Anxiety & Depression (introduction to a research paper)

  
 
What is depression like? Well, it’s kind of like drowning. Except you can see everyone else around you breathing…

During my senior year of college I wrote a short summary paper over the topic of “Psychoanalytic Social Theory” and its failure to address our real, deepest need: Christ. I don’t know if you would consider the paper to actually be very short, but I tend to be a little long-winded in the written word; and I feel that this is brief for the immense issue that it attempts to summarize. For me, when I write, it is the greatest avenue of any outlet. As C.S. Lewis once wrote in a letter, “Whenever you are fed up with life, start writing: ink is the great cure for all human ills.”

That, of course, is a bit of an overstatement. However, writing really is a big help for a great many ailments, both in ourselves and in others. It is, perhaps, one of the quintessential ways of making sweet drinks from life’s sour fruit. Writing is readymade for those with some great angst. It’s appropriate for the anxious and the angry. Writing is for the lonely and the depressed and the misunderstood. For the frustrated and the fearful. For the poor in spirit and those who mourn. So, if or when I seem to come across as harsh or critical in my writing, please know that I am “preaching” to myself more than anyone, and these words are an overflow from my heart, from the grace that the Holy Spirit has overwhelmed me with.

This paper was one of the most therapeutic endeavors I have ever embarked upon; as I have suffered from bouts of depression most my life and have been diagnosed by different psychologists as bipolar, as having ADD, OCD, insomnia, and manic-depression… and with a family history of verbal abuse, physical violence, substance abuse, sexual sin, explosive anger, depression, anxiety, and many other dark things. I have had experience with multiple medications and seen numerous psychologists, counselors, psychiatrists, therapists, etc. for help with these issues during the course of my life. I’m pleading with God to end these things in me and not pass them on to my children.

I have not seen any doctors for depression related issues for quite some time now, but I’ve had some really, really dark days in my life. And still do. Never any days where I thought seriously about killing myself, but would have welcomed death as an old friend if it came for me. I’ll just be honest and direct here, depression freakin sucks, anxiety can be so debilitating, and it seems to be so unpredictable and uncontrollable in a lot of ways.

Depression is also normal, it can affect anyone, and is as common an illness as the flu. Flu season seems to take place every year, but it can happen all year around. It can affect anyone, at any time. It doesn’t matter what ethnicity you are. It doesn’t matter where you live. It doesn’t matter what age you are. It doesn’t matter if you’re male or female. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor.

The flu doesn’t discriminate. It’s universal. It can happen to anyone at anytime. Depression plagues us the same way. For me personally, there have been times when everything is seemingly going great, and then the smallest thing, the faintest thought, turns my entire world into a dark spiraling pit of despair.

When I’m really struggling, my mind can quickly turn anything into the worst thing ever. I will feel the unbearable weight crushing down upon me, and only seem to increase the weight of everything by thinking of more stuff to be depressed about. I will take a compliment and see it as a back-handed, sarcastic cut-down. I will begin to worry about things out of my control, past mistakes, “what ifs,” and things that haven’t even happened yet, but they might… I’ve even been “bipolarish” in my depression, by wanting to either be completely alone or surrounded by as many close friends as possible. I will quickly forget the innumerable blessings our Father has so gracious given me, and focus so intensely on every way I’ve ever been wronged that it brings a whole new meaning to the idea of “tunnel vision.”

I hate this about myself…

Can I talk to you for a moment, just as a (possible) fellow struggler with depression? God’s given each of us a certain amount of vitality and energy to walk in joy throughout life. The thing about depression is that it so often becomes selfish and prideful in the way that we focus so much on ourselves; and it takes up an unbelievable amount of energy to do it. So the energy given to you and me to do life well is used up on trying to find a release, to numb the overwhelming pain, or just take our minds off ourselves for a moment.

King Solomon touches on all this in the extremely wise and weighty book of Ecclesiastes: “There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from Him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?” (2:24-25 ESV). “Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot.” (5:18 ESV). “Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do… Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that He has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.” (9:7,9-10 ESV).

Here’s another thing. It is impossible to truly love or receive love if no one knows who you really are, and you don’t have good friends and family walking through this with you. Because if anyone tries to love you, it will be too easy to deflect them and say that they actually love the version of yourself that you are presenting, not you. It’s hard to accept love when you think that if anyone really knew who you were, if they found out all the dark secrets of your past, your current struggles, and what is hiding in your heart, they’d run away from you faster than Usain Bolt… on steroids.

Let me try to explain some of this a little better. In the Gospel of Luke, chapter 1, verse 51, Mary makes this statement during her song of praise, “He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.” What happens to the proud, to the depressed, to the neurotic, is we spend the bulk of our day and the bulk of our mental capacity on “what could be if we would have just…” or “what could be if this would just…” So we go, “Oh, if I would have just taken Greek more seriously, I’d be fluent right now… Oh, if I knew then what I know now, how much better of an athlete, student, employee/employer, parent, friend, etc. would I be… Oh, if I would have just chosen that instead of this… Oh, if that relationship had just made it through that rough patch… Oh, if I would have moved there instead of moving here… Oh, if that opportunity would have come instead of this… If I would have avoided this person and gone with that person… If I would have just been there and not here… If a certain person would just do this or that, or not do this or that…”

So when we operate this way, all our energy is spent on “What if… what if… what if…” to the detriment of our present and maybe even almost to the damnation of our future.

