Monday, February 27, 2012

Monday’s Ministry Musing: Turning “Helps” Into Idolatry

Does God wound thy spirit, does he make it sick, and dost thou seek to unlawful means for help?  Dost thou go to thy company, to music, to good cheer, to relieve thee?  Oh this provokes God against thee!…those that in trouble of conscience seek for carnal helps, by their vain tampering only render their condition worse.  (Jeremiah Burroughs commenting on Hosea 5:14)

There is an assumption that Burroughs is making here that some of our readers may not be willing to agree with.  Namely, Burroughs assumes (as I do) that God is sovereign and everything that happens comes from His hand—whether it is directly or indirectly.  This would include “wounds to our spirit” and “trouble of conscience”. 

I have mentioned previously that I battle depression or perhaps the better term would be “fits of melancholy”.  In fact our nation seems to be very much plagued by this malady.  One particular study notes that, "An estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older — about one in four adults — suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year."   That means that when you go to the grocery store 1 of every 4 people that you see suffers from a diagnosable mental disorder.  That is huge.

I understand that any mental disorder is complex and there are usually not simple answers.  But is it possible that part of our restlessness (our depression, our mental anxieties) may stem from the effects of running to lesser gods?  Is it possible that when we have restlessness and anxiety we first seek unlawful means for help instead of going to the Lord?  Is it possible that this brokenness is meant to cause us “in our affliction to not fly from, but humble ourselves before him”? 

I do believe that the Lord by His grace has provided helps to our brokenness.  I believe that there are ripple effects to the accomplishment of Christ on the Cross.  I believe that there is common grace—such as antidepressants—that the Lord may use as a means to calm the effects of our brokenness and provide substantial healing.  But I also believe that these “helps” can subtly become functional saviors and when we principally turn to them not only does our condition worsen but the Lord’s displeasure is aroused. 

God may not fully heal the pain that I feel or the darkness that sometimes seems to overcome me; at least not this side of a Eden Restored.  Am I willing to have shards of brokenness in my life if it means that His glory shines brighter in my weakness?  Is it possible that I am muting God’s glory or defaming His name by going to “other helps” that may work for a season but won’t give ultimate rest? 

The Case in Hosea

Just so you know that all of this is coming from somewhere consider what took place in Hosea’s day.  The Israelite’s were stuck between two super powers: Assyria and Egypt.  They decided that they could go to both of these super powers for “help” and to gain wealth and security from these “lovers”.  They called it wisdom but God called it “playing the whore”. 

God had given Egypt wealth.  God had given Assyria power.  And it is quite possible (though we have no idea of knowing) that had Israel remained faithful to the Lord he would have employed either Egypt or Assyria as helpers—though not likely.  But when “Ephraim saw his sickness, and Judah his wound, then Ephraim went to Assyria, and sent to the great king.  But he is not able to cure you or heal your wound.” 

Here is the kicker, the “sickness of Ephraim” and the “wound of Judah” is one that is given by the Lord.  And while the Lord is administering discipline to his children they run to Assyria (and later Egypt) for protection from the Lord.  But he cannot cure them.  He cannot heal their wound.  Only God can.  That is why Hosea entreats them to “return to the LORD; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.  After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.” 

The Flaw

Blanket statements are dangerous.  Do not apply this as a “when ___ happens then it means that God is ______”.  There is an assumption that is being made in connecting a “wounded spirit” to the days of Hosea.  They were being wounded because of their sin and their idolatry.  The Lord was ripping out of their hearts idolatry and residue from the fall.  This is what He lovingly does with His covenant children. 

This is true in those cases. Yet, we would be in great error to look out on the brokenness and depression of every person and say, “don’t try to find help” just endure the Lord’s discipline and stop bowing to idols.  That was the foolish council of Job’s friends.  Job wasn’t enduring his suffering because of his sin.  He was enduring suffering because he was going through suffering.  But what Job got right was that his only source of ultimate refuge and rescue was in the LORD. 

It takes wisdom to know whether I am turning “helps” into idolatry or if I’m legitimately using “helps” for the glory of God.  It takes even more wisdom and grace to sit in ashes and cling to the Lord of glory and say as Hosea did, “He has torn us, that he may heal us…let us press on to know the LORD…he will come to us as showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.” 

It takes grace to trust a lion when Assyria and Egypt look so splendid…

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