October 19, 2017

Another Look: The Bible Does Not Speak to That

The Garden of St-Paul Hospital with Figure, Van Gogh

The Garden of St-Paul Hospital with Figure, Van Gogh

Originally posted in March 2011. Edited and updated.

The other day I was reading a blog that will remain unnamed. I’m not interested in interacting personally with the author or “answering” his post. I simply want to use his take on a particular subject as an illustration to make a point here today.

That point is: The Bible simply does not speak to many aspects of our lives.

Even when we think it does. Even when we can take verses and passages and apply them to certain situations and conditions in our lives, the bottom line is that they were not written for that purpose. The fact that we think the Bible is God’s detailed instruction manual for life, containing information, counsel, and specific advice for every bit of need and mystery in life can lead us astray in many ways.

Today I want to talk about one of those ways — about how this view of God’s involvement in our lives and the nature of the Bible’s counsel can lead us to be way too hard on ourselves and to seek “spiritual” answers when in reality, all we may need is a bit of common sense and simple attention to earthly and human realities.

The subject is depression.

* * *

The post I read was about battling depression. It got off to a good start, first giving two sensible disclaimers in its counsel to people, especially Christians, who suffer from this malady: (1) See your doctor, (2) Go talk to your pastor.

The blogger rightly notes that there may be physical causes of depression that a doctor could diagnose and treat (an observation that he unfortunately dismisses later, calling all anti-depressant drugs “happy pills”). His advice to see one’s pastor is helpful in the sense that it is wise to seek out counsel from someone known and trusted. Unfortunately, I think this blogger is recommending the pastor and not a counselor because he views depression as primarily “spiritual” and because he advocates a “Biblical counseling” approach, with its heavy emphasis on Bible verses as the cure for all that ails us.

He makes one more helpful point. Depression can get comfortable for many people and start feeling like a friend that embraces us, when in reality it is draining all our strength. So we must be aggressive and determined in battling it. This is wise and helpful advice.

But from that point on, the writer’s emphasis is all spiritual all the time.

The blogger starts by saying that if you’re not a Christian, you should be depressed. He has no good news whatsoever for the nonbeliever until he/she gets right with God. Really? Is this where we have to start every conversation?

I’m in full agreement with sharing the gospel with people, but is it right to say to someone, “You can have no relief from debilitating depression until you embrace saving faith in Christ”?

Have I no comfort and support to offer this person as a friend and companion on the human journey? Aren’t I implying that faith will solve the problem; that as a Christian my friend will never suffer this life-controlling disorder? Would it not be better to listen to her complaint, to sit in silence as Job’s friends did, and let her know that someone cares and will not abandon her? Are there no words of encouragement I can share? No simple deeds of love and support that I can perform? No practical ideas, no counsel about ordinary means that I may share? No common grace I may extend? No cup of water for the thirsty?

The piece then addresses Christians, and says it is our Lord’s clear word, revealed in the Bible, that God’s gift to us is joy, and that God’s will for us is to rejoice. Because we are in Christ, we have every reason to be the happiest we could ever be, right now. He then says straight out: if we are not experiencing this joy, it is possible that we do not want it. He goes on to question whether we are really believing Jesus if we say we don’t or can’t seem to find joy. The remedy he suggests is repentance. Of course, he has Bible verses to go along with all of these points.

This author next pinpoints another potential spiritual problem — perhaps we are bargaining: demanding that God change things first so we can then receive his gift of joy. This will not do, and to make his point he brings out Scriptures that condemn “testing” God. He warns that staying in unbelief will lead to more depression, as it did for the Israelites in the wilderness.

Then our blogger has the reader examine himself, realize and “own” various sins that accompany depression: laziness, stubbornness, pride, wanting to see ourselves as “noble sufferers” or victims, and, the ultimate sin: trusting in our own perceptions and feelings rather than in the Word of God and what it says. All these things are sins, plain and simple, to be repented of and mortified. We must stop embracing them and coddling them.

Bottom line? Depression is the result of lazy, stubborn, habitual unbelief. The Bible says so.

The Stone Bench in the Garden of St-Paul Hospital, Van Gogh

Stone Bench in the Garden of St-Paul Hospital, Van Gogh

And I say…

It may be.

Certainly a person’s relationship with God can affect one’s mood, emotions, and ability to participate in life with energy, purpose, and optimism.

But it may not be.

I object to the idea that all depression is a “spiritual” problem and that the Bible specifically deals with it and provides remedies for it. It does not.

The Bible does not directly address our moods and feelings and tell us how to straighten them out. When Paul wrote churches and encouraged them to “rejoice in the Lord,” he was not speaking of personal depression and how to overcome it. When Jesus told his disciples that he had told them certain truths so that their “joy might be full,” he was not saying that if they ever found themselves depressed, all they had to do was go over their memory verses, believe really hard, fight the devil, and everything would be alright. The Scriptures are not a therapeutic handbook.