There is no future if you’re stuck in the imagination of your heart. There is no joy when we are focused too much on ourselves. There is no future if all your mental vitality is stuck in “what if” land. You’re perpetually never where you really are, always wishing you were more, always wishing you had more, always looking back to a past to fix your present rather than there being any real energy today to have God do something mighty so that tomorrow you’re all that you hoped He could be in you. We will count the days instead of making the days count. It’s an endless crazy cycle. It happens to many of us. It certainly happens to me. I’m not saying I never struggle with this anymore; in none of this am I saying there’s you and then there’s me… We’re perpetually stuck in this imaginary world of “Oh, if I just would have…”

While addressing this issue, the Apostle Paul goes so far as to tell us in his letter to the churches at Philippi, “… do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus…” – Philippians 4:6-7 (ESV)
So, how about we just do now. Well, today kind of stinks… It’s still the morning and you already want to just go back to bed. I’ve been there. Today is painful and you don’t really like where you are today. Okay, my day hasn’t been perfect either, but that doesn’t get solved by fantasy. Science is not going to develop a time-machine, you’re not going to find a magic lamp in the desert, you’re not going stumble upon a hidden portal somewhere in the depths of the sea… so you’re not going back and changing anything! That’s why the gospel is so important. You’re not going back and changing anything. However, Christ has already, in the cross, redeemed whatever is lurking back there! But you’re not going back. The decisions you have made, you’ve made. The decisions you have not made, you haven’t made. That’s yesterday.

So, please don’t sacrifice today and tomorrow because of fairy tale “what if” land. Please let go of your pride, stop telling yourself that you’re too far gone, your past is just too dark, the pain is too severe, the depression is just too uncontrollable, please let it go and find some close brothers and sisters to walk with through this. And continue to walk with them (Galatians 6:1-5). Press into the Lord and pray for healing and hope like a stubborn, relentless child begging for a toy, and the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8). God loves to answer our prayers and wants us to come to Him for rest, hope, and help. Please, remember there is always hope to be found and enjoyed in Christ Jesus. We find our grace-motivated strength not in our own willpower but rather in the fact that all of our sin (past, present, and future) all of our struggles, all of our shortcomings, and all of our failures were paid for, in full by Jesus Christ in the cross. We are saved to do good works (Ephesians 2:1-10).

“We never keep ourselves to the present moment. We look forward to the future as too slow in coming, as if to hasten its arrival, or we remember the past to hold it up as if it happened too quickly. We are so distracting that we stray into times which are not our own and do not think of the only one that is truly ours.” – Blaise Pascal

Even if you love Jesus Christ though, it is very possible, even probable, that there will be days or seasons where you are like the Psalmist in Psalm 42. There will be dark nights of the soul where your tears and your snot are your only food, where you are in a ball on the floor, and can’t think weekly or monthly, or it would crush you. The thought of having to endure longer than today feels impossible. And I’m talking to those of you who know and love Jesus Christ. If you think that sounds crazy, just read about the lives of Job, Joseph, Moses, David, Isaiah, Hosea, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, Peter, James, Paul, even the life if Jesus Christ, and pretty much every other person mentioned in Scripture.

Are you not aware that we have an empathetic High Priest in the God-man, Jesus Christ? He experienced loss, hunger, temptation, pain, exhaustion, the death of a good friend (Lazarus), the deep betrayal of a close friend (Judas), rejection, being called a liar, His own family thinking that He was crazy and insane, He was spit upon, whipped, beat, taunted, slapped, mocked, stabbed, jeered, and crucified by the very hands of people He created. Jesus actually sustained their life and held their existence together all the while they nailed Him to a cross and cheerfully called out for His suffering.

Our God experienced deeper abandonment, rejection, pain, loss, and devastation than you could ever begin to even try to describe using every bit of existing vocabulary and every waking moment of the rest of your life. When we compare our pain to God on the cross, it is an embarrassment to us to try to belittle Him so. At the very same moment, it is a rich well of comfort to know our God is not immune to or ignorant of our pain and sorrow. He put on flesh and felt our deepest pains at such an astronomically deeper level so that when we approach our Father in our pain He can say to us, “I know… oh sweet child, I know… This world was never meant to be this way… My little child, I love you. Oh how I look forward to the day you will see Me crack open the skies and so fiercely reverse all this pain that your heart will be so on fire with joy it won’t even remember this present pain because gladness will have flooded your heart to such an extreme you will no longer be capable of feeling any sorrow. Until then, please, come to Me and rest. Rest in the work I have already accomplished for you.”

On the cross, Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, He who knew no sin, became sin, so that we might become His righteousness… The Son felt the cosmic weight of sin, rejection, abandonment, and loss of relationship from the Father, whom He had perfectly loved before time and throughout all time up until that point… and He isn’t looking down at you and thinking all the negative thoughts you might be putting in His mouth, rather God is lovingly looking down on your as a son, as a daughter, as a fellow heir who has suffered in pain… pain He came to eradicate someday… and our God is still working in your life to bring about His good work, His great pleasure, His predestined masterpiece.

Oh, that we would stop dwelling on what we do not have today, and think about how much our Father has already mercifully given us. The prophets only had the promise of a future Christ to come… we get to see the world through the lens that He has already come and defeated death for us! Now we await His return to announce the war has been over since before it ever began. Our God ransoms hearts with ferocious passion, zeal, and joy so that you may share in His inheritance… that we may taste that same joy. Don’t settle for less, you have no right to stay trapped in sorrow; for life, and life to the fullest, was purchased for you.

Peter could not be any more clear about all this than he is in his first epistle: “Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 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. To Him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1st Peter 5:5-11 ESV)

The beauty of the gospel of Jesus Christ is not that in trusting Him everything goes just like you want it to go. The beauty of the gospel of Jesus Christ is we get God regardless of circumstance, and He’ll be enough. He will be enough. God is enough. Feelings and circumstances change, but our great God is faithful and He does not fail to keep His promises. When we doubt God and look to ourselves, this takes us back to enslavement.

Tim Keller expressed these truths well when he said, “Christianity does not provide the reason for each and every experience of pain, it provides deep resources for actually facing suffering with hope and courage, rather than bitterness and despair.”

