Monday, August 12, 2013
You may not have ever thought about Bible characters suffering from depression. After all....they are in the Bible. Well, Job may be an exception. When I was writing a study on depression, I entitled it "Trusting God; Conquering Depression." Each lesson was devoted to a different Bible character. Today, I felt like re-reading the one on Jonah, so I thought that I'd share it.
You probably know the story of Jonah, but if you'd like, you can read Jonah chapters 1 and 2 for the first half of his story. To make this story more meaningful, I want you to put yourself in Jonahís place. See if you can identify with him. As you read this narrative, please note that I have taken ďliterary licenseĒ as Iíve filled in some of the ďdialogĒ in the story.
Youíre Jonah. The Bible doesnít say how, but you get the definite ďfeelingĒ that God is calling you to go to Nineveh. You think: "Surely that canít be right. Assyria is our enemy. Theyíre known for their wickednessÖ.and God wants me to go there and preach against their wickedness? Well, they certainly deserve to be preached to. Actually, they deserve a lot moreótotal destructionóbut Iím not going there. Those people are crazy. Theyíll torture and kill me. Besides, what would my countrymen think of me if they found out that I had told the Ninevites, our enemy, about the Living God. Iím sorry, God, but I just canít do that. I can work for you here at home. I can work for you in some civilized, foreign countryÖ.but Nineveh? I donít think so!!"
So, you go to as far West as you can get. You could go to the closer port at Tyre, but you decide to go south to Joppa. During the several days of travel time, you become even more convinced that youíve made the right decision. "Go to NinevehÖ.NEVER! Besides what would happen if God changed His mind and spared the Ninevites? They are a wicked people. They deserve destruction!"
Imagine walking the streets of Joppa, making your way to the sea. There are several ships, and youíre exhausted from going from ship to ship, trying to seek passage. Finally, the captain of a cargo ship agrees to take you as a passenger. So, after paying a hefty fee, youíre on your way. Youíre so tired, and with the arrangements made, you go below the deck of the ship and fall into a deep sleep. Suddenly youíre awakened by the captain screaming at you to come up on desk to pray that the storm will let up. You donít know whatís going on. The ship is swaying, and you can hear the wind practically blowing through the ship. You rush to climb up the ladder. All of a sudden, the ship tilts and you fall, crashing to the floor. Above the screaming storm, you hear the sailors crying and wailing to their gods. It doesnít surprise you that they were praying to a multitude of gods. After all, thatís common practiceÖto cover all youíre bases by praying to many gods. What did shock you was the fact that they were so scared. After all, these were seasoned men of the sea. When you climbed up onto the desk, you could see that they were throwing their precious cargo overboard, trying to right the ship. You hear the sound of cordage snapping and a pole falls, almost hitting you. All of the men are now screaming at you to pray. Before you even have time to think of a response, one of the sailors suggests that they cast lots to see whoís responsible for the storm. They quickly get a cup and put the divining bones inside. No one wants to get the black stone. While they pass the cup around, each person taking a stone, and hiding it in his hands, you think: "Oh no, this is my fault. Businessmen will lose their cargo because of me. Families will be in financial ruin because of me. These men will die because of me. These men are innocent. The families of these sailors will be devastated and left destitute. I canít believe that God will allow these men to die because of me. What should I do?" About that time in your thought process, itís time for everyone to reveal his stone. As you open your hand, all eyes fall on you. Now itís time to admit your sin of disobedience. All of these men should not die because of you. You tell them: ďItís my fault. God, the One True God, called me to go to Nineveh, but I ran away. Throw me overboard and save yourselves.Ē The sailors are reluctant. They donít want to be responsible for your death, but you insist. ďThrow me overboard and save yourselves!Ē Two huge men quickly pick you up, one holding your shoulders and the other holding your feet. You try not to fight them, but itís a natural reflex. All of a sudden, you feel yourself falling and sinking deep in the sea. You feel that you will never re-surface. Finally, you fight your way to the surface. With burning salt water in your eyes, you start treading water and turn to look at the ship. Quickly you realize that something is different. The sky is the bluest of blues. The storm has subsided. The ship is sailing away. The men are safe. You canít help yourself. You scream, ďHelp!Ē Thereís no use; the ship is so far away that itís barely visible. You shut your eyes, turn your face toward heaven, and cry, ďGod, help me.Ē You hear a strange noise and turn. "Oh, God, whatís going on? All you see is a dark hole coming toward you. Oh, God, itís a sea monster. Itís as big as a ship!" You try to swim away. Then, all you feel is a soft wetness, and it is pitch black. "What happened? What is that awful smell? Where am I? Oh, my GodÖthe monster swallowed me!! This canít be happening. Am I really in the belly of this fish? Once I heard about a man who got his leg bitten off, but he died. This canít be happening!" (denial)
