have overcome him, and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
v.5: But I must trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.
v.6: I will sing to the Lord for he has been good to me.
In Part I, I focused on David praying, asking God for insight in the form of a how-long format. He was besieged as God’s messianic agent. The “bad guys” were winning and the “good guys” were losing. David was on the run. But David made the only logical response. He cried out to God. The cries were confidant ones based on his known relationship with God and more importantly God’s to him. David knew his privilege and responsibility of his messianic mission and God’s trustworthiness. However, circumstances seemed to negate any truth that the messianic mission would be accomplished.
Dependent on and confident in Yahweh’s proven trustworthiness and goodness. David moved toward God. But someone may say: tell God how you feel, what you want, and pray and trust that He will give it to you. Wow! Is getting in touch with your feelings (however one does that!) and telling God what you want really the key to praying and living in a God-honor manner? Is that how you use unpleasantness ordained by God to become more like Christ? I don’t believe that is what Paul, David, or the greater David thought and did.
Feelings are the result of thinking and wanting. They have an origin. David was able to get victory (verse 5-6) because he focused on God and His truth rather than on feelings, circumstances, and self. He brought his thoughts and desires in line with biblical truth. He presented his perception of the situation humbly and honestly to the Lord. That does not mean that he did not present them forcefully with vigor and even with feeling! God’s hard providence is just that: hard. But they are what a completely powerful sovereign God who is infinite in wisdom and perfect and overflowing with love has ordained for the person.
David was victorious because he interpreted his situation based not on feelings and his logic, but on his relationship with God who he knew personally. But more than that, he knew God knew him! Truth always trumps feelings. But truth must be applied (Matthew 7:24-27; John 13;18; James 1:25). The blessing comes in the doing and applying.
Verses 5-6 spell out the choice that David faced. His choice was between trusting self and feelings and trusting God and truth (Proverbs 3:5-8). He had heard and seen his situation via his senses. His interpretative grid was either biblical truth informed saving faith and true hope. Or it was his feelings and reasoning divorced from God’s truth. He had a choice: fear of God or fear of man.
As did the psalmists in Psalm 42-43 and Psalm 73 and the prodigal son, David counseled himself (Psalms 42:5, 11; 43:5; 73:16-18; Luke 15:17-18). David had hidden the word of God in his heart (as given in Psalm 119:9-11). He recalled God’s truth and acted upon it as a whole person: thoughts, desires, and actions in both his body including the brain and his inner man (usually portrayed as the heart). Motivated by the overwhelming desire to please God David followed the word of God: trust and obey. The particulars of that obedience have to be worked out in each situation.
Some may say that the pressure of God’s providence (interpreted as bad situations which somehow produce bad feelings) makes it impossible to think and desire in a God-pleasing manner. The only recourse is to tell God how you feel and what you want. This Psalm among others, teaches believers that is not God’s way. David did not begin to think God’s thoughts and desire what God desires at the moment he wrote Psalm 13. Rather God had been maturing him and David had been maturing himself as he lived as a shepherd boy, as a soother of and rival to King Saul, and as one being prepared to establish God’s physical and spiritual kingdom. David understood that discomfort and unpleasantness was the context of his response to David. It would be for the greater David on a much larger scale. David as did Jesus knew circumstances and people do not determine his response. What he wrote in verses 5-6 was a whole-person heart response. He was truly a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22).
Such it is with the greater David, Jesus Christ. Sinless Jesus was faced with enemies all around Him. People sinned against Him, yet He proved covenantally faithful. He was committed to pleasing His Father. He knew that submission to the Father included the cross. That does not mean that Jesus was a stoic in the bad sense of the word. He knew the Triune God, His mission, what kind of people He was living and dying for – ignorant and arrogant enemies of God (Romans 5:6-10). Yet reconciling these people to Himself through the cross as a loser was the motivator for Jesus to pursue victory. Along the way He grieved God’s way. He grieved over His disciples and apostles who did not seem to get it. He grieved at Lazarus’ tomb in John 11. I think this was a preview of the cross: to reverse the curse and secure a people for Himself, going to hell on the cross was required. Of course He grieved especially noted in the gospel of Luke (Luke 13:1-9, 34-35; 19:41-44; 23:28-31). Jesus knew and “saw” the results of what ignorance and arrogance results if the person does not repent. He knew and even tasted deadness in order to bring to life; darkness in order to bring light. Jesus understood what others did not and in a most profound divine way. He came to His people but the rejected Him as a nation (John 1:4-5, 9-11; 3:17-21).
The cross and Jesus as the perfect Sacrifice and perfect High Priest were God’s mean for accomplishing Jesus’s Messianic mission. King David bore witness of God’s covenantal faithfulness which resulted in a proper response to Him (verses 5-6). King David’s response pointed to and imitated the greater David’s response to His Father. The coming of the Kingdom was essential to both David and Jesus. All believers must and will follow the example of the lesser and greater David seeking first God and His glory. Circumstances may not change but God-honoring victory will come (1 Corinthians 10:13; Philippians 4:13)
1. How are the lesser David and the greater David similar and dissimilar?
2. What foundational truths did each of them hold fast and what were the results?
3. How did David and Christ spell victory?
Psalms 42-43: Part I
Hope and Trust amid Turmoil and Distress
To correctly understand any Psalm, it is important to understand it individually and in its redemptive-historical context. Book II of the Psalter consists of thirty-one psalms (Psalms 42-72). Psalms 42-49 are authored by the Sons of Korah which are followed by a single psalm of Asaph (Ps. 50). A second collection of Davidic psalms (Psalms 51-71) is followed by Psalm 72 which is authored by Solomon and closes book II. Beginning with book II, there has been a change in theme of the Psalter. There is a sense of communication, not simply to Israel, but to all nations of the world.
The Davidic kingdom and its glory were on the rise. God had been preserving His name and glory through David. Constant ups and downs still occur in David’s effort to establish the kingdom of righteousness, prosperity, and peace as God’s agent but glory is more in evidence. The struggle is not over but David was to take a different approach to his enemies both within Israel and outside. In Psalms 51-71, there is evidence of a desire to communicate more directly with them as evidenced by the use of the more general term Elohim for God in contrast to the term Yahweh which emphasizes God’s covenantal relationship to Israel. This different attitude toward the peoples and nations of the world pervades book II in contrast to book I. Yet conflict is still present.
Moreover, we know and perhaps Old Testament believers knew at least in some degree that the kingdom is not merely a physical one; it is not simply the Davidic king’s reign. It is God’s kingdom and His reign ultimately in Christ, the greater Messiah and David. It is a kingdom that involves an inner-man change which moves from the inside out. People within Israel and outside of it are to be included in due time.
After the introductory Psalms 42-44, many of the following Psalms in Book II highlight and celebrate the kingship of God and David’s victories. David’s victories are to point to the greater David – Jesus Christ.
Before the organizer of the Psalter introduced this second round of Davidic Psalms, he opened book II with a collection of Psalms from the Sons of Korah (Psalms 42-49). A word regarding the Sons of Korah is instructive. They were Levites descended through Kohath, Korah’s father (1 Chronicles 6:22-48; 9:17-32; 2 Chronicles 20:19). They were involved in the performance of temple music and worship. When Israel was wandering in the desert, Korah had led a rebellion of 250 community leaders against Moses and he failed. God punished him and the participating leaders and their families (Numbers 16; Jude 11). However, the Sons of Korah were spared. In gratitude they dedicated themselves to produce and to perform music in the worship of the Lord (Numbers 26:11). Obviously they wrote music as well.
Most agree that Psalms 42-43 should be considered together as one psalm, the work of one author. Sin is everywhere, within and around every person except Christ. These two psalms provide a realistic picture of the consequences of sin and the perpetual struggle with God’s enemies. God was in control so why was David on the run? Anguish, consternation, turmoil within the individual, and unrest outside of them was part of the fabric of the life of those who loved the Lord. This is vividly pictured by David and his people but it should also be true for every believer and the Church until Christ returns. Moreover and ultimately, Jesus had a realistic view of the people He was ministering as the Messiah. Faced with opposition on all sides (John 1:4-5, 9-11; 3:17-21), Jesus continuously counseled himself. The what and how of self-counsel is a major theme of these two Psalms.
Paul’s reminder to believers is as appropriate for the psalmist then as well as for Paul’s listeners and for the church today: don’t to be deceived. God will not be mocked (Galatians 6:7). In Psalm 42-43, the psalmist in response to and in the present situation, came to his senses as recorded in 42:5, 11; 43:5. He came to himself as did the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:17-18. He talked to and counseled himself as Daniel did in Daniel 1:8. The psalmist, as others would and had done, rooted themselves in non-negotiable truths. They camped out on the truth and held to it as their lamp and light (Psalm 119:105). As do all saints, they knew in their heart of hearts that this is God’s world. For them that settled the issue. Hope, thanksgiving, and praise followed.
These two Psalms (42-43) demand both an individual perspective and a redemptive-historical perspective. Hebrews 2:8-9 pictures Christ’s kingship and His control as seemingly non-existent. Kings and nations are set against the Triune God. Book I presents this perspective through the eyes of David seemingly always on the run, certainly a loser. Such it was for Christ. Yet Christ reigns even in the Old Testament. He is King and He will vindicate Himself, His people, individuals, and ultimately the cosmos but in His time. Those last three words are crucial. God is on schedule and He wants, expects, and deserves to have His people on His schedule.
Such is case as Book II of the Psalter opens. Everything seems to be out of control or at least out of God’s control. However Book II closes with the Messianic King reigning (Psalm 72). Book II opens with defeat and closes with a Psalm authored by Solomon celebrating the triumphs of the messianic king’s rule which ultimately points to Christ (Psalm 72). Christ, not David or Solomon, is the Savior and Deliverer of His people (Psalm 72:1, 4). Psalm 72 is a glorious psalm highlighting the Messiah’s universal and eternal rule with ramifications for the present life.
The author of Psalms 42-43 did not have that vantage point. But they had God and more to the point, God had them. Job learned this same lesson and was satisfied. So, too, was the psalmist: the present author; David the psalmist of Israel (2 Samuel 23:1-2),; and the Greatest Psalmist of the universe, Jesus Christ!
1. A major lesson from Psalm 42-43 is expressed in Ecclesiastes 5:1-3. How do you respond?
2. What is your grid for interpreting life, people, and God?
a. Do you judge the Messiah’s kingship based on the Word of God or feelings, experience, and or reasoning unrelated to Scripture?
b. Do you judge yourself and your circumstances based the Word of God or feelings, experience, and reasoning unrelated to biblical truth?
c. What have been the results?
3. How do you counsel yourself when you picture your circumstances as bigger than you?
a. Read the following: 1 Samuel 17; Daniel 1:8; Matthew 14:22-33; and Luke 18:15-17 to help you answer.
b. How does Psalm 42:5, 11; 43:1 help you answer? What principles do you derive?
Psalms 42-43: Part II
Hope and Trust amid Turmoil and Distress
Victory Through Godly Self-Counsel
As clearly expressed in Book I, these two psalms followed on the heels of distress – enemies, conflict, and confrontation. The author described himself as downcast – there was sadness in his soul – his whole person, inner and outer man (42:5, 11; 43:1). We are not told the specifics of the problem but we know that circumstances were dire. The Davidic kingdom and its glory would be on the rise but that hadn’t happened yet. There was still conflict, confusion, and uncertainty. These terms describes the circumstances. As one consequence, the Sons of Korah were unable to lead God’s people in the liturgy of the temple and into the temple, the house of the Lord. The author longed to be with God and desired the same for the nation (42:1-4). The people were denied the localized presence of God. Consequently, the Sons of Korah might have interpreted the circumstances as a sign of God’s displeasure with them and perhaps His rejection of them.
Please meditate on some of the concerns of the Sons of Korah: they were excluded from the established dwelling place, the presence of God, the joy of engaging in their priestly duties, and the joy of fellowship with God and others. The author was devastated not only for himself but for the nation. In response, there was much agitation within – inner-man turmoil – what were he and the nation to do (42:5, 6, 11; 43:5)? Being in God’s presence was dear to the Sons. Their questions centered on the how. They asked: would the gift of being in the presence of God be regained and if so, how? We don’t know if the nation of Israel asked the same questions. But return to Genesis 3. Adam and Eve, post-fall, they were unclean and defiled; they were exiled from God’s presence. A question surfaced that others have called the gate-liturgy question. The first exodus was an exile – a descent away from God. From that moment, the dominating question of all history and mankind was: who will ascend the holy hill into the presence of God (Psalms 15; 24)? The question captures the plight and serious condition of mankind in all ages.
The son of Korah was rightly revisiting mankind’s condition. In response, he was downcast. The word translated downcast is used four times in the 16 verses of Psalms 42-43. It refers to being moved, a turning, an agitation, a stirring within, a churning movement (42:5-6, 11; 43:5; and also in Psalms 6 and 44:25). It is in the passive voice such that the author was actually down-casting himself! God, Satan, and circumstances were not doing it!
In his gospel, John makes use of this word in relation to Christ and the apostles (John 11:33, 38; 12:27, 13:21; 14:1, 27). It refers to a steady churning and spinning as a person perceives and evaluates himself in the situation – inner-man turmoil. Christ had inner-man churning. He did not sin. He told the apostles to stop troubling their own hearts (John 14:1-2)! Jesus and they apostles were not victims trapped in a morass of bad times and feelings because God was not in control or good! They were not at the beck and call of circumstances. Circumstances did not do it to them! This may seem to be heavy theology. Jesus did not think so!
We know that the author of the Psalms 42-43 was in the midst of hard tines – trouble. Some would say he was “under pressure” and not responsible. In response to God’s providence which is a response to God, the author was disturbed within. That in itself is not sinful. He longed to be in God’s presence (v.2-3). In order to get victory in the situation – that is a major goal of the believer, the believer must understand the source and motivation of his reaction and himself. A number of questions surface:
• From what did this reaction originate?
• Did he consider himself a victim to God’s providence including perhaps the failures, past and present, of the Sons of Korah?
• How does the reality of the psalmist and God’s people excluded from the house of God influence the psalmist and for what reasons?
• How would victory come if there was still conflict with the enemies of God who were the king’s and the author’s enemies as well.
• What will happen to him, the people and nation, and the glory of God?
• Who was winning and what would it look like and when?
he psalmist has his plate full. What he does is impossible except for the child of God. In verse 4, we read: these things I remember. He names specific things but the key principle is this: he cognitively, actively, willfully, and purposefully changed his thinking and also His wanting and focused on the presence and power of God. In this way, he answered the question posed by enemies: where is your God (verse 3)? This question was presented to Jesus in varying forms as He hung on the cross. Jesus knew full well where God was. That is one reason why He stayed on the cross! The greater and wonderful Counselor counseled himself. The Holy Spirit, another Counselor of the same kind, was still with Him and counseled Him as He does and will counsel believers – there was victory even before He died (John 15:26-27; 16:13)!
Focusing on the presence of God is a theme that runs throughout Scripture. It is the antidote for sinful fear and worry which is always sinful. Both describe a way of thinking and wanting focusing on self and control. The psalmist came to realize and verbalized the truths that circumstances come from the hand of God, they have no power in and of themselves, and a response in and to them is a response to God. Heavy theology indeed!
In Psalm 42 and 43 verses 5, he asks himself why he was so troubled and downcast. In verse 6, he makes the statement: his soul -his whole person is downcast – troubled and churching within. He makes the same claim: I will remember as he did in verse 4 before he mentioned his inner-man condition. As I wrote above, this is statement is critical for victory. He knew why he was IN the trouble: God’s providence. He was asking himself: why he was responding in the way he was! He was getting it!
1. Are you getting as did the author? Why and why not?
2. Describe your situation (s).
a. What are you wanting and thinking?
b. How do they fit biblical truth? Be specific.
3. As did the psalmist in verses 4 and 6 of Psalm 42 what non-negotiable biblical truths have you called to mind and what have been the results? Be specific.
4. How have you counseled yourself?
Psalms 42-43: Part III
Hope and Trust amid Turmoil and Distress
The Joy of Godly Self-Counsel
The psalmist of Psalms 42-43 expressed the sentiment – many would say feelings – of Israel. I am not sure king David would say the same thing – he marched to a different drumbeat. But if you look at book I (Psalms 1-41), many of the psalms express inner- man turmoil and unrest (see especially Psalm 6, 13, and 22). However even those require an inside-out look beginning with the inner man before a final decision is made (see my series on these Psalms).
In Psalm 42-43, the author has expressed his thinking and wanting in terms of inner –man trouble and turmoil. There was uncertainty in his life as well as all of Israel. He gives all believers in all ages a window into his heart and the mindset of Jesus. He calls on himself to remember: 42:4, 6: to think properly. He gave himself the subject matter for this thoughts and desires: God and His love, His steadfastness and trustworthiness (the Rock,) the beauty of the presence of God both individually as a worshipper and worker and corporately (42:8-9). He had a God to be with and to serve and he had people who needed to be with that God.
Circumstances “looked and felt bad” (42:7) and there were taunts from adversaries (42:10). The psalmist resembled Job who asked God why He had forsaken him (43:2). Unlike Job, the psalmist did not demand an answer from God even though he was trying to make sense out of his situation. And like Job, both were trying to make sense of God. As long as he used human, sin-cursed reasoning, he never would! Job joyfully discovered that and was free (Job 38-41)! Our psalmist discovered that freedom as well.
The psalmist pleads for mercy and for deliverance from ungodly, oppressive enemies within and without Israel (43:1). He wanted relief so that the people could be in the house of the Lord – in His presence. God honored this request. Again it was in his time. The psalmist was expressing David’s thought and desire as expressed in Psalm 27:4-5 (Book I).
The author expressed both corporate (God’s covenant people) and individual hope despite the and in the midst of uncertainty. The author had sadness of soul because of the seemingly inability of the king to lead his people into the presence of God in the house of the Lord – temple. That the conflict continued is clear in verses 42:2, 9-10. The theme of being in God’s presence was an overriding concern and desire for David and the sons of Korah. He hoped that separation and exclusion from the established dwelling place of God would cease.
Before he went fully down the “downcast path,” the psalmist took action. He whoa-ed himself! He counseled himself and asked: why am I downcast and disturbed within? (42:5, 11; 43:5). He asked questions of himself. He turned inward in the correct manner. Some might say he was a nervous wreck, that he was under the circumstances, or that he was depressed, however that word is defined. These people would blame the circumstances directly and the God of those circumstances indirectly!
