The Biblical response to depression

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(Today’s post makes use of a youtube video: I’ve transcribed what is said in the video below each clip in case you can’t view it for some reason.)

Today we’re looking at something that, technically, isn’t IBLP teaching, but still sheds a lot of light on the IBLP way of thinking. This summer, while visiting my wife’s family, I heard a sermon by David Gibbs, Jr. Some of you might be familiar with his name: Gibbs is a frequent speaker at IBLP events, and well known in those circles. He is the head of the Christian Law Association, and has represented several evangelical churches in high-profile cases. He recently raised a significant number of eyebrows when he was called into do the internal investigation stemming from accusations of sexual harassment against Bill Gothard.

The sermon we’re looking at today wasn’t actually given at an IBLP event: Gibbs was a featured speaker at a Prayer Advance hosted by Christ Life Ministries (I’m not personally familiar with CLM, so no comment on that ministry).

From the first few minutes alone it becomes obvious why Gibbs is such a popular speaker. He’s good. He’s a great story teller (never mind that it’s a horrible story about child endangerment involving 20 gallons of gasoline and a match).  Then he gets down to the business of preaching. Gibbs’ passage was John 16:33:

“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”

A little bit of background: Jesus is talking to his disciples just before he is arrested and crucified. This is only a short time after the triumphal entry, and now Jesus is suddenly speaking about very dark and horrible things happening. He spoke of a traitor in their midst and death. Surely his disciples were feeling confused and frightened by what he said. At the end of his discourse, Christ offers this encouragement and promise: be of good cheer, I have overcome! I picture Christ, knowing of the coming crucifixion, trying to give his disciples something they could hold onto during those three dark days: no matter how horrible it may seem, remember, Christ has overcome the world!

Gibbs takes this passage of hope and turns it into a legalistic command. Observe:

(Jesus answered them “Do ye now believe? Behold the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own and shall leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because the father is with me. These things”—these dismaying, troublesome things—“I have spoken unto you that in me you might have peace.” Now he makes a pronouncement: “In the world ye shall have tribulation.” But here’s the command: “But be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.)

A command? That’s a really strange way to view this passage. Gibbs doesn’t see a loving Lord encouraging his people: no, Christ is commanding good cheer and happy smiles from his follows, even in the face of tribulation. And yes, happy faces in particular is what Gibbs is talking about here:

(You know, there’s people I know—Christians!—they’re not nice to be around! Boy, the look on their face! Remember, your face is God’s billboard: it’s always talking.)

Ironically, we watched this sermon the Sunday after Robin Williams committed suicide. I had to wonder how it would feel to battle depression, to wonder if life is worth living, to be in a place so dark it seems that light could never reach you, and then hear someone tell you, “God said to be of good cheer. Smile. Your face is God’s billboard.” How heart-wrenching to hear that! There is no understanding here, no offer of love and support for those who are dealing with very real and life consuming problems.

I have to wonder how Gibbs views the application of this command to the disciples. What about John, as he accepted responsibility for Mary at the command of his dying friend who had been beaten beyond recognition? Did he feel good cheer at that moment? And if not, was he sinning?

What about today, when life throws blows you never thought you could take, and you struggle to even raise your head off the pillow in the morning? About a mile from where I sit right now my son lays in a small grave. We lost him last November. He was only with us for 16 weeks: I never had the chance to hold him, or kiss his face, or tell him that his daddy loves him. I miss him a lot, and I cry often.  I was in my classroom by myself yesterday, crying, when a student knocked on the door. I wonder how Gibbs would judge my “billboard” at that moment.

“But wait! But wait!” I’m sure some people would say. “I’m sure he’s not saying you can’t even be sad, or cry. He’s just trying to make his point about being of good cheer. Some people need to hear that.” (FYI: not a straw man there: that’s almost an exact transcript of a conversation about this sermon with some fellow church-goers.)

But here’s the thing: When you’re teaching from God’s Word, your intention doesn’t matter nearly as much as what you actually said. The burden is on Gibbs here: if what he’s saying seems to be that those dealing with depression or real difficult situations are supposed to put up a happy, smiling front (and you’re sinning  if you don’t), then it’s his job to make it clear that he doesn’t  mean that.

It’s also very important to note that Gibbs’ entire sermon is dependent on reading the KJV. The ESV says “take heart.” So does the NIV. That particular Greek word is translated three times in the KJV as “be of good comfort.” It’s worth noting that the every time this Greek word is used in the Bible the speaker is comforting somebody who is afraid. And every single time it is followed by good news. It’s followed by hope. The speaker (Christ in all instances but one) is offering comfort, emotional support and the hope of better things to come.  This is not a command. It is the promise of hope for the future.

What is the Biblical response to grief and depression? “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” is what Paul tells us (Rom. 12:15). Solomon spoke about “a time for everything…a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh,  a time to mourn and a time to dance,     a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them.” The Bible understands depression and heart break because so many of the people who wrote it experienced those things. Jesus wept. David mourned his son in public. Elijah and Jonah wanted to die.  Job cursed the day of his birth.

In times of sorrow, depression and despair, Christ does not command a smile. He instead wraps his arms around you and whispers “This life is difficult. In this world you will have tribulations. But take comfort: take courage! Because I have overcome the world!

What would Gibbs say?

(If you don’t have good cheer, it’s because you chose.)

 

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