The story and teachings of the Bible speak to something deeper than the emotional vicissitudes of our human experience, whether we find ourselves happy or sad, or whether we struggle with clinical depression or some other psychological malady. The “emotion” words of Scripture evoke eschatological realities. “Joy” is a “kingdom” word, not the opposite of “depression.” Joy is ours in Christ no matter how we feel. It speaks to God’s ultimate reign in Jesus that has begun to take root in our hearts through the Spirit, to be consummated in the new creation. I can be depressed and still have ultimate joy. I can be depressed and still believe.

The article I read represents a superficial “Biblical” approach that I find does much more harm than good.

  • First, it robs me of being a real human being, shrinking my humanity to my “spiritual condition.”
  • For another thing, claiming to be “spiritual,” it actually takes my eyes off God, off Jesus, off the power of the Gospel, off the newness the Holy Spirit brings, off the promises of God’s Word, and puts them on myself. In focusing on “spiritual answers” to my therapeutic needs, it turns my attention away from God’s story and the acts of God which bring me the deepest assurance and hope.
  • It calls me to self-examination, to a microscopic focus on my own sins, weaknesses, failures, and flaws. It enrolls me in SMI — ”the school of morbid introspection” — and puts the onus on me to learn my lessons, repent, and get right.
  • It enlists me to “battle depression” as some dread spiritual enemy, thus raising the stakes for any setbacks or defeats.
  • It intensifies my fear of spiritual failure and bases the way I grade myself on my feelings.
  • It takes the real Bible away from me: it takes the Psalms away from me, the Lamentations of Jeremiah, and a thousand passages that portray faithful people coming to God in both depression and faith.

This approach is ultimately docetic and world-denying. There are so many things the Bible doesn’t directly address in life.

Now to be sure, the good book sometimes speaks of our daily lives and experiences through its Wisdom literature. Scriptures like Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and so on contain ground level observations about life, people, family, finances, character qualities, decision-making, and other aspects of living in this world. Wisdom has a overall “spiritual” context: there is a good God who created us and the world in which we live, and there are ways by which that life works best. Wisdom passes along observations that arise from “great discernment and breadth of mind” like Solomon had (1Kings 4:29). That means it draws understanding from the entire world of experience — the experiences of all people who share in the human condition — not just from “religious” teaching or special revelation concerning “spiritual” matters. Wisdom literature reflects “secular” as well as “sacred” perspectives.

So, let’s deal with matters like depression from the perspective of this earthy, recognized wisdom. Take a person’s full humanity and life in this world into account. If someone should come to us to ask about how to overcome the depression that is disabling her, ask a different set of questions:

  • What support do you have? The first and main thing I always want to find out is whether you have good help from other people in your life. My primary fear is that someone feels completely alone and without resources. And guess what? I can be part of the answer to that.
  • Have you seen your doctor? I recommend getting a full physical and talking with your doctor about your symptoms. There may be a physical cause or causes, and if so, this should be treated, including the treatment of chemical imbalances through anti-depressant drugs.
  • Tell me about your eating, sleeping, and exercise habits. Our daily routine and taking good care of ourselves has a lot to do with our mindset and how we feel.
  • Talk to me about the stressors in your life and how you deal with them. The way we handle pressure can contribute to depression and anxiety.
  • What losses or changes are you grieving over? Grief is our natural reaction to losing something or someone important to us. Even normal life changes involve loss. We may not even recognize the sadness we feel and how it inhibits us from full engagement with life.
  • What makes you angry? In many cases, depression involves anger turned in on oneself. Helping people find healthy ways of dealing with anger and conflict can help.
  • What’s happening in your key relationships? Do you have someone to talk to regularly about what you are thinking and feeling? Are there people in your life you can simply relax and “hang” with? Withdrawal from this kind of companionship can deepen depression.
  • What do you do for fun? People who are depressed can have a hard time enjoying life’s pleasures. It may be just as “spiritual” to prescribe pleasure as some spiritual practice for the depressed.
  • What are you looking forward to in your future? Hopelessness is one key feature of depression, and helping people find hope in a better tomorrow is a key part of relieving it.
  • Tell me about your faith background and how you practice your faith. A general question like this gives people permission to talk about God and spiritual matters without feeling like you have identified their problem as failure of faith from the start. If they reveal spiritual problems that are contributing to their depression, by all means point them to Jesus and God’s promises. Pray for them and let them know you will walk with them on their journey.
The Good Samaritan (after Delacroix), Van Gogh

The Good Samaritan (after Delacroix), Van Gogh

Can we please just learn to be human beings with our neighbors?

Can we please discard this semi-gnostic notion that the Bible holds the secret keys to overcoming life’s mysterious and intractable problems?

Can we please stop blaming those who are hurting?

Can we stop putting the burden on them to make things right?

I can’t think of any approach more antithetical to the Gospel. There may, of course, be times when we confront stubbornness and pride, and will need to do so directly with a strong word.

But most of the time, I would think we are called to be like Jesus. When he dealt with the afflicted, it was said of him, “He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle.” (Matthew 12:20, NLT)

Now there’s a Bible verse that speaks to us.

