Monday, May 13, 2013

The Christian and Depression, Part II

Christians who suffer from the disease of Major or Clinical Depression are different from other people - - - and they're different from other Christians, too. Unfortunately, many non-Christians, who understand or suffer from the disease, can be more understanding and sympathetic than some of our brothers and sisters in Christ: not always, but sometimes.

In our earlier post, which really should be read before this one, we made a stab at understanding this subject, and now (and in subsequent posts) we're going to discuss it more fully.  But first, we need to repeat a couple of caveats, so that we won't be misunderstood.  I'm not a psychiatrist or psychologist, but I've been treated for Major Depression for twenty years, and it's quite likely that the disease affected me long before it was diagnosed.  I speak only as one individual to others.  I'm addressing people who have received the Lord Jesus Christ as their Saviour, according to John 1:12 and John 3:3-7, and who are experiencing this disease.

That doesn't mean I'm ignoring non-Christians with the disease, or trying to construct barriers.  But let's be realistic.  Different demographic groups have different experiences and different problems.  Depression can be precipitated or triggered by different factors.  I don't know what it's like to be black, or a war veteran, or a Native American; I haven't lived their lives, or gone through their joys and sorrows, or the societal pressures they face.  But I know what it's like to be a Bible-believing, born again Christian with the disease, and that's why I'm addressing "my own crowd."  Yes, everyone who suffers from Clinical Depression has many of the same problems; but in these posts, I'm speaking to my brothers and sisters.  Christians with this disorder have been misunderstood, or scoffed at, or dismissed for far too long - - - by their own fellow believers. As Shakespeare said, "He jests at scars who never felt a wound!" In certain circles, when you say that a believer in Christ might suffer from a mental or emotional disorder, other Christians suddenly become very skeptical. My brethren, these things ought not so to be (James 3:10).

Because of the very serious nature of this subject, we must repeat something said in the previous post: We're talking here about a genuine physical disorder, not a "mood" or a "bad time."  Everybody has those, and they can be miserable.  But Major or Clinical Depression is an actual pathological problem, treatable in part by medical professionals, with very specific causes and symptoms.  We dealt with the basic cause in our previous post; we'll discuss the symptoms, as described by professionals, next time.  The point is that not everyone who's gloomy or temporarily depressed suffers from Clinical Depression.  God forbid that these posts should plant a seed of doubt in the mind of a person without the disorder. This isn't "moodiness" or "laziness" or what pop psychologists call a "melancholic personality;" this is a chemical problem.

Before getting into the subjects of symptoms and myths surrounding Clinical Depression, we need to return to the statement in our opening paragraph.  It begs the question: in what way are "Depressive" Christians different from other Christians?  And what considerations are specific to Christians, that are not relevant to unbelievers?

First of all, a "reality check" for my brothers and sisters with Depression.  Yes, despite what some may say, you and I have an actual disease, and it affects our lives in many ways.  But other Christians have other diseases, or other physical problems; and in that respect, we're all in the same boat.  It must be said, and said clearly: suffering from Major or Clinical Depression (the terms are synonymous) doesn't give us any special privileges.  Just as Christians who are blind, or confined to a wheelchair, are still expected to follow the Lord Jesus Christ, as He has revealed Himself in the Bible, so are we. God understands us better than any psychiatrist (or pastor) on earth, and he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust (Psalm 103:14).  But He won't let us use our condition as an excuse. Just because we have a certain disorder, we're not allowed to cut corners in the Christian life, or willingly ignore God's claims.  God says, for example: And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). He does not say, "Be filled with the Spirit, unless you're suffering from Depression." Again:  In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you (1 Thessalonians 5:18). The verse doesn't say, "In everything give thanks, unless you're a Depressive." God knows what we can do, and can't do, and He's not unreasonable or weird. Just as He won't call a blind man to be a surveyor on a road crew, or call a paraplegic to be a professional athlete, He won't call you to be something you can't be.  But when He does call you to do something, He'll enable - - - and expect - - - you to do it.  To say "I can't follow Christ in this area because of my Depression" is a cop-out, and it insults and displeases your Creator.

But remember: He's not just (just!) your Saviour; He is your Creator, and if you suffer from Depression, it's because He made you that way.  When Moses complained of a lifelong speech impediment, the LORD said unto him, Who hath made man's mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the LORD? (Exodus 4:11) If you suffer from Clinical Depression, you've been made in a certain way, and you have a problem that others don't have.  But you don't need to feel guilty about it.  It's not your fault.  You didn't ask for this condition.  And God will meet you where you are, as He made you, and deal with you in the way that suits Him.  He may heal you miraculously.  He's more likely to send you to a medical professional, for medical help.  You may have to live with the disease for the rest of your life, but it can be treated, and alleviated.  God might even send it into remission, as He often does with cancer.  But there's hope, and He wants you to know that.  And your disease doesn't make you a "second-class Christian."  God has something for you to do, and He's chosen to give you this particular "thorn in the flesh" for a reason.  Rejoice in the fact that God is still interested in you!  If He didn't have a purpose for you down here, He'd have taken you Home the day you were saved.  And when Paul begged for his own "thorn" (whatever it was) to be removed, Jesus made him a promise that applies to you and me, as well: My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).

I'm not just spouting "religious talk."  I've lived with this disease for decades, and have the scars (inside and outside) to prove it.  But God is faithful, and will help you and carry you and love you, even if "the brethren" don't understand. 