Are those conclusions accurate and true? Based on the psalmist’s response, the answer is no. The psalmist gave himself wise, simple, and profound counsel. He made a spiritual self-inventory, gathered data, reviewed truths about God and Israel, and concluded that there was only one antidote, one true answer for his inner-man turmoil. In verses 5, 11 of Psalm 42 and verse 5 of Psalm 43, he gives that answer. Most, upon reading the verses, one would say hope. I say whoa! My reasoning is this: he already has hope and faith but it is misdirected. He says he will put hope in something and someone. Hope is a noun with content and an object: God and His control are both the content and the object of true hope. Hope has a doer: he is doing the hoping. The psalmist’s hope is true because it is in God and it is expressed (Romans 8:24-25; See my book in press on hope). His hope was rooted in God’s presence and love. Circumstances do not alter the reality of God’s presence, purpose, plan, promises, power, provisions, and goodness.
We are not told the specifics of his acting out of true hope. We expect that he prayed, he went about his duties with a desire to please God, to write and sign I ways he hadn’t, to minister to others, too practice self counsel, and teach others the beauty and joy of counseling yourself.
Therefore, he stepped out in active faith and true hope. He called on God his Rock (42:9) and actively, cognitively, and purposefully put his trust/hope in God (42:11). In verse 1 of Psalm 43, he pleaded directly to God for vindication. The terminology reminds the reader of a courtroom. The author knew that God’s vindication of him was a vindication of God Himself, David the king, and Israel. God’s actions, not the psalmist’s inner-man turmoil produced in part by sinful thoughts and desires would bring a return to God’s presence for himself and Israel. Israel’s king would be exalted and God’s true King would be exalted.
There was confidence and energy expressed in his words. In verse 4 of Psalm 43, he gave himself marching orders or better progressive sanctification orders – he went to God. He desired fellowship with and worship of God and that desire motivated him to please God rather than live by feelings and experience.
He counseled himself to function based on a proper vertical reference in life such that circumstances, his experience and reasoning, and feelings did not dictate his response. Rather, he actively set his hope, not upon relief, but on his God (1 Peter 1:13). Evidence of his changed trajectory at that moment and as a lifestyle was given in Psalm 42:5, 11 and Psalm 43:5: he praised God as his Savior and his God. Focusing on God’s relationship with him and the nation and on his personal relationship with the Lord of lord and King of kings enabled the author and the Sons of Korah to get victory in the problem. He quieted himself and served the Lord. This honored God, was best for him, and was best for the people. It is best for believers in all ages.
1. Inner-man turmoil and churning within is a common occurrence even in believers and is a response to what is outside of the person. .
a. What was God’s antidote as described in Psalms 42-43 and John 14:1-2?
b. How did the psalmist do this and compare it to Jesus’ command in John 14:1-2?
2. How often do you model the psalmist and whoa yourself and follow 1 Peter 1:13?
3. What does setting your hope on God look like specifically?
4. Define hope and its foundation and then write down specific promises of God.
5. Recall one of those promises daily and record how you were able to counsel yourself.
Psalms 73-74: Distress and Devastation of God’s People, Part I
Introduction: All is Not Lost No Matter How it May Appear
Book III of the Psalter is composed of seventeen Psalms (Psalms 73-89). These psalms introduce an entirely different perspective on the life of God’s covenant people according to God’s providence. Life had changed dramatically for Israel’s king and Israel. Consequently there was a paradigm shift in the Psalter’s emphasis. In book III the central focus of the Psalter is no longer on David and his activity as the messianic king and God’s anointed in establishing his and Yahweh’s kingdom of righteousness, peace, and prosperity. For review, it is well to remember that the theme of book I (Psalms 1-41) is the rise of the Davidic kingdom with conflict and confrontation within and without the kingdom. The theme of book II (Psalms 42-72) centers on the glories and rise of the Davidic kingdom and communication both within and outside Israel.
However, beginning with book III (Psalms 73-89) there is a theme change. The theme is one of devastation and collapse. Israel has been defeated and there is devastation and desolation throughout the land. Yahweh’s enemies have seemingly won the battle. Yahweh’s enemies were Israel’s enemies but Israel failed to acknowledge this fact. Israel had sold herself to Yahweh’s enemies (spiritual adultery) and there were severe consequences. Yahweh scattered His people into exile.
As a result of rebellious Israel’s demise, most of the Psalms in book III deal with Israel as a corporate community. In contrast, books I and II of the Psalter were predominantly individualistic – written in the first person. An “I” perspective was common in books I and II but not so in book III. However, Psalm 73 is one of the few psalms in book III that is written in the first person.
International enemies were on the prowl and were Yahweh’s agents to subdue and humiliate Israel. The devastation of Israel and the people came and was manifested by the collapse of the Davidic kingdom. Book III concluded on a very sad note. The throne and crown of the Davidic king was cast into the dust (Psalm 89:38-39, 44). Who would have dreamt that this would happen? The author of Psalm 89 gave an unexpected and startling answer: it was Yahweh, the God of the Davidic covenant who brought the devastation (Psalm 89:18, 39, 44-46). A logical question surfaced concerning the faithfulness of God: had God failed His people? If He did then He was not trustworthy.
Book III is divided into two parts. Psalms 73-83 as well as Ps. 50 are ascribed to Asaph and Psalms 84-85, 87-88 are ascribed to the Sons of Korah who also authored Psalms 42-49. David authored a single Psalm in book III (Ps. 86). Thus, in book III two thirds of the psalms are ascribed to Asaph and one third to the Sons of Korah.
Asaph, of the tribe of Levi, was thought to be one of David’s three chief musicians (the other two were Hemen and Jeduthun). He was put in charge of the worship music (1 Chronicles 6:39). Sons of these men were appointed by David as temple musicians. There was a generational responsibility for the music of the temple that continued even after David’s death.
Psalms 73-74 open Book III and introduce the reality of Israel’s situation. Distress and devastation abounded. Psalm 73 is a personal lament and Psalm 74 is a corporate prayer asking God to come to the aid of His people. Each Psalm centers on the “bad guys” and their seeming winning ways. The psalmist wants to how and why.
Asaph’s individual perspective of Israel’s situation was much like the writer of the book of Lamentations, apparently Jeremiah. Both of these men gazed at the predicament of their beloved city and land with a mixture of shock and hopelessness. They concluded the realty that Israel was in deep trouble (Lamentations 1:1-6; 2:5-6; 4:1). In another sense Asaph’s initial perspective is similar to that of Habakkuk. Asaph looked at Israel’s enemies and wondered how it was possible for them to be winning. Habakkuk rightly surmised that Israel was a wicked nation and wondered why Yahweh was so slow in correcting her (Habakkuk 1:1-4). In each case, wicked nations seemed to be winning and wicked Israel seemed to be losing. How could that be?
In response to God’s providence, each of the authors experienced inner-man angst. There was turmoil within their very souls. In Psalm 73-74, Asaph made an honest appraisal of Israel’s situation and concluded that the “bad guys” – the wicked – were winning. Israel was in the throes of very hard times. From his perspective, the wickedness of Israel’s enemies trumped Israel’s wickedness. However, in the end, Asaph emphasized the sovereignty of God and His good control. Psalm 73 is an individualistic psalm that centers on Asaph’s response to the presumed shalom of the wicked and absence of shalom which Israel had been promised to Israel (Genesis 12:1-3; 15:1-6). Asaph wrestled with the temporal destiny of boastful, wicked nations, enemies of Israel from the outside (73:3-5). Seemingly they flourished at the expense of Israel. Asaph begins his Psalm with a statement of fact: God is good and He is good to the pure in heart (73:1). Asaph knew that Israel was Yahweh’s people but he was also aware that Israel had failed to function as a godly nation. They were not pure in heart but neither were the ungodly nations.
Asaph was a man of Yahweh. One of the major themes of the psalms authored by Asaph is Yahweh’s sovereign rule over His people and all nations. The force of this conviction comes clear as Asaph counsels himself to accurately interpret circumstances.
1. The Psalter has a context. Book III gives a perspective on the devastation in Israel due to her idolatry and God’s judgment. How does Asaph begin Psalm 73 and what is its significance?
2. How was Asaph able to make such a statement?
3. In the end, what determined Asaph’s final conclusions? Was it his circumstances, his feelings, or his logic in contrast to being led by the truth about and from Yahweh?
Psalms 73-74: Distress and Devastation of God’s People, Part II
Initial Conclusions: Psalm 73:1, 2-12, 13-14
The Psalms of Asaph (Psalms 73-83 plus Ps. 50) emphasize Yahweh’s rule over Israel and other nations. In that sense they are kingly psalms. But the setting is often in the midst of Israel’s failure and demise. He often expressed Yahweh’s sovereignty by picturing Him as Deliverer, Savior, and King of His people. Moreover, Asaph was confident that Yahweh was approachable. Thus Asaph made honest assessments of Israel, her plight, and her conquerors and he presented his thoughts to Yahweh. Psalm 73 is one such assessment and presentation.
However, these were hard non-expectant times for Israel. Israel’s destiny was more troublesome given her prior position as a result of God’s covenantal faithfulness. Based on the circumstances and in spite of Israel’s failures, it appeared, even felt like, that God had made a mistake and had not kept His promise,
In Psalm 73, Asaph spoke as an individual and his initial thoughts are given in verse 1: Surely God is good to Israel, those who are pure in heart. Asaph expressed the fundamental truth that God is good and approachable. Yet in the moment, this truth seemed so distant and unreal. In verse 2, he wrote that his foot (himself) almost slipped.
Good is an interesting term. David used the term in Psalm 34:8 when called the people to come and taste and see that God was good. Good summarizes all that God is as God. The phrase: God is good, is equal to saying: God is. Everything that God should be as God is summarized in the word good. God is good in His Being and what He gives. Yet when Asaph surveyed Israel all he saw was “bad.”
Asaph knew God but he added but in verses 2-12. When he looked at the circumstances and the people who God used to spank (discipline) Israel, he began to doubt his assessment as given in verse 1 and ultimately the goodness of Yahweh. The invaders and conquering armies were winning! They enjoyed every advantage that was initially Israel’s. These advantages were being denied God’s people! God’s covenant people were in trouble and where was God.
In verses 2-12, Asaph contrasted himself with God and the pure in heart. He once was pure in heart but not now. Verse 2 described it well: my feet had almost slipped and I nearly lost my foothold (v. 2). There was a time when he was pure in heart! He gives a but now. In the following verses he presented his fall out of grace but not hid salvation. He provided proof that he was impure in heart. He envied the wicked and their seeming prosperity. The foreign invaders who had taken Israel captive now enjoyed advantages that were rightfully Israel’s (v.3). He described the “good life” in verse 4. The invaders appeared to have what he did not have but wanted – they had no struggles; good health, strong bodies; freedom; and no burdens or human ills (v. 3-5).
He accurately defined the wicked as proud (v. 6), having callous hearts with evil contents of their minds/hearts (v.7), and scoffers and arrogant speakers of malice who threatened oppression (v. 8). Moreover, they laid claim to heaven and the earth (v. 9-10) and they bad-mouthed and mocked God (v.11-12). They denied God’s knowledge let alone His omniscience. Even though Asaph acknowledged the wicked as wicked, he described them as “having it all together” and prospering. Asaph was doubleminded. He was convinced that they had increased wealth and a carefree life (v.12) and that the wicked had no struggles or burdens – they had no bond, fetter, or chain (v.4-5, 12). All of these Israel now had. The wicked were carefree and released from the burdens so common to man especially Israel. Seemingly, they were not plagued by human ills. Asaph’s perceptions were based on what Israel had now, what Israel had, and what the wicked had now. To make matters worse Asaph knew that God was in control.
Asaph was faced with the reality of God and His trustworthiness. Was Israel His covenant people? How was he to understand the circumstances? His dilemma was similar to Job’s. Job knew he had a viable and beautiful relationship with God. His circumstances seemed to say otherwise. He demanded that God give him an answer. God did not but He gave Job Himself. Job repented (Job 42:2-6).
Verses 13-14 expressed the result of Asaph’s “comparative religion.” Based on his understanding and interpretation of the situation, he determined that he had made a mistake – a big one. He was on the “wrong” side. In fact, it was futile and useless for him or anyone to be part of God’s covenant people. Being a believer was a bummer. The proof of this conclusion was the circumstances.
If Asaph applied his logic to the cross, Jesus was a loser and the cross was absurd. His thought could be summarized “look at what the other guys have as compared to me. They have a cake walk and Israel and I have trouble on top of trouble.” Instead of the wicked being plagued, he said he and the nation were. He concluded this was not fair.
A turning point begins to appear in verse 15. As he reflected on his words in verses 13-14, he was amazed that he would entertain such thoughts and conclude what he did. He did not believe that he would ever think and speak the way he did about Yahweh and His providence to himself or to Yahweh. He realized that what he was thinking and saying was pure foolishness. He was coming to his senses (Luke 15:17-18).
1. What was Asaph’s situation?
2. Give reasons why it is easy to read Yahweh from circumstances rather than circumstances according to biblical truth?
3. What was the basis for his wrong conclusion?
4. What was one truth about Israel that Asaph apparently ignored?
5. How was Asaph like Job?
Psalms 73-74: Distress and Devastation of God’s People, Part III
Victory through God’s Perspective: Psalm 73:16-20
Asaph was a gifted individual. He understood where the gift of music came from, and he used his music to praise the Lord and communicate His Word to a needy world. However, as this psalm demonstrated, people in God’s service must be vigilant. Asaph came to his senses. But like Job, initially he could not figure out God and what He was doing. A proper view of Asaph’s relationship with God and God’s relationship with Asaph and Israel was trumped by Asaph’s reliance on his own understanding and his dependence on experience and feelings. He read God from the circumstances rather than the circumstances through biblical truth.
In verse 2, he wrote he almost slipped, meaning he was about to “blow it.” For a time, he did follow the lead of the arrogant and ignorant, the impure in heart. In his thinking, the wicked were everybody but him. Israel had failed to bow the knee to God and they deserved God’s discipline. But not the way He was doing it! Asaph did not understand or like God’s discipline and His refining fire. How can it be that God was disciplining Israel? He knew but when faced with its reality and God’s method he was dismayed.
However, in verses 16-20, there was a paradigm shift in his thinking and wanting. He came to his senses. God was truly in control. Now he contemplated the situation from God’s perspective rather than his own. No reason is given for this shift except that he entered into the sanctuary of God (v. 17). I suspect that Asaph was referring to coming into God’s presence, thinking God’s thoughts, and desiring what God desires. Moreover, the psalmist recalled and mediated upon that non-negotiable truth expressed in verse 1: God is good – circumstances don’t change that fact. Later, he wrote that when judging God’s trustworthiness and goodness from appearances and experiences he functioned as a “brute beast” – an animal (73:21-22).
The “now” must be seen through the eyes of saving faith which enabled him to look past the situation to the God of it. Rather than life for the “now” he understood the present via the future. Our time is in God’s hand (Psalm 31:15). There is an end and eternal destiny for all (73:18-19). God is always on His throne as Ruler and Controller. Moreover, God must have a purpose, one of which is given in 73:23-26: God’s presence is to be desired above all else. Growth in fellowship and intimacy with God was the key. God will destroy His enemies in due time – His time (2 Thessalonians 1:5-10). The psalmist came to realize that God’s people had failed to be pure in heart (Psalm 73:1; Matthew 5:8). God deserves loyalty, affection, devotion – single minded allegiance. Israel had not done that. But God had not left his people. God was trustworthy.
In reality, Asaph had distanced himself from God. He has lived the lie! He was far from God but God was not far from him. He thought sensually, temporally, and physically rather than suprasensual, spiritually, and eternally. His perspective was wrong. He thought in terms of the now without the eternal. It wasn’t until he began to consider God, life (God’s providence), self, and others from God’s perspective that he gained victory. In essence, he concluded that life now and God’s design for believers is not simply about now. Rather, being in God’s presence now and in eternity are God’s desire, design, and goal for His people and the Triune God. The true now of this life is based on the fact that resurrection life begins now (Romans 6:9-11; 2 Corinthians 5:7. 9). Eternal life begins now.
Every believer has an eternal perspective by virtue of his union with Christ and the indwelling Holy Spirit. As a result, the believer will think and desire from a heavenly perspective. He will then to act accordingly and he will be of earthly good. Since every believer is in Christ and since Christ is in heaven, the believer has an inheritance and residence in heaven with Him (Colossians 3:1-3; 1 Peter 1:3-5). These facts should motivate believers to think, desire, and act like Christ while God has them on this earth (1 John 3:1-3).
Those with an unbiblical now-mindset focus on what others have and they don’t have. A now mindset leads to misery on the earth and to hell eternally (Proverbs 13:15; Psalms 16:4; 32:10). Asaph had a clearer understanding of the now. He was satisfied with the truth that man’s destiny is more than what happens in this life. Asaph’s paradigm change is expressed by David in Psalm 34:8 (Taste and see that the Lord is good. Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.). Paul described the same mindset in Philippians 3:7-11. Paul counted everything loss (the now) for the surpassing knowledge of knowing Christ Jesus (the eternal which begins at salvation).
Asaph was now trusting in the Lord rather than self. He expressed confidence in the Lord as he honestly thirsted for the Lord’s righteousness and justice. He relied on the fact that God would reward the righteous and punish the evildoers. Asaph knew that God would act in His time, His way, for His glory and for the good of Israel (v.20).
1. Asaph was a godly man. What happened?
2. How does the “old Asaph compare with Esau in Genesis 25:29-34?
3. How does the new Asaph compare to the Prodigal in Luke 15:17-18?
Psalms 73-74: Distress and Devastation of God’s People, Part IV
Come to One’s Senses: Psalm 73:21-22, 23-26, 27-28
Asaph had come to his senses (v.16-20). In verse 21-22, Asaph was grieved and embittered – inner-man angst – sorrow, anguish, and turmoil. Asaph described his inner-man turmoil as violent and sharp (the meaning of the words in the original language). He wrote that he was thinking like an animal. He was senseless and ignorant, a brute beast before God. There was a battle, a war going on in his inner person. He described his problem. It was not the wicked and that which was outside of him. Nor was God the problem. He concluded that he was the problem! He was living animal-like according to feelings with a now, me first, rely on my understanding approach to life. He had adopted the mantra: for me, by me, and to me according to my feelings. Self-centeredness ruled and therefore God had to answer to him.