Also, some of us are trying to use God to get something we want this very day. Well, again, that’s not the good news of the gospel, the good news is you get God. Now is God able to accomplish more than we could ever dream, or think, or imagine? Absolutely, He is! Can He restore and heal marriages? Historically, we’ve seen Him do it hundreds of times. Can He lead you out of financial ruin? Absolutely, He can. Can He heal diseases? Yes! But is that why we go to Him? If that’s why we go to Him, then what we want is not Him, but rather Him to do those things. We want the stuff God could potentially give us, but not Him… That’s idolatry, that’s not love. It’s like having a friend you only call when you need a favor, or having a spouse and not loving them at all or having much to do with them other than when they are able to provide some comfort or do something for you.

A.W. Tozer famously said that whatever comes to our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. Your real god and functional savior is what you most effortlessly think about. When you hear someone mention “God,” what do you think of? What image fills your heart and head when you think about who God is? As C.S. Lewis said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” How can we possibly humbly serve the true God of this universe if we’re so busy with and captivated by thoughts about our own self or how “God” can serve us…

I’ve had to learn that truth hard way… that “humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” In the end, I’ve only ever found any lasting hope in one thing, well, a Person actually. You may know this Person too. Through everything I’ve gone through, even when I’ve been at what feels like the end of my rope, Jesus Christ has always been there through every dark day and circumstance, with grace that outshines the darkest depths of darkness this fallen world has ever known. His love will not be silent or overcome by anything.

Also, one more thing, as much as I’d like to think there’s a chance I’ll never have another day bogged down by any level of depression, deep spiritual depression is actually a part of the Christian life. David Martyn Lloyd-Jones began his book, Spiritual Depression, by putting it this way: You cannot isolate the spiritual from the physical for we are body, mind, and spirit. The greatest and the best Christians when they are physically weak are more prone to an attack of spiritual depression than at any other time and there are great illustrations of this in the Scriptures.

A particular sign of hope in knowing you’re not alone in feeling this way and having these struggles comes from the account of Christ’s temptation in Luke 4. Notice Jesus was “led by the Spirit in the desert.” He didn’t do anything to get Himself there. The Holy Spirit led the Lord Himself into the desert for a specific purpose. This should set us on a journey to find out more about how to understand and address our depression. Sometimes we will actually walk away from seasons of deep depression and anxiety with new understanding in life, and be a stronger person because of it.

Lloyd-Jones continues in saying that some of us by our nature, and by the very type of struggles to which we are bent, are more given to this spiritual disease referred to as “spiritual depression” than others. But take heart, we belong to the same company as Jeremiah, Isaiah, as John the Baptist and Paul, Luther and Lewis, and a great many others. That’s a pretty good group of believers to relate to. And while you cannot fully belong to it without being unusually subject to this particular type of trial, it ends well.

“Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.” – Proverbs 12:25

Hope for Today…

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Disappointment is inevitable… Discouragement is a choice. Many times people think if God has called you to something, He’s promising you success. He might be calling you to fail, maybe even fail multiple times, to prepare you for something else through that failure. I find myself at times wrestling with despair and anxiety, even though I should know better.

Despair is for people who know, beyond any doubt, what the future is going to bring. It is for someone who has an unfortunate fate which cannot be altered no matter the effort. Nobody is in that position. So despair is not only a kind of sin, theologically, but also a simple mistake, because nobody actually knows with absolute certainty what their future holds for them. In that sense alone, there is always hope.

While addressing the issue of despair and anxiety, the Apostle Paul goes so far as to tell us in his letter to the churches at Philippi, “… do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus…” – Philippians 4:6-7 (ESV)

So, how about we just do now, just focus on today. Well, what if today kind of stinks… maybe it’s still the morning and you already want to just go back to bed. I’ve been there. Today might be painful and you don’t really like where you are today. Okay, my day hasn’t been perfect either, but that doesn’t get solved by fantasy. Science is not going to develop a time-machine, you’re not going to find a magic lamp in the desert, you’re not going stumble upon a hidden portal somewhere in the depths of the sea… so you’re not going back and changing anything! That’s why the gospel is so important. You’re not going back and changing anything. Christ has already, in the cross, redeemed whatever is back there! But you’re not going back. The decisions you have made, you’ve made. The decisions you have not made, you haven’t made. That’s yesterday.

So, please don’t sacrifice today and tomorrow because of fairy tale “what if” land. Please let go of your pride, stop telling yourself that you’re too far gone, your past is just too dark, the pain is too severe, the depression is just too uncontrollable, please let it go and find some close brothers and sisters to walk with through this. And continue to walk with them (Galatians 6:1-5). Press into the Lord and pray for healing and hope like a stubborn, relentless child begging for a toy, and the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8). God loves to answer our prayers and wants us to come to Him for rest, hope, and help. Please, remember there is always hope to be found and enjoyed in Christ Jesus. We find our grace-motivated strength not in our own willpower but rather in the fact that all of our sin (past, present, and future) all of our struggles, all of our shortcomings, and all of our failures were paid for, in full by Jesus Christ in the cross.

“We never keep ourselves to the present moment. We look forward to the future as too slow in coming, as if to hasten its arrival, or we remember the past to hold it up as if it happened too quickly. We are so distracting that we stray into times which are not our own and do not think of the only one that is truly ours.” – Blaise Pascal

Even if you love Jesus Christ though, it is very possible, even probable, that there will be days or seasons where you are like the Psalmist in Psalm 42. There will be dark nights of the soul where your tears and your snot are your only food, where you are in a ball on the floor, and can’t think weekly or monthly, or it would crush you. The thought of having to endure longer than today feels impossible. And I’m talking to those of you who know and love Jesus Christ. If you think that sounds crazy, just read about the lives of Job, Joseph, Moses, David, Isaiah, Hosea, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, Peter, James, Paul, even the life if Jesus Christ, and pretty much every other person mentioned in Scripture.

