There is a rhetoric which has been bothering me, recently. I’ve heard it both in christian and cultural realms, from professionals and lay people alike. It concerns the language we use when someone has “got through” an episode of mental illness.
All too often, we hear about how someone has beaten their depression, or conquered their anxiety. It’s also used concerning physical illnesses, the idea that a cancer survivor fought bravely or ‘until the very end’.
It suggests that strength of character alone can cure our mental and physical ills.
The problem is, what does this say to people in the midst of pain? Of those railing at brains which cannot see straight, or bodies which ache and erode?
What does the language of battle and victory have to say to those who aren’t in a position to fight? Or to those who are left behind when death has marched through?
Now we believe in the ultimate victory of Christ over death, we celebrate the victory of Easter, of the power of the Spirit which comforts and heals, the Father who reigns over all weakness and all strength. But I cannot escape the reality of a fallen world, where we don’t always see victories won and we don’t see death defeated.
J Todd Billings, a theologian with incurable brain cancer writes on this with great insight in his book “Rejoicing in Lament”.
“When worship expresses only “victory,” it can unintentionally suggest that the broken and the lonely and the hurting have no place here… But the Psalms help show us that bottling up or trying to “fix” those emotions ourselves is not the right way.”
The Psalmists don’t often write victory cries, but they offer a lot of lament.
They invite God into the deepest and darkest of their hearts and lives, asking Him to show up in presence or power.
The infinite wisdom of God governs who sees healing this side of heaven, the infinite power of God is shown time and again in an empty tomb; but the infinite hesed the loving faithfulness of God is seen regardless of the results page.
The loving faithfulness of God cannot help but point us back to himself.
The source of all love and faithfulness.
It is not an individuals strength of character which governs their healing.
It is the strength of God, shown through us, for His glory.
The power and beauty of lament before God is that it doesn’t rely on our infinite weakness, but on God’s infinite strength.
So perhaps, instead of focussing on the need for strength of character to conquer, we point towards the one who conquered death on a cross?