“Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother. To Philemon our beloved fellow worker and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house: (Philemon 1-2, ESV).
Upon a casual reading, someone could say that this letter was not written to the church, but only mentioned. It does not have the word “to” connected with it, though someone could certainly argue that it would be included with the initial “to” prior to Philemon.
However, if one consulted the Greek New Testament, all possible confusion would disappear. Paul uses a particular case to address the church in this letter.
He writes, “καὶ τῇ κατʼ οἶκόν σου ἐκκλησίᾳ,” or, “and to in house your church.” (The Greek New Testament, SBL Edition) Wallace renders this a “dative of recipient.” [Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 148.] Interestingly, the NET conveys this translation, as do the NIV, NASB. This is a small demonstration of the benefits of using multiple translations.
In other words, this letter is addressed to the church that met in Philemon’s house as much as it is to Philemon, Apphia, and Archippus. Now, this may seem insignificant, but I think it suggests otherwise.
Consider the personal nature of this letter. A former slave runs away from his master. During this time, Paul leads him to Christ (cf. Philemon 10). In an effort to restore these two men (i.e., Philemon and Onesimus), Paul pens this letter. Why should the church know about this? Is it really any of their business?
Paul seems to suggest that it is. Not only would the church benefit from this letter, but other churches would as well (a practice Paul engaged in, cf. Col. 4:16). It also minimizes the individualism that has affected churches in my own context. In the United States, we are highly individualistic. We keep to ourselves. The churches in Paul’s day, however, were more knowledgeable about one another.
It is also important to consider the nature of the material. The letter presents the Christian faith in action. Though many of Paul’s letters convey sound, deep theological truths, this letter focuses primarily on the outworking of that theology (cf. Eph. 1-3, Rom. 1-11). Through his interaction with Philemon and Onesimus, Paul is also offering the Church a case study of real, Christian living.
When I preach this passage to the church, I can do so confidently. It is addressed to the church. I know this because Paul was specific in his selection of words. I may have missed this if I relied on one English translation. Thank God for Greek!
Jarvis J. Williams and Kevin M. Jones, Removing the Stain of Racism from the Southern Baptist Convention (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2017), 179 pages.
Removing the Stain of Racism is a timely book for the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). It is also a timely book for the Church at large. Racial division and civil unrest remain elevated in our current climate. The Church should lead in the work of reconciliation, and Williams and Jones (and other contributors) provide a helpful tool for that purpose.
The book begins with a presentation of the various resolutions on race from 1845-2007 (pages xxxv-lix). After providing those resolutions, two white authors (Al Mohler and Matthew Hall) offer a brief discussion of what contributed to racism in the SBC and the historical “causes” of racism (chapters 1-2). Jarvis Williams then delivers a wonderful treatment of the “biblical steps toward removing the stain,” including a word study that would benefit all readers (chapter 3). Walter Strickland dissects the “theological steps” of overcoming the racist sins of the past, providing insights into the contributions of the entire body of Christ, including minorities. Craig Mitchell discusses the role that ethics play, examining a few leaders in the work of reconciliation as well as the recent contributions to reconciliation in various resolutions (chapter 5). Kevin Smith challenges pastors to preach against racism and the pursuit of reconciliation on three levels (personal life, corporate preaching, and each particular ecclesiastical context, all in chapter 6). Mark Croston examines the administrative steps necessary for the removal of the wicked stain as well as ways to progress the work of reconciliation (chapter 7). Kevin Jones discusses the educational aspects for progression, often returning to experiences endured by our African American brothers and sisters (chapter 8). Toby Jennings takes on the task of publishing and the ways we can advance minority scholarship (chapter 9). Curtis Woods wraps up the work by describing his own experiences as an African American (particularly in Kentucky), rejoicing in the advancement made while acknowledging the need for continued perseverance (chapter 10). There are two epilogues, one written by an African American and the other by an Anglo American. Dwight McKissic examines five reasons the stain of racism remains in the SBC, while Daniel Akin provides four reasons why he believes the stain endures. The postscript by T. Vaughn Walker offers a word of hope for reconciliation in the SBC and her churches. The book ends with two appendixes, one offers a “Suggested Reading List on Race and Race Relations” (comprising 10 pages) and a “sample Syllabus for Introduction to African-American History.”