Comments

  1. Thank you for this piece, CM. I’ve dealt with some depression in the past and it only got better after I went to a doctor and received the treatment. Treating it as a solely spiritual problem and praying the foggy grey away just didn’t work.

    (Also, how is friend Jeff doing?)

  2. I often wonder what the role of the Church should be in the treatment of mental illness. There is terrible suffering going on in this area, yet society in general is tremendously fearful of even speaking about it.
    Education is the first step – though this is much harder than one might think. Modern medicine still has a poor understanding of how the brain functions. We must be patient (in a very impatient society) and we must offer love unconditionally to those who suffer. These are simple statements to write – but how do we put them to practical use?
    I suffer from very severe forms of anxiety and depression and was stuck in the “school of morbid introspection” for years. You know, when your brain isn’t working properly, and logic and reason have left you, scriptures and the Bible are of little use. During one of the darkest times of my life it suddenly became clear to me that I could put all my trust on God and God alone. God loved me with all His heart and would never abandon me. A very simple truth that I could not see for such a long time. It is very nice to be able to go through scriptures, and prayers, and Bible study, and all of the good that our Father has created for us; however, when all of the things of this world leave you – including reason and logic – it is of great comfort and peace to know that God will always be there for you. It is how the worse times of my life can also be the best.
    The Church doesn’t need to have all the answers for those who struggle with mental illness, only to walk with them, acknowledge their existence and pain, and let them know that they are loved by God and God’s people. After that, Chaplain Mike offered some very good basic, common sense.

    • Seneca Griggs says:

      Thanks for you excellent comment Robert.. May I not be critical of those who struggle with mental maladies.

    • RobertBx — Your comment reminds me of my favorite part of The Scent of Water, by Elizabeth Goudge, who suffered as you do:

      Then he said, :You’re afraid of it (mental illness)?”

      It seemed such a silly question and I spoke sharply I think when I said, “Of course I am, I’m terrified.”

      “Why?” he asked. “If you lose your reason you lose it into the hands of God.”

      • Thanks for posting that interesting interchange! Maybe I’m overreacting at the Goudge line, but I’d like to pose a problem, or at least note a complication.

        It may be all well and good to talk about losing your reason into the hands of God if you think of mental illness as a loss of reason. Some of them might be characterized like that, but it’s a woefully inadequate as a general account of what mental illnesses are. Some quick examples will bear this out. Schizophrenia can fling you into a nightmare world in which you can’t tell what’s really there and what isn’t (where the rational thing to do may be to run for your life from whatever beastly thing you think is in pursuit). Some disorders steal your memories, e.g., in old age, taking your identity with them. Some disorders can turn a loving, peaceful human being into an abusive, violent monster–brain injury, for instance. Others, in a flash, can lead us from laughter and joy at one moment to desperate suicide at the next. Into the hands of God indeed!

        To put it shortly, it’s no good saying that if YOU lose your reason YOU lose it into the hands of God. The problem with many of these disorders is that they don’t take your reason. They take YOU (in the sense that they take your character, your identity, your relationships–they tear to shreds the narrative of your life–they strike against your very values, the very centers of gravity around which your life revolves). And that is truly terrifying.

        One more note, for fear that my comment might come off as being a bit aggressive in tone…this is a problem which really troubles me (both emotionally and intellectually), so I hope that you will take it not as an attack but as a serious puzzle. Again, thanks.

        • JIG — You’re right, it’s complicated. The book seeks to examine the emotional and spiritual experience of mental illness (among other things), not really diagnose it accurately. The story offers no quick fixes — the sufferer is never cured, but her heroism expresses itself as endurance, and she is able to leave a legacy for others. As far as mental illness being a loss of reason or not, the character was speaking in 19th century language, not making modern distinctions, and she was only speaking of her own experience and illness. Anyway, you made some good points.

        • My statements on mental illness were made in brevity so as to be easily understood, not to sugarcoat the nature of the illness. Elizabeth Goudge’s name brought me to thinking about the wife of T.S. Eliot, and her many struggles with mental illness. For those who do not know the story, please read a little about her and of all the cures she was subjected to in the name of science and God and whatever else was trendy at the time. Her torment was unbelievable and the solution to her problem all too simple, yet how far have we progressed beyond this type of understanding. I’m trying to read “Scent of Water” Damaris, and find it very interesting. Thank you for the suggestion.

      • Ali Griffiths says:

        Those few lines were more of a help to me than anything anyone else said to me when I was suffering with depression. I felt I no longer knew myself but God still knew me and that helped. Not surprisingly The Scent of Water is one of my favourite books.

    • Well said.

  3. Doubting Thomas says:

    Wow, that brings me back to my immature in the faith days when I popped bible verses like happy pills.

  4. It’s sad that people are subjected to this nonsense. They call it “nouthetic counseling,” and it has released upon the Christian world a horde of Job’s counselors. If I had time, I would write a response to their books called “Worthless Counselors.” It belongs with the cults, as it uses selected Bible verses almost in a magical way. (I read a lot of their books, and I notice they avoid the book of Job like the plague, as it exposes this travesty for what it is.)

