Depression: Some Questions

Here are things I’ve heard over the years that we must take a second look at. Here are some possible answers.

“There must be something wrong with your spiritual life.”

Yes, depression CAN be a result of sin. BUT depression is NOT always a result of sin! If it is, God will tell you loud and clear what the problem is. This saying piles on the guilt for the depressed Christian. It’s unlikely that their depression has a spiritual cause, and this implies that they are not good enough spiritually.  

“Repent and ask forgiveness for your sin!”

Depression is a result of sin, in that if there was no sin in the world depression wouldn’t exist. But then, neither would diabetes, cancer, or any other illness… Sin caused the world to be not-perfect, therefore illness exists. It’s a sin to be depressed, any more than it is to have any other illness. Depression can be used by God to encourage repentance, but in that case, it will be crystal clear exactly what sin you should repent of. If you don’t know or have just a vague sense of guilt, your depression is not the result of sin. 

You need to have more faith.”  “Have faith in God.”

Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” How much faith does it take to hold onto the Christian faith when emotions scream at you daily to give up, get out and turn against God? Very often a depressed Christian will be hanging onto faith by their fingernails in something that requires a ton of faith.  

“Taking antidepressants is playing God, He can heal you.”

Yes, God can heal. Sometimes he doesn’t just flick a switch to make the illness vanish, sometimes the healing comes through the conventional ways of doctors, psychiatrists, counselors, therapists, and medication. By persuading someone not to take their medicines in preference for a quick, supernatural healing that God may not have in store for them, the sufferer is being denied something that will help them, right now. 

“Scripture says everything that happens is for your own good!”

The actual verse found in Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” This verse in no way implies that the sufferer should sit back and accept the illness for the rest of their life. It also does not say that illnesses are not to be fought with the intention of a cure. While God may well have things to do with a depressed person, the illness is not a good thing itself, and it may take years before you see positive results from it.  

“You’ve been prayed for, why has nothing changed?”

This can be expressed in several ways and spoken by one of two different groups of people: either the person who asked for prayer or those who prayed for them. We’ll break the underlying situation into two areas: something definite was experienced in the prayer time: chains were obviously broken and new freedom gained, or, nothing apparently happened at all. That is, “I know God set you free,” why aren’t you free yet?

“Depression is a self-discipline problem.”

Self-discipline is important to a Christian. We have to be disciplined enough not to break the laws of the land, and to obey our God. But no amount of discipline will get rid of a medical problem. This statement implies that the sufferer is lazy and could become better by sheer force of will. This is not possible and causes a lot of guilt.

“You’re depressed because you choose to be.” 

Why would anyone choose depression? It is hell on earth. It destroys everything it touches. Families, marriages, jobs, churches, and ministries- faith, peace, hope, and love. Depression corrodes all that it touches.

Does a diabetic or cancer patient choose their disease? Does the blind or the deaf person wake up in the morning and decide they aren’t going to keep being handicapped? These are the questions I would ask.

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“You just need to rebuke that spirit of depression and tell it to leave you. Don’t let Satan steal your joy.”

There are two problems with this statement. One problem is the assumption that depression is caused by demonic oppression. The other problem is the assumption that joy and happiness are the same things. Blaming a “spirit of depression” can be a wonderful cop-out. Just cast out the spirit and you’re cured! No need for long-term support, prayer, counseling, or anything at all! And with this statement comes the implicit assumption that once again it’s your fault you’re depressed, this time because you’re not “spiritual” enough to get rid of the troublesome spirit yourself.

Yes, it is possible that demonic oppression can cause depression. No, demons are not responsible for every case of depression. Imagine what would happen if this statement was directed at someone with cancer, hemophilia, or osteoporosis (“Just cast out that demon attacking your bones and be strong again! God wants to see you running marathons!”).

The second problem with this statement is that joy is equated with happiness. People with depression are not going to be the happiest souls in the church. I’ve heard it said that happiness depends on what happens, whereas joy can exist in very unhappy situations.