"God, why didnít You just kill me? Fine, I didnít go to that God-forsaken Nineveh, but why do You want me to suffer in this black, smelly, slimy place? Itís not like the Ninevites would have listened anyway. They deserve destruction anyway. Iíve always lived my life for you, and for what? Just kill me and be done with it." (anger)
"God, get me out of here. If youíll just get me out of here, Iíll always serve you. Iíll tell all of Israel how you saved me. Iíll love you and show other Israelites how to live for you. I could even go on to Tarshish and tell them about you." (bargaining)
"Iíve asked you to help me. I know you could because youíre God of the Universe. Youíre not helping me because you donít want to. Iíve told all of Israel about you. All I did was not do one crazy thing that you wanted me to do. I know that youíre God of the Universe. You could get me out of here, send a ship, and Iíd be on my way to Tarshish. I could even go back to Israel if youíd like. You could do that if you wanted to, but obviously you donít. Fine. Youíre going to do whatever you want anyway. God, just let me die!! Why are you punishing me? Iíve prayed for your help, and you chose not to answer my prayer. So, fine! Whatís the point of prayer?" (depression)
"I donít know how much time has passed. Itís probably been days. God, I know you didnít have to save me. You must have something else planned for me. I donít understand why you sent this fish at just the right time to save me. Iíve never even heard of a fish this size. Itís obvious that it was sent by you. God, itís strange that Iím still stuck in this fish, yet I feel closer to you than I did when I was on dry ground. You saved me from the depths of the sea. You sent this fish at the perfect time. When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, LORD, and my prayer rose to You, and You answered my prayer. Thank you, God, for saving me. I submit to your plan for my life. If you choose for me to die now, fine. If you choose for me to live, I will sacrifice to you. I will do as you asked and go to Nineveh." (acceptance)
No sooner than you say this heart-felt prayer, you hear this loud rumbling sound. The soft stomach muscles that are encasing you start to move. You feel like youíre being squeezed. You feel your body start to move. Suddenly, you breathe fresh air. You open your eyes with a squint. The sunlight is so bright. You hear the seagulls in the air above you. You look up and see their blurry shadow. You pray: ďThank you, God, for saving me. I will go as you commanded me. I will warn the Ninevites that You will destroy them if they donít change from their wicked ways.
God not only provided Jonah with an unusual ďtime out,Ē but he used Jonahís running as a means for the sailors to hear about God. Notice Jonahís reaction. I tried to word his dialogue to reflect the stages of grief. Any time weíre going through a trying time (death, chronic or terminal illness, job loss, etc.), we go through these stages. You may switch Stages 2-4 around or even repeat them before finally getting to the last stage of acceptance.
1. Denial ó "I feel fine."; "This can't be happening, not to me." Denial is usually only a temporary defense for the individual. This feeling is generally replaced with heightened awareness of situations and individuals that will be left behind after death or be affected by your illness.
2. Anger ó "Why me? It's not fair!"; "How can this happen to me?"; "Who is to blame?" Once in the second stage, the individual recognizes that denial cannot continue. Because of anger, the person is very difficult to care for due to misplaced feelings of rage and envy. Any individual that symbolizes life or energy is subject to projected resentment and jealousy. A person might blame a spouse for financial difficulty or God for an illness.
3. Bargaining ó "Just let me live to see my children graduate."; "I'll do anything for a few more years."; "I will give my life savings if..." ďIíll do better with my finances and even start tithing if youíll just get me out of the situation.Ē The third stage involves the hope that the individual can somehow postpone or delay trouble or death.
4. Depression ó "I'm so sad, why bother with anything?"; "I'm going to die . . . What's the point?"; "Why go on?" During the fourth stage, the dying person begins to understand the certainty of death or feel awful because of an illness. Because of this, the individual may become silent, refuse visitors, and spend much of the time crying and grieving. It is not recommended to attempt to cheer an individual up that is in this stage. It is an important time for grieving that must be processed. It is up to the depressed person, with the help of friends, to get out of the sinkhole.
5. Acceptance ó "It's going to be okay."; "I can't fight it, I may as well prepare for it." This final stage comes with peace and understanding that your life has changed drastically and will never be the same again. For a terminal patient, she realizes that death is approaching. The person in the fifth stage may want to be left alone. Also, feelings and physical pain may be non-existent. This stage has also been described as the end of the grief cycle. For the person suffering from an illness, she accepts that her life has changed and finds ways to still remain an active, useful person.
Are you in a black hole of the belly of a fish? Are you going through the stages of grief? If so, what stage are you in? What steps can you take to reach acceptance of your situation?
Like the sailors, how many times do we turn to God as a last resort? Why should you turn to God first?
I'll write about "the rest of the story" later on. I hope this helps someone who is "living" in the belly of the fish.