    They get the term from one small part of one small verse, 1 Thessalonians 5:14

    14 We urge you, brethren, admonish (noutheteo) the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone.

    They take the first part of this verse, ignoring the rest, and confront their patients to confess, almost in the same reasoning the Spanish Inquisition rationalized their atrocities. To get them to confess their real or supposed sins will save them, so the end justifies the means.

    As you said, Mike, it is docetic in its approach. The Psalms speak in depth of depression, and is not a quick fix. The Psalmists struggled through it with no easy answers.

    Job’s friends tried this approach on him. “You’re suffering because you’ve sinned!” God tells them they darken counsel with words without knowledge.

    This is basically another take on the prosperity ‘gospel’ with a Reformed veneer to make it sound nice. It is more deformed than reformed.

    End of rant. Great article, Chaplain Mike!

    • Bingo. Absolutely right. I have a family member who is a nouthetic counselor and you have described a lot of what this crazy system does.

      CM wrote: The blogger starts by saying that if you’re not a Christian, you should be depressed. He has no good news whatsoever for the nonbeliever until he/she gets right with God. Really? Is this where we have to start every conversation?

      This premise lies at the heart of nouthetic counseling, and its destructiveness. It’s a fundamental flaw, and the whole cultic nature of the system derives from this thinking. They take the doctrine of total depravity and extend it to every area of life — for those others, of course. The thinking is that you can’t help someone in any way until they straighten them out spiritually. It’s nonsense of course, but what a great way to justify exclusion and even contempt for the other.

      This is not academic for me. I’ve seen this happen in family member I referred to. There have been real changes in personality and interactions with others, even close family, and not for the better.

      • It sounds like nouthetic counseling stresses the doctrine of depravity and ignores the doctrine of imago dei, that we’re created in the image of God. Ignoring that could explain why some of them have no good news for unbelievers until they “get right with God.”

    • My thoughts exactly!!! They obviously never heard of Lamentations, along the majority of the book of Jeremiah and Psalm 88. Psalm 88 is my favourite Psalm because it says to me I can have faith in God and be in the darkest pit in life. Same goes with so many other Psalms, and passages in the prophets, that show one of God’s children in the sea of depression.

      Too bad this blogger, and too many like it, have no idea about these verses and are a bit blind to how destructive their lines really are.

  5. Those four questions toward the end of this post are good. I’d like to be closer to them and a neighbor who is
    suffering with depression. He is always in my thoughts and prayers.

  6. This is a wonderful piece. Thanks for posting it. The way Christians deal with depression is just as terror-filled as the rest of the culture, with a good dose of smug thrown in. The worst are the expectations introduced: You can’t just be sad or sick, there is something “wrong” with you that reflects on your failures. After all, if I think this is just a bad thing that is in creation and happens to people, then I as a not-depressed person have to feel scared. I don’t like feel scared, and I like to think my successes come from my exceptional virtue or some special favor from above. So what do I tell someone who is struggling? “All those problems you face? Feel bad about them. You’re a bad person. Try harder next time. God doesn’t want you to feel this way, your praise-chorus tooting brother doesn’t feel that way. Try to be more like him. Do something. Do something. Do something. Oh, are you in bed again? Stop it. Try harder. Why are you sinning like this? You don’t want to fail at being a Christian do you?”

    Enough. Yes, sometimes the sufferor is doing things that are making their state worse. And we all want people who are troubled or ill to get better. But whole “if you trust God we can fix this up” mentality puts the cart so far before the horse. Comfort in the here and now, learning how to live with your situation, and getting help when you from others when you are too weak to cope, and finding hope and a way forward — that’s vital. Healing lies there, not in telling a intense introspective, anxiety-filled person to introspect harder and plumb the deepness of their dark thoughts.

    • I really should have written “evangelical” rather than “Christian.”

      It haven’t seen what happens in mainline or Catholic circles enough to comment. And I suspect there are many wise evangelical pastors who are a help to people. What I am commenting on is the common line assumptions one hears within evangelicalism, including in books written on the topic that are meant to be helpful. They are legion and well meant, but they tend to take the tact that Chaplain Mike is discussing.

      • I’m a mental health counselor in the mid-west. The agency where I work receives a substantial number of referrals from pastors: Catholic, evangelical, fundamentalist and mainline. Most pastors in the area are looking for assistance with their parishioners especially when there are clear mental health issues. Most pastors clearly state that they think there are issues beyond their competence to address. Some of the evangelical and fundamentalist pastors want to make sure that the counselor treating their parishioners are Christians who won’t turn people away from the Church–but that is a minority.

    • Danielle, you said,

      You can’t just be sad or sick, there is something “wrong” with you that reflects on your failures. After all, if I think this is just a bad thing that is in creation and happens to people, then I as a not-depressed person have to feel scared. I don’t like feel scared, and I like to think my successes come from my exceptional virtue or some special favor from above.

