A doctor is worried that his patient may be suffering from depression. He asks the patient the following questions. These questions are standard in depression diagnosis.
"Do you have little interest or pleasure in doing things?
Do you feel down or hopeless?
Do you have trouble falling asleep?
Are you tired all the time?
Do you have poor appetite?
Do you feel bad about yourself?"
The patient replies, "Well, ever since I saw two thousand of my fellows crucified along the road, I have been having nightmares. Then they destroyed the temple, murdered a million of us, and drove the survivors into exile. We can't sacrifice to God any more. Then of course there was the mass suicide at Masada. I doubt that we will survive as a people."
"I see," the doctor says. He writes out a prescription for Prozac.
Linguists often remark that different languages contain words that don't translate well into other languages. That's why when we want to talk about chutzpah or schadenfreude or champagne or samovars or jihad we resort to words taken from Yiddish, German, French, Russian, and Arabic, respectively.
Some words don't translate from one language to another. Some words don't translate from one time period to another. "Depression" is one of those words that doesn't translate well across eons.
I am observing Lent this year by drawing a Tarot card at random and writing a stream of consciousness blog about it. Today's card is the four of cups. The four of cups depicts someone who looks depressed.
I thought, can I really talk about a twenty-first century understanding of depression in the context of the Bible? I realized, I can't.
And that realization causes me to reflect.
Our understanding of leprosy doesn't translate to the worldview of the Biblical era, either. The Bible mandates strict anathema on lepers.
The thing is, those interpreting that law didn't know how to differentiate leprosy from non-contagious skin conditions. Even people with eczema – which looks and feels really awful but which is not contagious and is not deadly – were subject to shunning.
The Jewish Encyclopedia records, "In the Talmud the classification or definition of leprosy and of its symptoms seems to be determined not by medical ideas, but by a literal and indiscriminating adherence to the letter of the Levitical law; Talmudic sages were satisfied merely with communicating the Biblical decisions. The Rabbis appear at times even to confuse true leprosy with eczema."
Some Christians condemned and cast out lepers. Lepers were judged to be hated by God and heretics.
Christians and Jews lacked complete understanding of leprosy.
There's another twenty-first century word that Christians and Jews in the past did not understand. The word is "homosexual."
What does the Bible say about homosexuality? Nothing.
There are surprisingly few condemnations of same sex intercourse in the Bible. The Old Testament never mentions women having sex with each other. When same sex intercourse is condemned, it's usually condemned as part of exploitative behavior, for example as occurred between Pagan men and their sex slaves, or as part of Pagan orgies.
The Bible never talks about homosexuality – it never talks about people who, through a morally neutral accident of birth, find love in mutually fulfilling, same sex relationships with one other consenting adult. That is absolutely never mentioned in the Bible.
You can read more about this topic here. It's an essay called "What Does the Bible Say about Homosexuality" and it's by Jimmy Creech who was a Methodist pastor for thirty years.
BTW, I don't mention homosexuality after depression, leprosy and eczema to suggest that homosexuality is a disease. I mention it because I think it's a topic, like the previous two, that Biblical authors didn't understand completely. We don't shun lepers any more. We don't shun people with eczema. We don't declare them hated by God.
It will be a good day when the entire church decides to acknowledge what is true to anyone who has eyes: homosexuals are not worse people than heterosexuals, and the love that homosexuals find in committed, adult, consensual partnerships is not less, or less necessary, than the love that heterosexuals find in their committed, adult, consensual partnerships.