I think the demeanor from which this work was written is its greatest strength. Considering the horrific history African Americans have experienced in this country, it would not be shocking to see bitterness develop and express itself. However, these brothers communicated their message in a spirit of love, respect, and patience. Several of these men experienced firsthand (or through an immediate family member) racism. Yet, in their work, there is never a hint of bitterness. This, I think, is a remarkable testament both to their character and to the grace of God! Several quotes highlight these experiences, and I challenge you to find a more gracious depiction.
“I grew up in a small and racist town in eastern Kentucky…Growing up, I heard both blacks and whites call me all sorts of racists slurs….But this small and predominately white Southern Baptist church became my spiritual family, and God used it mightily to transform my life.”—Jarvis Williams, 17-18
“In a dialogue with a high-ranking administrator of a Southern Baptist seminary, I was asked the inevitable question, ‘What are you currently researching and writing about?’ As a study writing a dissertation, I began to explain that I was writing about the relationship between theology and culture among three African-American theologians at the end of the Civil Rights Movement….The response I received was disappointing. Instead the administrator responded, ‘When are you going to do ‘real’ theology, and what will you write about when you do so?’”—Walter Strickland II, 53-54
“Because of racism, a key segment of Christ’s body in America was inhibited from obeying fully the command to learn God’s commands and teach them diligently to their children. To the contrary, I have an entirely different experience on a daily basis when I open up the Bible and teach it to my family.”—Kevin Jones, 90
“In light of the lack of color [as a campus minister at Kentucky State University], I automatically assumed tokenism. It seemed the convention needed to house an African-American campus minister at the commonwealth’s only historically black college or university….I could hardly believe King’s critiques easily fit my situation well over four decades later…Nevertheless, I remained faithful to my campus-ministry role…”—Curtis Woods, 116
It breaks my heart to learn of their experiences, but my heart is encouraged because these brothers are moving ahead through the grace of God and ministering in their particular contexts as well as the entire body of Christ.
Another strength of this book is the focus on the power, love, and grace of God. For example, in the foreword K. Marshall Williams Sr. writes, “Apart from regeneration no one has the capacity to be in right relationship with his neighbor (Rom. 7:18; 14-15; Eph. 4-5).” (xxiii) Al Mohler ends his chapter by stating, “’In sin did my mother conceive me’ (Ps. 51:5 ESV). How can anything good or righteous or true to the gospel follow those words? The answer is only by the power of Almighty God.” (6) Jarvis Williams wraps up a lengthy treatment of the Gospel in Scripture in this summary fashion, “The incalculable riches of Christ refer to the totality of what God has done in Christ for Jews and Gentiles to unify all things in Christ (Eph. 1:3-3:21). This unification includes racial reconciliation insofar as race refers to Jews and Gentiles (Eph. 2:11-22).” (43) Other examples could be provided, but this centers the discussion of the sin of racism within the larger framework of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Perhaps due to the publisher’s limit, I think there were a few sections I would like to have seen more treatment. The chapters on ethics (chapter 5), preaching (chapter 6), and administration (chapter 7) could have used more examples and treatment. While the chapters are not lacking anything, I would have benefited from a thorough treatment of each of those topics.
I also think having a chapter where African American experiences during the formation and history of the SBC could have opened eyes further. As I mentioned earlier, I was astounded, and saddened, by these experiences endured by my brothers. However, their experiences are just a few in a history of racial discrimination endured by our African American brothers and sisters.
Who should read this book?
Every Southern Baptist should read this book. Though many may not be familiar with the history of the Convention, this book helps explain the creation and underpinnings of what is the largest Protestant denomination in the world. Furthermore, it may also help open eyes to the current state of the SBC with the recent passing of Resolution 9 “On Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality” and its subsequent rejection by the six presidents of the Convention’s seminaries and resulting backfire.
Christians in the United States who are not Southern Baptists should also read this. Our country has a history of racism and slavery, and unfortunately, the Church has too often been a part of it. Reading this book will open eyes to the truth of racism, but it will also encourage hearts as the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a reconciling Gospel.
