Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Verse That Keeps Me Christian (It's probably not the one you think)

Van Gogh's 'Sorrowing old man'
("At Eternity's Gate")
Sometimes you just feel like your whole life has been a waste. At least I do, and I can't imagine that I'm the only one. Sometimes it just impacts you that your life hasn't turned out at all the way you wanted, that all those hopes and dreams have come to nothing. Sometimes it seems that nobody really cares about you, that no one actually loves you, and when you look at yourself you really can't blame them. Sometimes you just reach bottom -- the bottom of bottom, and it really aches.

Now I hasten to point out that generally I'm a happy-go-lucky, easygoing guy. Ask anybody. But I have been right down in that dark hole. Maybe you have too. The worst part is that it's almost impossible to communicate what you're feeling to anyone else. Nobody seems to get it. You're in that hole by yourself.

Everybody, I would think, handles 'the hole' differently, hopefully in healthy ways (e.g., not drinking yourself into a stupor and deciding to live there). Being a follower of Jesus of Nazareth you'd think I should be able to pull out a magical Bible quote to sustain my soul. And I do have a verse... but it's probably not the one you think.

The Depressing Book

Back in the Old Testament there's a rather depressing little book called Ecclesiastes (or sometimes Qoheleth, after the title of the person who wrote it). It's one of those books that theologians -- Jewish and Christian alike -- have wondered what the ancients could have been thinking when they included it in Scripture. But there it is. Ecclesiastes is the kind of book that doesn't encourage you with the idea that one day you'll go to Heaven; it says, "Who knows?"

That's the book that helps me when I'm in the hole.  My 'magic Bible verse' is in the 2nd chapter:
This made me hate life. It was depressing to think that everything in this life is useless, like trying to catch the wind.
Ecclesiastes 2.17, (ERB).

Not exactly the 23rd Psalm. But this guy gets it, at least for me.  This is God saying, "Welcome to the hole. Yes, I even know about this place."

In my life I have found that what helps me in the depths is not all the encouragement in the Bible, but God's frank acknowledgement and full comprehension of the fact that at that point I hate life and it looks useless.

I have often thought that without a book as 'real' as Ecclesiastes in the Bible, I probably wouldn't trust it as much as I do. The Christian God isn't a fluffy bunny God who doesn't want to hear about certain parts of our little human lives because he'd rather ignore the hard stuff. He's not a Disneyland God; he's a battlefield God, a bad-side-of-town God.

Somehow this sharp little verse sums that up for me.

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