When I was a senior in high school, a few of us in our youth group stumbled upon a controversial Youtube video with a young man eloquently spitting a spoken word piece about how a personal relationship with Jesus was the cure for all the pitfalls of corporate, organized religion. It reminded us all of a homegrown pastor from Chicago named, Leslie Hunter, who used to travel to Minneapolis and read his spoken word short stories to us about God’s redemption and transforming grace, so we naturally connected well with it. Bethke’s catalytic message became a conversation starter among all camps of the Internet and was the source of a lot of commentary from notable pastors in the United States. Admittedly, I never watched much more from him until he released this video….
The title grabbed me, because I’m always intrigued whenever things like depression enter the same conversation as Jesus. I feel like some Christians have a misunderstanding about mental illness and addiction – that instead of them being neurochemical imbalances and the results of extenuating circumstance or poor choices, they’re marginalized and chalked up to the result of a lack of faith. Thankfully, the perspective in this video doesn’t really take sides on this issue, but it did capture the narrative of living with depression and addiction, especially at the point where it feels like such illnesses are immune to even Jesus’s healing. I was the same way. I thought that if I confessed my sin, and began to really follow Jesus, things would finally look up and my problems would evaporate into a distant memory of desires I no longer had. But, Bethke nailed it… “Relationships broke, addictions stayed, and that pervasive feeling of loneliness kept gnawing at me.”
Before watching this, I felt like the Biblical minor prophets lived up to their nominal status. Minor, thinking to myself, “There’s only like three or four chapters in some of these… what’s the big deal?” When Bethke references Hosea in this video, I decided to unleash my inner context (#Strengthfindersreference!), investigate this book, and all my presuppositions were erased. Hosea and the collection of eleven other prophets that make up the final leg and finish line of the Old Testament are sent by God to prophecy to Israel at the pinnacle of their sinful indulgences before being overrun by the Assyrian Empire. All these prophetic writings textually depict this narrative about Israel descending into depravity, enduring exile and destruction, then returning and rebuilding the kingdom. Hosea marks a turning point for Israel. The nation had become defiant, was worshipping idols, and drifting further away from the shores of God’s comfort. Hosea is sent by God to forewarn Israel about their impending doom. To illustrate God’s intentions, Hosea is told by God to marry Gomer, a prostitute whom he has two children with and ends up cheating on him – upon which God tells Hosea to continue pursuing her anyway in the same manner that God will not stop pursuing Israel, despite it’s unfaithfulness as a nation (Ch. 1, V. 2-9). As a part of the prophecy, we arrive at Chapter 2, verse 14, “Therefore, I am now going to allure her. I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her there.” The overarching story is revealing about God’s grace, just nature, wrath, love, and ultimately marks the perfect springboard into the Gospels. My friend, Erik actually pointed out chapter 11, verse 8 where the Lord declares, “… My heart recoils within me, my compassion grows warm and tender.” When you backdrop a verse like this behind the forthcoming destruction of Israel, it paints a beautifully holistic portrait of God’s nature.
The wilderness is translated from Hebrew as Mid-bawr – meaning desolate wasteland, so it’s fitting when Bethke says that the wilderness meant nothingness and was devoid of life. I found a commentary that shows a second meaning for the wilderness in Hebrew – a good place to pasture “God’s sheep.” It’s a place to be nurtured. Think about how Bethke talks about “romance” that occurs. “I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness and you will acknowledge the Lord” (Ch.2 v. 19-20). As I read through the rest of this book, I began thinking about what Bethke said where the wilderness is something where beauty shines in the darkest places. I think when we imagine wilderness (especially in Minnesota), we picture evergreens blanketed with snow, stretching in endless waves across the northern sky. It doesn’t seem so desolate, but I don’t know about you, there’s something that tickles our fear of being alone in the wilderness. We get into a place where we begin processing our hurts with God and hearing the Lord’s voice feels deafening when we turn off social media and meander through mazes of our broken relationships and bitterness. My pastor recently said something interesting in this vein when talking about Jacob wrestling God in Genesis 32…So often we frantically search for an exit out of the wilderness. “Lord deliver me FROM.” Panic.
I think everyone can visually picture what it would be like to wander some kind of meta-physical wilderness, but the experience of dealing with the difficulties of life in that kind of wilderness is subjective. I can say as someone who is someone who is in recovery for addiction, recurring issues with anxiety, and now navigating the transitions after college, that the wilderness is an unavoidable reality of entering a life with Jesus, let alone the human experience. We should expect to walk in it and through it at at least one point. In fact, at times I think we should embrace the wilderness and allow us to be as John Mayer puts it, “in repair.” It’s kind of like how Bethke says, “There are some things that we can only see in the dark… and maybe instead of cursing the wilderness or the dry season, or thinking something is wrong with us, we look up and see His glow, maybe He has a special display for us at night. Maybe He shines even brighter when everything is going crazy.” Having to take a few long walks in the dark have been the times where God has taught me the most about myself and about His people – the messiness of recovery, the undertaking of being an adult, the continuation of sorting past wrongs. But, in that, I still see the beauty of life, and sometimes in the smallest of ways in the same sense of looking at the night sky – packing my house with friends and watching Interstellar on a Saturday night, roommates coming home after an encouraging week of travel, hearing stories from friends about their lives I haven’t before. I think we should take those small tokens and pack them on our next excursion…
“I’m in repair, I’m not together, but I’m getting there.”