2021 is only a few days away. In the past few weeks, we have been discussing Paul’s admonition to the young pastor Timothy, “Rather train yourself for godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7, ESV). We have examined various spiritual disciplines, those means the have been provided by our gracious God to help us be more like His Son and our Savior, Jesus Christ (cf. Rom. 8:28-29). These disciplines include the reading and studying of Scripture, prayer, worship, evangelism, serving, stewardship, fasting, and silence and solitude. One can easily see the discipline required to engage in each one of these. It is certainly not easy, nor is it left to spontaneity. It requires diligence in preparation as much as in execution. My goal in this post is to encourage you to (if you have not already) make preparations for 2021. I will list out a few suggestions. This list will not be exhaustive. However, I hope it stirs your soul and gets your thinking juices flowing so that 2021 can be a year that you become more like Jesus.
The first thing you should do to prepare for spiritual growth in 2021 is to set goals. These goals should be practical. For example, if you are not regularly reading your Bible, you probably do not want your 2021 goal to be reading the Bible through three times. A more manageable goal would be to read through the New Testament. In setting your goals, be holistic as possible. By this I mean to keep the goal in focus. Our goal in the spiritual disciplines is Christlikeness (or, godliness, as Paul puts it). Thus, your Scripture reading should aid you in that goal. You are not reading Scripture for Scripture’s sake. You are reading Scripture to be more like Jesus Christ. If you are planning on fasting, then plan to fast to be more like Christ. If you are plan to have time in silence and solitude, then do so to be more like Jesus. If you have not engaged in any spiritual discipline, then I would suggest starting one or two. Focus on those for the whole year, and then in 2022 (if the Lord wills), add another one. These goals should be written down. Place them in your Bible for frequent access and reminding. Ask your spouse or close friend to keep you accountable. Share with others how the spiritual discipline is helping you conform to the image of Christ. Finally, these goals should be adjustable. If, after two months, you find that the spiritual discipline is not furthering the work of God in your life, perhaps you need to evaluate it. There is a potential that you do not understand that particular practice, and so you may need to do some more reading and reflecting. Or, you may need someone to sit down with you and help you work through it. Either way, do not feel like your goal is in cement. It can (and should, depending on the case), be adjusted. We are not disciplining ourselves for disciplines’ sake, we are disciplining ourselves for Christ’s sake.
As we consider the process of becoming more like Jesus, we need to realize that it requires faithfulness. That is, determine now to be as faithful as possible. Will there be failures? Of course! Will there be days (even weeks) where you do not want to engage in that discipline? Yes, you will. Failure is a part of fallenness. We do not need to use this as an excuse, but we do want to acknowledge this. With that said, we must determine to be faithful. Make a commitment to follow the disciplines you have selected all year. If you hit a brief period where you fail, renew your commitment to practice them, and move on.
The last encouragement I want to offer you is to hang on! If you commit to practicing the spiritual disciplines, and you make it your goal to be like Christ, you will grow. It is nothing something that should surprise you. There is a paradoxical aspect of growing in holiness that we must remember. As we grow into the image of Christ more, we often realize how sinful we are. That is, the closer we get to God, the more of our wickedness we see. It is like entering a dark room. The absence of light prevents us from seeing anything on the floor or the walls. If we have a small candle we can see some trash on the floor. If we use a cell phone light, we may see more trash and a few bugs scattering away. If we turn on the LED lights, we can see all the filth. We see the trash, the roaches, and the rodents. Likewise, as we embrace the holiness of God in our daily lives, we will observe our wickedness. It may move from outward, sinful actions to inward, sinful thoughts. This should not discourage us, rather, it should encourage us! We are growing in godliness, and as such more of the sin in our lives will be rooted out and replaced with the righteousness of Christ. While 2020 has been a wild year, hopefully, you have grown in godliness. As we quickly approach 2021, we can being preparing for training in godliness now!
About the Author Bobby completed a BA in Christian Education. He also earned a MDiv. from Luther Rice College & Seminary. He recently graduated with a MA in Biblical Counseling from Bob Jones University. He is a member of the Association of Biblical Counselors, awaiting advanced certification. He is also an Associate Member of the Evangelical Theological Society.
Darrell L. Bock, Cultural Intelligence: Living for God In a Diverse, Pluralistic World (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2020), 128 pages.
In one of the most famous passages from the book bearing Esther’s name, Mordecai quips, “It may very well be that you have achieved royal status for such a time as this!” (Esther 4:14, NET)
Bock’s book is a book for such a time as this. His book touches upon something the Church desperately needs: cultural intelligence. Before discussing the meat of the book, I want to provide a brief description of why this book is such a gift to the Church.