How are Christians with Major/Clinical Depression different from other Christians?  (I'm going to use the term "Depressive Christians;" it may not be a clinical term, but it's shorter.)  Well, in a number of ways.  See if any of this sounds familiar to you.

First of all, most Christians in the West (America, Europe, Canada, etc.) are much too easy on themselves.  This is the Laodicean Age, and they're lukewarm.  They go to church, and usually avoid the really "dramatic" sins, like sexual immorality or drunkenness; but they make very little effort to apply the Biblical standards and commands to their lives in a consistent way.  Depressive Christians may act the same way; they're no better and no worse, spiritually, than their brethren.  But Depressive Christians are too hard on themselves. They brood over their failures and sins; sometimes they even worry about sins they haven't committed, simply because they can't imagine themselves doing anything right.  They consider themselves hopeless failures, and utter disappointments to their Saviour, their brethren, and themselves. (This doesn't just apply to spiritual matters; Depressives often feel that they can't do anything right, from working a job to raising their kids.) Unbelievers often sneer that Christians are eaten up by "guilt," not realizing that guilt is sometimes healthy, like pain, because it alerts us to something wrong that needs to be corrected.  But Depressive Christians sometimes feel nothing but guilt.  This is not a spiritual problem; it's a pathological problem, which is part of their disease. The great characteristic of Laodicean Christianity is that many Christians go through life saying, "I'm not so bad!" (Revelation 3:14-17.)  But Depressive Christians have the opposite attitude: "I'm no damned good!  I'm hopeless!" 

Similarly, Christians in the West very rarely "judge themselves," in the proper way, as commanded in scripture. This is a very important part of the Christian life, because if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged (1 Corinthians 11:31). Again:  Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves (2 Corinthians 13:5). God doesn't want us to engage in fruitless introspection, but He wants us to understand what we're doing right, and what we're doing wrong.  Most Christians spend very little time doing this.  But Depressive Christians "judge themselves" constantly, and not scripturally, but in an unhealthy way: they judge themselves more harshly than God does.  Depressive Christians, like most people with a mental or emotional disorder, are too introspective, and often self-obsessed.  That's not what God wants at all, but it's part of the disease.  God wants us to see our shortcomings, acknowledge them, and move on.  Depressive Christians see their shortcomings, and even imagine shortcomings that aren't there, and they're paralyzed by guilt, and they can't move on.  Again, this is a symptom of a disease in their case; it's not a personal failure.  But it's such a cruel and vicious cycle: because they're paralyzed by guilt and self-loathing, they sometimes can't serve the Lord as they want to serve Him; and this produces more guilt.  And so many of their fellow Christians simply shake their heads, and say that they're being lazy or self-indulgent.  They're not.  They're suffering from a medical condition.

Again, Christians in the West pamper themselves; they take any shortcut they can find to avoid the difficult parts of the Christian life.  (Christians living under persecution, as in China or Muslim countries, don't have this luxury.)  They read the Bible just enough to be able to say they've read it; or they don't read it at all. Prayer is not a major part of their lives, because prayer is hard work (although they get serious about prayer when a crisis arises).  And they don't witness to unbelievers at all; they don't want to be embarrassed, or cause social or professional discomfort.  But when Depressives find these things to be difficult, or impossible, it's not because they're playing games; it's because they simply don't have the energy to do them.  (There are times when Depressives, Christian or non-Christian, can't even find the energy to take a bath, or go to work, or talk to their spouses.)  This doesn't mean that Depressive Christians are "discharged from their duties;" it means that they sometimes can't fulfill their duties, just as a man or woman in a coma can't.  They do not need the judgment and condemnation of their fellow believers; they need compassion, and spiritual and professional treatment.  It's easy to smirk at such a Christian, and think, "They're just looking for attention!"  (The same thing is said about people who attempt suicide.)  The truth is, however, that they're not looking for attention - - - but they need attention, and love, and, if necessary, medical treatment. Usually, "attention" is the last thing in the world that a Depressive person wants!  They want to isolate, and be left alone.  That's one of the symptoms.

Now, if you feel this way once in a while, for a short time, you're probably not suffering from Depression, and you shouldn't worry about it.  Everybody has "down" times.  But when these conditions continue for a protracted period of time, or get increasingly worse, then a doctor should be consulted, and you should ask God's help.  You can't ignore the possibility that you need medical help; as we said in the previous post, Jesus Himself acknowledged the need for physicians, and the Apostle Paul traveled with a medical doctor (Luke) throughout his ministry.  But you can't abandon the Lord, either.  He's the One Who'll heal you, and your attention should be focused on Him, not on yourself.  But sometimes medical treatment is required to help you focus; and if that's the case, you have nothing to be ashamed of, and nothing to apologize for, and if some of the "brethren" don't understand it, ignore them!  They're just ignorant.  Pray for them, if you can; but don't let their ignorance add to your problems!

In our next post, we'll discuss some of the symptoms of Major Clinical Depression.  For now, we simply repeat what we've said before: Hang on!  Understand that God knows your condition, and loves you, and has plans for you.  There's hope: because you're part of Jesus Christ, and He's part of you, and He's not going to let you fall by the wayside simply because of a problem with your brain chemistry.  Jesus is the Answer: but let Jesus guide you in seeking earthly help!

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.  Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:35-39). 

1 comment:

  1. I'm so glad you're writing about this subject.