The Unwelcome Beast of Depression (You’re Not Alone)

A few months ago, I wrote about an elephant dwelling in the back of our church sanctuaries. That post was about the prevalence of “porn” in the American church, and it included a short lament regarding our tendency to keep it a dirty little secret rather than shedding the gospel light on it. I called porn an elephant because when an elephant is in any room it must be acknowledged. Yet so many church leaders have taken the ridiculous stance of acting like the “porn elephant” is not seated among their own congregations, when statistics clearly show it is.

The porn elephant is not the only unwelcome beast in our midst that no one is talking about. Apparently, we have given a second elephant residence in our congregations while applying similar silent treatment towards it. This elephant’s name is “Depression.” While no one is really talking about it almost all struggle with it. Many take prescription meds to numb the mood or escape from self for a short drug induced vacation. Many try to tough it out while wallowing in guilt because they believe they shouldn’t be feeling this way. Even worse, others turn to alchol and hard drug abuse in a vain attempt to soothe the inconsolable longing of their wounded psyche.

But let this resonate within your sorrowed soul if you have (or are) experiencing such a cloud: You are not alone.

This depressed kitten should cheer you up....

Despondent saints are not a new trend in the church or bible history. Depression and doubt runs a thread through the life of almost every hero of our faith. Fruitfulness in ministry and the power of the Holy Spirit does not make one immune to deep bouts with the disease.

Nearly every publicly powerful leader on our spiritual pedestals have dealt with privately pitiful periods of despair (say that five times fast).

Job was the most righteous man on earth. Yet when all hell broke loose on his life he had some probing questions regarding the purposes of God.  In cursing the moment of his birth instead of the birth itself, Job barely skirts what would have been blasphemous and suicidal language (Job 3:1-4).

The prophet Elijah just called down fire from heaven and saw the slaughter of every false prophet of Baal in a mighty display of God’s power and glory.  The very next chapter of his life he is in a cave of despair doubting God’s providence and regretting his very existence (1 Kings 19:4, 10).

The prophet Jeremiah was made certain of his calling and election by God Himself (Jeremiah 1:5). After preaching God’s given message, Jeremiah saw no fruit in his ministry and only unrelenting torrents of judgment are poured out on the nation he loves. Jeremiah, broken and depressed, likewise curses the day he was born (Jeremiah 20:14).

Have you ever despaired over your life, even questioning the purpose of your existence? So it was with Job, Elijah and Jeremiah for a time.

David killed lions, bears, and giants as a scrawny youth through God’s power. He was divinely chosen as Israel’s anointed king, lauded by his countrymen, and slaughtered every pagan army he faced through God’s might. Yet read the Psalms and you will see a man marked by dark bouts of depression during significant spans of his reign (Psalm 42:3, 9, 69:1-3).

Do you feel your tears are your only food and consolation? So it was with David for a time.

CH Spurgeon, the prince of preachers and hero of little reformers everywhere, was susceptible to this grim grip of despondency. Spurgeon saw his depression as his “worst feature.” “Despondency,” he said, “is not a virtue; I believe it is a vice. I am heartily ashamed of myself for falling into it, but I am sure there is no remedy for it like a holy faith in God.”

You’re not alone. Most people in the church just don’t have the spiritual backbone to admit their weak estate. But with admitting should not come a wallowing, but rather a warring against such strongholds in us (2 Corinthians 10:5). Many saints have stayed in this dungeon for a time, but they made it their aim to never make the depths of despair a dwelling place.

Self pity and self despair are just symptoms of self worship. We are not depressed because we hate ourselves so much, we are depressed because we love ourselves so much. It is natural to be fixated on self, that is why we need to ask God to supernaturally aid us in fixing our eyes on Christ (Eph 1:18). Christ is the end of self worship for everyone who takes up their cross and follows Him (Matthew 16:24-25).

Depression, doubt and despair are not the unforgivable sins. Your current mental/emotional/spiritual state is not beyond the scope of God’s eternal grace. Chemical imbalances, genetic dispositions, difficult circumstances, and scarred childhoods are no match against the love of Christ and His Comforter being shed abroad in our hearts (Romans 5:5). Family history must bow down to King Jesus in the end (Phillipians 2:9-11).

All of our bouts with depression this side of eternity are temporal bouts (2 Cor 4:17). We can take heart, for no current state of depression is ultimate. Surely, there is a despair that is ultimate. Eternally ultimate. But those who are in Christ will never taste it. The Son of God bore the eternal despair we deserved on the cross. In Him, we will never ever have to utter these words:  (Matthew 27:46): “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”  

We may lament, mourn, and be depressed this very moment. But we can say with David, our fellow despondent doubter, in the very next breath:

“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?

Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”

(Psalm 42:11)

Bryan Daniels

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Author: Bryan Daniels

I am a follower of Jesus, a husband to Jessica, and a father of three boys: Josiah, Gideon and Judah. I teach high school math as a job, read reformed theology as a hobby, and write this blog just for kicks. With the rest of my time I coach football and track.

18 thoughts on “The Unwelcome Beast of Depression (You’re Not Alone)”

  1. I was just reading an article about the change in the way psychiatrists are handling depression. As it gets so that insurance companies won’t pay for talk therapy sessions at the rate they charge, they have moved on to quick visits with their prescription pads.

