May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. While I admit I don’t know enough about mental health issues to write an informative, awareness-raising post, this is my open letter of sorts to my brothers and sisters in faith who struggle day by day, moment by moment with these issues. To those who perhaps go unrecognized, this is for you.
Jesus in the Wilderness
In his book The Holy Spirit, Sinclair Ferguson observes that while Matthew and Luke employ rather “innocuous” verbs to describe Jesus’s arrival at the wilderness—namely that he was “led” there by the Spirit (Matt 4:1; Luke 4:1)—Mark’s diction is “markedly more vigorous.” That is, the Spirit “drove him [Jesus] out into the wilderness” (Mark 1:12). It’s the same word used later to describe the forceful exorcism of demons (Mark 1:34). Far from mere semantics, Mark’s diction conveys “the energy and power of the Spirit as the Lord who advances the kingdom of God into enemy-occupied territory. This is precisely the ambience of Jesus’ [sic] wilderness ministry.”
I am often inclined to think of the wilderness temptation as a rite of passage, and it was. By all means, it was. It was in every sense an epochal event in which the last Adam had to be tempted like the first, yet withstand where the first had failed—and withstand he did. By it, Jesus demonstrated that “’the kingdom of God’ is near and that the messianic conflict had begun.”
But was he not God? Of course in this rite of passage he entered the wilderness, and of course he fasted forty days and forty nights. Of course he was thrice tempted by the devil, and of course he ultimately resisted. He was fully divine and thus, fully able. Yet what I forget is that while Jesus was fully divine, he was also fully human. He was 100% man, and this fully human Christ, cast into “enemy-occupied territory,” for our sake “driven into” the wilderness with the force of an “assault” like that of an exorcism, knowing fully well the anguish of the temptations to come—conditions of which were compounded by nearly six weeks of hunger—this man still entered. Mark’s “driven into” captures the tension, the suffering, and the agony that were present there in the cosmic battle. Jesus’s anguish was real (Matt 4:11).
Jesus in Your Wilderness
This is our God: Christ who became fully man and gave himself over to torment in mind and body to do right what the first Adam did wrong. This is our Savior. While I dare not presume to know the torment of your every day in the wilderness, while I stand outside of your suffering, helpless like all others to heal, I know of one greater who can, and I share his story to encourage you. For he identifies with you, and when you feel anguished in your depths and alone in your wilderness, there he stands with you—he whose strength goes before you as the victorious Adam.
Your own victories in Christ may not look so remarkable. They may not be overnight triumphs. Years may pass, while the small moments in between, known only in secrecy, may painfully crawl. They may look like the simple act of waking up in the morning and rising out of bed; yet this too is victorious. For as biblical counselor Ed Welch once said, “It is an act of faith to get up in the morning” when all that presses in is the hopelessness by your side. This may be your triumph. Rising from bed may be your triumph. Surviving another 24 hours of mental anguish, barred behind the prison of your despairing mind, may be your triumph. What may appear a small feat to others is yet a powerful testimony to your triumph, because it is Christ’s abundant grace, the same grace of his cross, holding you up to say, “In this moment, this moment that may be small to the eyes of man but counted worthy in Christ’s, here in this moment I choose faith.”
It is thus with sincere admiration that I say to those who struggle with mental health issues, thank you. Thank you for your strength. Thank you for your weakness. Thank you for your bravery. Thank you for your fears. Thank you for your perseverance, showing in ways only you can what Christlikeness is. For by choosing the difficult, narrow path of faith every day (Matt 7:14), not as mere sufferers but victors in Christ, you show the world that in him, our saving Adam, there is true hope.
If you or anyone you know is struggling with mental health issues and needs help, you can access biblical counseling resources and ministries at https://www.ccef.org/. This promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed, or administered by, or associated with, Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF). I write this solely out of personal experience and recommendation.