We are living in uncertain times. At this point, we are still awaiting the votes of the Electoral College. Many news organizations have proclaimed Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as the winners of the 2020 Presidential Election. However, many Republicans are challenging this announcement through legislative action. The Church, filled with those who identify as both Republicans and Democrats, are at each other’s necks. Besides, there are a variety of views regarding sexuality, immigration, and other “hot topics.” In the midst of this, the Church has damaged her witness by her interactions with those in the world. Bock’s book is a reminder of the Church’s mission and how she can engage in that mission in a way that glorifies God and bridges divides. His book also contributes to how the Church engages the world and for what purpose.
Personally, this book came at a needed time. I have struggled with the various responses of my brothers and sisters in Christ. I have wondered how our faith relates to the public square. In this book, based on Scripture, Bock provides guidance.
Overview of the Book
The book is comprised of five chapters. The first chapter builds a theology of cultural intelligence. That is, Bock uses six passages of Scripture that believers need to know their mission, identify the enemy, and engage in spiritual rescue. One of the prominent contributions of this chapter is how believers are to engage in conversation. Contrasted with the vitriol of the political section, believers are to communicate with grace and love.
In chapter two, Bock works with two passages of Scripture written by Paul. In Romans 1:18-32, Paul provides an in-depth look at humanity. This is written to the Church for the Church’s benefit. Bock also examines Acts 17:16-34 to describe how Paul related to the people he describes in Romans 1:18-32. Again, this provides a biblical example of how believers are to engage with the differences in culture and views today.
Chapter three opens the door to conversation. In a time in which discussion and communication are difficult in general, it seems the Church has failed to continue growing in interacting with individuals holding different views. Bock discusses what a conversation is. He also identifies ways that the Church can develop the skills needed to engage in helpful conversation.
Bock then moves onto salvation and the fruit of that in believers’ lives in chapter four. While present-day Americans tend to view salvation through an individualistic lens, Bock connects Scripture with the greater work of God in His children. It is not simply individualistic salvation (though Bock does not dismiss this), it is much more. It moves on to the whole of creation. One manifestation of this is the love believers are to extend to all others, what he refers to collectively as “the ethical triangle.”
Chapter five wraps everything up by providing specific examples of how believers can and should engage the various cultures and worldviews that are present today. He provides helpful breakdowns of implementing the discussions of chapters 1-4 that enable believers to take action. Ironically, one of the primary actions believers should take is to listen.
Strengths of the Book
The book is incredibly helpful for many reasons. I will offer a few highlights in the hope that it will stir your hearts to purchase the book.
The reminder of the main mission of the Church.
Bock does a great job of reminding believers of the mission of the Church. In our highly politicized society, we have equivocated politics with our walk with God. Unfortunately, this has harmed not only her witness but also her mission. God is not God of the Republican or the Democrat party. However, Christians can become caught up in this political identity. Bock writes, “For decades the church fought a culture war where we often made other people the enemy. But this core biblical text [referring to Ephesians 6:10-18] reminds us that our real battle is spiritual….Our mission is not to defeat or crush people. It is to stand with spiritual resources against an unseen enemy.” We can see how destructive this confusion is on any social media platform. This, I think, is one of the most helpful aspects of Bock’s book.
The art of engaging in conversation.
While building on the theology of cultural intelligence, Bock provides an incredible gift to the Church by describing how to engage in conversation. Primarily found in chapter three, Bock examines what occurs during a conversation (what he refers to as “triphonics”). He also briefly discusses the ways we can end conversations through our actions, what he refers to as “sabotage.” He offers five ways we can develop conversations, of which the last is, in my opinion, the most helpful. He writes, “I often tell my students that they need a scale on which to rather their level of conviction.” Discerning the level of one’s conviction is important in our interactions within and without the Church.
