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BOOK REVIEW: On Getting Out of Bed: The Burden and Gift of Living by Alan Noble (IVP, 2021)

Reviewed June 2024

Alan Noble knows what you are going through. Because he’s lived it, because he’s living it.

Noble is associate professor of English at Oklahoma Baptist University and has previously written for the Gospel Coalition. He is also a Christian husband and father. On Getting Out of Bed draws from his own experience, and the experiences of others, with depression and anxiety to help readers find ways to continue to be faithful to God despite their mental struggles.

Noble knows firsthand there are days, for some of us, almost every day, when doing the most menial, mundane, regular tasks seem so overwhelming that you can’t muster the desire or energy to get out of bed and do them. This wonderful book - really a short 103-page essay - is for those who experience this kind of mental anguish.

But don’t simply call these struggles mental illness. For some that is the medical diagnosis within which they must exist. Most of us, however, deal regularly with what Nobel calls “mental affliction” without ever getting, or needing, a medical diagnosis. When Noble speaks of “mental affliction” he is speaking of those moments or seasons of real mental suffering that arise out of the realities of life that all too often make living more a burden than a blessing. Those moments when we wake up in the morning with more questions about life than answers. Those moments when finding the drive to keep going is exceedingly difficult. Those moments when simply getting out of bed seems an impossible task.

There are many, many perspectives on how a Christian should deal with mental affliction. Some have argued that psychological treatments, medical interventions such as medication are inherently sinful and are a sign of weak Christian faith. Those people, as Noble demonstrates, are wrong. There are others that simply accept whatever the world of secular psychology says and accept approaches to mental health that don’t fit within the biblical narrative. Those people, as Noble demonstrates, are also wrong. It is not Noble’s intent to solve this debate or even offer an opinion about big issues such as these - except to suggest that both of these perspectives are often too simplistic, and do not get at the heart of what is going on when most of us struggle. Further, they both believe the lie that life should be comfortable, peaceful, and that we should be able to master it. In fact, a pleasant life isn't normal. In light of these realities, we need to accept two facts -- life is hard and involves suffering, and second, there are rarely clear answers to depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders.

How does one move forward in light of these two facts? For the Christian there are only two things to do - love God and love neighbor. He writes, “[T]here are rarely clear answers to depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders. You can and should pursue professional help but remember that there are limits. And at those limits we are thrown back on ourselves, God, and our neighbor for the responsibility of living.” Noble never calls on us to pretend our mental affliction doesn't exist or to suppress our mental anguish. Nor does he allow us to wallow in it or use it as an excuse. Instead, he advocates for small, but significant changes to our outlook on life - a life that has God as its center and our neighbor as co-strugglers. One of the qualities of this work is Noble’s ability to walk the line between minimizing mental affliction without allowing us to use mental suffering as an excuse. For example, he writes, “if you wait until you are in a ‘good place’ mentally before you accept your responsibilities, you may never act.” His book holds the tension between being honest about our mental affliction while encouraging us to take the next small simple step - to just get out of bed in fulfilment of the two great commands given by Christ. 

His basic point in the book is this -- regardless of what mental state we wake up to, each and every day we must choose to live. That’s not always an easy choice, but it is one that we must make. Why? Because our existence is good. Our existence is good, because God has created us, and he has called creation good. Since God has created us and called his creation good, our only proper response is to glorify him and enjoy him forever. Even though we may not feel these things to be true, we must do them as an act of worship and obedience. He writes,

“When we act on [the goodness of creation] by rising out of bed, when we take that step to the block in radical defiance of suffering and our own anxiety and depression and hopelessness, with our heads held high, we honor God and His creation, and we testify to our family, to our neighbors, and to our friends of his goodness. This act is worship.”

We are not only responsible to God to get up and choose to live we are also responsible to our neighbors. We have spouses and families that need us. We have responsibilities at work that must be met. We have Christian brothers and sisters who need us. The fact that we are suffering does not allow us to disobey the command to bear other’s burdens and to love our neighbors. This turn outward, to the needs of others, prevents us from becoming overwhelmed by a self-focus that will drive us deeper into darkness and it opens us up to the beauty of life in community with others. It is also a witness to others that the world is good, and that God is good. This simple act of living can be a great encouragement to others who are struggling as well. It is a witness that God is worth getting up for. 

In what is the heart of Noble’s encouragement and challenge, he turns his attention to the gospel, to redemption as a solution to our mental affliction. Admittedly, there is not enough gospel in this work, but when Noble speaks about redemption he is on point. He reminds us that our suffering cannot undermine God’s glorious plan of redemption, “because the ending is already written: you will overcome, Christ has redeemed and will glorify you, including your flawed and, in some cases, ill mind.” In the meantime, “The very same God who created you in an act of grace and who preserves you in an act of grace suffered so that you can be redeemed by an act of grace.” What great encouragement!

This book is for anyone who is walking through a season of mental struggle or suffering… which means it is for everyone. Noble finds a way to put into words what most of us are feeling and thinking about life. In its pages you will find encouragement, hope and comfort, knowing that we are not alone as sufferers. You will also find the needed gentle, but firm push to get out of bed and get going. 

Soli Deo Gloria


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