“…But a crushed spirit who can bear?”

Proverbs 18:14

A man’s spirit will endure sickness,
     But a crushed spirit who can bear?

There is something uniquely unbearable about a crushed spirit. Even in the throes of terminal sickness, many a spirit find hope that can sustain them, even unto death. But the thing about a crushed spirit is that it just cannot seem to find any such hope. In fact, a crushed spirit often wishes for death.

“…But a crushed spirit who can bear?”

The month of May is Mental Health Awareness Month. I am by no means an expert on mental health, but this subject is very near to my heart. As the Spirit has drawn me closer and closer into fellowship with Christ over the years, I’ve found myself increasingly drawn to those who suffer. And while I’ve witnessed various kinds of suffering, the most seemingly hopeless manifestations of suffering have all been surrounded by issues of mental health. If ever I have witnessed the devastating reality of a crushed spirit, it is in these cases.

After all, the very nature of a crushed spirit is a sense of hitting rock-bottom. It is like falling into a deep pit with nothing but the heaviest of weights chained to one’s ankles. How does a person just stop being depressed on command?

“…But a crushed spirit who can bear?”

The hopelessness of a crushed spirit stems from the sufferers’ inability to easily escape their mental health problems. But another layer of hopelessness is added for those of us seeking to care for these people.

What can we do for the grieving teenager, who cuts herself in the privacy of her room, in hope of distracting the pain of her heart with the pain of her forearms?

What can we do for the lonely young boy who hears voices telling him that he is worthless and to hurt himself?

What can we do for the precious junior higher who is on the brink of completely shutting down at any moment while she is daily tormented by flashbacks from her rape experience?

What can we do for the inconsolably depressed person who can hardly get out of bed, much less cease from her sobbing and get to work?

These sufferers cannot bear their own suffering, and neither can we.

“…But a crushed spirit who can bear?”

So it would appear that neither the sufferer nor the supporter can bear a crushed spirit. Worse yet, Proverbs 17:22 details the psychosomatic tragedy of a crushed spirit: “…a crushed spirit dries up bones.” A crushed spirit and issues of mental health, are not merely matters of feelings and moods. These are life-threatening matters. They affect the whole person. People’s lives are at stake. So again we ask along with the proverb:

“…But a crushed spirit who can bear?”

Truly, there is only one who can perfectly bear a crushed spirit. Our LORD, Jesus Christ, is the one.

But I wonder if leaving this post here might be too trite an ending. If I were in the thick of depression and suffering from a crushed spirit, I’m not sure I would find much encouragement if someone were to simply tell me, “Take heart, Jesus can bear a crushed spirit!”

“…But a crushed spirit who can bear?”

What is most compelling to me during Mental Health Awareness Month is not that Jesus is the only one who can perfectly bear a crushed spirit. What is most compelling to me is how Jesus went about bearing a crushed spirit.

And how did he bear it? By experiencing it in all its unbearable-ness. In a very real sense, Jesus bore a crushed spirit by not being able to bear it.

“…But a crushed spirit who can bear?”

I recently spoke with a Christian who struggles with mild depression. One question I asked her was whether the reality of Jesus’ empathetic suffering was any consolation to her. She replied, “But he was fully God, and could therefore handle the suffering. I’m not God, and I can’t handle it.” Although it was not the appropriate time to launch into a full-blown theological treatise on Christology, I was reminded of how easy it is to ignore the full humanity of Christ.

Acknowledging the full humanity of Christ means paying close attention the very human way in which he bore a crushed spirit. And just as the rest of humanity has wrestled with the reality of Proverb 18:14 (“A man’s spirit will endure sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?”), so also has our Savior. The humanity of our Savior demands that the Son of God himself, in a very real sense, could not bear a crushed spirit! After all, “it was the will of the LORD to crush him; He has put him to grief…” (Isaiah 53:10). Bearing the unbearable meant being absolutely crushed.

But what comfort is there in this? What comfort does a crushed Savior offer? If even the Son of God was subjected to a crushed spirit and the threatening result of dried up bones, what hope is there for us?

“…But a crushed spirit who can bear?”

The Psalmist points us to hope:

The LORD is near to the brokenhearted
     And saves the crushed in spirit.
Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
     But the LORD delivers him out of them all.
He keeps all his bones;
     Not one of them is broken. (Psalm 34:18-20)

This was Jesus’ hope as he hung on the cross, forsaken, and absolutely crushed in spirit. And even though he died, he was not ultimately disappointed.

“So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs…For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: ‘Not one of his bones will be broken.’” (John 19:32-37)

Jesus hoped against hope while undergoing the full experience of being crushed, even to death. He hoped against hope while feeling nothing but hopeless. He faced the unbearable and expired, a fate humanity knows all too well.

But not one of his bones was broken!

This is the beauty of the gospel. It is not simply that Jesus rescues us from an unbearable crushed spirit, but that he undergoes the unbearable and experiences it as unbearable. And yet there is still hope, real hope for this age and the age to come.

“…But a crushed spirit who can bear?”

In one sense, no one. Not even Christ. But it is precisely because Christ could not bear a crushed spirit that we have hope in the midst of our own unbearably crushed spirits.

Jesus hoped against hope in the LORD who is near to the brokenhearted, and according to the good pleasure of his Father, his bones were not broken. For just as he was no stranger to loud cries and tears, he was also no stranger to answered prayer.

Hebrews 5:7

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.

This is good news for us, especially those who suffer from mental illness. The good news is that even in the midst of a crushed spirit, even as our bones dry up, even as the depression continues, even as the voices in one’s head continue to torment, even as our spirits are crushed under the weight of the unbearable, if we are in Christ, our bones will never be ultimately broken. In Jesus, the LORD is ever near to all of us who are brokenhearted. Far nearer than we know.

He knows the very bottom of the depths of a crushed spirit. He knows the hopelessness. And more importantly, he also knows that even there, at rock-bottom, at the hopeless breaking point that goes beyond the unbearable, even there, there is hope. Christianity is the story about an undying hope that wins over a genuine hopelessness.

Andrew Ong

Andrew is a third-generation, San Francisco Bay Area ABC (American Born Chinese). He and his third-gen wife have two daughters and still live in the East Bay. After graduating from the University of California Irvine and Westminster Theological Seminary, he completed his PhD in World Christianity at the University of Edinburgh, researching Chinese American evangelicals and Neo-Calvinist theology. He presently serves on staff at Christ Church East Bay in Berkeley, California. Andrew's a simple guy whose passions include: sushi, pizza, nachos, and the Golden State Warriors. On his less sanctified days he lives by the maxim: #ballislife.

One thought on ““…But a crushed spirit who can bear?”

  • November 18, 2017 at 9:40 pm

    I was appreciative of the sensitivity of this blog. Mental Health and crushed spirit is very real. I have gone through breaks with reality and still very hurt. I understand the hope that we in Jesus that he suffered for us. He even sweated blood for us. The thought of having one another. Finding hope in Jesus and the body of Christ is ever helpful to me. They encourage me and inspire like Barnabas to Paul and like your blog here today.


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