Are you not aware that we have an empathetic High Priest in the God-man, Jesus Christ? He experienced loss, hunger, temptation, pain, exhaustion, the death of a good friend (Lazarus), the deep betrayal of a close friend (Judas), rejection, being called a liar, His own family thinking that He was crazy and insane, He was spit upon, whipped, beat, taunted, slapped, mocked, stabbed, jeered, and crucified by the very hands of people He created. Jesus actually sustained their life and held their entire existence together all while they nailed Him to a cross and cheerfully called out for His severe suffering.

Our God experienced deeper abandonment, rejection, pain, loss, and devastation than you could ever begin to even try to describe using every bit of existing vocabulary and every waking moment of the rest of your life. When we compare our pain to God on the cross, it is an embarrassment for us to try to belittle Him so. At the very same moment, it is a rich well of comfort to know that our God is not immune to or ignorant of our pain and sorrow. He put on flesh and felt our deepest pains at such an astronomically deeper level so that when we approach our Father in our pain He can say to us, “I know… oh sweet child, I know… This world was never meant to be this way… I wept over Jerusalem, do you not think I knew of you at that time? My child, I love you. Oh how I look forward to the day you will see Me crack open the skies and so fiercely reverse all this pain that your heart will be so on fire with joy it won’t even remember this present pain because gladness will have flooded your heart to such an extreme you will no longer be capable of feeling any sorrow. How all of heaven longs for that day! The earth groans for it like a mother in labor! Until then, please, come to Me and rest. For now, rest in the work I have already accomplished for you.”

“Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.” – Proverbs 12:25

The secret to contentment, to not falling into despair and losing hope in ‘whatever situation,’ is seeing the Treasure that trumps them all. Jesus Christ is infinite… and that answers our longing for completeness. He is eternal… and that answers our longing for permanence. He is unchangeable… and that answers our longing for stability and security. There is nothing like God. No one and nothing can compare with Him. In Christ, we have hope that will never fail us; we do not have to fall into despair and stay there. Instead, we can come to Him and rest.

Suicide & Social-media

The potential harm of the viral sharing of “Genie, you’re free.”

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On the evening of Monday, August 11, 2014, as fans around the world began to grieve Robin Williams’ tragic and unexpected death, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (better known, as the people behind the Oscars) sent out what may be the iconic social media image of Williams’ death.

More than 322,000 people (and counting) have shared the tweet, which means that, per some analytics sites, as many as 71 million people have probably seen it.

So what’s the big deal? Isn’t it just a sweet, heart-felt sentiment offered in a time of tragedy? Well, no… It actually violates very well-established public health standards for how we should talk about suicide.

Most people who saw and shared the tweet may not have thought for a second that it crossed any kind of line, but even if it doesn’t it comes very close to it. Suicide should never be presented as an option. Because in doing so, no matter how innocently, it is an avenue for potential contagion.

Please, don’t be too quick to roll your eyes, exit this page, and write me off as some kind of paranoid over-reactor. There exists an extremely sad and well-documented phenomenon, known as “copycat suicide,” in which media coverage or publicity around one death encourages other vulnerable people to commit suicide in the same way. Somewhat similar to how we see copycat crimes and mass-murders. Adolescents are most at risk of some form of suicide contagion; in recent years, groups like American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) have also become particularly attentive to the role the Internet plays in romanticizing notorious or high-profile deaths, something it has long asked both the news and entertainment industries to avoid.

Even Robin Williams told The Guardian during an interview back in 2010 that, “Well, you just try and keep it in perspective; you have to remember the best and the worst. In America, they really do mythologize people when they die.”

The high potential for television/online reports, tweets, photos, videos, blogs, articles, and stories to go viral makes it all the more vital that the coverage of a suicide follow the prevention industry safety recommendations (or at the very least a link and contact info for seeking help).

In the hours since @TheAcademy tweet went viral, some people have become aware that it does not, in fact, follow the established safety recommendations. The image shows the starry sky from Disney’s Aladdin, and the written implication that suicide is somehow a liberating option… this presents suicide in much too celebratory a light.

However, now that just about all media is so social, and anyone can go viral, it’s more difficult to educate influencers on those issues. The ASFP has issued a response to the unsafe reporting of this tragic news. (It is unclear who at the Academy actually sent the tweet, and the Academy has yet to respond to any requests for further comment as far as I know.) In whatever the case though, some advice for organizations and individuals talking about Williams’ death online that would be wise to consider: Be sure to acknowledge that suicide has underlying issues – such as depression… and those issues can be addressed.

The focus of any current media attention should of course be on Robin Williams’ incredible life, and all the good he contributed to this world while he was here. We should enjoy the nostalgic remembrance of all the laughter he gave us over the years through his movies and shows. We should become more aware about the crippling pain that is depression and how to help. If you don’t know what is depression like, well you’re not missing out on anything, because it’s kind of like drowning. Except you can see everyone else around you breathing. We should be careful though, not to celebrate or glorify how he died in any way.

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^ Whether you think I’m way off base with all of this or not, maybe this scene would have been a more responsible tribute to the great man, father, and friend we’ve lost.

Or perhaps instead of Aladdin’s words, we can better remember Robin Williams’ last lines (after the credits) as the Genie from the Aladdin movie: “You have been a fabulous audience! Tell you what, you’re the best audience in the whole world. Take care of yourselves! Good night, Alice! Good night, Agrabah! Adios, amigos!”

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If you are in crisis, call: 1-800-273- 8255 (TALK)

We honestly care about you, take a moment and call: 888-667-5947

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Websites:

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Biblical Counseling Suicide Prevention

Christian Suicide Prevention
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Recommended article: Suicide & Mental Health

Feeling a little beat down today?

