09 May 2008

Transparency: ...the bad and the downright ugly (Part 3 of 3)

by Dan Phillips

The purpose of godly transparency. In the previous post I quoted Spurgeon as saying, "I am the subject of depressions of spirit so fearful that I hope none of you ever get to such extremes of wretchedness as I go to." This quotation is justly well-known and oft-quoted (though seldom-sourced).

However, I'm not sure I've ever seen the thought reproduced in full:
I am the subject of depressions of spirit so fearful that I hope none of you ever get to such extremes of wretchedness as I go to, but I always get back again by this-I know I trust Christ. I have no reliance but in him, and if he falls I shall fall with him, but if he does not, I shall not. Because he lives, I shall live also, and I spring to my legs again and fight with my depressions of spirit and my down castings, and get the victory through it; and so may you do, and so you must, for there is no other way of escaping from it. In your most depressed seasons you are to get joy and peace through believing.
Spurgeon's purpose in alluding to his depressions was not to talk about himself. He wasn't out to make himself feel better about himself. These were not exercises in venting, nor personal therapy. Rather, the pastor was offering a point of contact to his hearers, by which to turn both himself and them to Christ. You might diagram it something like this:
  • Are you subject to depression?
  • I too am subject to depression — fearful depression!
  • Even in such depression, I find I can and must turn to the sufficient Christ for life and joy
  • ...and so can you, and so must you!
The Christian does not give himself leave from the two great commandments: the imperative of love for God, and for man (Matthew 22:36-40). "Honesty," "candor," "authenticity," or "transparency" — none of these is an abbreviation for "God gave me a pass from the two chief moral imperatives of the universe."

Example #1: Take as a positive example David, as he was wrestling with doubt and fear. He said, "I will guard my ways, that I may not sin with my tongue; I will guard my mouth with a muzzle, so long as the wicked are in my presence" (Psalm 39:1). So he was "mute and silent," and held his peace even as his distress worsened (vv. 2ff.). David did not want to give a tool to the "wicked," with which they could further mock God and damn their own souls, and further waylay those they influenced. God forbid that he give occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme.

Example #2: Asaph sets another example. He found himself twisted in a knot by the age-old problem of the prosperity of the wicked (Psalm 73). He was undergoing daily discipline, and living a Godward life (vv. 13-14) — but the godless were living the high life. Asaph was positively envious of them (v. 2).

Now, at that time and in the grips of this worldly envy, Asaph could have been "transparent." He could have brought his great eloquence to play in regaling his hearers with his frustrations, his desires, his disappointments. He could have painted a comic picture of his pious friends who were still walking the walk. He could have salved his conscience by mocking them, and gathering around himself a group of similarly disaffected wits. He could have been their hero.

But how did Asaph see it?
If I had said, "I will speak thus,"
I would have betrayed the generation of your children
(Psalm 73:15)
"Betrayed." Not "served."

It wasn't that Asaph was dishonest; he simply was still a worshiper of Yahweh. Even in the grips of such emotional turmoil, he saw this sort of "transparency" for what it was: an act of betrayal, an act of treachery against Yahweh and His children. So far from being noble and fine, Asaph knew it would be low and faithless. Self-serving, other-destroying.

The risks of "transparency." This is my cautionary note. To too many, "transparency" is all about them. It is an act of therapy, neither of worship nor service. It is self-indulgence.

By the way, God knows I'm not speaking cuttingly of them as if I'm untemptable. I once ran a post past my dear wife and, God love her, she told me frankly that it tended to that direction. I killed it; you never saw it.

The sorts I have in mind do not so much confess their weaknesses as revel in them, celebrate them, rationalize them. They aren't struggling to overcome the passions of the flesh; they're struggling to overcome the guilt (and stigma) of embracing those passions. It isn't about pointing fellow-strugglers to the Christ of Scripture; it's about making themselves feel better about their own defection from Him.

And so, like Absalom, they gather about themselves disgruntled men and women who start as admirers and stay as enablers. Questions become doubts, doubts become mockery, mockery becomes open rebellion. Helping neither the "sharer" nor themselves, they perpetuate a cycle of straying. Their disclosures are no giving, serving acts of love. No, they are whining, boasting, grasping excesses of sheer self-gratification.

In the quest for self-help, nobody gets help.

So pastors (to return to that) will do well to test ourselves. Our disclosures — what are they about? What is the subtext? Are they about making us look ____ — real, humble, authentic, tough, earthy, worldly? Pathetic, pitiable, needy?

The sorts of openness we celebrated in the first two posts were clear in both their intent and effect. The design in those cases is to share the consolation received by God with those who need it (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:4-7). It is about dealing gently with those similarly afflicted (cf. Hebrews 5:2). It is about tenderly urging the faint to draw new strength and get back on the path (Hebrews 12:12-13), to be strong in the grace of the Lord (2 Timothy 2:1), to draw near to the Lord for needed help and mercy (Hebrews 4:14-16).

And so, as so often, we're left in a tension twixt two extremes:
  • The man so arrogant that he can never admit to human weakness, no matter who that admission might serve
  • The man so self-absorbed that he publicly revels in his failings, and may the consequences to the honor of God and the good of his neighbor be damned
The best kind of transparency is the sort through which people can look and see — not ourselves, but — the Lord.

And so we end where we began: at 2 Corinthians 4:5.

**********************************
Previous posts:
Transparency: the good... (part 1 of 3)
Transparency: ...and more good... (part 2 of 3)

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18 comments:

Al said...