      That is very similar to something I was saying at the Wartburg Watch blog a few days ago, when the author of the original post was asking for our views as to why we suppose so many churches / preachers blame victims of abuse for being abused, rather than going after the guilty parties?

      I surmised people are afraid to think that bad things can happen to them (whether it’s getting depressed, being fired, being raped, getting cancer), so they find it easier to blame the person with cancer or depression or who was raped. They reason “this person must have done something to bring that situation on themselves.” It makes them feel safer, as though the same thing cannot or will not happen to them.

      This definitely plays out in work abuse situations. After I was harassed on one of my full time jobs badly by one of my bosses, I did a lot of reading about work place abuse.

      The authors of those books say that in many cases, if the boss singles out only one or two workers for abuse, the rest of the office (other co workers) will dump that person like a hot potato. They will be left to fend for themselves, because the other co workers are afraid if the abusive boss sees them being friendly with the target of abuse that they will be next.

      Even after the target leaves the job, the remaining workers will blame her – even if she was not at fault. The books say they do this because it’s easier for them psychologically to believe the victim brought it on herself than to deal with the fact that the boss could just as easily, turn on them next, or could choose any one at random.

      I think that’s part of what is behind so much victim-blaming in Christian circles, the Christians who assume you must have depression because of some sin you did, or you’re not praying enough, or whatever.

  7. Wonderful article. I have struggled with similar problems with both a former pastor and my family.

    My only comment is that I feel that in evangelical circles where depression is talked about, there is a problem where it becomes a catch all phrase for a wide variety of emotions. The human mind is extremely varied and complicated, and much gets lumped in with depression.

    • Some evangelical preachers are just plain ignorant about depression, the non-depressed preachers who have a minor bout of sadness mistake that for clinical depression.

      So when someone who is truly clinically depressed goes to them for help, they are told, in very brusque, unsympathetic terms to “snap out of it,” “stop having a pity party.”

      I see one TV preacher who is like this. He pretty much assumes that most depression is not that serious, it’s just a Christian who is feeling sorry for himself.

      I read a book by a Christian psychiatrist who is competent. He’s written about this stuff. He confirms a lot of preachers he’s seen and talked to over the years do not understand depression at all… he said feeling a little blue or sad for a few days is to depression like having a paper cut or stubbed toe is to having a broken arm, one is small pain compared to big pain.

      Your average preacher does not get the extreme pain of depression, though. They equate all of it to “paper cut” or “stubbed toe” levels, when it’s heart attack or a shark- just- bit- off- your- arm level pain.

  8. Daniel Jepsen says:

    I see very little correlation between my times of depression and my spiritual temperature (as much as I am able to discern that).

    Oh wait…I’m a Pastor. Never mind. I am never depressed.

    • there should be a way to “green” this…… funny, sad,…… and too true

      I feel sad for all in leadership , and their families, who have to wear the mask, and it BETTER NOT come off.

  9. How many of us have ever heard a fellow Christian speak publicly about his or her struggles with mental illness? I mean publicly to a congregation or gathering, not just to friends. I never have. Perhaps this is why people don’t understand: because they haven’t heard. If Christians who have dealt with mental illness were as willing to share as Christians who have dealt with alcoholism, sexual abuse, etc. I think the church would really learn a lot. The church would learn that psychiatric drugs, while far from perfect, save lives and allow people to lead fulfilling lives with their illness under control. The church would learn that mental illness is not necessarily caused spiritually and that many Christians who have struggled with mental illness have experienced God’s grace in ways unknowable by those who have not dealt with mental illness.

    I will be speaking with my pastor about this and with some Christians i know who have dealt with mental illness. If people are willing to speak, I feel it could make a tremendous difference.

    • I have in a “small group” … and unfortunately seen it pretty much go nowhere by the group. It was (but this is just my opinion) as if no one was really equipped to know what to say beyond “I’m sorry”. I don’t recall our pastor being there (if you are under the belief that he would *of course* be the end-all-be-all answer to everything) but an elder was. I’m no church elder or anything, but at least having some sort of understanding and empathy of such situations and how to be there and supportive of our church body (and the many that are very likely depressed in any number of ways) would seem to be utterly essential, right?

      Regardless of expecting elders or “leaders” of the church to be there, we’ve all experienced this to some extent, have we not? Like other commenters have written, so very much gets lumped into the term “depression” but we all have our very unique experiences, and I know at least in my life it seems the paths of my life have proven to be of help in some way in just talking with others about their current struggles in life.

      I wholeheartedly agree with RobertBX in that “we must offer love unconditionally to those who suffer”. To T.S.Gay that said their neighbor suffers from depression, I of course don’t know any more than what you’ve offered and thought prayers are always good, but I offer you may try to get to know him, talk to him, offer to share something you enjoy (e.g. a hobby/sport/whatever) with him … he may not get this at all in his life. Lastly, he may not have any support that is meaningful, especially any that may ask questions like those offered above (which I think are great ones).

      I really wouldn’t have thought this made any sense if it weren’t for a great and dear friend of mine who has recommended many of these things (and more) to me and my family for several specific situations. I pray that God touches more souls to have such care, love and concern for others as he has shown to me. Much love to you td.