His sorrow and turmoil resulted from living the lie. God was in control but God’s control was not according to Asaph’ idea of control. Such it was for Job. Asaph came to his senses and reconsidered himself (v.21-22). He had thought like an animal and not as an image bearer of God. Animals are out for themselves. They take, never say thank you, and expect you to serve them. Such it was for Asaph. However, God did not leave Asaph. Therefore Asaph was able to give words of life to himself and for every generation after him (v.23-26).
Verses 23-26 contain a fundamental creed for every believer that models Christ’s way of life. Asaph acknowledged God’s presence and guidance.
v.23: Yet I am always with you: you hold me by my right hand.
v.24: You guide me with your counsel and afterward you will take me into glory.
v.25: Whom I have in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
v.26: My flesh and my heart may fail but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
Asaph expressed the ever-presence of God by an “I to God” phrase: I am always with you. Asaph had known that God was ever-present but like Job and David, God’s presence had been a burden. Job and Asaph could not figure God out. In his turnabout, Asaph not only referenced God but he also referenced himself. He was in God’s presence because God was always with him and even in him by the Holy Spirit. Asaph appreciated God’s presence. What he had considered to be a burden he now considered a blessing.
Asaph made a life-changing statement of faith: God is all he needs and desires (v.25-26). Those words flow from a man who taken things into his hands and concluded that God had it wrong. Circumstances proved that fact. Asaph looked at people and circumstances but not through the God of them who happened to be his God. It was only when he reversed the priority of his gaze that he changed. He began with God and moved to circumstances viewing them from God’s perspective. He put himself in his proper place. He humbled himself and declared that he was not God. He did not think this testimony was a burden. It was a blessing and a relief; it was a time of growth.
The psalmist’s mantra in verses 23-26 is very similar to Paul’s words in Philippians 3:7-11. Both authors expressed a desire for a level of intimacy with the Triune God as they moved from a “now” philosophy of life and sensual living (interpreting God and His providence solely via the senses) in contrast to suprasensual living (interpreting God’s providence and drawing conclusions via the eyes of saving faith and true hope: 2 Corinthians 5:7, 9; Romans 8:24-25). God will have the victory and His people will enjoy the fruits of the victory but only in His time.
As all the saints, Asaph was imitating Christ. Jesus understood the reality, value, and beauty of a relationship with the Father for His sheep and for Himself (John 10:25-30; 16:31-33). Therefore, Jesus had an eternal, suprasensual perspective of life and it affected His present-day living (John 4:31-34; Hebrews 12:1-3). Jesus pointed Himself heavenly and eternally in order for Him to be of earthly good. And He was! So, it should for every believer.
In the closing verses (v. 27-28), Asaph returned to the subject of a person’s present life and his eternal destiny. In verse 27, he wrote that those far from God – the wicked and unfaithful of verses 2-12, 27 – are destroyed by God (Matthew 5:6; 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10). His conclusion was based on the truth that God is the just Judge who will right wrongs in His time, His way. In verse 28, Asaph concluded with a personal note: it was good to be near God. Asaph is speaking of intimacy with God as he thinks God’s thoughts and desires what God desires. Those far off – the unfaithful – will perish.
Asaph had come full circle. He spoke about himself in verse 2: his foot almost slipped. Asaph knew it was God who sustained him and brought him back into the fold. Therefore Asaph closed the psalm with the testimony that the Lord is his refuge. Consequently he vowed to be a soul-winner as David did (Psalm 51:12; James 5:20).
1. How did Asaph counsel himself? See Luke 15:17-18.
2. Initially, how was Asaph like Esau? See Genesis 25:29-34.
3. Consider the “now” approach to life in Genesis 25:29-34, Philippians 3:19, Psalm 73:22, and James 3:13-15. Record the situations in which you are tempted to live sensually.
4. Consider the suprasensual approach to life as given in 2 Corinthians 5:7, 9; John 4:31-34; and 1 John 3:1-3. What is the major focus?
5. How do 2 Corinthians 5:7, 9 help to have a proper vertical reference in life?
6. As a believer you are a new creature in Christ (Galatians 2:20; 2 Corinthians 5:17). What is the significance of that change for living suprasensually?
Psalms 73-74: Distress and Devastation of God’s People, Part V
As indicated previously, Psalms 73-74 begin book III of the Psalter which focused on the distress and devastation of God’s people. The Davidic kingdom was collapsing and seemingly God’s faithfulness to Israel. In Psalm 73, Asaph presented his individual perspective on Israel’s fortunes. He made conclusions that were animal-like until he came to his senses which he did. In the end, he did an about face and said he could not get enough of God (v.25-26).
The position and content of Psalm 73-74 is similar to that in Psalms 42-43. Both are the opening Psalms of their respective books (books II and III) written by the same author; both authors describe their reaction to God’s providence; both authors record how they were tempted to read God from the circumstances; both record a paradigm shift in their perspective as they begin to properly counsel themselves (Psalms. 42:5, 11; 43:1 and Psalms. 73:13-18; 74:12, 20); and both record victory based on God’s faithfulness and their relationship to Him.
Psalm 74 more pointedly identifies the “bad guys” as the invading armies of international enemies. Their coming brought devastation to the people and the land. In the psalm, Asaph focused on the defilement of Zion and the temple, the place where God met with His people (74:5-8). God’s presence was being denied Israel! This must have struck home when you considered verses 16-22 in Psalm 73. It was in the presence of God that Asaph had his awakening.
These enemies and their invading armies were attacking God as well as God’s people. The Northern Kingdom had fallen and now the Southern Kingdom was in disarray and in chaos. The entire Southern Kingdom was being divested of its glory, its gold, its treasures, and soon its people (see 2 Kings 24:10-13). The final fall of the Southern Kingdom and Jerusalem was described in Psalm 79 (2 Kings 25:1-9). Life in exile was a reality. It was God’s judgment and Israel’s sentence for arrogant and ignorant rebellion.
In contrast to Psalm 73, Asaph speaks corporately in the form of a prayer. He opened with an appeal to God in the form of a question: Why have you rejected us forever O God? Why does your anger smolder against the sheep of your pasture? (v.1). He then asked God to remember His people whom He had purchased and whom He called His inheritance (v.2-3). Asaph appealed to God’s covenantal faithfulness – His promise-making and promise-keeping. Confidently yet humbly he asked how long God would “hold back His hand” (v.10-11). Asaph knew that God was God and that He ruled. He had learned the lesson described in of Psalm 73.
Asaph followed the two questions in verses 10-11 with a paradigm shift in his thinking as recorded in verse 12: But you O God are my king from of old; you bring salvation upon the earth. Asaph held on to and held out the truth that God is Israel’s king and his king. He is their hope and Savior. Asaph did not know when or how deliverance was coming but he did not let circumstances deter him from his Lord.
In verses 13-17, he remembered and recalled the unchanging, promise-making and promise-keeping God. He reflected on God’s previous care of Israel. He recorded a series of past activities by God which were the basis for and confirmation of God’s power, might, and trustworthiness to Israel. In the past, God had power which He wielded for His people and His own name. These recollections underscored Israel’s position with God and gave Asaph hope.
Asaph closed the psalm with a prayer (verses 18-23). He appealed to God for the continuation of His care in verses 18-19. This is a far cry from his initial perspective as given in Psalm 73. He focused on the simple truths that God is and He had acted in the past on behalf of His people for His own sake. In verse 20, Asaph confidently prayed for God to have regard for your covenant. In spite of Israel’s unfaithfulness, Asaph appealed to and praised God for His covenantal faithfulness (v. 21-23). Asaph knew that God had proclaimed to Israel that I will be your God and you will be my people (Exodus 6:6-8 and 19:5-6; Deuteronomy 26:17-18; Leviticus 26:12; Jeremiah 7:23; 11:4; 30:22; 31:1, 33; Ezekiel 11:20; 36:28; Hosea 1:9-10; 2:23 – Romans 9:26; 1 P 2:10). Asaph, in spite of Israel’s predicament, had no reason to doubt that Israel’s unchangeable God would not continue to be Israel’s God and honor His promises. However, Asaph did not know what form that God’s faithfulness would take but he trusted. He interpreted the current events based on God’s trustworthiness.
Paul brought the full force of the truth of God’s covenantal faithfulness home as recorded in 2 Corinthians 1:20-22 and 5:5. In Christ is God’s amen so that God’s yes is yes and His no is no. Christ and His Messiahship summarized the whole of redemptive history (John 6:37-43; 17:1-5, 24-26). In eternity past, the covenant of redemption was instituted; in the present, God works to seek and save His people in Christ by the Holy Spirit; and in the future, Christ will come to fulfil and consummate God’s promises. In Christ, God has fulfilled and is continuing to fulfil His covenant promises. Asaph lived on the Old Testament side of the cross. Yet, in the end, he was not dismayed but trusted. Every Christian should be encouraged all the more because they live on the New Testament side of the cross. They have the fuller revelation of the Trinity’s redemptive plan.
1. Simple biblical truths about God and self are to be used for the glory of God and the blessing of His people. What truths are evident in Psalms 42-43 and 73-74?
2. Asaph was tempted to do what?
3. In Psalms 73-74, there was a turning point.
a. What was it and how did it come about? What were the results?
b. What truth led did Asaph grasp that enabled him to come to his senses? See Psalm 73:1, 16-20.
Psalm 77:1-9: An Individual’s Perspective: Part I
The Reality of Sin, Judgment, and Deliverance
Psalm 77 has been placed in the third book of the Psalter (Psalms 73-89). The theme of book III is the collapse of the Davidic kingdom and the resultant devastation of the people and land. Further, Psalm 77 is part of a unit. Psalms 77-83 form a unit that focuses on the devastation and deliverance of Israel – both the northern and southern kingdoms. Psalm 79 reports the final destruction of the southern kingdom by Babylon in 586 B.C. and Psalm 80 reports the destruction of the northern kingdom by Assyria in 722 B.C. These Psalms outline the life experiences of these kingdoms who are children of God. The outline includes their original deliverance from Egypt; their devastation at the hands of foreign nations; the raising up of a deliverer; and the hope of a future deliverance. The organizer of the Psalter used this group of Psalms to highlight both God’s judgment and the resultant devastation and God’s covenantal faithfulness in terms of deliverance. He wanted the readers to view God and themselves from a full-orbed, proper perspective.
Psalm 77 is authored by Asaph who also authored Psalms 73-83 and Psalm 50. He was a member of the tribe of Levi and leader of the group whom David had put in charge of worship and the music which was performed at the Tent of meeting (1 Chronicles 6:39; 16:7). Generally Asaph tells “it like it is.” His psalms are centered on God’s sovereignty especially in what many would call a “surging sea – a tsunami of unfavorable circumstances.” Some may call these circumstances the “fickle finger of fate.” It was as if God had made a mistake. But Asaph was a fellow sufferer and a man of courage. He is in trouble as was all of Israel. Unlike the nation as a whole, in the midst of these times, he turns to God. Initially he is not comforted and his misery is complicated. However, as in the latter part of Psalm 73, he correctly counseled himself.
Verse 1 pictured Asaph as an individual in distress as he viewed the devastation wrought by international enemies: I cried to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me. He had a proper vertical reference. The God of circumstances and not the circumstances was his grid to make sense out of what was happening. He goes to the Lord in prayer (verse 2). He trusts he will be heard as he prays for the covenant community: When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands and my soul refused to be comforted. He described his distress. The word in the original refers to that which is narrow or confining; it conveys the idea of being in a bind or being squeezed. In our psychologized language, Asaph was under stress and ‘stressed out.” However, Asaph knew the situation was bigger than him. Rightly he knew God was in the problem but he was no sur how and the results. The problem was not the circumstances. They were the context for him to express trust I God or in self.
Asaph is describing inner- man activity – turmoil, uneasiness, and agitation. Asaph was being squeezed. God had brought him and God’s people into a terrible situation. They were being judged and God was using His enemies to do it! Asaph looked at the circumstances and wondered what God was doing. The circumstances were one thing; God’s control and purpose were another. This is a common scenario throughout the Bible but especially in the Psalms and the wisdom literature. For Asaph, the issue was twofold: the circumstances and the God of them – what was He doing. The situation was bad enough but he, as was Job, was perplexed at what God was doing.
Even when he remembered – reflected upon (verses 3, 6) God and Israel’s deliverance, he was not comforted (v.3: I remembered you, O God, and I groaned; I mused and my spirit grew faint). Asaph, as did David and Job knew God was sovereign but God’s control and His presence did not bring them relief: v.4: You kept my eyes from closing. I was too troubled to speak. The word translated trouble tarasso is found in Psalms 6 and 13. John uses it in his gospel (11:33, 38; 12:27; 13:21; 14:1, 27) and also indicates a churning within. It describes Jesus’ response to His mission and ministry: pleasing His Father by becoming sin for His people by going to hell on the cross.
Verses 5-9 record more of Asaph’s inner-man activities – his thoughts and desires. He thought of the days of old as he remembered God’s faithfully carrying Israel. Circumstances had changed. Therefore, he asked the question: Is God still loving? Is He still faithful? Asaph was asking himself as well as God. He wanted to know if really God. How could he explain a God who keeps His promises: promises including blessings and judgment?
v.5: I thought about the former days, the years of long ago;
v.6: I remembered my songs in the night. My heart mused and my spirit inquired:
v.7: Will the Lord reject me forever? Will he never show his favor again?
v.8: Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time?
v.9: Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?
Asaph begins to change his focus. He wrote that he remembered (see Psalms 105-106 which speak to the folly of “not remembering” and the blessing and joy of remembering). He knew God as promise maker and promise keeper. He remembered Israel’s deliverance and God as Israel’s Protector. Yet he knew things were not right. Israel was in the midst of cataclysmic change. The glory of the Davidic kingdom was no more. Israel had fallen. Her beauty was reduced only to dust and rubble. They were a plundered, disgraced people. Israel had fallen.
He is beginning to come to his senses – to change his thinking which picks up its temp in verse 10. The circumstances must be interpreted in light of God’s revelation of himself. He had been Israel’s Deliverer. The people had missed the point in the years of wandering in the wilderness and as a nation. God had delivered the people physically which pointed to a spiritual deliverance. But they rejected God’s efforts and there were consequences. God had revealed himself as one who blesses and curses (Deuteronomy 8; 28; Leviticus 26). From Asaph’s viewpoint much like from Jeremiah’s viewpoint, it hurt (Lamentations 1)! He grieved as he should.
1. Asaph looked beyond the circumstances to the God of them. This motif is common in Scripture. Read Genesis 50:15-21.
a. How does Joseph’s mindset compare with Asaph’s?
b. What did Joseph and Asaph have in common?
c. Both understood and relied on the sovereignty of God: How does that fact help explain the beauty of the statement given in question #1?
2. Asaph rightly understood that Israel was in deep trouble.
a. He was tempted to do what?
b. What did he do?
3. How are thoughts, desires, and actions linked?
a. People often refer to feelings ad they mean what?
b. How was it possible for Asaph to change his thinking and wanting?
Psalm 77:10-20: An Individual’s Perspective: Part II
The Reality of Son, Judgment, and Deliverance
Asaph knew and recognized all too well that Israel had sinned and judgment had fallen upon them. Now the question loomed: would God restore Israel and keep His promises? This is very similar to the question that Adam and Eve faced when they were exiled from the Garden. It is also the question that was raised in various places in the psalm including Psalm 15 and 24: who may ascend and enter into God’s presence? Would fellowship be restored? The clarity and the poignancy of the situation motivated Asaph to the character of God. His remembering picks up tempo beginning with in verses 10.
As in many of Asaph’s psalms, there was a turning point. The motif of “coming to your senses” is reminiscent of Psalm 73:16-17. It is not limited to Asaph (see 1 Samuel 30 especially verses 6-7; Luke 15:17-18). He then breaks out in a doxology:
v.10: Then I thought, “To this I will appeal: the years of his right hand of the Most High.
v.11: I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
v.12: I will mediate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds.
v.13: Your ways, O God, are holy. What god is so great as our God?
v.14: You, the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples
v.15: With your mighty hand you redeemed your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.
Asaph is changing! As a result, he thinks, remembers, mediates, and considers: all of these are terms conveying the idea of reasoning – sober cognition! He is counseling himself by beginning with truth: God is in control. Feelings and circumstances are not to be his rule of thumb. They are not his standard for evaluating God, himself, and Israel. In verse 13 he asks what God is greater than Israel’s God. He concludes, or perhaps more accurately re-concludes this about God: He is majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, and working wonders (Exodus 15:11; Psalms 35:10; 71:19; 77:13; 86:8; 89:6; and 113:5). This is quite an amazing testimony especially given the circumstances. It is the only one that makes sense!
In verse 15, the author is referring to all Israel: descendants of Jacob and Joseph. I don’t know if he was referring to God’s covenant promise to David as given 2 Samuel 7:12-16. God promised a man on the throne, David’s descendant, and a kingdom. David had reunited the northern and southern kingdom documented in chapters 5-7 of 2 Samuel. Asaph may have been ahead of his time: what God has joined together let no man separate!
Asaph is confident in God’s covenant-making and covenant-keeping. In verses 16-19, he refers to God’s supernatural deliverance of rebellious Israel through the Red Sea. Asaph reflected on the type of Deliverer Israel had and has. He is the God of presence – He is the Way as He leads the way. Asaph is giving a veiled reference to Jesus Christ who is among His people and who the way, the truth, and the life (Matthew 1:21, 23; John 14:6).
The way to the Way is repentance which is another manner of saying come to your senses. It is a matter of life and death. The remnant of Israel was to learn the lesson. Asaph had changed thinking. He focused on God and His activity in His world. Asaph changed his view of himself, Israel, and God. He read his circumstances through God’s word and past activities. He renewed his thinking about God and when he did, trust and hope were forth coming.
v.16: The waters saw you, O God, the waters saw you and writhed; the very depths convulsed.
v.17: The clouds poured down water; the skies resounded with thunder; your arrows flashed back and forth.
v.18: Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind, your lightening lit up the world; the earth trembled and quaked.
v.19: Your path led through the sea; our way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen.
v.20: You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.
