Mercy in Disguise

heaven-jesus-father-holy-spiritAs a kid I always loved singing the song “When We All Get to Heaven.” Even as a six-year-old I looked forward to the day when Heaven was a present reality. I looked forward to spending eternity with family, friends, and most of all with Jesus. I can still remember the joy that would fill my little heart every time we sang the words, “When we all get to Heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be! When we all see Jesus, we’ll sing and shout the victory.”

After fifty-one years of experience in living, I have a whole new appreciation for Heaven. I long to be with Jesus, be like Him, and spend eternity worshipping Him with a pure and holy heart. I look forward to all traces of my sinful nature being removed so that I never again have to confess my sin and repent of my rebellion. I long for the day when this incarceration in human flesh will end, and I shall awake in the beautiful, glorious, radiant presence of Almighty God. That will truly be a day of singing and shouting the final victory!

I also look forward to the day when there will be no more suffering. Personally, I do not like to suffer, nor do I like watching others try desperately to make it through trying times. There are many verses in the Bible that are meant to comfort us during the testing of our soul. One such verse is 1 Peter 5.10, “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” Did you catch that? “After you have suffered for a little while…” That is the key phrase that gives most of us trouble. Our  idea of “a little while” and God’s never seems to match. I think “a little while” means five seconds or less; whereas, God’s idea is usually quite a bit longer. The distance between these two ideas have caused many to turn away from God and venture out in life on their own.

As a Christian, we are to have a different outlook on suffering. Is it easy? No! Nevertheless, we should allow suffering to create in us a greater desire for the day when we finally see Jesus. Not too long ago on my way to church I heard the ending of a song that caught my attention. It is by Laura Story entitled “Blessings.” Here are the closing words, “What if my greatest disappointments or the aching of this life is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy.  What if trials of this life—The rain, the storms, the hardest nights—Are your mercies in disguise.” What a beautiful view of suffering.

The thirst that suffering creates in our heart is a longing to get to Heaven and spend eternity with Jesus. Suffering in this life should drive our hearts to long for the day when there will be no more difficulty, discomfort, distress, disappointment, discouragement, depression, debt, divorce, disease, or death. Suffering in the life of a Christian should produce a deep longing to leave this place we are visiting and go to our eternal home in Heaven. It is there we will live in the perfect peace of our Savior, our Lord, and our God!

I hope you enjoy “Blessings” by Laura Story.

Is It Right for Christians to Take Anti-Depressants?

If you struggle with depression and wonder “Is It Right for Christians to Take Anti-Depressants” then this article by Dr. Russell Moore should be a source of encouragement for you.

Dr. Moore writes:

Dear Dr. Moore,

Not long ago, my doctor prescribed me as having a (relatively) mild form of depression. He put me on an anti-depressant. I hate the side effects, and I don’t like the way it makes me feel, but maybe I’ll get used to it. My biggest struggle is whether it is right to be on these at all. If I have the Holy Spirit, why do I need this drug? Is it ethical for a Christian to take drugs like this?

Dazed and Confused

Dear Dazed,

First of all, you are right to seek medical help. Depression is not just unpleasant; it can be debilitating and dangerous, and it signals that something has gone wrong somewhere. Here are some things to think about.

God created us as whole persons, with body and psyche together. The body affects the psyche. Going without food, for example, or sleep will change the way one thinks or feels dramatically. And the psyche affects the body. We don’t “have” bodies or “have” psyches. We are psychosomatic whole persons, made in the image of God.

It makes sense to me that biological and physiological factors often play a role in persons not seeing reality correctly. Some drugs can “fix” something that’s gone wrong. For example, a malfunctioning thyroid can be corrected by synthetic drugs that prompt the body to do what it’s designed to do. Most of the anti-depressants you see advertised on television don’t “fix” something, as much as they alleviate symptoms. They rework levels of serotonin or dopamine reception, for instance, so that a person doesn’t experience the same levels of sadness or dullness or hopelessness.

Often, even when depression or anxiety is rooted in non-physiological reasons, the person is so far gone that medication is necessary to start working on the root issues. But, remember, for most people, there is no drug that will bring about psychic flourishing. What the drug is meant to do is to “numb” the person to the pain of depression and anxiety.