“There’s no such thing as mental illness, it’s all in your mind”

Saying this denies that there is anything actually wrong with the depressed person, and implies that they are just making it up. This piles on the guilt again! A mental illness can be defined as one that affects the mind; the brain is allowed to get ill, just as the liver and lungs are.

“It’s your own fault you’re depressed”

This is the kind of thing that Job’s “comforters” said, and it didn’t help then either. Bad things can happen to good people. Denying this hurts the sufferer.

“Pull yourself together”

If you’ve been trying, someone saying this to you comes across as “You haven’t been trying hard enough, do more, and more, and more until you get it right.” So back you go, pushing more and more, and still getting nowhere because you cannot pull yourself out of depression by your bootstraps, and you can’t fix a medical problem by force of will.

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Learning to Walk, Again

“I took Israel by the arm and taught them to walk. But they would not admit that I was the one who had healed them.”

Hosea 11:3

Early in my walk, over 40 years ago, I concluded that I would be able to acquire all the knowledge that I could ever want.  I was on the short track, going up of course.  It was a glorious thing, it took me some time to realize I was very ignorant of so much.

The Bible communicates truth, not facts.

As I age, I start to understand that things are much more enigmatic and unfathomable than I ever dreamed they would be.  It is a step of faith to accept the truth when there are still a lot of things that are still vague.  Mike Mason wrote,

“You say you have faith to be healed, but what about the faith to be sick?”

That is a penetrating question, indeed.  “Why are some healed, and others are not?  Why do I have eternal life, and my friend does not?  Why should AIDS sweep through poor African villages when I live in a very comfortable suburb in the US?”  I have many other questions like this.

And I’m not making a whole lot of headway here.  Reasons and facts are not there. Life becomes more mysterious and inscrutable.  But there is a word we must know–it is the word “trust”.  It is a faith that assists us through the landscape of impossible questions.

As a sometimes struggling, mentally ill Christian, many (even in my own church) create more questions for me.  “Therapists, psychiatrists, and daily medications are really good, but do you really need them?” or  “Did God create in you the need for lithium and Zoloft?” and ” How can you follow Jesus when you have all of these depression issues?” And here’s a humdinger, “Where is your joy?”

But it is precisely these issues that help me be a disciple. 

I’ve been slowly learning you see.  And my weaknesses are becoming my strengths.  They lead me to exercise my feeble faith.  I trust in Jesus; my faith helps me trust. I find it interesting to note that the Book of Psalms, for the most part, was written by “a broken believer” like David– a king and (also) a rascal.

“People with their minds set on you,
    you keep completely whole,
Steady on their feet,
    because they keep at it and don’t quit.
Depend on God and keep at it
    because in the Lord God you have a sure thing.”

Isaiah 26:3-4, The Message

These nebulous areas have only increased. 

Ironically my trust has only grown.  I have more questions than ever before, but my faith in him only gets stronger. I suppose I will never, ever be a gleefully upbeat, cheery person.  But I am learning “to trust and obey, there is no other way…”  He himself has taken up the chore of teaching me to walk, again. Just one thing, keep trusting.

Restore the Sparkle or I Will Die

Trials are hard, at times they seem to suffocate us and weaken our walk with God. David shares with us his own difficulty in these six verses.

Buckle your seat belt folks!

 

Commentary, Psalm 13

For the choir director: A psalm of David.
 

Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever?
    How long will you look the other way?
How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
    with sorrow in my heart every day?
    How long will my enemy have the upper hand?

V. 1-2, David believes that he has been forgotten. A phrase is repeated an astounding four times, “How long?”  It seems that impatience is a significant issue for him. Often when it gets this bad, we desperately look around to find anything to fill the gap. Anything.

Something else struck me. Within these two verses, you’ll find five hard questions. Whenever you find a question in the psalms especially, you must stop reading and take a closer look–why is he asking this?