In verse 20, he closed the Psalm on a resounding note which actually completed the though expressed in verse 15: You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron. The thought expressed in this verse conveyed pastoral concern and tenderness in the midst of dark times. For the expression of the same thought process see Psalms 78:52, 72; 79:13; 80:13. Certainly and completely God is the good Shepherd and Deliverer. Asaph and Israel must get busy trusting and obeying. Asaph knew intellectually and now experientially that God never leaves or forsakes him and His people.
As did Job, Asaph came to the realization that he did not need to know every point along the way. He only needed to know the Way and rest in the Way. The commercial: you are in good hands and the song: He holds the whole world in His hand picture Asaph’s God. Circumstances did not change and God did not change. Asaph changed. He focused on truth: there was and always had been light in and at end of the tunnel. For Asaph the light had been turned on. He came to his senses. Circumstances did not determine his final response. He was seeing with spiritual eyes what he could not understand using only his senses – his physical eyes. The Holy Spirit was alive and well!
As Jesus demonstrated there is always a grand end and a blessing. Long, sustained obedience and trust in the same direction is required and brings the believer home (Hebrews 12:1-3). The Triune God provides truth; saving faith; true hope; grace; and a personal relationship with Him. So many of the saints of old teach the lesson of endurance God’s way for His glory and their good (Hebrews 11:39-40). Asaph was in good company!
1. What are the various to interpret life and life events?
2. Saving faith and true hope are gifts from whom?
a. Both have an object and content: See Hebrews 11:1, 6 and Romans 8:24-25.
b. What is the object to each?
c. What is the content of each?
3. Asaph was refreshed by the fact that God led his people (verse 20):
a. What is historical event is he referring?
b. What is the significance of this event?
c. It points to Christ’s resurrection which many term the new exodus: a dead savior is no savior at all. Explain.
Psalm 88: Abandoned by God: Fact or Fiction? Part I
Biblical Truths to Guide Believers in Hard Times
The Psalter in General
Psalm 88 is the penultimate psalm in book III (Psalms 73-89). It is important to realize that there is an organizational content to the Psalter. Therefore individual psalms are placed in context and according to the theme of each book. Helpfully one scholar assigns the following themes to each book:
• Book I (1-41): the rise of the Davidic kingdom associated with conflict and confrontation. David, the lesser messiah, anticipates the greater David and Messiah, is God’s agent to establish a kingdom of peace and righteousness. He is mostly on the run addressing his own personal struggles. Often, he is attacked because he is God’s man. David is the author of almost all of these psalms (except Psalms 1-2).
• Book II (42-72): the glory of the Davidic kingdom. Accompanying the rise to glory there are victories within and without Israel but there is still conflict. There is an increasing and profitable communication within Israel and with David’s enemies outside of Israel. David presents the rule of God as an established fact; David authored most of these psalms (51-71).
• Book III (73-89): the collapse of the Davidic kingdom with more conflict and defeat at the hands of international armies. There is disarray with resultant devastation and misery in Israel. Israel lost her favored position. It is no accident that Book III ends with the statement that the Lord’s enemies have mocked Him (89:51). This statement raises the question: has God failed His people and proven untrustworthy and covenantally unfaithful? David authored only one of these of these Psalms (Psalm 86).
• Book IV (90-106): life in exile: Israel is in exile but there is maturation of the nation at least in the remnant. Only Psalms 101-103 are attributed to David.
• Book V (107-150): Israel returns to the Promised Land and begins life after exile. There is consummation as God demonstrates His covenantal faithfulness as He brings the people home. Psalms 108-110, 122, 124, 133, and 138-145 are attributed to David.
Psalm 88 is one of the few individualistic Psalms in Book III (see Psalm 73). It deals extensively with the menacing reality of hard times and death. The psalmist is an individual in distress. Unlike other psalms, this psalm offers little hope. It proclaims a sober and somber note as the psalmist pictures his future, and perhaps his past and present, as one of darkness, deadness, and soon the grave (v.1, 3-7, 10-12). He paints the picture of a sovereign God but whose wrath swept over him (v. 15-18).
Correctly, he acknowledged God’s sovereignty and His providence (v.1-2, 6-9) but he pictures God as one who has rejected him and has not and is not there when he needs Him (v.13-18). The psalmist is at the bottom of the pit – he pictures life – God’s providence – as a hole too deep and too dark for him to “see” or “feel” God and to discern a way out (v.3, 7). He concluded he is trapped without resources. The mindset of the psalmist does not change throughout the psalm. Therefore he does not close on a hopeful, upbeat note. Rather he proclaims that darkness is his friend (v.18). Our question: is the psalmist living the lie?
It is open to speculation as to the author of the Psalm and his situation, its type and duration. Some have suggested the author was quarantined because of some sickness such as leprosy or that he was enslaved in chains and mistreated. Apparently darkness was his closest companion (v.5-6). Whether he meant this figuratively or actually is not known.
Psalm 88 is Scripture given by God for a purpose. What is that purpose? What is God teaching His people in and through it? Psalm 88 is one of the psalms of the “Sons of Korah” (Book II: Psalms 42-49; Book III: Psalms 84-85, 87-88). The “Sons of Korah” refer to the Levitical choir composed of the descendants of Korah, a Levite, appointed by David to serve in the temple liturgy. The choir leaders consisted of Jeduthun (Ethan), Asaph of the family of Gershon, and Heman of the family of Kohath who rose to prominence among David’s musicians. Psalm 88 is attributed to Heman, a man of wisdom but whose wisdom paled when compared to such people as David as displayed throughout the Psalms or Solomon (1 Kings 4:31). These facts are assumed and open to speculation but nonetheless they are important as we consider the message of this psalm and its application. However, it appears that the author was a man of wisdom who had a personal relationship with God.
1. Study the outline of the Psalter. Give some thought to God’s division and His purposes.
2. God’s redemptive purpose fits into every book but takes on a different perspective. Psalms 1 and 2 set the stage for the Psalter and God’s victory – the Kingly Messiah in His kingdom. The Psalter ends on a triumphal and final note with the Hallelu-Yah Psalms (145-150): the picture is one of acknowledging and exalting Yahweh as King and Messiah even as Israel has returned from exile.
3. The Psalter has God’s people look up and eternally for the purpose of living now as a child of the King. Consider how Psalm 88 fits into God’s redemptive purpose. What do you learn from the Psalm itself and what do you learn from it in the context of the whole Psalter?
Psalm 88: Abandoned by God: Fact or Fiction? Part II
Comparison: Psalm 88 and Psalms 42-43
Consider Psalms 42-43 which begins book II. They are authored by Asaph of the same family and position as the author of Psalm 88. Please remember that the theme of Book II is the rising glory of the kingdom and the king. However, conflict was still present throughout the land but slowly the Davidic kingdom was taking shape. Both psalms (42-43) pointed to the faithfulness and power of God in keeping His promise of having His man on the throne, ultimately the greater David, Jesus Christ (2 Samuel 7:12-16).
In Psalms 42-43, the author asks himself why he was downcast (42:5, 11; 43:1). The word translated as downcast is used several times by John in his gospel (11:33; 12:27; 13:21; 14:1, 27).. It describes Jesus’ response in those various situations. It describes David’s response in Psalms 6 and 13. It indicates an internal agitation, a disturbance and churning within, troubled, angst in the inner person, and even “noise in the soul.” The psalmist answers himself by counseling himself to put his hope in the Lord – not self or circumstances (42:5, 11; 43:1).
He was to actively, willfully, and cognitively rely on a good God’s control. He had had the wrong source and object of saving faith/trust and true hope. He had a hope so but not a confident hope that this was God’s world who ran it His way for His glory and the good of His people. But and that but is key. He corrected himself. He realized that hope and trust are linked to each other and to knowledge. The psalmist came to his senses. He did not want to live the lie any longer. Such was the case with Job (Job 40:2-5; 42:1-6), Asaph (Psalm 73:16-18), and the prodigal son (Luke 15:17-18). The psalmist’s situation had not changed. He had changed!
The conditions were different in Psalm 88 (Book III) from that described in Psalms 42-43 (Book II). In book II, the Davidic kingdom was on the rise. In book III, the Davidic kingdom had collapsed. The glory had departed from Israel (see the book of Lamentations). The time was reminiscent of the days when the ark was captured by the Philistines (1 Samuel 4:21-22). Mighty Israel had fallen and apparently her God. When you read Psalm 88 you don’t hear the psalmist counsel himself as the psalmist did in Psalms 42-43 or as Asaph did in Psalm 73 (v.16-18). Psalm 88 is less a lament and more a complaint in spite of the fact that the psalmist knew that his situation was part of God’s providence (v.6-9). In that sense shame on him!
Perhaps in his complaint-lament, he is appealing to God but for what. He is a praying man and he asked God to hear his prayer (v.1, 9, 15). Yet as did Job, he makes accusation against God: where are you? Why do you forsake me (v.5, 8, 13-18)? The psalmist wants to know why and expects an answer: why are you on my case and why are you not explaining yourself? I am in trouble and you are nowhere to be found.
Today we are often directed to use the Psalms but often the Psalm is taken out of the context of the organization of the Psalter. The Psalms are then used as a manual to direct individuals to tell God how they “feel” rather than how they should think, desire, and act in any given situation. Some theologians go to lengths to teach the how of lamenting. It is as if the harder the providences, the more you can and should tell God. Most preachers do proscribe the idea of “letting God have it.” But the idea is put forth that God is all ears to His saints. That statement is certainly true but we must guard against misusing our access to the Triune God. It cost Jesus His position of glory for a time and going to hell on the cross.
Asking probing questions can be a legitimate use of prayer. However, you must face the reality that if God answered you personally and directly, let alone in His word, would you be satisfied? Saving faith looks at the present through eternity (Hebrews 11:1, 6). It does not demand but seeks and trusts – help my unbelief (Mark 9:24; Luke 7:6-7; 8:50). Saving faith and true hope are associated with a twofold knowledge of God and of self. The believer knows and is to be growing in certainty of God’s presence, promises, power, plan, purposes, and provisions of Himself for each individual believer. The believer grows in his understanding of himself as a child of the King in union with Christ by the Holy Spirit. That relationship and position was purchased by nothing less than Christ’s perfect life and death. That relationship is guaranteed by the indwelling Holy Spirit.
The psalmist did not live on this side of the cross. There was much he did not know. But God never leaves His people with less than they need to know for them to get victory. I wonder if the Holy Spirit was grieved by the hopelessness of the psalmist. We will never know but we don’t need to know.
No matter his circumstances – which is God’s providence – for a time the psalmist lived the lie. He declared that God had ears but He did not hear or care (see Isaiah 6:9-10). The psalmist felt and thought he was forsaken and rejected. However, the reality of those thoughts are reserved for Jesus Christ as the God-man and never for the believer (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34 – apparently referring to Psalm 22). Only Jesus has been forsaken by the Father. The believer will never be forsaken by God (Romans 8:32-34, 35-39). These are great truths that must be remembered, embraced, and applied in every instance of God’s providence not just “hard times.”
1. Consider the darkness in your life. How did you process it?
2. What is the reality of darkness?
3. How is the psalmist of Psalm 88 similar to Job? What was Job’s final answer as given in Job 40 and 42?
4. What are truths that all believers should hold close during “dark” times?
Psalm 88: Abandoned by God: Fact or Fiction? Part III
Paul’s Commentary: 2 Corinthians 1:8-9 and 4:8-9
Psalm 88 is a unique Psalm. As noted earlier, it begins with a declaration of God’s sovereignty: His control, power, and authority. The psalmist refers to them several times in the Psalm (v.1-2, 6a-9). He apparently makes an appeal for relief and help but believes he has received no answer (v.9b-12). It is a given that God hears and answers every prayer. But he did not like or appreciate God’s presumed silence. He had no regard for God’s “no” or “wait.”
Like Job, the psalmist of Psalm 88 “sees” no reason for his plight (v.14). Unlike Job, he does not demand God to give him an accounting; but he makes it clear that from his perspective that God had rejected and abandoned him, pushed him to the side. He was living the lie as Job did for a time. We don’t know what became of the psalmist.
Paul, in his second letter to the Corinthians, gives a mini-commentary on a proper response to hard times (see specifically 2 Corinthians 1:8-9; 4:8-9). Paul follows Asaph’s example in Psalms 42-43 and counsels himself and his companions. Specifically he referred to verse 15 of Psalm 88: From my youth I have been afflicted and close to death; I have suffered your terrors and I am in despair in 2 Corinthians (1:8; 4:8).
v.8: Now we don’t want you to be ignorant, brothers, about the hardship that we suffered in Asia. We were under great pressure far beyond human ability so that we even despaired of life.
v.9: Indeed in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened so that we might not rely on ourselves but God who raises the dead (2 Corinthians 1:8-9).
v.8: We are hard pressed on every side but not crushed; perplexed but not in despair;
v.9: persecuted but not abandoned, struck down but not destroyed (2 Corinthians 4:8-9)
In the first and fourth chapters of the second letter to the Corinthians, Paul relates his heart/inner-man turmoil in the context of his circumstances. In chapter 1, He described hardship that he and his companions faced (v.8). The word translated hardship is a general word for trouble which indicates God’s providence in terms affliction, distress, or pressure from the outside. It can be translated as evil. They evaluated themselves and their situation and concluded themselves without resources. There was uncertainty and doubt as to their final, earthly outcome. There seemed to be no way out except physical death. Consequently they were perplexed but not “depressed.”
The word in the original translated as despair occurs only in our two passages (1:8; 4:8) and in the Septuagint in Psalm 88:15. It means to be wholly without resources. The word speaks of external trouble. Coupled with “hard pressed” in verse 8 of chapter 4, Paul is speaking of the potential squeeze of the heart in unpleasant and miserable conditions. I have alluded to various suggestions regarding the tough times of the author of Psalm 88. Paul declared his tough times throughout the book of 2 Corinthians (4:7-12; 6:3-10; 11:16-29; 12:7-10).
No question that each person (Paul and the psalmist) came face to face with the living God in those tough times. In response, both the psalmist in Psalm 88 and Paul considered themselves without resources. However, throughout Psalm 88 the psalmist did not change his view of God, himself, and his circumstances. He wanted relief. The psalmist never tells us whether he changed his view of God, himself, others, and God’s providence. In contrast and throughout Paul’s epistles, Paul describes his changing view of God, self, others, and providence. He underscored the importance and blessing of God and relying on Him rather than following Satan’s counsel by pleasing self at God’s expense (see 2 Corinthians 12:1-10). .
Today, Paul and the psalmist would have received the diagnosis of “depression” (or even delusional or schizoid) simply on the basis of what they said and more importantly on how they “felt.” Feeling a certain way qualifies a person for a diagnosis of “depression.” With the liberalized screening criteria, Paul would have received antidepressants.
Paul was not describing how he felt. Perhaps neither was the psalmist. However, their frame of reference was different. Paul stated his thinking given his situation and the uncertain outcome from his and his friends’ perspective. He did not know what God had in store for them. He was hard pressed – he did not see how he and his friends would survive physically. He had two choices: look at the circumstances via a self-lens or view the circumstances from God’s perspective. He chose to look away from self to the living God. He clarified his perspective. He counseled himself.
Much like Job in the later part of the book of Job, the psalmist viewed God through his circumstances. In response he demanded a response from God. Throughout the psalm he does not give the readers a sense of relief. He seems to hunker down in his circumstances. He knows where to turn (v.1-2, 9, 13). His main concern is why God has rejected him. Paul gives one reason for his circumstances: that they may not rely on self – self-trust – but on God who raises the dead – His people (2 Corinthians 1:9). God was in the business of humbling His people. Hopefully the psalmist came to understand that the believer is the most changed person. As a result he is to be the most changing person! God’s people are not to be living the lie. Believers did that when they were unbelievers!
1. Compare and contrast Paul’s response in terms of thinking and wanting with that of the author of Psalm 88.
a. What do you learn?
b. What are the similarities and the differences?
2. Name your tough or hard providences and record your thoughts, desires, and actions.
3. Record where you are lacking and where you are excelling in Christlikeness.
4. Record your response to your evaluation.
Psalm 88: Abandoned by God: Fact or Fiction? Part IV
Paul’s Commentary: 2 Corinthians 1:8-9 and 4:8-9
Initially Paul and his friends may not have “seen” things from God’s perspective. We don’t know. But Paul and we suspect his friends came to embrace God’s purpose in bringing about trouble as given in verse 9: this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. God placed Paul in his situations for at least two purposes: in God’s providence, Paul and his friends were being taught to depend less and less on self (deny self and self-trust) and to depend more and more on God. As a result, they would become wise (Proverbs 1:7). How would that wisdom look? Trouble, which is God’s providence, must be viewed thought the lens of Scripture. Paul and his friends were encouraged more and more to look to God, the Great Deliverer, who richly supplies His children with all they need to honor Him in every situation (1 Corinthians 10:13).
In chapter 4, Paul used another term – hard pressed – to indicate pressure from without which was squeezing him and his companions. The pressure was not the key. It was the context in which Paul would respond based on his thinking about self, God, and circumstances. The word indicates a squeezing such as one would squeeze grapes. Please note that Paul proclaims that even though “there was a lot of squeezing going on,” he and his companions were not crushed. They did not give in and give up. Paul used the word hard pressed to picture a tight-fitting jacket and indicate a narrow, tight place. It is used only here and later in chapter 6, verse 12. Paul wrote that they did not let circumstances dictate how they would respond in terms of their thoughts, desires, and actions.
The details of these two passages (1:8-9; 4:8-9) are reminiscent of the response of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego when they faced the wrath of King Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 3). They responded in allegiance to Yahweh who delivered them from the fire in His providence but not from Babylonian captivity. All of these saints were following in Christ’s footsteps. Christ had one goal: to please His Father. He stayed the course and won the prize but after the cross and NOT before: John 6:37-43; 17: 17:4-5, 24-26; Philippians 2:9-11; Hebrews 12:1-3. Hard times characterize life in a sin-cursed world. They are a given until Christ returns. The fact that eternal life begins now and Christ will return means that circumstances do not dictate how a person is to respond in thought, desired, or acted. They did not dictate to Christ and they should not for the believer.
Was Paul depressed? He had bad feelings and he was in a “tight squeeze” (the idea of pressure and trouble). We know that Paul was actively engaged in setting his hope on God the Deliverer in his uncertain circumstances (2 Corinthians 1:9) and in becoming more like Christ (2 Corinthians 4:10). A growing dependence on a sovereign God no matter the circumstances characterized Christ’s life (John 4:31-34; Hebrews 4:15-16; 5:7-10).