The last contribution that I would like to highlight (though I admit it was hard to narrow it!) is his discussion of “from life to the Bible.” Building upon a significant discussion on the change our culture has experienced, Bock provides a helpful way to connect Scripture to the lives of people. While previous generations enjoyed a certain base understanding and acceptance of Judeo-Christian values (see page 85-89), present-day believers do not, particularly in the United States. However, Bock describes this way to connect life to Scripture with several suggestions. To begin with, we need to evaluate culture through Scripture and praise its good qualities while pointing out the faults. It also “requires listening.” The third and fourth elements tie into theology and communication. He states, “Theological translation involves putting terms that we understand (but that someone else may not) into more mutually transparent language.” That is, believers must learn to communicate clearly without using theological terms that people may not understand. Finally, from life to the Bible also requires a deep understanding of the whole of Scripture. This prohibits us from cherry-picking Scripture and engaging in imbalances.
Weaknesses of the Book
The only weakness of the book is the limited treatment of the thesis. That is, I would have liked to see Bock provide more examples and materials on those examples. He does include tough topics (e.g., immigration, gun rights, and sexuality). I found this helpful, but I would love to see further discussion and perhaps even presentations of actual interactions with comments.
Who should purchase this Book?
Every single Christian should read and implement this book, particularly Christians who reside in the United States. With the volatile atmosphere and the divide in the US, Christians should not withdraw and disappear from the public square. However, when engaging in conversation, Christians cannot continue as they have previously. We must acknowledge our sins of previous and even present engagement, learn what the Scriptures teach, and then engage in the cultures to which God has called us.
 Darrell L. Bock, Cultural Intelligence: Living for God In a Diverse, Pluralistic World (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2020), 76.
Did she make that purchase you specifically asked her not to buy?
Is your communication lacking?
If you are married, you have at some point experienced difficulties. Unfortunately, we are fallen beings in a fallen world (see Rom. 3:11-17 and Eph. 2:1-3). How do we navigate these disagreements? How can we improve our communication? What steps can we take to have happy marriages?
Perhaps the most basic (and yet important) aspect of a successful marriage is to follow Paul’s encouragements in Ephesians 5:22-33. When the wife and husband function in their God-ordained roles, not only do they enjoy sweet union, they also advertise the Gospel (my seminary professor, Dr. Newcomer, said that Christ-honoring marriages are Gospel tracts).
I would encourage you to study, I mean really study, that passage. Husbands, be like Christ. Die to yourself daily. Wives, follow your husband’s leadership. Be like the Church is to her Savior, Jesus Christ.
I would venture to say that we need additional help. We know Tylenol is helpful in fighting pain, but knowing when to administer the medicine provides the fullest benefit. Here are a few such helps.
He opens with this profound (and sad) paragraph, “One of the most consistent themes that emerges in counseling young couples, especially in the critical first five years, is the dramatic difference between the time and money that was invested in their wedding compared to the time and money that was invested in preparing for the rest of their lives together as husband and wife.” The three environments are: Multi-Generational Group Environment, a Mentoring Environment, and a Biblical Counseling Environment. Though applied specifically to engaged couples, these environments are helpful to all.
Leslie Vernick writes, “Can This Marriage Be Saved?” Vernick discusses some difficult issues. She describes “destructive and abusive marriages” and the goal to help restore them. Her focus in this post is on safety. If you are in an abusive relationship, please seek help. Vernick writes, Safety in an intimate relationship such as marriage must never be underestimated. You cannot put a marriage together in a healthy way if one person in the marriage feels afraid of the other.” However, the introductory materials provide insight into restoration.
Returning to Wilson, his article “Redeeming Marriage In Community,” is especially helpful for focusing in the right direction: Christlikeness. Wilson writes, “Therefore, a working definition of a healthy Christian marriage is one in which both partners are actively pursuing deeper, gospel-fueled relationship with the Lord, both together and individually, while actively pursuing deeper, gospel-displaying relationship with each other for His glory.” If your marriage needs help (barring abusive danger), this is where you start.
Bev Moore’s article “Trusting God’s Character,” though not tied to specifically to marriage, provides many helpful contributions to aiding marital problems. She writes, “During these storms of life, we need an anchor for our souls. That anchor has to be the truth of what God has revealed to us about Himself, about Hischaracter.” In marital problems, we can often lose sight of God. We fixate on the other’s sins/problems. The key to growing through those difficult seasons involves the knowledge of God (see 2 Peter 1:3).
Scott Mehl discusses the uncomfortable, but nonetheless significant problems in marital conflict, of sexual difficulties. In “Sexual Difficulties in Marriage,” is more than just a discussion of techniques or personal passions, Mehl provides practical and theological helps for sexual intimacy.