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How about we just think about now, just right now. Well, today kind of stinks… Maybe it’s still the morning and you already want to just go back to bed. I’ve been there. Today is painful and you don’t really like where you are today. Okay, I’ll admit my day hasn’t been perfect either, but that doesn’t get solved by fantasy. Science is not going to develop a time-machine, you’re not going to find a magic lamp in the desert, you’re not going to find a hidden portal somewhere in the depths of the sea… so you’re not going back and changing anything! That’s why the gospel is so important. You’re not going back and changing anything. Christ has already, in the cross, redeemed whatever is back there! Whatever is going on right now was already known about in God’s perfect divine foreknowledge. But you’re not going back. The decisions you have made, you’ve made. The decisions you have not made, you haven’t made. That’s yesterday. That’s earlier today.

So, please don’t sacrifice today, or even tomorrow because of some fairy tale “what if” land. Please let go of your pride, stop telling yourself that you’re too far gone, your past is just too dark, the pain is too severe, the depression is just too uncontrollable, the anxiety is too crushing, please let it go and find some close brothers and sisters to walk with through whatever you’re going through. And continue to walk with them. Press into the Lord and pray for healing and hope like a stubborn, relentless child begging for a toy, like the persistent a widow (Luke 18:1-8). God loves to answer our prayers and wants us to come to Him for rest, hope, and help. Please, remember there is always hope to be found and enjoyed in Christ Jesus. We find our grace-motivated strength not in our own willpower but rather in the fact that all of our sin (past, present, and future) all of our struggles, all of our shortcomings, and all of our failures were paid for, in full by Jesus Christ in the cross (Colossians 2:13-15).

“We never keep ourselves to the present moment. We look forward to the future as too slow in coming, as if to hasten its arrival, or we remember the past to hold it up as if it happened too quickly. We are so distracting that we stray into times which are not our own and do not think of the only one that is truly ours.” – Blaise Pascal

Jesus never told a living person to depart or get away from Him. Instead, He said we should all be like children, to come to Him like a child (Matthew 18:1-6; John 3:3), and told His disciples to let the children come to Him (Matthew 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17). Jesus never turned away the drunk, poor, prostitute, sick, murderer, liar, thief, tax collector, or any sinner. He went to them, and graciously loved on them. So don’t dwell on false notions of reasons you can’t approach the King. Take strength in your rest in Christ’s already finished work (Matthew 11:28-30; 1st John 5:1-5). He didn’t die so you could worry about your failures, He died willingly to give you life, and life to the full (John 10:10; 11:25-26).

In Jesus Christ, our hearts are marked by grace, grace that exceeds our guilt, abundant grace that is greater than all our sin. Some come all you weary and tired souls, and find the rest that your exhausted heart has been searching for.

The Problem of Evil and Suffering

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This is a brief reflection on how evil and suffering may be, if anything, further evidence for God and our eternal need for His grace. For if you have a God great and transcendent enough to be mad at because He hasn’t stopped evil and suffering in the world, then you have at the very same time a God great and transcendent enough to have good reasons for allowing it to continue that you can’t possibly know or understand. But you can’t really have it both ways. Most of our modern objections to God are based on poor or warped views of “fair play” and justice.

As a Christian, we should realize better than others that most of what we’ve needed for success in life comes from us having to go through some very difficult and painful experiences. We should be able to look back on our lives and see that sometimes that illness, disappointment, or an extremely difficult period we struggled through was not God turning His back on us, but rather an irreplaceable season of personal and spiritual growth. Just as Job’s patience in suffering turned him into an example that has helped hundreds of millions of people, and just as Jesus’ temptations prepared Him for His history-changing and world-saving career, so God’s Spirit leads us into our wilderness for our good.

Advice on suffering from one who has never suffered deeply is always shallow, stale, and unconvincing. Wounded healers are needed, and in Christ, we have a great physician who suffered more than we can imagine. Therefore, it is a detrimental mistake to think that if you abandon your faith in God it would ever somehow make the problem of evil or suffering any easier to handle. However, many people claim that “all the philosophizing in the world does not just let God off the hook.” God, however, more than cripples this complaint by what He has done through Jesus Christ. God deliberately came to earth to “put Himself on the hook” for us and experienced the greatest depths of pain and suffering imaginable on our behalf.

Christianity does not provide the reason for every single experience of pain and suffering, but it does supply us with deep resources for actually facing pain and suffering with hope and courage rather than bitterness and despair. On the cross Christ went beyond even the worst physical, emotional, and spiritual human suffering and experienced cosmic rejection and pain that exceeds ours as infinitely as His knowledge and power exceeds ours. In Christ’s death, He suffered in love, identifying with the abandoned and godforsaken. God takes our misery and suffering so seriously that He was willing to take it upon Himself. We cannot even begin to fathom the depths of His love and there will never be a greater love than that of Jesus Christ (John 15:13).

To suffer for Christ out of love and obedience in the face of pain, rejection, and suffering is the greatest thing we could ever do with our lives (2nd Corinthians 5:11-21; Hebrews 2:10-18). We should, especially as Christians, find joy in our pain and in turn praise Christ through our sorrows. For in the end, the beautiful promise of the Gospel is that even if we lose everything in this world, we still have Christ. We still receive the greatest thing there is in our relationship with Christ, because “for to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). We cannot comprehend the immense value and worth it is just to know Him and be known by Him.

“For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with Him.” – 1st Thessalonians 5:9-10 (ESV)

Also, as Christians we need to know that our suffering is not in vain. Because for those who suffer, the Christian faith provides a resource not just for the teaching of the Cross, but also for the fact of the resurrection as well. Christ promises a future that is not just a consolation for the life that we suffered through or the life that we never had, but a restoration of the life we’ve always wanted. Jesus insisted that His return will be with such power that the very material world will be purged of all decay and brokenness. Christ promises that He will not only heal all things, but all that might-have-been will be.

Our hope is that in Christ and the restoration He is going to bring, everything sad is going to come untrue and it will somehow be greater for having once been broken and lost. So that some day, things that look like broken glass to us here will make sense… as small parts of a beautiful stained glass picture of God’s redemptive work throughout history.