What was Paul’s antidote for not giving in to feelings thereby giving up on God and life? It was the same as Christ’s – a desire to please the Father. For Paul, he was grateful for God – who He is, what He had done, was doing, and would do (Philippians 3:8-11). He was grateful for his own salvation, God’s comfort, and the opportunity to minister in Christ’s name (2 Corinthians 1:3-4; 4:1; 1 Timothy 1:12-16). Those realities produced an awe and urgent desire to grow in intimacy with Christ and he was willing to us hard times as a tool (Philippians 3:7-11; Romans 8:28-29).
1. The psalmist of Psalm 88 was in trouble and hard pressed. He had a vertical reference.
2. Do hard circumstances – God’s providence – give believers a right to respond by simply telling God?
3. What is the purpose of telling God?
4. How should a believer speak to God and what should be his request(s)?
Psalm 88: Abandoned by God: Fact or Fiction? Part V
Paul’s Commentary: 2 Corinthians 4
It think it is sad that the psalmist of Psalm 88 did not end on a note of hope and joy in the midst of God’s dark or frowning providences (John Murray’s term). We should never ignore the miseries of life in a sin-cursed world. In fact, it is impossible to do. But the believer can never be consumed by or in them. As I have discussed, Paul referenced Psalm 88 (verse 15) in 2 Corinthians 1:4 and 4:8 using the word despair. The word will be translated as depression/ depressed based on a cultural and psychologized mindset. The word indicates Paul’s approach to the squeezes of life (God’s providences) was hinted in verses 1 and 16 of chapter 4:
• v.1: Therefore since through God’s mercy we have this ministry we do not lose heart.
• v.16: Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.
The original word translated as lose heart is used six times in the New Testament (Luke 18:1; Galatians 6:9; Ephesians 3:13; 2 Thessalonians 3:13). It carries the ideas of being faint and fainthearted vs. courageous and strong-hearted. Jesus gave the command many times to His disciples (Matthew 9:2; 14:27; John 14:1-3). Jesus and Paul were counseling themselves an others! How does a believer not lose heart in hard providences?
For Paul, inner-man renewal was crucial. He understood God’s way: pruning came often times in the throes of hard times (Romans 5:1-5; James 4:1-2; 1 Peter 1:6-7). God will have His people grow into Christlikeness and He uses tough times to accomplish His goal. This truth is often minimized or rejected. A person can acknowledge and repent of complaints about his situation because it is a complaint against God. He can also look forward to heaven because there are no hard times there, only joy. But he asks: how does he move from the present to heaven? Feelings seem to demand something than trust in God and growth in Christ (Romans 8:28-29).
Paul understood God’s plan and purpose for all believers, himself included, and he embraced it. As given in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, Paul responded to God’s no by asking God to place him in hard times and times of weakness. By that he meant he was not in control. In God’s hard providences, he was strong because his dependence was not on self (2 Corinthians 1:9). His strength was not his own but grace. He would rely on God and His grace and not self. That last statement takes us back to where we began: 2 Corinthians 1:9. Hard times were intended for Paul and his companions to trust in God rather than self. God drew the line in the sand much as Joshua did for the Israelites (24:14-15). Paul and his friends were to answer the question daily: who will you serve: self and Satan or God.
For the believer, resurrection life begins now because the believer was raised with Christ (John 17:3; Romans 6:9-11). A new relationship and family membership has been forged. The beauty of a resurrected, eternal life is that it begins now. It is a reality because the believer is in Christ and he is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Therefore his perspective in all situations is to be heavenward (Colossians 3:1-3; 1 John 3:1-3). Heavenly-mindedness enables the believer to be of earthly good. When it is, life is simplified. Problems are still present but they take on a different perspective as Joseph discovered (Genesis 50:15-21).
1. It is tempting to excuse the psalmist or anyone when they are faced with had providences. Is that what Paul taught throughout 2 Corinthians?
2. What is Paul’s main message and how will you apply it daily?
3. Using Genesis 50:15-21 and Romans 8:28-29, write out God’s message and you will specifically apply those truths.
Psalm 88: Abandoned by God: Fact or Fiction? Part VI
Summary: Biblical Truths to Guide Believers in Hard Times
I have mentioned Psalm 73. I love that Psalm. I also love the book of Job which I think is misinterpreted in a number of ways (see my book scheduled to be released). Psalm 73 and the book of Job is less about them (Asaph and Job) and more about the greatness of God and His relationship to His people seen through the lens of dark providences. Job was a type of Christ but he was not Him. Jesus never demanded God to give an account to Him as Job did, and probably as the psalmists did. Jesus did not think that He had made a wrong decision in coming to earth, humbling Himself, and going to the cross in order to please the Father.
In contrast, Asaph thought that he had made a wrong choice in becoming a believer (Psalm 73:13-14). The author of Psalm 73 and Job lived the lie for a time. We don’t know how long the author of Psalm 88 lived the lie. We are not told. Amazingly and graciously and in stark contrast, Jesus never lived the lie. God has never forsaken any of His children including the psalmist and He will never will. Instead He forsook the Godman as the believer’s substitute (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34)!
What are some non-negotiable truths that the believer must embrace, recall, and use daily in the midst of God’s providence? These truths are simple, powerful, and gracious and are expressed as follows: First, the believer must start with God. The simple and yet profound fact that God is – His being and nature – is foundational. He exists and He exists for Himself and His people. Second, He is real even when you think and feel He isn’t or others tell you that God is out to lunch, asleep, uncaring, or simply unable and unwilling to take care of His world and His people. Third, He is present even if you don’t “feel” as if He is or circumstances seem to indicate that He is not present. Fourth, God is good, powerful, and trustworthy. The cross and the resurrection affirm and confirm these truths.
What more would a person need or want? Here is the crux of the problem: we too often want relief and relief is spelled as out – out of my situation now. God hears and answers all prayers and His answers include, yes, no, and wait. God did answer the psalmist (Psalm 88). He said no and wait as He did to Joseph, David, Job, and ultimately to Jesus. He also says to us: no and wait today. However God’s no and His yes in always in Christ and always points to the Triune God and His trustworthiness (2 Corinthians 1:18-22). Some may label these as hard truths but they come from God’s heavenly oven baked for every believer in every situation (Romans 5:1-5; James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 1:6-7).
Sinful thinking leads to sinful and degrading words: when things don’t go the way a person prefers and even demands, he concludes that God is either non-existent or He is good but not powerful or He is powerful and not good. He then uses circumstances to dictate his thoughts and conclusions about God and himself. Consider this scenario and line of logic: if God is not in control and working good as I have defined it, then He is bad, impotent or both. Since my circumstances are “bad.” God must be untrustworthy. The person has lived the lie. For him, chance, feelings, circumstances, experience, and his own reasoning are the standards and guides for him. He then determines the presence and activity of God and His goodness – or badness. As a result, nothing is certain but he denies that fact. As a result of this prevalent line of logic, the person will live the lie but deny that he is (Romans 1:18-23)!
John wrote that the truth will set a person – the believer – free (John 8:31-32; 17:17). The truth is a person, the living Word and the written Word. Set free from what? It is bondage to self, Satan, and sin. It is set free from desiring what you want to desiring what God wants. It is set free from thinking and focusing on self to thinking God’s thoughts. A change in thinking and wanting leads to changed actions. Only the believer can do this. He takes on the mindset and perspective of Christ. He views the now – life in the physical and material spheres and that which a person takes in by his senses – from an eternal perspective (Romans 6:9-11; Colossians 3;1-3; 1 John 3:1-3).
Part of the Christian life is to be consumed by closing the gap between saving faith and true hope and non-saving faith and false hope often depicted by and as physical sight vs. the eyes of saving faith; or between man’s personal wisdom and God’s wisdom; and between God’s truth and man’s personal supposed truth. Every person is a sensual being – he is informed through his senses (sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste). However he must interpret the information by the use of a standard: biblical truth which sets him free or according to his experience, reason divorced from biblical truth, or feelings. These latter standards are usually linked and only add more bondage (Proverbs 5:21-22; 13:15; 26:11).
The psalmist of Psalm 88 knew God, had a relationship with him, prayed, and then complained. He lived the lie and was miserable. Truth sets you free. He did Christ and all the saints. He will you free no matter the circumstances. That last statement is a theological mountain. How are you doing climbing it?
1. What truths do you apply and why in any situation?
2. What are the results?
3. Study Paul in 2 Corinthians 1 and 4, the psalmist of Psalm 88, and Job: what are similarities and what are the contrasts?
Was Jesus Depressed?
The Nature of a Troubled Heart
This question has significance for our culture and especially for individual believers and for the Church. The answer may be yes or “let me think about it.” The question has significance because if Jesus, the sinless and impeccable One, was depressed and or subject to depression (please note the use of the verb and noun), then it must be reasonable and appropriate for the believer to follow His example. Following that line of reasoning, the thought process goes something like this: If Jesus had bad feelings, and He did, He must have been depressed because depression is bad feelings. Moreover, bad feelings are just part of life. Therefore, it must be acceptable for believers to be depressed. In this scenario depression is define as bad feelings. It indicates something a person is. He is in a state of being that involves feelings but so often overlooked are the person’s thoughts and desires. The word depressed is a verb and is used to indicate something a person is and does or doesn’t do based on feelings. The final conclusion would be something like this: since Jesus was depressed and conveyed His bad feelings to God and others, it is acceptable for believers to do the same.
Secondly, others may not have considered the question for any number of reasons. A third response to the question is a resounding and emphatic no. The person may find it ludicrous or even blasphemous to even consider Jesus as having depression or being depressed. Notice again the use of depression as a noun and being depressed as a verb. Why would someone respond in this latter way? As mentioned in the first paragraph, Jesus is the perfect, sinless Lamb of God. He was undefiled and blameless before the Lord. The no seems to indicate that the person views depression as either a less than biblical response to God and His control and even sin. You rarely if ever hear or read of depression as sin.
The way of reasoning outlined in the first paragraph represents a psychologized approach to man and his problems. It flows from the idea that actions are based on feelings rather than thoughts and desires. Feelings are considered unrelated to thoughts and desires and are unrelated to the person’s relationship with the Triune God. Many construe from Scripture that bad feelings, and perhaps even good ones, are to be a person’s guide. Moreover, there is a desire on the part of culture to justify the validity of bad-feelings states including depression as being a body-physical problem. From that foundation, conclusions are drawn about people including Jesus, David, Paul, as well as others. The attempt is to justify the culture’s approach to bad feelings (see 2 Corinthians 1:8 and 4:8 as a reference to Psalm 88:15 as indicating “Paul’s depression.” See my blog where I address these passages but I add here: Paul was down not out; he was not living by feelings although he had bad ones!).
In order to correctly address the subject of Jesus, bad feelings, and depression, I must give background information. In that light, please note that definitions and terms matter. Today, the term depression has been mined by the mental-health establishment and is used to refer to a person who presents with a myriad of symptoms most prominently bad feelings and a resultant behavior. It is important to know that a symptom is not a sign. It is subjective and determined by the person and then conveyed by description to someone. Feverishness is a symptom and is subjective. A sign is an objective measurement such as temperature of 102 degrees (a sign). The person may complain of feverishness (a symptom) as well. The person who has been labeled as having depression may present with certain signs that are attributed to depression. These include an apathetic appearance, a droopy face, and slowness of or non-existent movement.
Medical professionals have established a list consisting of certain characteristics that they believe lead to and in fact establish a diagnosis of depression. The medical world has developed two questionnaires consisting of two and nine questions respectively. These are termed Professional Health Questionnaire (PHQ) 2 and 9. PHQ 2 is used for proposed ease; it is a “coned-down” version of PHQ 9. It consists of two questions: Over the past two weeks, have you ever felt down, depressed, or hopeless; Over the past two weeks, have you felt little pleasure, or interest in doing things? An affirmative answer to these two questions enables, in fact forces the health care provider, to make a diagnosis of depression. Please notice that the diagnosis is based on answers to questions. There is no objective diagnostic marker from the physical examination or laboratory used to label a person.
Let’s change focus slightly and move to a typical cultural, societal, and medical mindset about people and so-called life. The word life is viewed as things happening or not happening. “It is the way things are.” From a non-biblical perspective people are viewed as victims to and in life. They may be told that depression isn’t just feeling down. It is a disease not simply a condition. They may be told that feeling fatigued and having trouble concentrating and making decisions may be part of the feeling state called depression. The person is plugged into a treatment regimen including medications and psychotherapy. However, when biblical truth is inserted into the discussion the conversation takes a radical turn. The conversation focuses on the person and his thoughts and desires based on the standard of biblical truth. That is true freedom (John 8:31-32). I will develop this concept throughout our discussion.
Further, the term life refers to God’s providence, but neither culture nor medical science uses that term or think from a correct vertical reference. Sadly, churches follow that lead. Bringing God and His control into the picture is considered unscientific or unethical because it ‘steps-on-toes” and it mixes religion and real science.
Sometimes God is brought into the picture, but too often He is pictured only as a helper not the Lord of lords and King of kings. In my field of rheumatology, there are various journal articles that have over the years reported a high percentage (usually around 50%) of depression in patients with certain conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. The death of a loved one is often associated with a high frequency of bad feelings commonly diagnosed as depression. This high frequency of depression is based on answers to questions to the PHQ discussed above. The person is considered is considered a victim to God’s providence.
1. What is the basis for a diagnosis of depression?
2. What is the difference between a sign and a symptom?
3. Name some of the so-called feelings states and what seems to be a common feature and does a person’s thinking/thoughts and desires fit into the picture?
Was Jesus Depressed? Part I
The Nature of a Troubled Heart
Let’s move the person into the office of a medical professional. Once the person has received the diagnosis of depression, the person begins a journey, often lifelong, of drugs-medications, psychotherapy, mindfulness therapy, meditation, cognitive behavioral therapy and the like. In spite of therapy, most often the person experiences a merry-go-round of rising and falling feelings both good and bad. At times he feels as if he is drowning in a tsunami of feelings. The goal seems to be less bad feelings and presumably a better functioning person but at what and whose expense?
It is assumed that depression is a body problem not simply something going on in the body but something wrong with the body (see my books and articles that distinguish between with and in the body: Depression Through A Biblical Lens: A Whole-Person Approach; Being Christian In Your Medical Practice; True Competence In Medicine).
I use the term in the body to indicate activity in the body such as a rapid heart rate. The heart may be functioning normally (exercise for example), but the body is responding as it should. The problem is in the body. Physiological activity is in evidence, but the body is normal. The person may have exercised “to get shape” or he may be out of shape – deconditioned. The body though is otherwise normal. It is also known in the secular world and the biblical world that a person’s thinking and wanting produces physiological changes in the body such as a faster heart and respiratory. Again the problem is in the body not with the body. If the problem is with the body, the heart rate may reflect a faulty heart valve or muscle or the patient may have a disease such as hyperthyroidism that makes induces the heart to go faster. In those instances the problem is with the body.
Let’s go back to our person who tells you about bad feelings and often calls it depression. Begin with a biblical perspective. Engage the person in a conversation and simply ask questions moving from feelings to wanting and thinking. You move from feelings to thoughts and desires. When you do, you learn a great deal. The person will invariably define his bad feelings in terms of his thoughts and desires or wants. Thought and desires focus on control – having it or the lack of it. Feelings flow from thoughts and desires. Now you are stepping into the crux of the problem.
Too often, bad feelings are given more attention and validity than thoughts and desires. They are viewed as the driving force of a person and “improving them” is the goal of treatment. The person and the medicalized culture consider the person a product and a victim to and of his feelings. The person may claim that feelings drive everything and his goal is relief from them. Often he is told that he has a right to and deserves to have good feelings.
He and the mental community have failed to rightly understand biblical anthropology. The Bible teaches that feelings, thoughts, desires, and actions are linked. Feelings are the result of thoughts and desires and vice versa. Often the person has a patterned way of thinking and wanting that has preceded the present episode. The pattern and the episode that brought a diagnosis of depression are linked. Once bad feelings take center stage the person is told and often thinks on his own that something is wrong in the body and maybe even with the body (as noted, the two are not the same). Again, the person seeks help that is usually defined as relief without effectively addressing thoughts and desires, the issue of control, and the significance of his relationship with God. Rather, the desire which has become a demand, for relief drives the person and relief is the main focus of the person, his family, and medical team.
Let’s move to the Bible. I repeat a commonly overlooked and ignored fact. Biblically-speaking and practically, thoughts and desires are linked to feelings. The Bible teaches that the believer is to think God’s thoughts and desire what God desires. As God’s image bearer, Adam was designed and equipped with the capacity to do just that – to think, desire, and function as God Himself. Thus, any person but especially the person who carries the label of depression and those who have given him that label must consider the person’s relationship with God. He does that by asking and answering questions regarding the person’s relationship with the Triune God and how it influencing him. The trio of thoughts, desires, and feelings must not be separated. If any and all of them are divorced from biblical truth, a spiral of bad feelings results until the person seems to be drowning in his feelings. A cycle often results: thoughts and desires that are not met or are met in the wrong way (not acceptable to the person) influence feelings which in turn influence thoughts and desires. All three influence feelings. It is as if the person is held bondage to bad feelings.
I find it interesting that mental health professionals rely on other treatment modalities including mindfulness therapy and cognitive therapy. Studies indicate that people are “improved” – they feel better. How is that possible? Simply by changing thinking (perhaps even wanting) brings some kind of relief. Please note: changed wanting and thinking are part of the Holy Spirit’s activity in the believer (Ephesians 1:15-20; 3:14-19)! All believers are called to change their thinking (1 Corinthians 2:16; 2 Corinthian 10:3) and to change their desires (Psalm 40:6-8; 51:6). Secular therapies are steeped in atheistic evolutionary philosophy derived from the Greeks and Middle East. They are competing with the Triune God. They have invaded the Holy Spirit’s kingdom.
Based on this brief introduction (blogs I and II), I will begin to unfold the concept of bad feelings as applied to Jesus and then to believers. Stay with me!