Darby Strickland discusses Spiritual Abuse in Marriages Part 1and Part 2. He begins the first post with these words, “I often sit with wives whose husbands have used Scripture as a weapon to control them.” Many problems in marriages develop as a result of spiritual abuse. These two articles offer some wise encouragement.
Robyn and Alasdair discuss the topic of “Headship in Marriage.” The passage from Ephesians 5:22-24 presents many difficulties for more than one reason. However, this podcast fleshes out what it means and how it enhances marriages rather than harms them.
If you are experiencing marriage problems and need help, please visit the above websites and search for a counselor. You will want to find a Biblical Counselor, as these will provide you with the best help. Also, if you are involved in an abusive relationship, please seek help immediately.
Silence and solitude. These are important aspects, but often neglected in today’s Church, in growing toward Christlikeness. In his letter to Timothy, the aged apostle Paul encourages him, “Train yourself for godliness.” (1 Tim. 4:7, ESV)
It takes work to be like Christ. As we have considered the various aspects of what comprises the spiritual disciplines, we come now to silence and solitude. On this, Don Whitney writes, “The Discipline of silence is the voluntary and temporary abstention from speaking so that certain spiritual goals might be sought.” In other words, we engage in silence and solitude. Before we see how these two tools can help us grow in our Christlikeness, we need to establish what they are.
Whitney defines silence as limiting both outward and inward speech. It is the choice to inhibit our communication. He describes solitude as “the Spiritual Discipline of voluntarily and temporarily withdrawing to privacy for spiritual purposes.” Silence and solitude are two peas in the pod, and as such offer the believer with another manner for spiritual growth.
This in no way implies that if one sits in silence away from others that he or she will grow. It does not work that way. There must be an engagement in the heart for the purpose of being like Christ (cf. Rom. 8:28-29).
Thus, with the proper definition and understanding of how it works, we can now see the specifics of the way that this looks for us today. To begin with, when we engage in silence and solitude, we mimic Christ. In Matthew 14:23 we read this, “And after he dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray.” Jesus Himself left the crowds. He was meeting a variety of physical and spiritual needs. Whitney makes a powerful point, “Put yourself in Jesus’ sandals for a moment. People are clamoring for your help and have many real needs. You are able to meet all those needs. Can you ever feel justified in pulling away to be alone? Jesus did.”
When we follow Christ, we engage in silence and solitude. This means getting away from other people for a specific purpose: to be like Christ. This means not talking, not engaging in any forms of media (TVs, cellphones, internet, and even music). It is not just to be in silence. It is to quiet our souls, to “be still,” if you will (cf. Psa. 46:10). Whitney would go on to write, “Many of us need to realize the addiction we have to noise.” This also means that we get away from others. This could be finding another room in the house away from other members of your household. If the weather permits, it may be finding a bench in a park. Solitude, as well as silence, is not tied to a specific place. You do not have to find a monastery
Whitney offers several reasons to engage in this spiritual discipline: “to hear the voice of God better,” “to express worship to God,” “to express faith in God,” “to seek the salvation of the Lord,” “to be physically and spiritually restored,” “to regain a spiritual perspective,” “to seek the will of God,” and “to learn control of the tongue.”
Whitney also provides some practical steps to engage in the disciplines of silence and solitude (see pages 194-199). These two disciplines require discipline. It will be hard to mark off a period of time to be away from others and remain silent. But the rewards will be fruitful for your spiritual life.
Will you train yourself for godliness by practicing silence and solitude?
 Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1991), 184.
Many individuals find themselves asking that question. Depression is, unfortunately, a growing problem. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an enormous spike in depression and associated mental issues. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “The prevalence of symptoms of anxiety disorder was approximately three times those reported in the second quarter of 2019 (25.5% versus 8.1%), and prevalence of depressive disorder was approximately four times that reported in the second quarter of 2019 (24.3% versus 6.5%) (2).” In Japan, for example, deaths from suicide outweigh deaths related to COVID-19.
Outside of COVID-19 and the accompanying difficulties of social distancing, closed businesses and houses of worship, and limited interactions, depression is still an enormous problem for many individuals, ranging from children to elderly adults. We will peruse a few of these contributing factors briefly.