    • Regular ‘video testimonies’ are shared at our church. the common theme is more God, more bible and more church. I think there is a very definite standards for selection. Recently I was injured and not working for a few months and my wife insisted I see the pastors so they could pray over me. OK, cool. But there were a couple questions that had me thinking there was an attempt to get a ‘testimonial’. But then again, I have become rather cynical.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Regular ‘video testimonies’ are shared at our church. the common theme is more God, more bible and more church.

        Reminds me of the late Cold War-period Soviet Union, where their only solution to the cracks appearing in their system was “Increase Political Consciousness Indoctrination!”

      • That’s sad when that happens. On the other hand, at my mid-sized mainline church, our pastor does very little screening of people who share testimonies in services. It really makes for some interesting testimonies, let me tell you!

      • Bobson said,

        few months and my wife insisted I see the pastors so they could pray over me. OK, cool. But there were a couple questions that had me thinking there was an attempt to get a ‘testimonial’.

        Like this?:

        Pastor welcomes birth of second sermon illustration
        😆

    • @ Wesley

      I appreciate the gesture or sentiment, but I don’t see that helping.

      Goodness knows when you, as a clinically depressed person (I used to be one), approach Christians online about the topic, they still harbor stereotypes about depression, and they are more than happy to let them show.

      I’ve read books about these topics by Christian psychiatrists, with anecdotes of what happens when depressed Christians (or Christians with anxiety or whatever) go to a preacher in private, or in the church prayer line during prayer time during Sunday service asking for prayer… they get shamed or blamed by the pastor, even right there on the spot during the service!

      If you can’t get “Rev. LoveJoy” to be sympathetic in private about your depression, and get him to understand in private that mental illness and struggles are not caused by sin, personal failure, or spiritual failing, I doubt he will let you get up in front of the church on Sunday and talk about the topic.

      Also, I am a woman, I am aware that most evangelical / Baptist / Neo Calvinist churches are gender complementarian and will not let a woman speak in front of a church about anything.

      More women than men suffer depression, and from what I’ve read, they handle depression differently than men do, so even if a depressed man gets up and yaks about it, the people in the pews are not getting what women go through with depression.

      Preacher Charles Stanley (Baptist preacher of a huge mega church in Georgia) keeps switching his mind about this topic. This is one example of a pastor who is not compassionate to the mentally ill.

      Stanley admitted in a speech for Christian mental health workers in the 90s that he used to give simplistic, stupid advice to Christian depressed people (I read about this in a book by a Christian psychiatrist). Stanley said he is reformed, cleaned up his act, and no longer gives unfeeling advice to folks with depression and stuff.

      But then a few years ago (I watch his show almost every week), Stanley started shaming Christians who have anxiety attacks.

      Stanley told his congregation and television audience on one episode of his program (called “In Touch”) to rely on God alone for anxiety, that anxiety or anxiety attacks are a sign of not having enough faith or trust in God, that using medication can “dull” them – or something like that. He was trying to discourage hurting people from seeing mental health professionals or using doctor prescribed medications.

      Stanley has since said similar insensitive things about depression on other shows.

      You can find Stanley’s sermons where he says this stuff on You Tube. Just do a search for his name with the words “suicide” “depression” and “anxiety.”

      Sometimes those videos get removed, but someone else almost puts up a new copy.

      Here’s one of his anxiety sermons (I’m not sure if this is the one where he discourages medication, that might be in another sermon):
      Dr.Charles Stanley – Victory Over Anxiety – Sunday, April 22, 2012

      Stanley’s advice on almost anything is simplistic and unfeeling. People write to him with questions about life, which he replies to on his show.

      Any time someone writes with any sort of problem, Stanley just tells them to trust God, and he blames them in some way for their problem.

      Like, if you were laid off from your job and ask Stanley why God is not answering your prayers for over two years for a new job, he’ll sit there and say things like, “Maybe you have unforgiveness in your heart. Have you really examined your heart closely to make sure you are right with God? Or, it could be that God is trying to teach you a valuable lesson in the midst of you being out of work…”

      I mean, would anyone find that sort of response helpful, totally biblical, or uplifting? I sure don’t. He does that with sermons on depression, suicidal thoughts, and anxiety, blames the person for it.

  10. Thank you for this piece, from the bottom of my heart. I, too, greatly appreciate the questions at the end. As it turns out, my annual physical is today….and we will be talking about these questions and my answers. Oddly, although I have totally faith in the Lord, and know that He is totally in control, I am still gaining weight on a normal intake of food, sleeping 18 hours at a time when I can, and dreading getting into the car to drive to work, where I can expect to be treated with thinly veiled contempt after my one hour drive in. Yet, until ten minutes ago, it never made me think that, gee….maybe I AM depressed! (We medical types are much better at others’ health and welfare….something about planks in eyes….)

    Sorry to moan about it here, but thank you for making me look at this, when I have been hiding this from myself.