    I appreciate your perspective on this. It is difficult for most people to admit to depression within our churches. God knows though, and as you say, He has the strength to deal our weakness.

    1. That’s interesting Cathy! Thanks for the input, it is a bit of skeleton in the closet of most churches. We aren’t foolin’ anybody but ourselves by not dealing with it directly though…

  2. This makes me think of how when we see people (and not just at church), we greet each other with, “How are you doing?” Of course, you know the pat answer. On rare occasions I’ve responded with my true feelings when asked that question, but there’s really not too much concern on the other’s end. Maybe the question as to how we are doing should be reserved for people who really do care? I’m not trying to be too serious here–just throwing out a thought.

  3. I’m often reminded of Psalm 88 in which the one crying out gets no relief, at least not in the Psalm. Most Psalms end with the psalmist realizing the greatness of the LORD in the midst of the pain and trial. But not Psalm 88. It just ends. WE must admit that sometimes, for HIS glory, the LORD leaves some in despondency.

    I don’t know why, but I think it may be that HIs hand is on the depressed as well. My step mother died in the midst of her depression. She sought medical treatment for years, and it did help for years. But there came a point where there was nothing else the doctors could do for her. She committed suicide as a result. I still believe that she was trusting in Christ and the condition overcame her (Romans 8:37-39).

    Perhaps this is so we never confuse this life, and the things of this life with heaven itself. While we pray for heaven on earth, earth is not heaven. We are to fix our eyes on Christ and wait for that great day of Salvation! We are more than conquerors for those who are in Christ. That being the case, we labor for HIS Kingdom, and not ours. This is the task He has given all true believers, even those who are depressed.

    As for those who are depressed, please, let us not respond with trite and glib Bible passages. The Bible is not a talisman that we can rub and make our problems go away. Sometimes we are to sit in SILENCE with our friends like JOB as they suffer. That is part of our calling as well. To say that things will be all right, may not be true, at least in this life. So let’s not say what we do not know, and point, pray and depend on the ONE we do know.

    (Please forgive me if this is too “preachy.” It’s an occupational hazard.)

  4. I agree with this completely. We allow ourselves to ignore this issue when we’re at church because I think in the Christian culture and the contemporary style churches, we see it as a very mellow place to be worshiping God in a “corporate” setting, and for some reason because it’s such a mellow place, I think we don’t want to ruin that mood of feeling happy that we’re in a worshipful place with worshiping people who are happy to be doing that on a Sunday morning. How many people hide behind that facade? How many people aren’t really happy to be at church on a Sunday morning to worship God, they just pretend, and so we need leaders in the church to say it’s all right to worship God in a sour mood. The church I go to is very powerful in this sense I think because they don’t shy away from the every day issues that people are facing. Sunday morning is a time for the church to gather, to all shout out to God together, in praise, in supplication, with a hunger to know Him, and as much as we think that that should put a smile and a joy in our heart that will show evidently on our face, we shouldn’t pretend.

    The porn issue, another thing I’ve sen in the church that I hate. In my high school youth group I gave a testimony to my youth group and shared how I struggled with porn and felt like I was the only one. So many guys came up to me afterward and said, “you’re not alone.” Then why did I feel like that for so long? Because no one wants to admit that we’re still flawed, even when we’ve associated ourselves with the church. The church should not some clean, get your coffee, sit down in your jeans and comfortable shirt Sunday morning joy fest. It should be more authentic, it show more realism.

  5. I agree with the lamentable ignoring of maladies like depression, or porn, by, not only congregational leaders and members, but by society in general.

    To address it properly, we must remember that, like all our faults as mortal sinners, it is the acknowledgement of Grace alone and prayer to Him who knows all which can reduce these problems to what they are…….weaknesses most properly addressed by faith rather than medication or rationalization.

    That my having been “let in” to the ‘dirty little secret’ of my paternal grandmother’s repeated institutionalization for depression and schizophrenia by my mother; or that I once attempted to take my own life due to occupational and marital issues;…..these were of little use to me in dealing with my own depression because they were attempts to use “knowledge” to explain or justify my sorrows.

    It has only been through my studies in Faith and regular prayer that I have been able to deal with increasingly infrequent ‘recurrences’. It is through His Grace that I now can recognize my sole, and blessedly unsuccessful attempt at suicide, as but an ‘inoculation’ ……not against depression….but against doubt.

    To love others as ourselves is evidence of our love for Him who has already died for us. Pastor Timothy is right. The sitting and the suffering with those whose burdens turn them inward rather than out is greater a consolation than any prescription or rationale.

    With suffering comes endurance, from endurance comes approval by God….and from this comes hope, which does not disappoint us. Rom. 5:2-3

  6. Love this post! In the past I have struggled a lot with depression, as have many of my family members, and you’re right, it’s almost a taboo subject. I think that lots of Christians feel like, we shouldn’t have these feelings and we shouldn’t talk about it, but as you pointed out, this is nothing new, and we are in good company! We aren’t immune to depression because we are Christians, we just have help getting back on our feet, because we have a God who cares for us, and hears our prayers!

  7. Once again you have inspired me. To coin depression and porn as “elephants in the room” perfectly opens the opportunity for exposure to the truth of God’s word as a direct remedy. Thank you Bryan. God bless you. I will use this one!

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