Is it possible to be among the blessed and be among the depressed? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
This topic seems to come up time and time again. It came home for us again when my wife wrote a blog post about what it’s like to have depression. When this was shared on her Facebook page, one of her friends responded. It was well-meaning I’m sure, but came across entirely wrong. There was a bunch of stuff posted about Word of Faith thinking and how God doesn’t want us to be sick but wants us to be healed and never taking medicine even for a headache or anything like that.
Now I have enough problems with Word of Faith nonsense. There is no shame in taking medication any more than there is in having a balanced diet, exercising regularly, taking a shower daily, or wearing your seat belt when you drive. None of these activities show a lack of faith. God is not meant to be your servant. You are meant to be His. Word of Faith thinking often treats God as a means to an end. The point of Christianity in it is not to be holy and reflect God, but to be healthy. (Perhaps there could be a parallel to how too often we think the point of Christianity is to go to Heaven when you die and God is only there as a means to get you there and Heaven seems to have little to do with Him.)
A lot of you realize Word of Faith thinking is horrid, but you can still wonder about depression. Isn’t a Christian supposed to have a life of joy? Isn’t a Christian supposed to be happy all the time? The answer to the first question is definitely yes. The answer to the second question is definitely no.
Allie’s friend told her that her thinking will really change the way she is. Now if this was all a lot of popular televangelists were saying, there wouldn’t be as much of a problem. There is a lot of truth to the idea that your thinking can change your attitude. What they get wrong is thinking that your thinking can alter all of reality. There is no doubt that you need to look to your own thinking and see what you can do about it. Are you telling yourself things that are true or just feel true?
This is one case where you seek good and outside help. These are also going to be beyond people who are yes men. These are people who will tell you hard truths if you need to hear it. I don’t mean random strangers on the internet. I mean people you know and trust. If you ask them a question, they will give you an answer and it might not be the answer you want to hear. Even if you disagree with their answer, you should always consider that their might be a grain of truth to it.
To get back to depression, Christians are supposed to have joy, but that does not mean a feeling. You cannot command anyone to feel anything really. If I could, I’d just make myself feel happy all the time. It doesn’t work. I found it interesting that the person who wrote to my wife pointed to Isaiah 53 where it says that He healed us by his wounds. They seemed to ignore the part above where it says He is a man of sorrows, familiar with suffering. Yes. Jesus had sorrow in this life.
In fact, there are times where you ought to have sorrow. You are to mourn with those who mourn and that means being sad with them. If you have a loved one who has died, it is not proper to be having a celebration then. You need time to grieve. If you are married and your spouse is suffering, you will be suffering. If your child is suffering, you will likewise be suffering.
There are going to be times in life that are hard and rough. This happens. The last thing that any one needs in that time time is to have someone coming alongside them causing them further pain by questioning their faith commitment. It would be like pouring salt on an open wound.
Of course, the person who is depressed should do something about this. I am not one who condemns medication for this, but I think it can only do so much. Anyone taking medication should go see a therapist who is a licensed professional one. If you are not a therapist, by all means offer counsel to your friend, but don’t pretend to be a professional. If you don’t know what to say, sometimes, listening can be a great service. Just holding a hand and giving a hug can help. (And guys, if this is your wife, as hard as it is, now is not the time to get romantic. It might help you if you’re depressed, but it probably won’t help her)
It’s also important that a person in this case be reading to and listening to good Christian material that will encourage and build them up. Note I said good material. It doesn’t mean feel-good, but material that will build them up in truth and help them think properly through what they are going through. Even if your natural bent is to be more pessimistic, it doesn’t mean you have to live depressed. It will take time, but it can be done.
So what kind of joy is a Christian to have? It’s not a feeling, but more striving towards an attitude. This is the attitude that remembers that God is in charge of this world and all things pass through His hand. God is not against us, but for us. Romans 8 is a great passage for this. In fact, I think there’s a real danger in saying that Paul describes the experience in Romans 7 as the normal Christian experience. Romans 8 is more meant to describe our experience and Romans 7 what we would have been delivered from.
What about happiness? We often think of the feeling of happiness and the goal of the Christian life is in part to feel happy and feel good about ourselves. Sometimes, we should feel bad about ourselves honestly. We should see that we struggle with sin and seek to get rid of it and let that be an agonizing struggle. We should see that we do not love our neighbor as ourselves. One of the first ways of getting to feeling better about ourselves can ironically be to feel miserable first off.
When I was a single man, pride was a real struggle. It still is, but Allie by her very nature helps keep me in check. When I struggled with it then, I used to do an activity where I would go in my room and climb on the bed and close the door and think to myself. I would think about all that I’d done, all the praise I’d received, all the people that I had met, all the books I had collected, etc. I would be building myself up.
Then I would conclude by thanking God for everything came from His hand and I deserved none of it. That last bit always gave me the extra humility that I needed. No matter how good I thought I was doing in life, it was all a gift from God. It was not because I was just so awesome or anything like that.
If you’re not happy then, it could be for a just reason sometimes. It could be because you do realize where you are falling short. However, it is important to follow it up with the opposition to that. If I just went in my room and listed all the positives about just me, I would walk out feeling more prideful. No. I had to give the other side. So if you are depressed, you need to give the other side.
The other side is you are forgiven by the grace of God of all that you have done. The other side is that God is at work in you in the Holy Spirit. The other side God is working all things for your good as Romans 8 says. The other side is the future can be different than today and today is just one more day.
I would be amiss if in any of this, I did not say anything about suicide. All threats of suicide must be treated seriously. Never assume that they are joking or that they won’t follow through. They might not, but they may, and it’s best to error on the side of caution. A person might have to be hospitalized for a time, but a short-term separation is better than a long-term one. If you see this on Facebook now, Facebook has a way where you can report such material. Please do report this material.
Meanwhile, we should not treat suicide as the unforgivable sin. It is certainly a sin, but Scripture does not say yea or nay as to if it is unforgivable. This can put an extra burden on those whose lives have been wracked by suicide, and yes they are indeed. Suicide doesn’t remove the pain really. It just passes it on to those who are still alive. Cyanide and Happiness actually had a comic strip on this that really hits home.
If you are depressed and it’s something that isn’t just a brief spell, please go to a doctor or professional counselor and get help. If you need to take medication for it, please do. There’s no shame in it. If you are feeling suicidal, please reach out right now and get help. There are ways to find that life is worth living again.