Remove the bait and reveal the hook…

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There is this pervasive and deceptive myth among our culture today that porn doesn’t hurt anyone. Some even go so far as to claim that premarital sex, as long as it is consensual and “safe” is perfectly harmless as well.

I disagree with these claims. I believe porn is a huge problem. It’s a personal problem for many and a cultural problem for all. You may think that you have not been affected negatively by porn, but even if you yourself have never watched it, you have definitely been affected because it’s embedded in the surrounding culture. The staggering size of the pornography industry, its influence upon the media, and the acceleration of technology, paired with the accessibility, anonymity, and affordability of porn all contribute to its increasing impact upon the culture. Not to mention its dark links to the sexual slave trade…

It is an absolute myth, an incredibly false insinuation that porn won’t affect your relationships. The sad truth is that more and more men, and even many women, are viewing porn regularly; it cannot help but shape sexual market dynamics. And studies have shown that the tandem of porn and masturbation actually reduces the value of intercourse because it is much more physiologically satisfying than masturbation alone. Porn becomes easier to view and access, and so must women (and men).

Pornography actually deeply affects you whether you’ve ever viewed it or not, and it is helpful to understand some of its negative effects, whether you are a man or woman, struggling with watching it, outright watching it without a care, have a significant other who watches it, or you’re simply a mom or dad with a son or daughter who may potentially watch it. There is a plethora of research on the detrimental effects of pornography (and I do not think that what follows are necessarily the worst of them, and is certainly not an exhaustive list), but here are seven negative effects of porn upon men and women:

1. Porn contributes to social and psychological problems with men (and women).

It has been noted by extensive research that young men who become addicted to porn, “neglect their schoolwork, spend huge amounts of money they don’t have, become isolated from others, and often suffer depression.” Dr. William Struthers, who has a PhD in biopsychology from the University of Illinois at Chicago, confirms some of these and adds more, finding that men who use porn become controlling, highly introverted, have high anxiety, narcissistic, curious, have low self-esteem, depressed, dissociative, distractible, and discontent. Ironically, while viewing porn creates momentary intensely pleasurable experiences, it ends up leading to several negative lingering psychological experiences.

2. Porn rewrites the male brain (and female brain).

Dr. Struthers elaborates that as men fall deeper into the mental habit of fixating on pornographic images, the exposure to them creates neural pathways. Like a path is created in the woods with each successive hiker, so do the neural paths set the course for the next time an erotic image is viewed. Over time these neural paths become wider as they are repeatedly traveled with each exposure to pornography. They become the automatic pathway through which interactions with woman are routed… They have unknowingly created a neurological circuit that imprisons their ability to see women rightly as created in God’s image. They fail to see women as the beautiful, valuable, soul-having, wonderful coequal partners they are.

In a similar vein regarding porn’s effect upon the brain, an article entitled, “The Porn Myth,” argues that pornography works in the most basic of ways on the brain: “It is Pavlovian.” An orgasm is one of the biggest reinforcers imaginable. If you associate orgasm with your wife, a kiss, a scent, a body, that is what, over time, will turn you on; if you open your focus to an endless stream of ever-more-transgressive images of cybersex slaves, that is what it will take to turn you on. The ubiquity of sexual images does not free eros and enhance it, but rather dilutes it.

Porn honestly becomes like an addictive drug. It gives you a high, but it never actually delivers what you really want, or need. Because of this, statistics show that viewing porn and/or masterbation becomes an addictive behavior, used to cope with times of stress and conflict. It also leads to darker and more perverse things for those who continue to watch porn, as what used to satisfy them has become boring and is no longer stimulating enough.

3. Porn turns sex into nothing more than masturbation with some help.

Sex becomes self-serving. It becomes about your pleasure and not the self-giving, mutually reciprocating intimacy that it was designed for. We become lonely, angry, empty, discontent, and frustrated. Because all frustration is birthed out of unmet expectations; and porn creates unreal, unhealthy, and unattainable expectations on sex.

4. Porn demeans and objectifies women (and men).

This occurs from hard-core to soft-core pornography. In the book ‘Pornified,’ the author quotes the research of one psychologist who has researched pornography at Texas A&M, the research states “Soft-core pornography has a very negative effect on men as well. The problem with soft-core pornography is that it’s voyeurism teaches men to view women as objects rather than to be in relationships with women as human beings.” According to the author, pornography gives men the false impression that sex and pleasure are entirely divorced from relationships. In other words, pornography is inherently self-centered (something a man does by himself, for himself) by using another women as the means to pleasure, as yet another product to consume.

The author goes on to reference one experiment that revealed a rather shocking further effect of porn: “men and women who were exposed to large amounts of pornography were significantly less likely to want daughters than those who had not indulged in viewing porn. Who would want their own little girl to be treated that way?” Also, how does a father who habitually looks at porn relate normally and healthily to his teenage to young-20’s-year-old daughter, or her friends?

Again, it needs to be emphasized, that this is not an effect that only rests upon those who have viewed porn. The massive consumption of porn and the the size of the porn industry has hypersexualized the entire culture. Men and women are born into a pornified culture, and women are the biggest losers of this tragedy. This book continues, “By inundating girls and women with the message that their most worthy attribute is their sexual hotness and crowding out other messages, pop culture is grooming them just like an individual perpetrator would. It is slowly chipping away at their self-esteem, stripping them of a sense of themselves as whole human beings, and providing them with an identity that emphasizes sex and de-emphasizes every other human attribute.”

5. Porn squashes the beauty of a real naked woman (and men too).

“For most of human history, the erotic images have been reflections of, or celebrations of, or substitutes for, real naked women. For the first time in history, the images’ power and allure have supplanted that of real naked women. Today, real naked women are just bad porn.” (Wired for Intimacy) But this unfortunate fact has been widely noted and observed by many others.

Similar to how the philosopher Plato didn’t want the artists in the city, because of how they could distort or aggrandize things to cause people to seek a hyper-reality that doesn’t exist… porn is a cheap, deceptive “art” that robs us of being able to know and appreciate true beauty.