Numbing, as part of an overall plan, can be a good thing. When I have a toothache, I want my dentist to give me an anesthetic so that I don’t feel that throbbing anymore. Before my tooth can be fixed, someone must “shut down” the agony I’m in, temporarily. But a dentist who simply “treats” my infected tooth with an anesthetic isn’t helping me. Ultimately, the tooth must be fixed.

It could be that your depression and anxiety is caused by something physiological. If so, continue your medical treatment and have that looked at. But it could be that there’s a reason for the sadness or the anxiety. Maybe you’ve recently lost a spouse or a job or a friend. If so, grieve over that loss. Maybe you’re anxious about a guilty conscience or about an uncertain future. Don’t just medicalize that anxiety. Rehearse the gospel you’ve embraced, and pray, alone and with others, and seek the kind of counsel that can bring about the necessary life-change to cope with whatever seems so hopeless right now.

Whether your depression is ultimately chemical or circumstantial, it is also important, I think, to start with a realistic picture of what “normal” is, what your end goal should look like. I know I have trouble seeing this clearly sometimes.

The “normal” human life isn’t what is marketed to us by the pharmaceutical industry or by the lives we see projected on movie screens, or, frankly, by a lot of Christian sermons and praise songs. The normal human life is the life of Jesus of Nazareth, who sums up in himself everything it means to be human (Eph. 1:10). And the life of Christ presented to us in the Gospels is a life of joy, of fellowship, of celebration, but also of loneliness, of profound sadness, of lament, of grief, of anger, of suffering, all without sin.

As the Holy Spirit conforms us to the image of Christ, we don’t become giddy, or, much less, emotionally vacant. Instead, the Bible tells us we “groan” along with the persecuted creation around us (Rom. 8:23). We cry out with Jesus himself, experiencing with him often the agony of Gethsemane (Gal. 4:6; Mk. 14:36). And, paradoxically, along the way, we join Jesus in joy and peace (Gal. 5:22). A human emotional life is complicated, and a regenerated human emotional life is complicated too.

If your doctors are trying to get you to this kind of emotional holism, good. But if what you’re expecting is a kind of all-the-time emotional tranquility, you just might be passing up something that is part of the human condition itself.

There are some Christians who believe any psychiatric drug is a spiritual rejection of the Bible’s authority. I’m not one of them. But there are other Christians who seem to think, with the culture around us, that everything is material and can be solved by material means. I don’t think that’s right either.

Keep working with your doctors to treat your depression. If you’re not happy with the treatment or with the side-effects, seek some additional medical opinion, and listen for wisdom in a multitude of counselors. As you note in your question, sometimes the side-effects of these drugs are awful. Communicate with your doctor, and read up to ask the right kinds of questions.

But spend time too with those who know you and love you, and ask if there’s more behind this than simply serotonin reception. God doesn’t want you to be simply, in the words of one observer of the current pharmacological utopianism, “comfortably numb.” He wants you to be whole.

Home Free!

As a pastor I have walked along side many who have been diagnosed with some deadly disease. I have seen some healed by the hand of God, some who were healed through various types of treatment, and others who received the ultimate healing through death. It has been humbling to watch as they boldly face their terrible ordeal with the peace of knowing comfort can only be found in God.

I have never faced anything which compares to that type of suffering; however, when faced with a sorrowful burden I have always remembered a couple of verses:

  • “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8.18).
  • “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4.17).
  • “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12.9).
  • “And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away'” (Revelation 21.3-4).

As I go through difficult times I try to keep things in perspective. This life is all I know, but it isn’t all I will know. There will come a day when all this will pass away and I will stand before my Savior and Lord. All the pains, sorrows, disappointments, and fears will be a thing of the past, and I will be home free.

Nerve Blocks Don’t Last Forever!

Back in 2003, I had a terrible accident which resulted in, what I thought was simply, a broken leg. I will never forget the look on the doctor’s face when he informed me, “Mr. Pittenger, you have had a rather unfortunate accident. You have a Tibial Plateau Fracture which will require major surgery. Following the surgery you will not be able to put any weight on your leg for thirteen weeks and will spend up to six months in physical therapy learning to use your leg again.” As he continued to explain the procedure to literally screw my leg back together, I sat there in a daze. How was I going to work? How would I take care of Continue reading