Dan, I think I have enjoyed and learned more from this post than anything else I have read in a while. Thanks for putting it up.

al sends

Stephen Garrett said...

Very good article!

I appreciate the full citation from Spurgeon on Depression.

It made me think of the words of Solomon - "in much wisdom is much grief, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrows." No wonder Jesus was a "man of sorrows and acquainted with grief" (or 'depression').

God bless

Stephen

JOYce@pfg said...

yes ~

Johnny Dialectic said...

"The best kind of transparency is the sort through which people can look and see — not ourselves, but — the Lord."

Simple, yet powerful. I do believe that much preaching today is intended to make the preacher the "star" of the sermon--the cool one, the "not like your old church" guy.

The aim is not to get the listener to the foot of the cross, but to get him to come back next Sunday, to enjoy more of the show.

So the type of transparency that is used to truly communicate the gospel is a good thing.

But how much of it? If it is done too often, does a preacher risk tainting the authority he's been given?

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

DJP: "It isn't about pointing fellow-strugglers to the Christ of Scripture; it's about making themselves feel better about their own defection from Him.

And so, like Absalom, they gather about themselves disgruntled men and women who start as admirers and stay as enablers. Questions become doubts, doubts become mockery, mockery becomes open rebellion. Helping neither the "sharer" nor themselves, they perpetuate a cycle of straying. Their disclosures are no giving, serving acts of love. No, they are whining, boasting, grasping excesses of sheer self-gratification."


Gold. Pure Gold. A truly wonderful three-part series. Thanks for being transparent with your thoughts on transparency!

Ryan Donovan said...

Thanks again. Good words to read. This last one came across, in some ways, as a swift kick in the pants for the times I want to self-indulge in that manner. A little unpleasant, but needed for sure.

donsands said...

You nailed it down pretty well. Good teachings. Good exhortation. Thank you.



BTW, my wife as a majorette back in high school performed a great routine to the theme song of the "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly".
I have been humming this song in my head, and I needed to vent.

Stefan said...

Thank you for such an edifying series of posts, Dan.

My life has been crazily busy the last couple of weeks, and my forays into TP have been few and far between. It's been hard to keep my mental focus on Christ (TP being one of the means to that), but coming back here was a dose of good medicine—rewarding and convicting as always.

(Hope that wasn't the wrong kind of transparency.)

ReformedMommy said...

"The best kind of transparency is the sort through which people can look and see — not ourselves, but — the Lord." - that's going up on the fridge for sure.

Amen to Al's comment - there are a lot of parallels between being in full time service in ministry and full time service as a mom, so this series has given me a lot of food for thought about how I handle my own (frequent) times of depression and how I talk about them with other women. Seriously good medecine - doesn't taste great going down, but seriously effective. Thanks.

DJP said...

Glad you applied it that way, Mommy. Though I spoke to pastors, I hoped the application to every Christian — particularly any public Christian — would make itself apparent.

ReformedMommy said...

"any public Christian"

There ain't no other kind, are there? Oh wait, I forgot politicians...

MooMa said...

Whoa! Those in the "Christian counseling" industry would do well to pocket that entire quote by Spurgeon...and share it!
Great post!

Polycarp said...

Yes Dan, I second Al's comment! Very insightful and spot-on my friend! This series reminds me of several comments the pastor of a previous church we attended (before we left upon discovering its emergentosis) used to say, and which seemed so out of place and very odd. He seemed to boast about having made some rather candid, transparent comments to the congregation (well before we stareted attending, so I'm not sure what they were exactly) that apparently revealed his desire to be "authentic". He always included in this story a man who approached him and conveyed the fact that it seemed inappropriate to air such laundry. To that man he apparantly said something to the effect of: "this is what real Christianity looks like, and if YOU are not willing to accept it, then perhaps you need to examine yourself". Of course, to cap off the story, there was always a pseudo-comedic jab at that poor man's unprogressive worldview.

F Whittenburg said...

Good post Dan, I see many people in the church today condemn others and condemn themselves if the get depressed or down as if somehow they have failed God in some way, yet even the apostles and disciples had times where they got so depressed that they "despaired even of life". And this even during missionary trips operating in the will and service of God.

For we would not, brethern, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we DESPAIRED EVEN OF LIFE: But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead: (2 Corinthians 1:8,9 KJV).

In light of scriptures like these, Mooma has a good point.

F Whittenburg

Buck said...

Dan, much thanks for an especially timely series of posts. I thought last week's words on the atonement were among the best I've read in my 2+ years of lurking, but then you go and raise the bar with transparency. That was outstanding.

Tim Brown said...

Dan:

Thanks for the encouraging word. I tend to be a melancholic perfectionist. I am so familiar with the bouts of depression that Spurgeon dealt with, although not perhaps to the same degree.

How often I've had to remind myself of the same thing: My hope is in Christ and CHrist alone -- as the disciples would tell Jesus, "To WHom else shall we turn, You alone have the words of eternal life".

Transparency is a tricky thing. I think that in many ways the church is crippled to some extent because more people don't want to rip of the "I'm ok, why aren't you" mask. The result is that so many people battle these kinds of things "alone".

Brendt said...

This cautionary note brought to you via the wisdom of St. Don of Henley:

Kick 'em when they're up
Kick 'em when they're down

Marie4thtimemom said...

I want to second Reformedmommy's comment!!!

Thank you so much for this post, Dan. It was convicting, helpful and painfully true. The tongue really can set a fire, and needs to be watched not only for outright slander, but motives in the way we talk about ourselves and "keep it real".