1. What is your source of truth and why?
2. What is your view of thoughts, desires, actions, and feelings? How are they linked?
3. What does the Bible say about thoughts, desires, actions, and feelings?
Was Jesus Depressed? Part II
The Nature of a Troubled Heart
How do you help the person, or yourself, who has been labeled as depressed? A good place and even necessary starting point is the rational and the relational. By rational I am referring to knowledge. What is one’s source of truth (rational). By relational I am referring to one’s relationship to God in Christ by the Holy Spirit. How does his relationship with God affect thoughts, desires, and actions? In order to provide help I begin by asking the person to define depression. He may need help in doing so but bad feelings and resultant behavior are always described. You are then in a position to help move him redefine his definition of depression and to offer him true help. I also help the person define his thoughts and desires in the situation but also as a patterned way of life, even years preceding the present situation.
Most people begin to understand my interest in them and desire to help. However, these same people often say it almost impossible to swim against a tsunami of feelings. They don’t believe they can think correctly or they refuse to address thoughts and desires. It is critical that they make the connection between thoughts and desires that proceed and influence feelings. I am careful to avoid the term cause. As I noted in the introduction, the situation (s) – life – is/are God’s providence which is His control and ordering of all things for His glory and the believer’s good (Genesis 50:15-21; Romans 8:28-29). The situation is the context in which the person demonstrates the influence of his relationship with God in Christ by the Holy Spirit.
The concepts just presented are foreign to many people especially those in the medical field and often in the Church. The key to a ministry of biblical truth whether from the pulpit or one-on-one is the presentation of biblical truth that is most relevant and appropriate given the person’s willingness, maturity, and ability to hear and apply it in his present situation. Giving and receiving biblical truth is a privilege, blessing and an art. Truth is to be given in a manner that blesses the person and honors God. Godly living is one goal of ministering biblical truth. We must agree that truth will set believers free especially those drowning in feelings (John 8:31-32). Therefore, God’s people must have truth at the ready and be wise in applying it in order to bless others.
Certain caveats are necessary. We must agree that God’s word and Christ are truth (John 17:17; 14:6). All truth is biblical truth rightly understood and all error is Satan’s error. Therefore, God’s truth must be tailored to the person. Moreover, the deliverer of truth must model Christ in terms of presenting the truth. In that light, please note that there is a simple working definition derived from Scripture for feeling states such as those labeled as depression and worry. The person’s focus is on control, his and not God’s and on pleasing self rather than on pleasing God in the situation. Most if not all persons in the situation initially will disagree! As a result, the person gives in to feelings, expresses himself in various ways (such as anger and fear), and gives up on God, others, and responsibilities. Especially for depression, the person falsely pictures himself in his situation as if the tunnel is so long, the mountain so high, and the hole so deep that he is trapped and a victim. He is resource-less and hopeless.
As a brief aside: biblically, worry and concern are not synonymous. Rightly defined, worry is sin and concern is godly (Proverbs 14:8; 22:3). Worry is concern gone wrong. This dynamic is a subject for another time. Similarly, the Bible pictures fear as fear of man and trust in self which is sin and foolishness and fear of the Lord which is the beginning of wisdom and part of godliness. Fear is also a subject for another time. There is no such leeway with depression. Many will deny this fact citing personal experience and claiming harshness on my part.
From such passages as Romans 8:28-29 and Genesis 50:15-21, it is always proper to present God’s truth with care to the believer in his situation. The passages as well as others highlight God’s power, authority, and control and His goodness. However, these passages present theological truths that are “heavy” given the person’s view of God, self, others, and the situation. They must be handled with care. God and the person deserve it! By that I mean when faced with “hard times” and unpleasant situations – God’s providence – the believer may refuse to hear and even reject the truth about God, His providence, and himself. He thinks that he can’t process it. The Triune God wants believers to use the situation as an occasion to please Him by becoming more like Christ which is one of the best activities and blessings this side of heaven.
1. What is your view of truth and how are you applying it?
2. Read Romans 8:28-29 and Genesis 50:19-21:
a. What is your view of Romans 8:28-29 and Genesis 50:19-21?
b. What truths does Paul highlight? Be specific.
3. How are you preparing yourself for pleasant and unpleasant times?
4. What is your view of bad feeling?
Was Jesus Depressed? Part II A
Proper Anthropology is Critical
Return with me to the person who presents with bad feelings and his response to them. More than likely he has been diagnosed with depression and is often on one or more medications. Enter truth, your source of truth, and your confidence in using that truth.
An overriding truth for every believer is the reality of his status as a becomer. Biblically (our source of truth), every person is a becomer! The believer is unique: he became a believer and one who is becoming more like Christ supernaturally (John 3:3-8; 2 Corinthians 5:9). Scripture pictures every believer to have been chosen by the Triune God in Christ for salvation and for life after salvation manifested as growth in Christ by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:4; Romans 8:28-29; 2 Corinthians 5:9, 17). At a point in time, the soon-to-be believer becomes a child of God, a brother to Christ, and indwelt by the Holy Spirit. This radical change occurs at the person’s rescue from Satan’s kingdom and family (Colossians 1:13). As a result of his initial becoming, he is also a becomer. That which was begun at salvation will continue on earth and into heaven.
The believer is to become more and more like Christ, the only person with whom God was well-pleased (Matthew 3:17; 17:5). One aspect of the truth that sets a person free is growth in Christlikeness. The Triune God expects, deserves, equips, motivates, and guarantees growth in Christ. The agency of the Holy Spirit is essential for this growth. He never works for or against the believer. Rather, He works in and with the believer (Philippians 2:12-13; 2 Peter 1:5-10).
You might be asking: why so much theology! What does that have to do with bad feelings called depression? The answer is EVERYTHING. Stay with me! The person, including the believer, labeled as depressed (a verb) or depression (a noun) will find it hard, claiming it to be impossible or non-desirous to become more like Christ. He bases his conclusion on his feelings and situation divorced from God’s perspective. However, God’s goal for the believer – for him to become more like Christ – is not terminated or hijacked by circumstances (God’s providence!). Rather, they are God’s tool to be used by the person to help promote growth in Christlikeness (Romans 5:1-5; James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 1:6-8). In order to help the person with bad feelings, we must determine the source of the bad feelings and the person’s response to them. The two are linked but so often this linkage, as well as the linkage between thoughts and desires, is ignored and or denied.
It may get tricky here. The medical world wants to blame feelings states on the material and physical. They do know that thinking influences feelings and vice versa. They parade out a myriad of scans depicting changes in certain areas of the brain. I address this subject later with Jesus. Man is a whole person – inner (heart) and outer (body) man. The brain is part of the physical body. Changes in brain physiology as opposed to anatomical changes are to be expected in people during hard and easy providences of God. From Romans 6:6 (For we know that our self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done with that we should no longer be slaves to sin). A changed heart is the most powerful weapon that the believer has to live by saving faith rather than sight and to live according to biblical truth rather than feelings derived from a wrong view of God, self, and life.
A fundamental consideration for a proper evaluation of thoughts, desires, actions, and feelings is a proper view of man. Since man was created God’s image and a whole person, we must remember that man is a duplex being. By duplex I mean he is a united twofold, being: outer/body and inner/spiritual. Man has a body, but he is not only body. He has a soul/spirit, but he is not only spirit. Rather he is a whole person. Therefore, thoughts, desires, and actions are whole-person activities – outer and inner man. The Bible teaches that man thinks, desires, and acts in both his inner man (terms in the Bible include heart – the most common – mind, soul, or spirit) and in his outer man – his body. We must avoid the sacred-secular dichotomy and the physical-spiritual dichotomy. The Bible teaches that man thinks, desires, and acts in both the inner and outer man, his body including the brain and the heart or man’s spiritual aspect. Unfortunately the secular knows this fact so well that they use it in such activities as cognitive behavioral therapy. Therefore, the whole person must be addressed when addressing bad feelings states which are reached by learning thoughts and desires. I will continue elaborating this impotent truth.
1. Review the biblical teaching that man is a unit: inner and outer man function as such.
a. Agree or disagree and why?
b. What is the significance that man is both body and spirit?
2. How does knowing that man is a unit help you be a blessing to someone who complains of bad feelings?
3. God is interested in His people becoming more like Christ. How do feelings fit in?
Was Jesus Depressed? Part II B
Proper Anthropology is Critical
Medical science so often believes and teaches that feelings, often termed emotions, originate in man’s body, his outer man only. All is physical. Some go as far as teaching that the brain is man’s moral compass. It is interesting to note that there is no term for brain in the Old or New Testaments. It is consider part of the man’s body. It is physical. If the brain, not the heart or man’s inner person is the seat of man’s motivation, thinking, wanting, and morality, the Holy Spirit has no place to work. The Bible teaches that man thinks, desires, and acts in his whole person – body and soul. The Holy Spirit regenerates and indwells man’s heart (John 3:3-8; Romans 8:9, 11; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 3:16-17).
However, medical science teaches that feelings are only physical in their cause and in their continuation. A few may venture out and say feelings are spiritual. By spiritual they use a small “s” referring to man’s mystical connectedness to something both inside and outside of him. They have no place for the Holy Spirit. Others view feelings and emotions as something to “get in touch with.” I don’t know how to do that, but in the best light this approach may be getting at thinking.
Those who conclude that feelings are physical and originate in the body assume that something is wrong with the body (the body is the problem) and not simply something wrong in the body (the body can be influenced by the inner man and the outer man can influence the inner man). The medical establishment uses this rationale for the use of medications even though nothing pathological has been determine to occur in the body including the brain. This fact is in spite of so many neuroimaging studies that have been done. Blood flow change and metabolic activity in the brain have been reported but the significance of these changes are far from clear. Also correlation and causation are not synonymous.
All feelings are physical – they are felt. Please remember that God created man a sensual being. He takes information in by his senses including touch and the nerve receptors associated with it. Man is a faith-based being which influences his interpretation of that which he experiences and considers real. Biblically-speaking, there is a connection between the inner and outer man. It is not anatomic but we know from Scripture that we are to guard our hearts because it- not the brain – is the wellspring of life (Proverbs 4:23). In some way, a person’s inner and outer man is linked. Inner-man activities of wanting and thinking affect outer-man activities of thinking, wanting, and doing and vice versa. Medication affects the outer man but has no effect on the inner person.
Man was created a sensual being with a nervous system that is divided into central (brain and spinal cord), peripheral (nervous system in skin and muscle), and autonomic (that control heart, lung, and gut for instance). As noted above, man, initially at creation and continually after creation receives information through the senses – he has a sensual experience – and interprets that information both in his body, typically the brain, and the inner man (the heart). Medical science denies this fact. Moreover, the Bible teaches that man is a receiver, interpreter, and implementer of that which he receives. The term feeing must be defined. You may feel a pinprick or heat. The neural message flows along nerve fibers. I am not speaking of this. By feelings I am referring to a whole-body experience of pleasant or unpliant feelings. These feelings and their intensity are the result of thinking and wanting about self, God, others, and God’s providence. Control, real or perceived and God’s or the person’s, is a central issue for all feelings.
Bad feelings may result from wrong thinking and wrong wanting in both the inner and outer man. Even if bad feelings originate from some bodily defect (an anatomic or physiological defect), the root of and response to the feelings still must be addressed biblically. This means evaluating the whole person – thoughts, desires, and actions in both the inner and outer man from God’s perspective.
Too often, in an effort to help a person with bad feelings, people begin with the person in his present situation and fail to consider his patterned response to God’s providence throughout his life. An important biblical truth (more theology!) regarding mankind is the simple but profound fact that every person born (except Jesus!) has a self-centered and patterned lifestyle and mindset that he carries with him and brings to every situation. Until a believer, the person is a self-pleaser. Some may deny the fact that the baby in the womb is a self-pleaser by nature. Nevertheless every person is born a rebel against God and is a self-pleaser (Psalm 51:1-5; Romans 8:5-8; Galatians 5:16-18; Ephesians 2:1-3). The bad news is much worse than most people like think. This has relevance for ministering to people who carry psychological labels. Moreover, the good news is much better than most believers understand and car to acknowledge!
The believer, as a changed person, is now a becomer. He is called to put off his lifestyle of pleasing self, pleasing Satan, and enjoying sin. He is equipped for and called to put on God-pleasing which is growth in Christlikeness. This growth takes the form of functioning as a God-pleaser in thoughts, desires, and actions. The believer will heed Jesus’ call to deny self what he wants and even demands by pleasing God (Matthew 10:38; 16:24; Mark 8:31; Luke 9:23; 14:27; John 12:25). Armed with these theological considerations we are ready to move ahead! Stay with me!
1. Armed with a proper biblical anthropology, how will you address bad feelings no matter the diagnosis by the medical profession?
2. What biblical truths do you for yourself and for the other person to help you get victory?
3. Think through how the information presented in first blogs may apply to Jesus as well as to you. Write out what you learned.
Was Jesus Depressed: Part III
Jesus the God-Man and His Troubled Heart
Jesus at Lazarus’ death and resurrection and His time in the Garden of Gethsemane are perfect occasions to examine and answer the questions raised in the opening blogs. These occasions are documented in John 11 and the Garden incident which is documented in all the Synoptic gospels (Matthew 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:40-46). The account recorded by Matthew and Mark is similar. Luke’s account is shorter but includes Jesus’ sweating of blood, a single time of prayer, and the presence of one ministering angel. What do we learn?
All the accounts use strong feeling words to describe Jesus in His situation. In John 11:33, 35, 38 we find words that are translated as deeply moved and greatly troubled; wept; and deeply moved. In Matthew 26:37-38 and Mark 14:33-34, the Holy Spirit has the gospel writers use terms that are translated as greatly distressed and troubled and soul that is sorrowful. In Luke 22:43-45, Luke adds that an angel from heaven appeared to Him strengthening Him and being in agony he prayed more earnestly and his sweat became like drops of blood. What an experience at two different times in Jesus’ life! The words as a group indicate an inner-man upheaval, a churning and a stirring up within, whole-person angst and anguish. These would qualify as describing trouble and Jesus’ response to it. This description includes an inner-man component and a physical, outer-man component. Jesus was fully man – inner and outer man.
One may say that Jesus was experiencing a tsunami of feelings. To correctly understand the Holy Spirit, we must look beyond the feelings and ask what drove Jesus throughout His life and at this moment. What thoughts and desires gave rise to the terms used to describe His response? Should believers imitate Jesus’ response? Was Jesus’ response normal and if so by what criteria and standard do we use? Was Jesus depressed?
We must define normal and a key word in helping us do that is defining the word experience. The term experience is used two ways; one is the person’s response to what God is doing and the other refers to what God is doing as He governs His world and all His creatures. The first refers to the results of a person’s response to God’s providence. The second encompasses a larger context and the word indicates the situation that a person finds himself or God’s providence. It refers to the situation that a person is placed by God. God may use the sins of others or the person’s own sins as the means for the person being in the situation.
When the term experience is considered as the person’s response the term involves a whole-person response which we discussed in earlier blogs. In a fallen world sinners even saved ones experience misery and hard times. John Murray called these God’s frowning providence. God’s providence may include the good, the bad, the ugly, and not so ugly in a person’s life in a sin-cursed world. The believer’s response to God’s providence is a response to God. Again some may consider this is “heavy” theology. Moreover, the truth of the Holy Spirit declares that the experience or situation doesn’t determine a person’s response. It is the context for it. The person including Jesus is not a victim. These last points are most crucial.
The inner-man anguish of Christ should get our attention. He was fully man who thought, desired, and acted in the context of God’s providence – His situation. He thought God’s thoughts, desired God’s desires, and acted according to both. He trained Himself (Hebrews 2:10; 5:7-10). Jesus responded to His situation in both the inner and outer man. You, too, believer will have or have had situations in which you experienced inner-man anguish and turmoil as you responded to God in your situation. These responses don’t just happen. They began sometime somewhere. They were practiced over months and years. They reflect thoughts and desires in the inner man. The response may be associated with bad feelings – a trouble heart (John 12:27; 13:21; 14:1, 27). Each of the words – thoughts, desires, actions, and feelings – is critical. God’s tough providences – hard situations – are part of living in a sin-cursed world (John 15:18-21; 16:31-33; Romans 5:12-14). Even the creation groans as does the Holy Spirit and believers (Romans 8:19-27)!
Christ’s anguish that we read about in the gospels was something only the God-man could experience. We could add Jesus’ laments over the Jewish people God’s covenant people documented in Luke 13:34-35; 19:41-44; 23:28-31. Jesus knew what was in store for the nation if there was no repentance. He knew what His cost was to secure salvation for a people who rejected Him. As He anticipated going to hell on the cross, His whole inner person properly recoiled. Throughout His life, He was preparing to face the cross and separation from God. We get a glimpse of the Son’s inner –man angst and what precipitated it.
People both believers and unbelievers, at some time experience inner-man angst and bad feelings. But too often we want to equate our experience with Christ’s or read from Christ’s experience into our own. Rather the experience is not the key but Christ’s response in terms of motivation, thinking, wanting, and doing (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). No person will leave heaven, take on flesh, hide the privilege of being recognized and worshipped as God, and face the devastating wrath of God as Jesus did. What made Jesus tick? He had a right perspective on Himself, life, and God.
1. After reading the John 11 and the account described in the Garden, what is your view of Jesus’ feelings, thoughts, desires, and actions?
2. What controlled Jesus and why?
3. What motivated to continue His course to the cross?
Was Jesus Depressed: Part IV
Jesus the God-Man and His Troubled Heart
We know from Hebrews 4:15 (For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness but we have one who has been tempted in every way just as we are – yet without sin) that Jesus is the believer’s High Priest par excellence. The author seems to draw a parallel between Jesus’ temptation and believers. We must be careful here. Redemptively and as the humble Lamb of God, Jesus faced the eternal wrath of God and entrance into hell while on the cross. That is not us. Rather, Jesus as the High Priest experienced the fullness of the weakness of the human condition and man’s fallen-ness but without sin. Often times this truth seems to be a theological truth that is not helpful to the person in his situation. It seems too theological and does not make sense or thought applicable to the individual person. “It is OK for Jesus but not me,” one patient told me. The author of Hebrews, a book whose theme can be summarized as – Jesus is better than – thought it foundational for his congregation to have correct theology. His congregation was facing/experiencing God’s tough providences. Facing persecution mostly from their own people, they were on the verge of returning to Judaism and calling God a liar (Hebrews 6:4-6; 10:26-31). Any and all truth is as important for us today as it was for that congregation.
