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