    • Good luck today, Pattie. I hope you get some helpful feedback.

    • second Damaris’ good wishes. In my case a minimum dose was like a trigger, my world was no longer a dark and angry place.

    • Dana Ames says:

      Pattie, it may be something other than depression, such as a thyroid problem. I join Damaris in hoping for helpful feedback for you.

      Dana

    • When I was with my counselor once, she asked me to draw a graph of my mental health. I drew a typical up-and-down cycle, showing myself mostly above the line of “neutral” with periodic periods of depression below the line. She then said, “Let me show you what I think you’re dealing with,” and drew an up-and-down cycle that had me only periodically above “neutral” and most often residing in depression. It was an eye-opening experience and helped me understand my mental health was a bit more “off” than I thought.

      Mental health is as important as physical health, but not usually viewed that way. Good for you, Pattie, in recognizing that!

      • I am deeply touched by those of you who were kind enough to respond to my quite unplanned sharing of a sudden self-revelation. It means more to me than you will ever know!!

        My doctor took over an hour(!) just talking to me….he has been my PCP for a decade now, and was quite concerned about my health, mental and physical. We decided that no job is worth the sacrifice of my sleep, exercise time, and self-worth. In God’s own manner, I had a response from a job application waiting at home for me, so perhaps the new road is unfolding over the horizon (and if not this road, one similar to it, but NOT the one I am currently on.)

        God is good…..and I need to learn to listen to His voice, not the shrill harping of those with an agenda, even if they do sign personnel evaluations.

  11. This is an outstanding article. I have suffered from this my entire life; it appears to be genetic. Now I know of some Christians I can look to for counsel and prayer. Thanks so much CM!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      We’re all walking wounded, Bird.
      We’re all Bozos on this Bus.
      No matter how God’s Ever-Victorious Anointed(TM) try to deny it in their one-upmanship games.
      (“I Thank Thee, LOORD, That I Am Nothing Like That Depresso Case Over There…”)

  12. David Cornwell says:

    The set of questions Chaplain Mike offers above are a perfect way into the situation and story of person’s life. It’s important that this be not done from an approach of judgement, but one of understanding, love and healing. Otherwise you will be seen as an accuser. Many times the answers will unwind in a direction not expected and lead to follow-on conversation. What may happen is that the unfolding story itself will offer clues and sometimes the person suffering from depression will find information leading to one’s own healing. In fact narrative itself can bring relief. Sometimes the sufferer finds that God is already present in an unexpected way. However this may not happen. Whatever happens, this is an unfolding story, and one that you have been invited into. Treat it as a sacred trust.

    After a conversation such as this it is important to stay in touch. If you are a pastor, then this is a duty and a requirement of vocation. And it is also part of being a friend.

    Also, when depression is present, it will have had a corrosive effect on the entire family. This cannot be ignored.

    • Yes, David, and I should clarify something. At the point where I list the kinds of questions I would recommend asking someone who is depressed, the post almost reads like I would sit down and interview someone using those questions. Actually, though there might be occasions when that is appropriate, usually in a pastoral counseling setting, for most of us I am saying that these are the kinds of questions we should keep in mind and bring up when appropriate as we accompany people as friends through life. There is no template for that. These questions are merely meant as guides for our thinking as we converse with those we care about.

      • David Cornwell says:

        Actually I thought that this is what you meant. It would be kind of artificial if we just went straight down the list. With your experience and in your position I’m sure you are very good at it.

  13. Seneca Griggs says:

    My experience as an Evangelical — There is probably the same percentage of Evangelicals on the psych-meds as the non-church population.

    If you think the Evangelical Church doesn’t avail themselves of the meds, like everybody else, then you do not know the members.

    So if you’re throwing stones at the Evangelicals because you think they would never take the meds AND ARE CRITICAL OF THOSE WHO DO; you don’t know the Evangelicals I do. Pastors, elders, wives, Sunday School teachers, Sunday School superintendants, worship leaders, you can find medicine takers in every Evangelical or fundamental church in these United States..

    Do you really think Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church, got up Sunday mornings and preached against medicine? Of course not; The Warrens tried everything in their power to keep their son alive; left no stone unturned, left no medicine untried.

    • There is no real doubt that evangelicals are on medication at around the same rates the rest of the population (if not higher, that is possible). Currently,I don’t think very many people preach against treatment either, although historically there has been suspicion of psychologists and psychiatrists. (That view is much more marginal now.)

      What you do hear a lot of is the idea that proper repentence/faith/program of thinking has a solution and that there is something bad about depression. Just to pick one example: Tim LaHaye has a book about depression that I wrote (I think) in the 1980s, but has since updated, that acknowledges the usefulness of treatment but still insists that depression springs from self-pity and that can be cured, or at least much improved, by the Spirit-filled life. So if you are still depressed, and getting treatment, he has a lot of sympathy–but you are also sinning.

      People hold this image of a triumphant faith despite — perhaps because — depression. is a widespread problem.

      Lots of people who are not rich embrace the prosperity gospel.