Returning to Hebrews 4:15, the word in the original language translated as sympathize is the compound word sumpatheo. Jesus did more than simply feel for us or like us. Please notice the root of the original word is the well-known word pathos. The root highlights the experiential aspect of Christ’s humiliation. Please note that humiliation and humility are not synonymous. Humiliation is best considered the person’s situation and experience – God’s providence.
Humility represents the person’s response to his situation. Christ’s humiliation was the position He placed Himself! He voluntarily left heaven and took on a body. He also humbled Himself which is another matter. A person can experience humiliating circumstances but not be humbled. Jesus left heaven, set aside for a time the right to be worshipped and honored as God, and took on human flesh and the continuing temptation for self-pleasing and covenantal unfaithfulness. Jesus knew and still knows what it is like to live by feelings, experience, and logic divorced from God’s wisdom. The use and reliance upon this trio is a result of the fall. They are the guiding standards for fallen man. However unlike fallen man, Jesus came to do His Father’s will and to function as the ultimate God-pleaser (John 4:31-34). Along the way continually He was challenged to serve Himself. In response he relied on biblical truth (see Matthew 4 and Luke 4 and His response to Satan’s attacks).
The word translated weakness in Hebrews 4:15 is asthenia. This word means lack of strength and even will. The unbeliever functions by the mantra of for self, by self, and to self. Unfortunately because of remaining sinfulness and continuing self-pleasing habituation in the whole person, the believer also functions in the same manner. The author of Hebrews emphasized Christ’s complete identification with mankind except without sin. Jesus knew what it was like to be tempted to please self. This temptation presented itself daily and regularly almost moment by moment. Jesus’ perfect and successful ministry consisted of His covenantal faithfulness to the Triune God’s agreed upon plan established in eternity past (John 6:37-43). In this way the Holy Spirit and Jesus was preparing Him for His time in the Garden of Gethsemane and the cross.
Moreover, Jesus understood us – our desires, thoughts, and actions especially when faced with unpleasantness and adversity (God’s providence). The temptation to use His power and authority for Himself was always before Him (Hebrews 2:10; 5:8). Jesus knew what it meant to experience the fullness of the weakness of fallen humanity. He knew what it meant because He was tempted to please self in lieu of pleasing God (Matthew 4; Luke 4). Such was one aspect of His Messianic ministry. Daily and regularly, He was faced with the choice between covenantal faithfulness and pleasing the Father or of unfaithfulness and pleasing Himself. Throughout His ministry, the ever-looming question was: would He fail as the first Adam had? Would He fail as the nation of Israel had failed? The answer was and still is a resounding NO!
In the Garden of Gethsemane, the Bible records a once-for-all experience of the God-Man. The magnitude of what was happening is simply mind-boggling and beyond human comprehension. Unless your thinking is Holy-Spirit motivated and guided, you won’t be able to begin to grasp what was occurring in the person of Christ.
Jesus is not just a man. He is the Man. He is pictured in the psalms as God’s man who could ascend the holy hill and dwell delightfully and completely in God’s presence (Psalms 1-2, 15, 24). King David had insight into that fact. He knew there was a greater David (Psalm 110). Jesus is Savior because He is God and man – one person and two natures. There is no change, conversion, or confusion of either of His natures. Only God could save; only man sinned.
If Jesus never faced, felt, and received the wrath of God and its burden, unsaved sinful man would be left to his own thoughts, desires, and feelings and the inability to lift up himself. On this earth, unsaved mankind would be consumed by the mantra: I must have. He would function in some capacity as his own hero of sorts. After death, unsaved mankind would be in hell and its eternal torment.
Christ’s work differed from any other person. In Gethsemane, He faced God one-on-one. He looked into the eye of His Father – a God of justice, wrath, and righteousness. He was about to suffer the full penalty of sin as the covenantally-faithful Sin-bearer. He was preparing for the ultimate sin-bearing – forsaken by the Father and going to hell on the cross. Yes, Jesus had inner-man anguish, turmoil, and bad feelings. His soul was troubled. Was He depressed? NO! As such he is the One believers can and will imitate owing to the indwelling Holy Spirit.
1. What is consequence and significance that Jesus identified with fallen man?
2. Jesus’ inner-man angst was a result of what?
3. What was His response?
4. How did He distinguish between “feelings” and the situation? On what basis did He make that distinction?
Was Jesus Depressed: Part V
Troubled heart: Inner-man Turmoil and its Reasons
This is a continuation of a series of blogs devoted to answering the question: was Jesus depressed? I chose Jesus because no one has experienced (see previous blog for a proper definition of the term experience) such a wave of inner-man turmoil and anguish. Some may think that they have but I have labored hard to show this is an invalid way of thinking. However, as believers we are to imitate Christ – thoughts, desires, and actions which are linked to feelings and vice versa. Christ has gone through the waters of God’s hardest providences and won the race because of the joy set before Him (Hebrew 12:1-3). That joy is the joy of ever believer: the bliss of being in the presence of God initially on earth via the indwelling Holy Spirit and in heaven eternally. Believers are not only called to imitate Christ, but they are united to Christ and indwelt by the Holy Spirit making the believer fully equipped for imitating Christ not simply as duty but as privilege and blessing (1 John 3:1-3).
We will focus on Jesus at Lazarus’ grave and Jesus in the Garden in order to answer the question: was Jesus depressed with all its implications. From the start, I have set out the importance of defining terms. Otherwise people will bring into the Bible the culture’s mindset and terms and use them to redefine biblical truth. As a result, biblical truth and the Bible’s message are distorted and people are confused.
Before we proceed to the Garden let’s reconsider chapter 11 of John’s gospel. In it, John records Lazarus’ death as a preview of the cross and Jesus’ response to God’s judgment, sin’s penalty and misery, and God’s solution. Jesus was deeply moved, but He did not shed His blood then. You know the story. Lazarus had died and was in the grave for four days before Jesus arrived. Jesus delayed His arrival on purpose which is given in John 11:4: so God would be glorified. That statement summarized Jesus’ motivation for and to life as the Messiah. He came to please His Father and do His will – the two are linked (John 4:31-34). Jesus considered His life and death as the fulfillment of the Triune God’s plan of salvation from eternity past (John 6:37-43; 17:1-5, 24-26). Jesus always had the proper focus. He saw His mission through the completion of it and the end results – the joy set before Him (Hebrews 12:1-3). He lived in the already. He was actively engaged in His mission all the cross but beyond – all the way to heaven. The not yet partially took placed at His Ascension, but a greater not yet will occur at His second coming. He stayed the course, in part, because He always had an eternal perspective in mind. His focus and motivation were away from self and toward God and toward heaven (Hebrews 12:1-2).
Upon approaching the scene, Jesus encountered the results of the curse of sin: misery and death. The people were grieving perhaps hopelessly. Jesus pointed Martha and ultimately Mary to the resurrection and resurrection life (John 11:25; Romans 6:9-11). He pointed to Himself! John used four different words to express Jesus’ inner-man angst (see Part III). Jesus was moved within – stirred up and in turmoil. The content of Jesus’ anguish was the fuller realization of the magnitude of the eternal plan of salvation. Jesus’ focus and motivation centered on the Triune God’s concern for the people, for the Father, and for Himself. The content of His inner-man anguish should not be missed. Jesus began vertically – with the Triune God and His presence, purpose, plan, power, provision, and plan. He then moved to the His role in accomplishing that plan. He looked over the carnage – death, misery, and inner-man angst of the people. He also knew the people were not armed with the same truth that He was. They grieved with hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13)
He knew and anticipated the coming of the horrors of facing the full wrath of God. But now in a real sense, the scene at Lazarus’ grave acutely pointed to the cross, God’s wrath, and separation from the Father. Simultaneously Jesus knew the other side of the cross: His resurrection, ascension, and session. This dual view enabled Him to link His grief with joy (see John 16:20-24). He grieved as one with hope. Paul taught this truth in 1 Thessalonians 4:13. Christ modeled grieving God’s way. He modeled the what and how of a troubled heart (John 12:25-27). His response to and in the situation was not dictated by feelings; it was based on His knowledge of Himself and the Triune God. It was based on His relationship with the Father and the joy of pleasing Him. Jesus had feelings, but these were based on thoughts and desires. Such it should be for all believers. Jesus kept these truths and developing realities at the forefront of His heart (John 6:37-43; Hebrews 12:1-3).
Let’s change the scene. In Gethsemane, the gospel writers pictured Christ coming face to face with a soon-to-be fully received tsunami of God’s just wrath. Who could stand under it? Jesus above all others understood God: His jealousy and zeal for His name AND the horror of separation from God. This knowledge and proper understanding of it seemed as if an avalanche of boulders of God’s wrath was crushing Him. Therefore, rightly He cringed in anguish before God. His heart was rightly troubled.
Back at Lazarus’ grave, Jesus had a foretaste of the Gethsemane and the cross but without the shedding of His blood. In the Garden, Jesus first spilled His blood before God before He shed it before men (Luke 22:39-46). At the cross, He spilled His blood so all could see the perfect Lamb (John 1:29, 36). John pictured Jesus as coming to grips with the full wrath of God. Jesus would soon go to hell on the cross – forsaken, humanly-speaking a truly hopeless and miserable state. Yet He went. Words don’t adequately describe the fullness and reasons for the inner-man anguish of Jesus and His response. His desire to please His Father was greater than His desire to please Himself. Feelings were not His guide. Such it should be for believers.
To the people at Lazarus’ grave and at the crucifixion, Jesus was a loser. John pictured Jesus as one who was beginning to experience the significance of a real hell and real separation from God as every believer’s substitute. You and I, to properly understand Jesus’ responses at Lazarus’ grave and the Garden must understand the reality of hell, God’s perfection as Just Judge, and Jesus’ all-consuming desire to please the Father and complete His task. Jesus knew in a comprehensive and penetrating way that it is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31). Yet that is what He did by divine choice and plan!
Did He have bad feelings? Yes. Was there inner-man angst? Yes. Was Jesus depressed? No. On what basis do we say that? He did not give in to feelings. He knew their source and He knew God’s answer for a burdened heart which people term depression and worry. God’s answer is to trust and obey as a blessing and privilege (John 14:1-2). The joy of pleasing His Father was His food and drink (John 4:31-34). The content of His anguish was founded and bathed in biblical truth. It cost Jesus to please the Father and complete the work set for Him. Jesus’ focus was on completing the mission and His motivation was pleasing the Father.
Knowledge, hope, and trust led to joyful obedience and form an unbroken chain. Armed with this, His control was not an issue. Jesus knew the Triune God was in control. Moreover, Jesus knew His origin, identity, purpose and destiny. His vertical relationship controlled His response to God’s providence, to the Father, and to others. Not His will but the Triune God’s will be done. It was duty, yes, but more: privilege and blessing for the Triune God and His people. So it is a blessing for every believer today (1 John 5:3). A proper view of self, God, and God’s providence is one of the Bible’s antidote to living by feelings, to grieve God’s way, and to have a troubled heart God’s way.
1. What is your view of John 11 and the Garden?
2. What do you learn about God, Jesus, and yourself?
3. John 6:37-43 and Hebrews 12:1-3: how do these passages help you rightly view Jesus in the Garden?
4. How does Hebrews 4:15 influence you as you respond to God and His providence?
Was Jesus Depressed? Part VII
At the Grave and at Gethsemane
In recent blogs I have addressed the question: was Jesus depressed? I raised the question for several reasons. One, there is a tendency to move from the culture and its definitions and labels to the Bible and impose the cultural mindset onto the Bible. Two, the question raises the possibility that a person could approach bad feelings as any other medical condition. Three, if Jesus, the impeccable One, was depressed then it is not sinful and reasonable and expected for any believer. Moreover, bad feelings could be used as a reason for a feeling-based lifestyle. Four, concepts and treatment follow the Medical Model. It presumes that some organ, tissue or function of the body is pathologically abnormal and the cause of the patient’s complaint. There is a physical reason for any symptom. The Bible is not necessary or it can be used only as an adjunctive tool to gain good feelings. Following the medical approach and imposing the culture’s usual definition of depression, you could conclude that Jesus was depressed and that Paul was depressed as well (see 2 Corinthians 1:8-10; 4:8-10).
Previously, I considered Jesus at Lazarus’ grave and in the Garden of Gethsemane. We learned that these accounts are replete with what I call “feeling-laden” words (John 11:33-35, 38; Matthew 26:37-38; Mark 14:3-34; Luke 22:44-45). These words indicate inner-man angst, an unrest, and agitation and distress within. John in his gospel used similar words to describe Jesus as one who was troubled within and who directed His apostles to cease from their troubled heart (John 11:33; 12:27; 13:21; 14:1, 27). John paints the picture that the apostles were their own heart-troublers (14:1).
The presence of a troubled heart rightly understood and defined is not sinful because Jesus’ heart was troubled! Jesus taught this truth in John 14:1, 27. There was unrest and angst in the apostles which was leading to a sinful, troubled heart. It was the night before the crucifixion. The apostles were faced with the real possibility that Jesus would be removed from them. They faced hostility and danger. From their perspective, uncertainty was the order of the day. For them, Jesus was about to be a loser and they as well. Yet they stayed the course although they sinned along the way.
Jesus experienced a troubled heart throughout His life but especially in His last days (John 11:33; 12:27; 13:21). In the Upper Room discourse, among other things, Christ was setting the stage for His death, resurrection, and ascension. That was too much theology for the apostles to grasp at that moment. The Holy Spirit had not come officially. John records Jesus’ perspective on His situation and inner-man response as Jesus counseled Himself: Now my heart is troubled and what shall I say? (John 12:27). He continued this theme in John 14:1 (see next paragraph).The cross and separation from God was looming larger and larger on the horizon. Jesus had declared – counseled Himself – that He was not turning His back on the Triune God Who had purposed in eternity past to save a people for Himself. Jesus moved forward armed with truth. He did not give in the feelings. He was covenantally faithful. He counseled Himself with truth based on relationships!
In John 14:1, Christ gave a simple yet profound command based on truth and not feelings: Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust in me. In the original language Jesus tells the apostles to stop your troubled heart. Their hearts were troubled in the wrong way and it was continuing! Jesus could easily have said: be troubled in your heart as I am. There is a correct way to have a trouble heart!
Jesus in John 14:27 (Peace I leave with you; peace I give to you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your heart be troubled and do not be afraid) gave the same command. Please notice. The words to the apostles are not suggestions. They are commands. Jesus expected His apostles to obey in the hardest of times. In verse 27, Jesus adds the gift of His peace as a motivator for stopping an inner and outer-man activity. Basically, Jesus told the apostles to “see” with the spiritual eyes of faith and not the physical eyes of sight (2 Corinthians 5:7, 9). The Triune God was in control and that was the best thing for Him and for them. However, the apostles were focused on other things and how they were or would be affected. Self had taken center stage. Circumstances seemed to dictate to the apostle a contrary response for them in contrast to what Jesus had graciously commanded. Bad feelings, circumstances, and confusion about what they knew were their guide. They had ears and eyes, but at this point they did not hear or see properly. Jesus did not leave them! He kept His promise thus imitating the Triune God who held Him up. Jesus knew the end and that proper knowledge led to hope and trust which moved Him along His journey to the end God’s way for God’s glory.
Jesus’ words were not devoid of cognitive activity. They were “thinking” words immersed in the desire to please His Father. Jesus, Paul, and you are whole persons – thoughts, desires, actions, and feelings. These activities occur in both the inner and outer man. Jesus and the Father met in the Garden prior to the once-for-all forsakenness on the cross. As Luke points out, Jesus first shed His blood before God prior to the cross as He prayed (Luke 22:44). Throughout His lifetime, Jesus had been preparing for the cross by putting off self-pleasing and putting on pleasing the Father. He relished pleasing God and practicing covenantal faithfulness in the so-called little things as well as bigger things. Nothing was bigger than the cross. Jesus was prepared and yet His inner man angst was palpably and audible. Do you feel and hear it?
I repeat: Jesus had made pleasing the Triune God a habit – a patterned manner of living. His motivation and His focus were on completing the Father’s will. Christ’s motivation to please the Father and complete the plan developed in eternity past was magnificently displayed at Lazarus’ grave and in the Garden. Christ was focused on the joy as well as the burden of pleasing His Father. He knew that satisfaction in this life and the next would come only if He finished the race well. Now, Jesus was coming face to face with the fullness of God’s wrath. Yet faced with a choice, Jesus was more consumed with an overwhelming desire to please the Father. Jesus had trained Himself well. Still the preparation for this time and the total acceptance of God’s wrath is beyond all human comprehension except the God-man’s. His prayer in the Garden expressed His proper vertical orientation – knowing God and His will and the willing obedience to it in order to please His Father. This proper reference sustained Him all the way to the cross. Jesus counseled Himself throughout His life but especially at this time. A troubled heart cannot remain. It does not please God and it is not a blessing for the person. It suggests bad theology. Rather, a proper view of God, Himself, others, and God’ providence enabled Jesus to put off self and put on pleasing God. Jesus was not depressed when the medical and secular world would say He was!
1. Experiences – everyone has them. They come from God’s hand. How does that truth affect your thinking and wanting?
2. Feelings – everyone has them. They are linked to thinking and wanting. How is it possible to please God in spite of feelings?
3. Apply John 4:31-34 to the Garden and the cross. What do you learn about Jesus at the beginning of His ministry and at the end?
4. What was the difference between Jesus’ ministry before the cross and on the cross?
Was Jesus Depressed: Part VIII
Jesus on the cross expands our understanding of Jesus and His Messiahship. On the cross, the fullness of Jesus’ mindset is displayed. His ministry was continuing and intensifying! Interestingly, His inner-man angst was much less evident or at least the gospel writers don’t mention the angst until the time Jesus is ready to commit His spirit to the Father (Matthew 27:46, 50; Mark 15:34, 37; Luke 23:46; John 19:30). Jesus was the Victor before, on, and after the cross!
On the cross, Jesus ministered to His people because He was focused on pleasing His Father. It was as if He had settled the inner-man distress/angst in the Garden. As I have mentioned previously, He knew His origin, identity, purpose, and destiny. These four facets of life seem to be the preoccupation of the philosophers. Jesus answered those clearly and definitely. He knew the way home –it was through and by the cross. Jesus’ words on the cross were a further demonstration of His commitment to pleasing His Father and completing His ministry. He ministered to His mother and to John the apostle He loved (John 19:25-27); to the thief (Luke 23:43); to those who would be saved at Pentecost (Luke 23:34); and to believers in all ages to come. On the cross Jesus certainly had an aching and decaying body. But we get no indication that His heart was troubled to the point that He gave in to feelings. He had something much more powerful and secure as a guiding principle.