V. 2, “Anguish…sorrow, every day.” Somehow David is alert enough to recognize (and admit) that his life is saturated with real difficulty. It seems it comes and when it comes there’s  no relief– it’s a constant, gnawing, challenging pain which can be physical, emotional, or spiritual (or all three).

Turn and answer me, O Lord my God!
    Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die.
Don’t let my enemies gloat, saying, “We have     defeated him!” Don’t let them rejoice at my downfall.

V. 3,  Turn and answer me, O Lord my God! Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die.” (I love this version–“sparkle). David knew that life could be exceptional, it was meant to gleam and shine. There is much more than just breathing in life. He speaks of being restored. He looks toward God to change his world again.

V. 4, Also, he is quite aware that his life is being threatened. The word, “gloat” is an interesting translation. It has the idea of relishing someone else’s failure. The dark prince savors your defeat. He has been looking forward to this desperate moment. The enemy rejoices at his failures.

But I trust in your unfailing love.
    I will rejoice because you have rescued me.
I will sing to the Lord
    because he is good to me.

V. 5,  But I trust in your unfailing love. I will rejoice because you have rescued me.” The Lord has covered David with His hand. His life has been saved by a love that never falters or weakens. Never! He knows that God has rescued him.

Notice how David responds to the wonderful goodness of God.

  • I trust. 
  • I rejoice.
  • I sing.

V. 6,  Tremendous verse; it is really wonderful. When we finally get to this last verse, we see that we have “run the gauntlet” with David. And we have learned how to sing.

Often good jewelers display their diamond necklaces on a black background. The darkness intensifies the brightness of the jewels. They become even more beautiful to look at. David is singing and praising the Lord in His nearness. The darkness has only strengthened his faith.

I truly believe that this is what we were made to do.

I Came to Love You Late [Regrets]

regret

Regrets are a funny thing.

You really start to gather them when you get into your fifties. They are a bit sticky, once you have them, they’re hard to get rid of— (kind of like dog hair on a nice jacket.) I’m 61 now and am surprised by the memories of things gone by. I guess this is one of the job hazards of getting old.

Why do we remember the bad things– surely they weren’t all mistakes?

God’s Word gives us fresh insight into this state of mind of regretfulness. What it gives is akin to instructions to disarm a bomb— it’s ticking, and ready to explode. There are some who have been severely wounded when a regret goes off. Out of the blue–whammo!

But what really bothers me is all of the missed opportunities.

I wonder what life could have been like if I had accepted Christ at a younger age. A lot of pain would’ve been averted and perhaps I might have loved Jesus deeper than I do now. Some of us come to love Jesus late in life. There is so much time frittered away.

I regret the years spent in rebellion and disobedience. I remember the words of a 70-year-old man who had just received Christ, “Why did I wait so long for this to happen?”

No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead,14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”

Philippians 3:13-14, NLT

Paul learned to adjust his vision. He no longer let regret define him, choosing rather forget the past and press into the future. The solution to regret is to focus on what lies ahead. Heaven is our destination–it is our calling, it’s really where we belong.

And Peter tells us that our past sin was enough. We have wasted enough time doing evil. I don’t know about you, but I had a bellyful of sin, and it’s time to lay all the foolishness and rebellion and live instead for God. Enough is enough.

3 “You have had enough in the past of the evil things that godless people enjoy—their immorality and lust, their feasting and drunkenness and wild parties, and their terrible worship of idols.”

1 Peter 4:3

There is a sorrow that leads us to repentance (2 Cor. 7:10), and since it affects me I should make full use of it— not knowing when it will leave. I have regrets like anyone else, but there is also the joy of having my sin forgiven. They both mingle and at times I rejoice, but the sadness comes and goes as well. David, that great sinner-king, understood the joy of forgiveness.

Oh, what joy for those
    whose disobedience is forgiven,
    whose sin is put out of sight!
Yes, what joy for those
    whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt,
    whose lives are lived in complete honesty!

Psalm 32:1-2

“Maturity comes from obedience, not necessarily from age.”

    Leonard Ravenhill

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