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!
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,""Betrayed." Not "served."
I would have betrayed the generation of your children
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
And so we end where we began: at 2 Corinthians 4:5.