Sometimes the pain from battling a serious mental illness (or the struggle against addiction) can be overwhelming. Whether you have a mental illness (or addiction) or love someone who struggles, it can feel like you are walking in complete darkness at times. Questions and confusion may swirl in your head each day. You might even wonder if mental illness (or addiction) is outside of the walls of God’s loving care, but nothing could be further from the truth.
In A.D. 54, a man named Paul picks up pen and parchment and writes a letter. He’s writing to the community of Christians in Corinth –a Greek city located hundreds of miles away from the Jewish cities of Nazareth and Jerusalem, where Jesus lived and died. These Corinthians never met this Jesus. He had died 20 years ago, long before any of them began following the crucified rabbi’s way of life. It begs the question – who would follow a dead man?
Paul, a violent prosecutor of the Christian faith turned radical missionary, pauses near the end of his long-winded letter and reminds his readers of what he called “the gospel.” The word, which you might have heard Christians mention offhand, simply means “good news.” And for this Corinthian church faced with social rejection, poverty and inner turmoil, they could really use some good news. Paul himself was living through unjust imprisonment and a debilitating physical illness. He wrote frequently that he was in unending anguish and sorrow, even to the point of “despairing of life itself.”
Even Paul needed good news in the midst of a broken world. So in the 15th chapter of this letter to the Corinthians, he shared with them the gospel that propelled him forward:
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.
The Gospel is the story of Jesus. Paul names a few highlights from this story: the death, resurrection and, as we will see later, the rule of Jesus. Jesus “died for the sins” of his people, meaning that he took upon himself the weight of the people’s sins. He absorbed the pain and sorrow that stem from the evil that human beings created. They come in all forms. Think of the pain you have seen in your life, be it at the hands of an unforeseen accident or the steady deterioration of mental illness. Consider the disappointment that comes from trusting in people who let you down. Remember the shame you felt when you failed to be the person you wanted to be. This is the brokenness of being human, and Jesus took this brokenness upon himself.
He lived among us and shared his life with us – and he also shared our pain. And as Jesus wasted away on his cross, he loved not only those who followed him, but even those who put him to death. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” was his cry.
It is one thing to die for your friends. It is another thing to die for your enemies. But Jesus gave freely of his own life to all who would follow him.
Jesus died, but he did much more than that, and he didn’t stay dead. Sorrow does not have the final say. The crushing weight of loss does not win.
Jesus rose from the dead, and in doing so he dealt a heavy blow to the evil and the pain that run rampant in our world. Evil and pain did their worst to Jesus – they took his very life – but they won’t have the last word. And this means that death won’t have the last word for those who follow Jesus. He promises the same type of resurrection, and he promises a world where pain and sadness are a distant memory.
This is the hope that Paul can’t stop talking about. He drones on and on in the letter, which many people overlook because Paul excitedly writes in run-on sentence after run-on sentence. But the good news that has Paul excited is that Jesus has become the master of death.
“For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”
Death, the horrible shadow that lies behind all illness and tragedy and loss. Death, the one certainty in life and the greatest source of fear. For Paul, the resurrection proves that the love of Jesus has overcome death. This changes everything.
For the time being, people still die. People still get sick. People still suffer. And for many of you, mental illness seems to have free license to devastate everything you hold dear. But in the Gospel, hope shines through the storm. We see a king who has not only overcome pain and evil, but he has overcome them through love. This King understands your pain because he went through it himself, and he shares it even now. He invites each of us to know him, and in turn, live in his resurrection hope.
Copyright P82 Project Restoration, used with permission. www.p82homes.org, compiled by James Anderson