Thursday, July 9, 2015

God of the Pit

<< Read the first part of this series
On Tuesday I told you about a blunt, obscure sentence in the Bible's most pessimistic book that speaks to me like nothing else when I'm depressed. It helps somehow that the book Jesus taught from is quite open about the fact that life stinks and seems utterly meaningless sometimes.

'Job's Despair'
by William Blake
Actually, Scripture is full of depressed and depressing people, stories, and poems. The 42nd psalm (psalms are just poems and song-lyrics) is a real downer. In the Book of Job one man's utter depression over losing everything leads into one of the world's great epic poems about why people suffer. Even God shows up at the end but gives no real answer other than, "It's way, way over your head, but ultimately I'm in control."

This could be an intensely frustrating response, but oddly many people find it comforting. Abraham Lincoln for one is known to have read Job through several times during the Civil War and somehow it strengthened him. Sometimes you're way beyond the point where an explanation would help. But knowing you're not alone, that this is in some awful way 'normal,' that God fully acknowledges what you're going through and neither condemns it nor tries to pull you out of it with platitudes and happy-talk -- you may not be beyond that.

The Depressed God

One of the most mind-blowing things about the Christian Movement, if we can disengage our minds from two millennia of fairy tales and idealized pictures that have built up around it, is that we are worshiping a man who was tortured to death. The records tell us that Jesus did it willingly, the way you might willingly die to save your child. But they also tell us that he did not do it easily.

Mark's rough-n-ready, just-the-facts-ma'am gospel says that in the hours before his arrest he, "became very troubled and distressed. He said to [Peter, James, and John] “My soul is deeply grieved, even to the point of death." Then he proceeded to beg God not to make him do the thing preachers often say was the very reason Jesus was born -- die. The Saviour of the World did not walk evenly and impassibly to his cross. He was depressed and didn't really want to go. (What he did want to do right down to the end was to obey God, but that's another topic for another post).


The thing about the Christian Movement, the thing about the Holy Scriptures, the thing about Jesus of Nazareth that gives me a ledge to hang onto when I'm deep down in "the hole," is their utter realism. They don't deny or demean anything I'm going through, they don't tell me to cheer up or grow up.

When I cry out, "'Futile! Futile! Absolutely futile! Everything is futile!'" (Ecclesiastes 1.2) I say it -- even when it seems for all the world that I'm alone -- to a God who's yelled something similar,  and can look me straight in the face and say, "Yeah, I know. I wrote that."

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