The gospel is a message of ultimate humility. In this eternal story God enters the world that he created to suffer at the hands of those he created in order that they might be restored. Of all indicators it is the greatest sign that God cares little for position, and much for personhood. The Latin root of both humanity and humility – Ground (humus) is a reminder that our origins are found in God’s creativity and that remembering this truth is our greatest virtue. As it says in Micah 6:8 “And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
In verse 23 & 24 of John 12, Jesus acknowledges that the time of ultimate humility is drawing near. The uncreated one is to enter the ground of creation; one seed dying to produce many seeds: One death for many lives. In all of the years I have been working in the arena of mental and emotional health I have not found a better illustration than this single seed, for our churches, ourselves and for those we care for. Evidence again that the gospel is the ultimate message of restoration.
The World Health Organization recently started that 350 million people are suffering with depression world-wide today. 1:6 are experiencing emotional distress at this moment. Our churches are filled with people who are suffering from mental or emotional health issues, even our leaders: 22% of clergy time off annually is caused by depressive illness.
I want to plant a seed that I hope will release many new seeds of life in Jesus name. It has everything to do with our humanity and our humility but ultimately it is only of value because of the work of Christ on the Cross. I believe that the church is the hope for the nations. In Matthew 10:8 Jesus sends his disciples out into the world with this instruction: “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.” Over the years of supporting Christians ashamed of their mental health issues I have come to believe that we have a special responsibility to ‘cleanse the leprosy of stigma’ surrounding mental health and free the church to fully express the love and healing of God in the same way that we might towards diabetes, cancer or a common cold. We have excelled in this role in the past and I believe we can do so again in the future.
At the beginning of John 12 in verses 20 & 21 we see that some Greeks had come to the temple for the Passover feast and were requesting a meeting with Jesus. The nature of their request points not to worship but to investigation. No doubt there were wondering who this man Jesus was. Did he have special intellect? The Greeks of the 1st Century, just like us today were heavily influenced by the teachings of Plato who prioritised the mind and not the soul.
Plato envisaged a futuristic government called a ‘Noocracy’ literally meaning ‘Mind Power’. Since the establishment of his teaching in 400BC people have had a particular fear of any illness in the mind. Depression, anxiety, psychotic illness, it all challenged to notion that ‘The mind is king’. Today countless web forums exist to reassure people that they are not, ‘losing their mind’: A hang over from a platonic outlook that saw the mind as the seat of the eternal self in a similar way that we might say you could lose your soul. In fact the elevation of the mind or ‘Nous’ to divine status is the ultimate pride. It is from this confusion between ‘losing your mind’ and ‘losing your soul’ that so much shame has been poured out upon Christians suffering from mental health issues.
It’s no surprise then, that Christian people are particularly ashamed or embarrassed to acknowledge their problems in the church. If we are to see God’s compassion and healing come to his people suffering from mental health problems, we must return to the ground, recognising in humility that we have been created by God. It is his love of our souls, not the strength of our minds that are the reason he came to save us.
In John 12 verse 25 Jesus says, “The man who loves his life will lose it while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternity.” In Matthew 16:25 this is phrased, “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”
I suffer from a mental health problem, it is called GAD, Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I am in good company too, along with Martin Luther, John Bunyan, William Cowper, Mother Teresa and Florence Nightingale. I have had this issue for much of my life and I can tell you that this single piece of Jesus teaching underpins the best psychological treatment for my disorder which is called ‘Exposure and Response Prevention’.
Being willing to lose my life by exposing myself to the situations that I fear the most actually saves my life and allows me to live more freely every day. But this message of loosing and saving is not just restricted to anxiety. From a more psychological perspective depressions almost always occur when someone makes a dramatic life change. The grief process is in fact a depression with a clear purpose. Depressions often get entrenched when a person is unwilling to die to the past and accept the new life that the present holds.
Within the church we must also be willing to die to the masks of our lives. Church is not a fraternity for the happy and healthy, it is a hospital for the sick and injured. If we cannot share our scares to eachother, without fear of prejudice, or spiritual qualification, if we cannot stand with one another through enduring depressions and suicidal seasons than what hope is there for the world.
Our humility in our humanity does not weaken the message of Christ, it strengthens it. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 2:7, “We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” Or in 2 Corinthians 12:9 "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.” Ultimately our witness should be for Christ.
The word Christians means ‘Little Christ’s and whilst we may have simplified the incarnational Jesus to a superhero in the cape of masculinity, his humanity was as full as his divinity. Far from being emotionally monochrome: He shed tears (John 11:35) • He was filled with Joy (Luke 10:21) • He grieved (Luke 23:28) • He was angry (Mark 3:5) • Anguish and sadness came over him (Matt 26:37) • He overflowed with compassion (Luke 7:13) • He showed astonishment and wonder (Luke 7:9) • He felt deep emotional distress (Mark 3:5). Jesus was the most authentic emotional human being ever to walk the earth, he refused to bend to the expectations of the culture and neither should we.
In Galatians 6:2 Paul say’s, “Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.” My prayer is that the seed of our self preservation might die in us and that we might be liberated to reveal our burdens and empower one another in the bearing of them.
Will Van Der Hart, 17/06/2013