Physical Causes of and Contributions to Depression
So, why are we depressed? There are many factors that can contribute to depression. At times, an individual’s physical problems can lead to depression. In a paper written by Guy M. Goodwin, he presents several physical factors that can lead to depression. These include chronic pain, the effects of a stroke, and heart disease. A lack of sleep can increase depression as well.
Poor diets can also factor in depression. Though there may be a cyclical effect of depression and poor eating habits, research has shown that an unhealthy diet can contribute to depression.
Mental Contributions to Depression
Other contributing factors include stressful life situations. A rocky marriage, problems with children, a failing career, financial issues, and similar circumstances may also contribute to depression.
Medicative Contributions to Depression
There are also medicative causes of depression. Interestingly, many of the prescribed medications for depression can have the opposite effect of increasing depression. The struggles with opioid addiction also have the potential to affect one’s struggles with depression.
Spiritual Contributions to Depression
Though not always addressed as much, the spiritual aspects of human beings can contribute to depression. Sin, the concept of offending the requirements of a deity, can lead to guilt and increased depression. The fear of the afterlife also can interact and increase depression.
Biblical Counseling and the Causes of Depression
As a biblical counselor, I seek to examine the Scriptures and apply them to the various challenges of life that afflict us all. Depression is one of those challenges, and upon which the Scriptures have much to say. We will deal with the above contributing factors in reverse order.
Biblical Counseling and Spiritual Contributions to Depression
One example of an individual who experienced depression is David. During his time of kingship of Israel, he engaged in adultery with the wife of one of his soldiers (see 2 Samuel 11:1-5). Through the course of events, David had Uriah murdered as well as engaging in deceptive actions (2 Sam. 11:6-21). Though we do not know the period of time that elapsed between David’s sins and his repentance, we do have a record of what was going on in David’s heart. Psalm 32:3-5 records David’s struggles,
David’s spiritual battle with lust, adultery, and murder and his failure to repent brought about depression. One of the common marks of an individual who is depressed is their inability and unwillingness to engage in daily activities.
Another example we could examine is Cain (see Genesis 4:1-6). Though God’s discussion of sacrifices is not covered in Genesis, we can conclude that both Cain and Abel knew what God expected. Cain offered the work of his farming to God, but God rejected Cain’s offering, though God accepted Abel’s (Gen. 4:3-5). In God’s description of Cain, He states “your face [has] fallen.” (Gen. 3:6, ESV)
Though not always, often people who struggle with depression manifest it in their eyes and facial expressions. In Cain’s instance, he was depressed because of God’s rejection of his offering.
Biblical Counseling and Medicative Contributions to Depression
Does the Bible address medicine and depression? It does. Proverbs 23:29-30 offers a glimpse into such a situation.
Now, there are many issues presented here: threats, sorrow (uneasiness, depressiveness), division, ingratitude/difficult situations, unknown injuries, and affected physical appearances. That is, there is a host of issues related to alcohol abuse. Interestingly, however, is the appearance of “sorrow.” There is another proverb that encourages the use of alcohol in a medicinal manner. In Proverbs 31:6-7 we find these interesting statements, “Let beer be for those who are perishing, wine for those who are in anguish! Let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more.” (NIV)
In these two proverbs, we see both the use and misuse of alcohol. The use is to aid someone in intense pain and/or suffering (31:6-7). The misuse is the abuse of alcohol to the detriment of the individual (23:29-30).
It is not surprising, then, to see the many cautions and warnings against alcohol. I encourage you to read through the Scriptures (75 references, to be exact) on CrossTheology.
Biblical Counseling and Mental Contributions to Depression
In Genesis chapter 21, we observe the account of the jealousy and subsequent harshness with which Sarah treats their servant, Hagar, and her son, Ishmael. Sarah, after watching Ishmael mock her son, Isaac, encourages Abraham to banish Hagar.
The Scriptures depict her mental stress in verse 16, “So she sat across from him [her son, Ishmael] and wept controllably.” (NET) There are several issues that would have increased Hagar’s mental stress. Having been banished by Abraham, she is now separated from her only source of food, shelter, and any protection. In addition, she has a son for whom she is unable to provide. Furthermore, she is sent out “wandering through the wilderness of Beer Sheba.” (Gen. 21:14, NET)
In her anguish and depression, she was unable to see a well water (cf. Gen. 21:19). Her depression prevented her from seeing something near. It took God (the NET renders it “God enabled Hagar to see a well of water,” 21:19) to anchor back to reality.
