The pastors who committed suicide did so because they could not imagine navigating the emotional abyss for another day. They also suffered their afflictions in silence, for fear of being rejected. The one who left the suicide note said that if a pastor tells anyone about his depression, he will lose his ministry. People don’t want to be pastored, taught, or led by a damaged person.
Or do they?
Maybe instead of labeling anxious and depressed people as “damaged goods,” we should learn from the Psalms and Jesus and Paul about the biblical theology of weakness. Maybe we should start learning how to apply that theology in our lives as well as in the lives of those who are called to lead us. Even the Apostle Paul said that it is in weakness that we experience the glory, power, and grace of God. This is how God works.
God is upside-down to our sensibilities.
Better said, we are upside-down to his.
Solidarity With Giants
I once heard someone say that it’s okay to realize that you are crazy and very damaged, because all of the best people are. Suffering has a way of equipping us to be the best expressions of God’s compassion and grace. It has a way of equipping us to love and lead in ways that are helpful and not harmful. A healer who has not been wounded is extremely limited in her/his ability to heal. As noted grief expert, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross has said:
The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.
In Scripture, the “crazy, very damaged,” beautiful people are the ones through whom God did the greatest things. Hannah had bitterness of soul over infertility and a broken domestic situation. Elijah felt so beaten down that he asked God to take his life. Job and Jeremiah cursed the day that they were born. David interrogated his own soul as to why it was so downcast. Even Jesus, the perfectly divine human, lamented that his soul was overwhelmed with sorrow. He wept when his friend died.
Each of these biblical saints was uniquely empowered by God to change the world – not in spite of affliction, but because of and through affliction.
Church history tells a similar story. Charles Spurgeon, the prince of preachers, was depressed during many of his best ministry years. William Cowper, the great hymn writer, had crippling anxiety for most of his adult life. Van Gogh checked in to an insane asylum and created some of his best paintings there. C.S. Lewis lost his wife to cancer and fell apart emotionally. Joni Eareckson Tada became paralyzed as a teenager and, for a time, became deeply depressed. Ann Voskamp has written candidly and often about her own emotional battles and scars. John Perkins was almost beaten to death repeatedly. Tim Keller contracted incurable cancer.
Such afflicted souls are among the instruments whom God has chosen to bring truth, beauty, grace, and hope into the world. The best therapists and counselors have themselves been in therapy and counseling. It’s how God works.
If you experience affliction or melancholy or hurt of any kind, I am sharing this part of my story to remind you that there is no shame in bearing affliction. In fact, our afflictions may be the key to our fruitfulness as carriers of Jesus’ love. What feels like the scent of death to us may end up becoming the scent of life for others as we learn to comfort others in their affliction with the comfort that we, in our affliction, have received from God. I’ll never forget when Rick Warren eulogized his son, Matthew, who from a desperate place took his own life, he said that Matthew was proof positive that broken trees bear the best fruit. It was not in spite of his affliction, but through his affliction, that Matthew’s life brought gospel hope to many strugglers.