6. Porn has a numbing effect upon reality.

It makes real sex and even the real world boring in comparison. It gives us a distorted sense of a hyper-reality, and false expectations that will never be met in the real world. It particularly anesthetizes the emotional life of a man. Pornography leaves men desensitized to both outrage and to excitement, leading to an overall diminishment of feeling and eventually to dissatisfaction with the emotional tugs of everyday life… Eventually those who watch pornography are left with a confusing mix of super-sized expectations about sex and numbed emotions about women. When a man gets bored with pornography, both his fantasy and real worlds become imbued with indifference. The real world often gets really boring because it can’t compete with hyper-real things that don’t really exist.

7. Porn lies about what it means to be male and female.

The author of “Pornified,” records how porn tells a false story about men and women. In the story of porn, women are “one-dimensional” (they never say ‘no,’ never get pregnant, and can’t wait to have sex with any man and please them in whatever way imaginable, or even unimaginable). On the other hand, the story porn tells about men is that they are “soulless, unfeeling, amoral life-support systems for erect penises who are entitled to use women in any way they want. These men demonstrated zero empathy, respect, or love for the women they have sex with…”

A five second orgasm not triggered directly by your spouse, significant other, or partner, even if it is self-induced, isn’t worth all of this… is it?

There is even a new movie coming out soon, that was written and directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, called “Don Jon.” It’s about a New Jersey guy who is dedicated to his family, friends, and church; he develops unrealistic expectations from watching porn, begins to objectify everything, and becomes very dissatisfied with sex, relationships, and life. So he embarks on a journey to find a more gratifying sex life, and works to find happiness and intimacy with his potential true love.

If fullness of life could be found in sexual stimulation, or if it was just a matter of making babies, the “forget formality and just have sex” approach might temporarily satisfy cravings and cause enough conception. But God had much more in mind with romance than orgasms or even procreation, and so should we. So must we.

When people in the world are expecting less and less of each other in dating, God isn’t. So among those who are single and want to honor God’s design for marriage, we have to work harder in our “not-yet-married” relationships to preserve what marriage ought to picture and provide.

The vision of marriage we see in God’s Word (the beautiful, radical display of God’s infinite, gracious, persevering love for sinners) makes it worth it to date, and date well. The world’s approach by today’s cultural standards can provide fun and sex and children and eventually even some level of commitment, but it cannot lead to the life-giving Jesus, after whom our marriages are to take their cues.

So, what about in your past and/or present dating relationships? If you go somewhere secluded and you’re all alone, do you think through how that scenario might play out beforehand? If you guys end up making out, before you make out, when is the last time you prayed, begged, and pleaded with our Father to work in the relationship to bring about His purpose and His will, for both of you to get more of Jesus through your relationship. Have you sincerely pleaded with Christ to overwhelm you guys with the joy of His Spirit instead of feelings of pleasure from hormones and flesh. I would dare to contend that the most sober mind is the mind overwhelmed in awe and humble adoration of God’s holiness and glory. We should be begging for the weight of His infinite glory to take our breath away, not some momentary assurance, fleeting pleasure, or short-lived gratification from a fellow finite human being.

So please, take the time to think some of this through. Praise God for the amazing technology we have today, and pursue pleasure in holiness. Because our relationships, and marriage are not so much about our happiness, but rather our holiness through sanctification.

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I would also like to recommend these related articles:

The New Narcotic” by Morgan Bennett, JD candidate at Pepperdine University School of Law

Pornography: The New Narcotic” by Desiring God

Sexual Sin in the Ministry” by Harry Schaumburg

I Hate Porn” by Desiring God

Fake Love, Fake War: Why So Many Men Are Addicted to Internet Porn and Video Games” by Russell Moore

Porn, Pride, and Praise: An Interview with Heath Lambert” Authors on the Line

Dear men: PORN IS AN AFFAIR. Just ask my ex-wife. by Donny Pauling

9 Things You Should Know About Pornography & the Brain” by Joe Carter

Happiness, and the pursuit.

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“All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.” – Blaise Pascal (mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer, philosopher, and theologian)

Even the man who takes his own life does so in the pursuit of his own happiness. It is the driving force behind everything you do. So pleasure isn’t the problem, nor is the pursuit of pleasure. So, what do we do with what King Solomon says in the book of Ecclesiastes then? What do we do with Solomon, who pursues pleasure with all his might and then comes back and says, “Well, you can pursue it if you want, but it’s meaningless. It’s all just chasing the wind, trying to hold onto oil with your bare hands.”

Well, C.S. Lewis can help us out a little bit here. One of his most famous quotes is, “I didn’t come to God to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port could do that.” And then there’s also this one, “If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics….”

(Immanuel Kant was a philosopher who basically taught that to the level in which you enjoyed something, you lessened its virtue. So essentially, according to Kant, it is more virtuous for a husband to hate his wife but stay with her because of commitment than it is for him to love his wife and love being with her. So, his idea was pretty much that it is more virtuous for a husband to deplore the very existence of his wife, but because of his vow, stay with her than it is for him to love her with his whole heart. Kant really needed a hug. Anyways, I digress…)

“… I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak.”

So God, according to C.S. Lewis, doesn’t look at us and go, “I can’t believe they’re seeking their own pleasure,” but He looks at us and goes, “They’re not seeking hard enough.” Now, this is the big famous part of this quote, “we are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

When sin entered the world and fractured it, Paul says in Romans 1, that what happened is that you and I exchanged the infinite creator God for His creation. And when that took place, we began to settle for temporary fleeting pleasures rather than what is eternal and soul satisfying.

Paul summarizes what sin does to all of us in 2nd Corinthians 5:14-15, “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that One has died for all, therefore all have died; and He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised.”

