Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Christian and Depression, Part V

In our most recent post in this series, we said that we'd soon be discussing the various treatments for Major Clinical Depression, and addressing some of their strengths and weaknesses.  Before getting too specific, however, we need to review a few things, and remind ourselves of a few other things, that are absolutely crucial in dealing with this subject.  This blog is not a "self-help" book, much less a clinical text: it's simply the words, carefully considered, of one Bible-believing Christian to other Christians, who may or may not be suffering from this particular disease, and it's important that we keep our perspective.  Here are a few "bullet points" that we simply can't allow ourselves to overlook:

- - - In the first place, these posts are primarily addressed to women and men who have received Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour according to John 1:12, and have been "born again" as Jesus defined the term in John 3:3-7.  Depression, of course, knows no racial or religious or national lines; it can and does afflict all kinds of people, young and old, male and female.  But I'm writing to my brothers and sisters in Christ because I know the issues and problems they face in this life, and I've dealt with Depression as a saved man for at least twenty years.  There are many, many resources available for all kinds of people, including non-Christians; but in this series I'm addressing my own "family."

- - - Whoever you may be, reading these posts, you probably don't suffer from the specific medical condition known as Major or Clinical Depression. I say this because, although Depression is a widespread illness, "experts" say it only affects perhaps 9.5% of the American population.  So, if you're in the other 90.5%, you don't have the disease, and God forbid that I should cause you any concern or worry!  Everybody feels "depressed" or "low" at times; that's not what we're talking about.

- - -  If you happen to suffer from this condition, let's be blunt: you (and I) have a mental illness.  (Specifically, we have a problem with the way our brains process certain naturally-occurring chemicals.)  But there's a difference between being mentally ill and "crazy" or "insane." Although Depression is classified as a mental illness, it is caused by entirely physical factors, and is a genuine medical condition.  It's no more "imaginary" than the pain of an abscessed tooth or the hormonal changes that occur in our lives at different times.  If your family or your Christian friends don't understand this, they're simply ignorant.  They love you, they usually try to understand you, but they lack information.  Pray for them, but don't let them make you feel "weak" or guilty!  

- - - If you're a Christian who knows someone suffering from this disorder, you should educate yourself about it and try your best to be sympathetic and helpful.  Not "sympathetic" in a saccharine, sentimental way, but understanding and supportive in a practical way.  Your Bible doesn't tell you to scoff at those who have mental or emotional problems: it says, "comfort the feebleminded." (In our day, we think of "feebleminded" as retarded or unintelligent, but the King James Bible uses the term to cover the whole range of mental issues.) Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men (1 Thessalonians 5:14). 

Did you get that?  Those are the words of God, not of a psychiatrist or "liberal" preacher.  And notice the balance in the verse: warn them that are unruly .... The Bible doesn't say that we should put up with all sorts of nonsense from people who aren't behaving the way they should: the "unruly" and "feebleminded" in this verse aren't the same group of people.  But in cases of illness, including mental illness, we need to deal with our brothers and sisters the way God has equipped us to deal with them: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law (Galatians 5:22, 23). If you know someone who is suffering from a mental or emotional condition, do you lecture them and tell them to "just get over it, get right with God?"  Or do you exhibit love, and longsuffering, and patience, and all the rest?  Think about it, pastor.  Think about it, spouse.  Think about it, parent.  If you're dealing with a person who's hurting, how much of Jesus Christ do you display?

- - - If you're a Christian who may be suffering from Major, Clinical Depression (the symptoms are found here), you need to get help: professional help.  You need to talk to at least two people: your pastor, and your primary care doctor.  (I refer here to medical doctors; "alternative therapists," such as chiropractors, may be of some use to someone, but they can't help with Depression.  Sorry, but just taking St. John's Wort isn't going to do the job.) If your pastor is unsympathetic, and simply lectures you about your shortcomings, you need to find another pastor.  (As we emphasized in our first post, even evangelical and fundamental pastors are coming to see this as a real problem - - - but not all of them.  Some old-time preachers used to say that their job was to "Comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable."  That's a good job description!  But if you're Depressive, you're one of the afflicted.  You don't need a pastor heaping more guilt on you - - - and, on the other hand, you don't need a "liberal" pastor who discards the Bible and tries to "play psychiatrist," even if he has a seminary degree in "Pastoral Counselling."   You should avoid that kind of preacher like the plague, because he's a hypocrite and a phony. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple [Romans 16:18]. But, again: there are plenty of hard-core, Bible-believing pastors who understand that Depression is an illness, and can help you from a spiritual perspective. Your job is to find one!)  Your primary care physician can determine whether or not you should be referred to a psychiatrist.  We can't emphasize this enough: you need both. 

 - - -If you're a Christian who suspects that you're suffering from Major Depression, don't try to treat yourself.  Don't go to the "Christian bookstore" and load up on books by such self-proclaimed "experts" as Tim LaHaye or James Dobson (both good men, but not qualified to diagnose anybody, especially not strangers).  Don't turn on your radio and listen to the "Minirth-Meier Clinic" (now called "New Life Live!"), and expect to get a diagnosis.  They may know a lot about mental illnesses, but they don't know you.  You need face-to-face spiritual and medical counsel.  There are some forms of therapy that involve "homework," which you do by yourself, but this is always under the personal supervision of someone who knows you.  You need to have someone you can look in the eye, and with whom you can exchange questions and answers.

- - - Finally, don't despair.  As we've said repeatedly, you may have a mental illness.  That doesn't mean that you've "failed God," or that you're a "bad person."  It means that you have a condition that can be successfully treated, and it won't last forever.  But Jesus Christ didn't and doesn't have a mental illness, and, as much as possible, with the help of the Holy Spirit and your Bible, you need to keep your eyes on Him.  He's the Healer; these other people are His instruments.  Of course, I understand - - - God knows I understand! - - - that your biggest temptation is to focus on yourself, and your problems, and your struggles; that's true of everyone, but especially those of us who have a mental or emotional disorder.  But if you're a Christian, you have the same Holy Spirit Who created the universe - - - and created you - - - inside your body.  You're not alone!  It may not be easy, but you need to spend as much time as possible reading the Bible and talking to Jesus.  If the Bible doesn't seem to help, keep reading it: don't stop taking your spiritual medication!  If your prayers don't seem to get past the ceiling, then believe God's promises that He hears you - - - whether it feels like it or not.  Just don't make the mistake of "isolating," and doing nothing but reading and praying; isolation is a great temptation for you, and it's not what you need.

Be encouraged!  There are multiplied thousands of born again, Bible believing Christians who are in exactly your position, all over the world: you just haven't met them. Referring to Satan, the Bible says, Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world (1 Peter 5:9). When the Enemy tells you you're all alone, don't argue with him; just remember that verse, and pray for your brethren who are suffering with you.

And remember: ...all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God. For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal (2Co 4:15-18).

Depression is a nightmare, but it's not going to last forever!



  1. This is a wonderful post! God bless you.

  2. Very helpful; looking forward to the next one!