Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Helplessness


I don't know the statistics, but I'd guess that almost everyone in this country has dealt with depression. Whether dealing with it firsthand or through a family member, friend, or colleague, depression affects or has affected everyone I know. Perhaps there's a pocket of joyful, chemically balanced people living in a enclave I haven't heard of (directions, please!), but everyone else has to face the reality of someone who just can't make him or herself better and doesn't even want to try.

Why don't you look for a job? Why don't you start exercising again? Why don't you stop drinking so much? Why don't you take a vacation? Why don't you go back to school? Why don't you go see a therapist? Why don't you talk about it?

Have you ever tried to encourage someone with depression? Have you ever wanted to pull your hair out because your clear, sensible, relatively easy advice repeatedly falls on deaf ears?

In Jerusalem, near the Sheep Gate, there was a pool. And legend had it that on occasion an angel would descend and stir up the water, giving it healing powers. Whoever entered the pool of water first when the water was agitated would be healed. Naturally, a collection of sick, lame, and otherwise infirm individuals gathered around the pool, lying and waiting for their chance.

John tells us that Jesus walked up to a man who had been lying there, waiting for thirty-eight years. (The numbers are symbolic, but suffice it to say that he'd been there for a long time.) Jesus looks at the man and says, "Do you want to be made well?" And the man answered, "Sir, I have no one to put me in the pool." And Jesus tore his hair out and said to the man, "Didn't you hear what I said? I asked if you wanted to be made well. You're just focused on your problems. Why don't you start looking for a solution? Why don't you do something about it?"

No, of course, Jesus didn't say that. He looked at the man and gave him the healing he needed but didn't even have the strength to ask for. "Stand up, take your mat, and walk." Sometimes we need the healing we can't ask for. Sometimes we need salvation when we can't even look for it.

I've written about this before, and I'm borrowing largely from Jeffrey John, who wrote The Meaning in the Miracles. In that book, he describes this encounter as one of Jesus meeting someone who suffers from depression or addiction or another imprisoning, volition-robbing condition. And the salvation Jesus offers, he notes, doesn't even depend on the man's ability or willingness to ask for it. Jesus just steps in and offers the man what he's been sick too long to see--salvation.

We are depressed. Some of us are depressed in a clinical, diagnosable way. But I mean spiritual depression. The human condition limits our ability even to ask for help. We're silently slipping under the surface of the water and don't even know to cry out for help until it's too late. Jesus tossing us a life preserver isn't good enough. We don't have the strength or wherewithal to grab it. We need someone to reach down and lift us up, and that is the story of Jesus. That is the incarnation. That is the God who comes among us and unites our brokenness to himself. That is the one who died and rose again so that all our effort and even our inability to exert any effort would be redeemed.

I know John 14 makes more sense this week, but this is our only chance in three years to preach on John 5:1-9. Don't miss it. The world needs to hear that we are being saved even from our helplessness.

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