Tag Archives: Vincent Van Gogh

The Depressed Prophet

Cursed be the day I was born!
    May the day my mother bore me not be blessed!
Cursed be the man who brought my father the news,
    who made him very glad, saying,
    “A child is born to you—a son!”
May that man be like the towns
    the Lord overthrew without pity.
May he hear wailing in the morning,
    a battle cry at noon.
For he did not kill me in the womb,
    with my mother as my grave,
    her womb enlarged forever.
Why did I ever come out of the womb
    to see trouble and sorrow
    and to end my days in shame?
Jeremiah 20:13-18 (NIV)

Across the ages, the ancient prophet Jeremiah has been labeled with  the moniker “The Weeping Prophet.” In our bedroom at the lake Wendy and I have a copy of Rembrandt’s portrait of Jeremiah looking depressed and sullen as he sits amidst the ruins of Jerusalem. It reminds me that the lake is a thin place where any who are burdened can find rest for their souls. Alas, it would seem that Jeremiah had no such place.

In today’s chapter we read of a confrontation between Jeremiah and a priest named Pashur, who was “the official in charge of the Temple of the Lord.” The fact that the one “in charge” was out to get Jeremiah is a good indication of just how corrupt the system had become in Jeremiah’s day. The priest in charge of the Temple was overseeing all of the pagan rituals and cults operating out of the Temple. The Temple had become a religious corporation, a powerful money-maker for those in charge (not unlike the way Jesus’ found the Temple in His day).

While Jeremiah had been protected from the death-threats that had already been made against him, Pashur decided to at least punish the prophet for his inflammatory prophesies of doom and destruction. I’m quite sure they were bad for business. In fact, I can almost hear Pashur saying, “This isn’t personal, Jer. It’s strictly business.” Once again, this is not unlike Jesus who, after His repeated rants against their corruption and His stirring up of the people, pressured the Temple leaders to plot His death .

After his time in the stocks, Jeremiah immediately confronts Pashur with a stubborn and willful repeating of his prophetic message: Jerusalem will be destroyed and its people led into captivity at the hands of Babylon. Obviously the prophet wanted Pashur to know his punishment did not have the desired effect. In fact, it simply appears to have pissed Jeremiah off.

What comes next is fascinating. The weeping prophet goes into a depression and pens a dark poem that graphically expresses his wish that he’d never been born. Obviously, the burden of his role, his prophecies, and the steady threats and persecution were getting to him. Of course they were. It would get to me too.

This morning I’m thinking about how common it is for humans to go through periods of depression. If you were privy to my medical records you’d find that I’ve had a few bouts with the blues along my life journey, and I never faced anything like what Jeremiah was dealing with. I’m also thinking about how common it is for individuals in history (artists, musicians, writers, thinkers) who saw and expressed things no one else could see were given to depression, madness, mental illness, and even suicide. I’d certainly put Jeremiah alongside the likes of Van Gogh, Hemingway, and Parker.

I’m struck by the contrast this morning between the spit-shined image I believe we often have of a “godly” person or a “servant of God.” We demand so much, expect so much, and are so quick to scapegoat individuals for their weaknesses and shortcomings. Jeremiah reminds me this morning that God’s servants were fully human, carried human flaws and weaknesses, were susceptible to all the shortcomings known to humanity, and were even given to deep depression and suicidal thoughts. Jeremiah reminds me to cut others a break. He even reminds me to be a bit more gracious with myself.

Wendy and I were at the lake late last week opening it up for the coming summer season. Once again, I saw and pondered Jeremiah’s portrait as I lay in bed.

I’m looking forward to getting back there.

(FWIW: My latest message was added to the Messages page.)

A Scared Child Clinging to His Father’s Hand

Sis Holding Dad's Hand
(Photo credit: brainwise)

Yet I still belong to you;
    you hold my right hand.
Psalm 73:23 (NLT)

My family will tell you that I’m a “letter” guy. It’s one of the (many) quirks to which I cling. In a world of instant electronic communication I still enjoy pulling out a postcard or sheet of stationery, writing a handwritten letter, picking out a postage stamp, and sending it by snail mail. I find it more polite, personal, and intimate. Letters, in their own subtle way, are works of art.

I have also found in recent years that I enjoy reading the letters of others. I have read the letters of Vincent Van Gogh (and abridged version) and I have recently been reading the letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. Letters reveal a lot about the writer. They are more intimate and personal than a work of literature and in a letter people tend to share more directly than they would in a work for public consumption. In Tolkien’s letters I’ve discovered a man of deep and reasonable faith. I’ve found a man who avidly appreciated long hours of decent ale in small pubs with a small group of good friends in deep conversation. I’ve also discovered a man grieving the industrial age and a world at war like an ent eschewing the destructive contraptions of Saruman.

As I read the lyrics of Psalm 73 this morning, I felt like I was reading a very personal letter. Asaph shares the tale of his personal journey with a deep sense of intimate confession:

  • I stumbled along the way
  • I have envied those who had more than me
  • I longed to enjoy the fantasy world of the rich and famous for myself
  • I heard the mocking of those who scoff at the notion of God, and I listened
  • I doubted, and wondered if my faith was a joke
  • I felt regret for choosing to follow God’s ways
  • I became embittered and torn up inside

I’ve written before that the faith journey is not a sprint but a marathon. I’m now beginning to realize that it’s more than that. You can even try to use the metaphor of an Iron Man Triathlon and it comes short. In comparison the faith journey is far more epic in proportion. Asaph is giving us a glimpse in his own personal account. It is not uncommon for those who choose it to encounter along the way: stumbling, trip-ups, doubts, envy, regrets, inner turmoil, and intensely personal questions which hinder a person’s resolve.

I loved Asaph’s conclusion: “I still belong to you.” Despite all of the difficulties, mistakes, questions, and doubts Asaph clings like a scared child to his Father’s hand. This morning I identified with Asaph’s description of his faith own journey. I get it. I understand. And, it encouraged me to continue on, even if there are days that I am nothing more than a scared child clinging to my Father’s hand.