Biblical Counseling and Physical Causes of and Contributions to Depression
Elijah, the great prophet of the Old Testament, experienced physically related depression. After an incredible day of spiritual victory and exhaustion, followed by a lengthy run in which the prophet outruns a chariot (see 1 Kings 18), Elijah receives a threat from Queen Jezebel (1 Kings 19:1-2). In fear, he “went a day’s journey into the wilderness.” (1 Kings 19:4, NET)
It was only after those physically exhaustive events that Elijah undergoes depression. He seeks to be separated from people. He also desires death. These are both common manifestations of depression. After bemoaning his life, he falls asleep (1 Kings 19:5). An angel wakes him up and provides food, after which Elijah goes back to sleep (19:5-6).
It is interesting to note that God does not condemn Elijah for his depression (God’s response is found in 19:9-18).
In this post, we have examined the various contributing factors in relation to depression. This list is not exhaustive, but it does cover the wide gamut of issues related. In the first post, we acknowledge the complexities of depression. In the next post, we will discuss how knowing these contributing factors can help us overcome depression.
 Mark E. Czeisler, et. al, “Mental Health, Substance Use, and Suicidal Ideation During the COVID-19 Pandemic—United States, June 24-30, 2020,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 14 August 2020, https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6932a1.htm, accessed 2 December 2020.
 Alicia Grattan, et. al., “Depression and Prescription Opioid Misuse Among Chronic Opioid Therapy Recipients With No History of Substance Abuse,” Analysis of Family Medicine, vol. 10, no. 4, July 2012, 304-311, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3392289/, accessed 3 December 2020.
That is a great question! I think everyone should learn Hebrew, particularly Christians, and especially ministers. Why? There are many reasons, but one reason is that the Hebrew Scriptures contain beautiful artwork in literary form.
I am working through the book of Genesis in our Wednesday evening Bible studies, and there have been several instances in which the beauty of Hebrew is apparent.
One parallel exists in Genesis 6:4 and 11:4 in the word name. It is translated “renown” in 6:4 and “name” in 11:4 in the English Standard Version.
While you may not read Hebrew (I cannot read it well), you can certainly see the connection. The prideful, mighty Nephilim find continuity with the prideful, arrogant inhabitants of the land of Shinar (see 11:1-4, cf. 10:6-15).
Let me offer one more example (which also happens to be an awesome aspect of the Tower account). This parallel is found in 11:4 and 11:8.
Now, I need to go into a little more detail with this one because it demands it. The statement by the architects of the Tower desire to build their city and tower “lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth” (11:4, ESV). That is, they did not want to be spread across the earth (in spite of the Lord’s commands in Gen. 9:1 and 7). The word “lest” is a translation of the conjunction פן (please excuse the lack of vowels). As Arnold and Choi describe it, “This conjunction most often indicates an undesirable action or situation that arises from another action as a consequence.” [Bill T. Arnold and John H. Choi, A Guide to Biblical Hebrew Syntax(New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 155.] The undesirable situation is their refusal to spread across the earth.
Their unity (11:2-4) and oneness in language (11:1) enabled them to construct a large city and tower (“with its top in the heavens,” 11:4, ESV). They would, unabated, be able to remain together in this one area and “nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them” (11:6, ESV).
The beauty of Hebrew comes in with the second verse. The LORD dispersed them. The word “dispersed” is the same root as used in 11:4, but the word has a different stem. This word uses the Hiphil stem. It is a “causative hiphil,” meaning the LORD is the cause of the dispersement. [Ronald J. Williams, rev. and expanded by John C. Beckman, Williams’ Hebrew Syntax Third Edition(Toronto, CA: University of Toronto Press, 2007), 62.] While the inhabitants of Shinar feared to be scattered and, through their rebellious unity, began construction on a city and tower to refuse obedience to God, God scattered them without their desires and in spite of their united rebellion.
While this contrast can be seen in the English translations, the intricacies are more visible in their original Hebrew context.
Should you learn Hebrew? Yes! There are so many tools available to help you, and these and many more “gems” will be available for your mining.