I’ve always been a winner.
As early as elementary school, I was part of school programs designed for the brightest percentile of students. I never studied for anything, including the ACT score that would have gotten me a free ride at most schools. My parents had more than enough money for us to live comfortably, and I got a lot of what I wanted. (I’m the white son of a police officer, so I never had to worry about socioeconomic or racial disparity like so many others do.)
On top of this, we rarely missed a Sunday church service. The cards aren’t really stacked against me, if we’re being honest.
One day, though, I stopped feeling like a winner. I don’t know when it was, and if I were a betting man I would guess it was a slow, unnoticeable process as I grew into adolescence. But at some point during or after middle school, I lost hope—hope in myself, hope in God, hope in all I’d ever known. And since I lost hope, I started searching for it in all the wrong places. I grew even more hopeless, and before I knew it depression ruled my life.
I was absolutely enslaved by it.
On the outside, I kept up the facade. I had to; I’m a winner, remember? Winners don’t feel like this. Inside, though, I felt the joy of succeeding could never outweigh the pain of living. It’s like I was on a downhill emotional spiral. Any spirituality I had dried up to zilch.
It was my sophomore year of high school, if I remember correctly.
I thought through it. Since I lived at home, I didn’t want it to be graphic. I’d choose strangulation because it seemed like the least graphic way to go out, at least for everyone else in my life.
So, I did it. I put all my pent up failure into an attempt to suffocate myself.
By the grace of God, mine was a pretty futile attempt. In hindsight, it feels silly to even use the term “suicide attempt” because it was such a colossal failure. But it was an attempt nonetheless. And to be quite frank, I’d include more concrete details if my memory was clearer. I mostly just remember everything growing fuzzy before I eventually came to again, sitting on my bathroom floor.
The Most Interesting Boring Book of the Bible I Ever Read
As I’m sure you could imagine, in the moment I felt defeated. It’s one thing to feel like such a failure that you want to die—it’s a whole other thing to try to die and fail at that, too.
Shaken up and devastated, I wanted to sleep. I remember planning to fake sickness the next day so I would have a few hours of alone time to calm down from the emotional high the evening had been. I tiptoed back to my bedroom so no one would know I was awake.
As if the night hadn’t been weird enough already, the next thing I did was pick up a Bible. The only reason I wanted it was because I knew it was the only thing that would make me sleepier. I had grown up in church, and I could fake Christianity like it was nobody’s business, so I didn’t really know what to do once I opened it. I had a few friends who talked a lot about Romans, so I figured I’d just read that.
I read the whole book rather quickly. I didn’t get the hype—it just sounded like…the Bible. I didn’t understand why my friends were so infatuated with discussing this book. I figured I must have missed something, and I wasn’t tired enough to sleep, so I reread it. I went slower this time.
It began to sink in. I read about my guilt before Him. Romans 1 told me we all naturally suppress the truth, and that we are sinners who deny God despite knowing Him through his plain revelation.
I read about how God made a plan to redeem us. Romans 5 told me this plan became the blueprint for undoing what Adam had done wrong so long ago.
Chapter 5 contains two words sweeter than the millions of others I’d read: “But God.”
”But God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Romans 5:8 (CSB)
All my hopelessness, all my unlived potential, all my insufficiency—it wasn’t an accessory to the gospel. It was part of the gospel. Jesus couldn’t have died for the sick and needy if we were all well and without need. There could be no grace if I hadn’t deserved condemnation. It began to come together in the resolve of Chapter 8: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
For that moment in time, my whole world hung on two words: “But God.” All my winning turned to naught, all the weight of my hedonism was lifted, all my inner turmoil was cleansed. And it wasn’t just my story. The whole of human history can be summed up in two words: “But God.”
I wanted to die, “but God” saved my life. I wiped my eyes. climbed in bed. I didn’t feel better, but I didn’t feel condemned. I knew I was in Christ Jesus.
Living Your Life According to “But God”
I didn’t want to live, but God wants me to seek life abundantly.
I deserve wrath, but God sent His Son to bear the full weight of wrath for me.
I am insufficient, but God is enough.
I could have never measured up, but God says I am in Christ Jesus.
I get tired of facing depression, but God never tires in lavishing His grace.
We were once dead, “but God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great
love that he had for us, made us alive with Christ” (Eph. 2:4).
Time and time again, I find comfort in the But Gods of the Bible. They offer peace. They are miniature sabbaths tucked away in Paul’s epistles, fully owning the reality of our sin and fully granting us rest in Christ. In our faithlessness, God is faithful. He is apt to save even the most regular of sinners.
Live your life according to “But God.” It’s a paradigm-shifting phrase. It removes your insecurity and forces you to admit your insufficiency. Rightly understood, it’s a gospel sermon in only two words.
Stop overlooking the small words of Scripture.
Take it from me: they just might save your life.