As Jesus neared the end of His life, He asked why the Father had forsaken Him. We know that as God Jesus knew. We also know that as the God-man there were things that it was not His prerogative to know or to communicate to us (Matthew 24:36). A map of the future with every detail made known would place the person on a par with God. And God shares His glory with no one (Isaiah 42:8; 48:11)!
Further, knowing the beginning, the end, and everything in between would be a hindrance to developing active, informed, and intelligent faith, But in this case, I suspect Jesus knew full well the answer (Matthew 27:45-46; Mark 15:34). Consider that from the time Jesus left the Garden, He was in full control as evidenced by the fact that He ministered and only then did He give up His spirit (Matthew 27:50); it was not taken from Him. He did not die a martyr or a victim. He breathed His last (Mark 15:37), and He committed Himself to the Father (Luke 23:46). In a last act of covenantal faithfulness, Jesus declared to the whole world: it is finished (John 19:30). The eternal plan of redemption had reached one great climax. His Resurrection and Ascension pointed to the second installment of the already His first coming was the first instalment and prelude to the consummation of the not yet: His second coming which would user in the new heavens and the new earth.
One reason for Jesus’ continual God-pleasing activity is given in Hebrews 12:1-3: Jesus endured/persevered in covenantal faithfulness for the joy set before Him. His joy consisted in pleasing the Father and returning to the right hand of the Father as the Lord of lords and King of kings. As a result, Jesus is the Author and Perfecter of saving faith for His people (Hebrews 6:18-20). His return would complete the circle of life that John mentioned in John 6:37-43 and in 1 John 4:7-12. Those gifted to the Son and received by the Son would be returned to the Father (John 6:37-43; 17:1-26).
Believers imitate Christ (trust and obey) when they are directed by the knowledge of who God is, who they are, and what Christ has done for them. Christ’s work consisted of living and dying perfectly and His resurrection, all as an expression of His covenantal faithfulness. Jesus did not give in to His feelings. He tethered them to His relationship with His Father and He used the fact and knowledge of His relationship to please His Father and gain victory for us. So, too, is every believer to function from the vantage point and gift of a living, vital relationship with the Triune God in Christ by the Holy Spirit. It is the believer’s duty, privilege, and blessing to imitate Christ and enjoy the joy of doing so. Only the believer can begin to understand what these last words of Jesus signified. The cross is foolishness for and to the unbeliever but for the believer it is the wisdom and power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18, 21, 24). Jesus was not depressed! He was busy pleasing His Father. Had His heart been troubled? Yes. Was He depressed according to the culture’s definition? No. Did He live by feelings? No. He had bad feelings, but their origin and His response to them were tethered to thoughts and desires.
No one, believer or unbeliever, will come face to face with the Living God as Jesus did until Judgment Day. Until that day, only the believer can begin to understand and appreciate God’s providence. Only the believer can be troubled within God’s way. Only he can use his troubled heart to assess himself in terms of knowledge, hope, and trust. Only he can trust God’s way for God’s glory (John 14:1, 27).
We don’t want to miss the significance for everyday living. Living by feelings, good ones or bad ones, would have diverted Jesus from pleasing His Father. He had them, but He relied on biblical truth and its application via the fullness of the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 11:1-5). Jesus used God’s providence for what it was intended: to please His Father thereby paving the way for believers to look toward the cross throughout his life (1 John 3:1-3). The application of biblical truth always trumps using your feelings as your guide. By definition, Jesus was not depressed.
1. In a feeling-oriented culture, good feelings are exalted and even sought. Bad feelings are to be removed. What are some of the methods of getting good feelings and removing bad ones?
2. How does Scripture picture man as a whole person?
3. How are feelings related to thoughts, desires, and actions?
4. Sensual living is not necessarily sexual living. God designed man to take things in by the senses. However the believer relies on a proper grid – biblical truth – to interpret what he sees ears, sees, touches, and tastes. What is your interpretative grid fir what you bring in by your senses?
Was Jesus Depressed: Part IX
I am Thirsty.
It is Finished!
Depression is an ongoing topic in almost every aspect of the culture. Pundits say it is a physical problem in its origination and in its course. It is considered a brain problem and medical science has gone to varying lengths to convince others. They also speak of the symptoms of depression (not signs which are objective and verifiable but symptoms which focus on the subjective). People with depression as a label speak of their depression. It considered personal – they own it. Some biblical counselors debate on the use of medications and the proper use of the Bible.
Certainly bad feelings are felt in the body and can become the overriding preoccupation of a person and the medical personnel taking care of the person. We live in a fallen world, our bodies are under the curse, and everyone is a sinner (Romans 5:12-14; 2 Corinthians 4:16-18). Therefore, bad feelings are unavoidable. It is important to remember that the person diagnosed with depression has at least two major concerns: bad feelings and relief. The cause of the feelings and the response to them are of no or only a minor concern.
Pundits tend to talk about depression rather than the person and they emphasize a “just is” aspect of life and depression and they focus on “triggers” and “stressors.” Actually “triggers” and stressors” are God’s providential control in the person’s life. A response to them is a response to God and His control. Two predominant themes occur in the literature: something outside of a person “causes” a person to feel a certain way. When the feeling is “bad” the person is diagnosed as having depression. I repeat the term refers to feelings and the person’s response to them, but the latter is often unrecognized. A second theme addresses origin. It is assumed that bad feelings arise spontaneously. The idea seems to be that bad feelings just are. In the first instance, there seems to be no thought as to how something outside of a person can “cause” bad feelings. The person is considered a victim to that which is outside of him and even to his own body. In the second instance, a patterned response is not considered to be important. Moreover, a person’s self-identity, his worldview, and his reference to God and himself are not given serious consideration in the genesis or perpetuation of bad feelings. It is vital in helping people who have been labeled with depression to understand that bad feelings have a source and that they are expressions of the person’s thoughts and desires.
Consider two of Jesus’ sayings that were recorded in John’s gospel: I am thirsty and It is finished (John 19:28, 30). These sayings occurred at the end of Jesus’ life and are a continuation of His singular motivation for being on earth: He came to earth to please His Father which was through covenantal faithfulness which moved Him to the cross and beyond. Certainly what He experienced as the God-man was mind-boggling. Much has been written regarding the physical distresses and tribulations of Christ’s crucifixion. As I have written, Jesus was a whole person throughout His life: inner (heart) and outer man (body). In the Garden, we only know what Jesus desired and thought based on the four gospel accounts. How was it possible for Jesus to keep focused? A logical question follows: focused on what? Was He simply enduring the cross in order to get it “over with?” Was He hanging on and accepting His “plight”? Was He simply coping, trying to get by? What motivated Him? What was happening to His “chemical neurotransmitters” and other neuropeptides and molecules in His body? What would an MRI of His brain have shown at varying periods of His life especially at Lazarus’ grave, in the Garden, and on the cross? The Bible does not tell us. We don’t need to know! We have enough information to minister to God’s people. Was Jesus depressed? If not, why not? Please remember, terms must be defined. Which standard will you use when you speak of depression?
Consider the words of Jesus recorded in John 19:28: Later, knowing that all was now completed and so that the Scripture might be fulfilled, Jesus said, I am thirsty. Notice the order of words. Jesus knew something. Jesus’ troubled heart was anchored to truth – about Him, God, and His mission. Therefore, feelings were subject to God’s thoughts and God’s desires. The concept of completion (the word in verse 28 and finished in verse 30) played a major role in Jesus’ thoughts and desires. He ran the race as the Winner and never as a loser. Jesus went to the cross as the Victor and He died the Victor. Jesus was always on schedule – God’s and His. He kept on track.
What did Jesus know? How did Jesus know “it” was finished, complete, and perfected? What was the “it” that was complete? The questions and the answers are critical. Scripture does not tell us how Jesus knew it was complete. Yet loud and clear John proclaims to the world that Jesus knew it was finished. This knowledge ushered in Jesus’ words: I am thirsty. Notice the reason given in Scripture for these words: that Scripture would be fulfilled or accomplished (Psalms 22:15; 69:21). The Scriptures spoke about and explained Christ as Christ explained the Father (Luke 24:25-27; John 1:18). These sayings by Jesus on the cross were a most fitting declaration and the first installment of the Triune God’s design, love, justice, and mercy. Jesus Christ, the Living Water and Life, experienced physical thirst and physical death so that His people would never go thirsty spiritually and would live forever with the Triune God. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit would follow at Pentecost. He would indwell the Church and individual believers so they each would prove covenantally faithful to the honor and praise of the Triune God.
I hope you are like me in the sense that you are utterly amazed. Christ’s words expressed His profound respect for Scripture and the God of Scripture at a time when a person would be at the height of self-focus. As a result the person would be troubled within as a testimony to self-focus. As a result the person would continue to give in to feelings and give up on God and his own responsibilities which is a biblical-determined working definition of depression. Jesus was concerned with running the race well and completing the course looking forward to the “joyful reunion” of the fullness of the Trinity (Hebrews 12:1-3). He experienced bad feelings but filtered them through something larger than Himself. He has given believers a model for counseling ourselves!
1. Consider Matthew 27:45-50; Mark 15:33-37; Luke 23:44-46; John 19:28-30: what strikes you?
2. Jesus conducted Himself and taught with authority: how is His authority in evidence in these verses?
3. Contrast your respect for Scripture and the God of Scripture with the view that Jesus articulated on the cross? What do you learn and need to change about yourself?
4. What do learn about feelings: their origin and your response to them?
Was Jesus Depressed: Part X
In this series of blogs I have contrasted the cultures’ view of a troubled heart and God’s view by referring to biblical truth. Sadly, too often, believers follow the culture. They begin with the culture’s definition and based on the culture’s wisdom (or lack of it) move to the person. Culture has formulated a definition of certain feeling states without a proper understanding of the person’s thinking and wanting. They fail to evaluate a person’s patterned thinking and wanting. Culture has an incorrect view of God’s control. The person is labeled and the label then wags the dog so to speak. Medications and talk therapy are recommended to people who have diagnosed with various feeling states including depression.
I think all people, believers and unbelievers, should find it interesting that talk therapy in its many forms is reported to make a person feel better. Talk therapy attempts to change a person’s thinking about himself and others. Secular talk therapy has no proper vertical reference. Its professed goal is making a person feel better by changing his thoughts thereby changing his response to what is outside of him. The secular world gives no credence or credit to God’s creative design of man and has no concept that the Bible teaches the link between thinking, wanting, doing, and feelings. The secular, medicalized, psychologized approach to man, his problems, and solutions is stealing from God and is a sin against the third commandment much like attributing the weather to Mother Nature. By God’s design, man is God’s image bearer and as such thinks, desires, and acts in his whole person – inner and outer man. Therefore as a duplex being, thoughts, desires/wants, actions, and feelings are linked. Only biblical truth properly addresses this linkage.
Jesus experienced the reality of living in fallen world with the constant temptation of pleasing self. Jesus was a real person. The fact that He was the God-man – two natures, one person – only intensified the pressure to think, desire, and act as the ultimate God-pleaser. Not even one thought, desire, or action (or inaction) could be self-focused. If that happened Jesus would have failed as the perfect Messiah. His ministry as the Messiah would have failed. God would have been proven a liar, a cheat, and a loser. This was Satan’s deign for God as he sought to discredit God through Job’s failure. Satan claimed that Job would curse God if enough pressure was placed on him (Job 1:9-11; 2:4-5).
As described in the book of Job, Satan is a created being on a tether. He is God’s agent. Satan wanted to show the world that God was not who He claimed to be. Rather, God used Satan as His minion and to show the utter fallacy and sinfulness of satanic logic. Job came to acknowledge and relish the fact that God is God and he is not. He relished the fact that he had a relationship with God and God with him which enabled to trust God (Job 38-42).
Initially, Job relished his relationship with God. Then Job lost his land, his possessions, his family, and his health. He was burdened and his heart was troubled. Initially Job’s heart was troubled correctly (Job 1:22; 2:10). As the book unfolds, Job is burdened by his friends and their unwise, half-truth, false counsel in the context of God’s providence. For Job, the tunnel seemed so long without end or light, the mountain so high, and the hole so deep. Job experienced bad feelings. The three friends made demands on Job. His troubled heart was now based on feelings and the I wants. I am sure he would be labeled as being depressed. He demanded the friends to cease and desist and for God to explain Himself. In the end Job’s troubled heart became a joyous one when God confronted him. God gave him a piece of Him (Psalm 34:8). Job repented. He saw the light as he had been in the Light (Psalm 36:9). He knew in a different way that he was not God and that he no right to demand an accounting from God. He was overwhelming satisfied!
You could almost hear Jesus speaking to Job: your heart is troubled. Take yourself out of the meat grinder. Here is how: trust God and trust Me (This is my paraphrase of John 14:1). Job did just that after he came face to face with the living God and he did not die. God gave Job a piece of Himself and Job rejoiced!
1. Give examples of occasions when your heart is/was troubled.
2. Evaluate your responses in terms of content, focus, and motivation.
3. How would you apply John 14:1, 27 to each occasion?
Was Jesus Depressed: Part XII
By way of contrast, compare Jesus’ words on the cross as recorded in John 19:28, 30 and His motivation with that of Samson as recorded in the book of Judges. Samson, God’s man at the time, was the impetuous and sensual one living by his feelings for the “right now” (Judges 14:1-3, 7; 14:18-20; 15:18; 16:1, 4). Samson often had a troubled heart which originated from a self-focus, from a lack of biblical truth, and from a motivation to get. In that sense he modeled the first Adam and Israel who did what was right in their own eyes (Genesis 3; Judges17:6; 21:25). Chapter 15 of the book of Judges records the mighty work that Samson had done for God. He slew 1000 men, enemies of God, with the jawbone of a donkey: Because he was thirsty he cried out to the Lord: you have given your servant great victory. Must I now die to thirst and fall into the hands of the uncircumcised (Judges 15:18). Again, Samson had inner-man angst. He was not a happy camper. He felt deprived. He viewed everything, even God, through a need lattice characterized by I want and I deserve. In that sense he was no different than Esau (Genesis 25:29-34). Unlike Esau, he cried out to God to give. His bad feelings demanded it! He may not have been diagnosed with depression, but he would have received some type of label and given various treatment regimens.
Samson was less interested in pleasing God than in having God please him. In the end, Samson called on God we hope from a properly troubled heart. He slew more of God’s enemies in his death than he did in his life (Judges 17:28-30). In this final action, he was a type of Christ. Jesus is the greater Samson, the true Judge. He did not seek revenge but justice. Jesus was not led by His senses and feelings apart from biblical truth as were Job initially, Samson, and Esau (Genesis 25:29-34). Jesus knew Himself – His true origin, identity, purpose, and destiny. The situation did not dictate to Jesus or hold Him captive. He had practiced covenantal faithfulness throughout His life on earth. He relied on His relationship with the Father to think and desire rightly and to respond biblically. His heart was troubled, but it was troubled in a God-honoring way (see 1 Thessalonians 4:13: Paul called the Thessalonian congregation and all believers to grieve God’s way.
The answer to a trouble heart is to trust God as we saw in John 14:1, 27). A believer’s troubled heart must originate in the same way as Jesus’ did. The basic ingredients for a troubled heart God’s way include: the proper content, the proper focus, the proper motivation, and the proper duration. Jesus’ troubled heart (and His non-troubled heart as well) was tethered to His knowledge of God and Himself. He knew God was real. He knew that God was ever-present (relational), powerful, purposeful, made promises, had a plan, and provided for Him and His people. These 6 “Ps” were never far-removed from Jesus. This knowledge helped Jesus to focus on reality – the Triune God’s unwavering Intratrinitarian relationship and the purpose for Himself and the whole creation. Jesus had “high theology!” Jesus also had a proper focus: He focused on completing the work of the Father (John 4:31-34).
Jesus was myopic so to speak or perhaps you can say He had telescoped vision. His singular focus on the Triune’s God design established in eternity past helped Him avoid unwanted and misleading information especially that which comes from feelings. Lastly, Jesus had one motivation to reach His God-given and agreed upon goal: to please the Father by doing His will and completing the work established in eternity past. Again, John in his gospel belabors this point (John 4:31-34; 5:19-30; 6:38; 8:26; 9:4; 10:37-38; 12:49-50; 14:31; 15:10; 17:4).
A troubled heart is a given and part of living in sin-cursed world with a decaying body, sinning, and being sinned against (Romans 5:12-14; 2 Corinthians 4:16-18). The believer is still affected by the effect of sin on his thinking and wanting (Romans 1:18-23; Ephesians 4:17-19). Fallen man still thinks and reasons, but his view of God, man, and self is sinful and selfish. Fallen man does not understand and does not accept God as God and man as man. Rather, he is a God-want-to-be. Self comes first, second, and third. The believer has been removed Satan’s family and kingdom but still has remaining sinfulness in the whole person (Ephesians 2:1-3, 4-6; Colossians 1:13-14). Therefore, the believer can and will learn how to trust and enjoy when he has a troubled heart.
One key for godly living is not the absence of a troubled heart, but the presence of a heart that is troubled for the proper reasons and is expressed in the proper manner. Such is true of all the so-called feelings states. Therefore Jesus told His apostles to stop continuing with troubled hearts (John 14:1, 27). It was unbecoming to them. They had work to do and a ministry to perform. His solution was trust. It is a simple five-lettered word that is often overused. Every person is a truster. The apostles were the wrong kind. They were to replace trust of self with trust in God and Christ (John 14:1-2). They were to replace their efforts to control by relying on God’s control and acting accordingly.
Jesus was not depressed. He did not give in to feelings and give up on pleasing God. Believers are called to prove covenantally faithful but not for redemption sake. Christ has purchased redemption for His people. His people are to prove covenantally faithful as a means of imitating Christ. This process is called progressive sanctification – growth in Christlikeness. This activity is what the believer was saved and graced to do (Colossians 3:1-3; 1 John 3:1-3).
1. Consider Jesus’ troubled heart: it was not pictured as long-lasting. What were the reasons?
2. Consider the content of Jesus’ troubled heart, His focus, and His motivation. What were they and how was it possible for Him to continue to move to the cross?
3. What was the beyond the cross and what role did that play in Jesus counseling Himself?