Sin turns us in on ourselves. Sin makes us shrink our lives to the narrow confines of our own little self-defined world. Sin causes us to shrink our focus, motivation, and concern to the size of our own wants, needs, and feelings. Sin causes all of us to be way too self-aware and self-important in our own eyes. Sin causes us to be offended most by offenses against us and to be concerned most for what concerns us. Sin causes us to dream selfish dreams and to plan self-oriented plans. Because of sin, we really do love us, and we have a wonderful plan for our own lives.

What all this means is that sin is essentially antisocial. We don’t really have time to love others, in the purest sense of what that means, because we are too busy loving ourselves. What we actually want is for others to love us as much as we love ourselves, and if they were willing to do that, we will all have a wonderful relationship. So we try to co-op our friends and family into willing submission to the plans and purposes of our claustrophobic kingdom of one.

Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo said it this way when he experienced the joy of knowing God, “How sweet all at once it was for me to be rid of those fruitless joys which I had once feared to lose… You drove them from me… You, who are the true, the Sovereign Joy! You drive them from me and took their place, You who are sweeter than all pleasure, though not to flesh and blood, who You outshine all light, yet are hidden deeper than any of the secrets in our heart. You who surpass all honor, though not in the eyes of men who see honor in themselves. Oh Lord, my God, my Light, my Wealth, and my Salvation… You who are sweeter than all earthly pleasures…”

Let me try to explain it to you this way. All frustration is birthed out of unmet expectations. Ten years ago, you had in your mind this picture of what you wanted life to look like ten years from then, and you thought that if you could obtain it or get to it, you would be happy and satisfied. If you could just obtain this or that, or be here or be there, if you made it to this point, you’d be satisfied and content; because your real god is what you most effortlessly think about, and you were probably chasing after something finite. And so, for the last ten years you have put all your energy, and whether you did this consciously or subconsciously, you did this to get somewhere. If you’re type A, then you probably even wrote it down in your little Moleskine planner and mapped it all out, what you had to do every day to get there.

Most of us just thought, “Man, if I could just get out of school, if I could get a good job, if I could find a husband/wife, if I could have children, if I could make enough money to go on vacation, if I could get a car that actually ran half the time, if I could afford a house, if I could afford a bigger house, if I could do this, if I could get that, etc…” And so we began to work that ten-year plan. Now, the reality is, if you’ve met those goals, you probably might not even know it because you’ve already replaced that ten-year plan with a new ten-year plan because what you thought would satisfy you, has not. And so, what happens is, you’ll work the next ten-year plan, and then you’ll work the next ten-year plan, and then you’ll work the next ten-year plan, and then you’ll work the next ten-year plan, and then you will die, and be painted up like a clown, and be put in the ground. That’s it.

And almost all of us, whether we’ll admit it or not, have bought into the philosophy that what we need to finally make us happy is more of what we already posses, and it’s madness. It’s why we shop, why we buy things we don’t need, why we work extra, why we work less, why we watch certain movies and television shows, why we fantasize about things that are not reality. You don’t buy out of need, you buy out of boredom. Most people don’t buy a new vehicle because theirs blew up, got stolen, or they had a wreck. I mean, just listen to people talk sometimes. It’s insanity. Well, I had to get the oil changed and it needed all new tires, and that’s like at least $500-something. I’m not wasting that kind of cash on that old piece, I’m just going to get a new car. You don’t buy clothes because yours are absolutely done. Really, you don’t. Almost nobody reading this has gone, “Oh, I can’t wear my jeans at all anymore. They’ve completely disintegrated.” Instead, we go and buy new jeans that have already been partially disintegrated for $90. And I admit make stupid purchases too. I’m not saying there’s you and then there’s me. I’m saying “we.” And it is outright evidence that we live boring, predictable lives, and we try to numb it and turn it off by acquisition. But in Ecclesiastes, king Solomon is going, “Hey man, I did it all. I did it bigger and better than you’ll ever do. I had more money, more success, more sex, worked more, relaxed more, partied more, partied harder, I did it all. Here’s the deal. It’s all meaningless.”

Okay, so why? Why is this happening? Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that God has placed eternity into our hearts. Now, this is going to be an abstract idea, so please try to follow me. Because I don’t know how to fully explain this to you, but I believe it with all my heart and I believe that Scripture contends that this is correct. What the text means when it says that God has placed eternity into our hearts, is that at some level, in the deepest parts of our souls, our souls remember, however that happens, what life was like before the Fall. So, the soul, at some really deep level, has had this groove cut into it, where it remembers what it was like before sin entered into the world. And so, we remember, at a really deep level now, that at one time, we were full and at one time, we were happy and at one time, there was nothing weighing us down. And the soul is groaning, according to Scripture, to get back there.

The problem is, the groove is shaped like eternity and all that we have to fill it with is temporary. And so, we cram it with temporary, fleeting false joys, and it never fills it. And so, we think if it gets bigger, if we can make it bigger, the temporary pleasure lasts a little bit longer; or if we continue to get a little bit larger, we can finally fill the chasm. But it’s never going to take place because it’s not going to be big enough. And here’s why I’m afraid for you, afraid for us. King Solomon finally gets to the end of his goal to find ultimate pleasure and says it’s all vanity, it’s all meaningless, and you do not posses the resources to ever get there. And so, my fear for you, my fear for so many of us, is that we’re going to spend the rest of our lives chasing our tails, chasing what we already posses, that has brought us no lasting happiness, only to die on the treadmill of a false reality, never being content, or truly happy.

I’ll quote C.S. Lewis again here, because he just really had some great, insightful thoughts on all of this. Lewis said, “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.”

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is that real thing. God is after His glory, for our joy, even when we can’t see how in the moment. Our joy is not the purpose of the Gospel, but an inevitable outcome of it. Because if it is true that God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in Him, then He definitely is for our joy. God is all about His glory, and the chief end of man is to enjoy God, and enjoy Him forever.