      • *he wrote

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        There is no real doubt that evangelicals are on medication at around the same rates the rest of the population (if not higher, that is possible).

        Does that include self-medication (with, say, alcohol)?

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        People hold this image of a triumphant faith despite — perhaps because — depression. is a widespread problem.

        “Hell hath no torment worse than Constant Forced Cheerfulness.”
        — G.K.Chesterton, “Three Tools of Death” (Father Brown Mystery)

    • David Cornwell says:

      I’m sure what you are saying is true. I’m as certain as you are. However the opposite is also true. I personally have had experiences, within my extended family no less, of a brand of evangelical swearing that depression is a totally spiritual problem. Sin is the cause, and God can bring healing. Psychiatrists are of the devil. If you have enough faith, it will go away. If you don’t, it’s your own fault. Sometimes the eventual result of this attitude is avoidable suffering and tragedy.

      I also have personally known, in my past, pastors who use bible verses to bring about healing, and do not rely on any way on medicine. These pastors have a stream of people coming to their doors wanting help. Maybe someone finds it. Maybe.

    • @ Seneca Griggs.

      But some evangelical churches are in fact heavily biased against medications for mental health problems (as are some of the Neo Reformed/Calvinist and fundamentalists) as well as being against Christians seeing psychiatrists.

      I read in one book about a guy who attended a church like that – his preacher is militant about being opposed to the idea of Christians taking meds for depression… so this guy sees a shrink in private to get the pills but doesn’t dare tell anyone at his church, because he knows they would judge and condemn him for it. (I can’t recall exactly if he either goes to a Neo Reformed or an evangelical church.)

      I’ve yet to figure out why you hang out on here and Wartburg Watch blog, when you don’t seem to like anyone who posts, nor do you like their views on various topics. I don’t agree with TWW ladies about YEC and old age of earth, but you don’t see me stopping into every anti YEC thread they do to snark against them. I just pretty much leave it alone.

      • Seneca "j" Griggs says:

        I’m a “fanboy” of justice Daisy. Also I am surely in the minority ( at TWW) with my belief that Scripture trumps all other, ever changing, sources.
        *
        I dislike slander/libel of other believers. I’m liking Chaplain Mike’s posts. He makes some excellent points without bad-mouthing those who disagree with him. Hooray for Chaplain Mike.
        *
        Finally, I believe in the complexity of life. There is black, there is white and their are so may shades of gray they cannot all be defined. I think life is like that.

        PS, I don’t particularly dislike those with whom I disagree. I just disagree. It’s not personal, at least on my part.

  14. Seneca Griggs says:

    Second comment: is the United States awash in psych meds? There is absolutely NO DOUBT. That includes the Evangelical Church.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      So we should instead go all Mary Baker Eddy (or L Ron Hubbard) on any psych problems?

      • Seneca Griggs says:

        L. Ron Hubbard’s autopsy showed psych meds in his system by the way. ( possibly Valium if my memory serves).

  15. This is a great post Chaplain Mike. So much more compassionate, practical, and real than far too much Christian discourse. I deeply appreciate it.

  16. “Can we please discard this semi-gnostic notion that the Bible holds the secret keys to overcoming life’s mysterious and intractable problems?” – Ooh, that’s good.

  17. Josh in FW says:

    Thank you for the post. Over the years I’ve found the various posts regarding depression on this blog to be very helpful. After struggling through a roller coaster of ADD, depression, and anxiety type symptoms, I’ve finally been able to put together enough money and motivation to see a Doctor. What he’s told me has given me hope. It’s encouraging to find out that I have a bigger issue than lack of will power.

  18. Christiane says:

    I remember ‘post-partum’ depression after my third child with real terror . . .
    people can’t know the fear unless they have experienced what for me was worse than physical pain . .

    mental and emotional troubles are not ‘imaginary’ . . . perhaps mine WAS triggered by hormonal changes (likely, they tell me) . . . but it did something that lasted:

    it left me with a great fear of having the darkness return, and
    it left me with a real compassion and empathy for those who suffer

    I had no idea, before it happened.
    Now, I know.
    Experience is the only teacher for people who have never had depression, I have decided. You can’t TELL them about it. They can’t comprehend it. If they turn on people suffering from depression, without understanding, do we forgive them? Or do we pray for them to have it come upon them long enough so that they stop tormenting people who are already in great pain? I opt for both . . . the first frees me from bitterness; the second might free them from ignorance although the teacher is a fierce and dark place where I wouldn’t want for anyone to be for longer than it takes to knock the pride out of them and stop them from doing harm to those who suffer depression.

    If you haven’t walked in the shoes of a depressed person,
    don’t judge them.

    If you have, then you know what people cannot tell you . . . and your knowledge may keep you from judging others.

    • Christiane says:

      “Turn not away Thy Face from me;
      decline not in thy wrath from thy servant.
      Be Thou my helper, forsake me not; do not Thou despise me, O God my Saviour.”
      (from Psalm 27)

    • Cassandra says:

      You are so right about having to experience it to really comprehend the deep despair of postpartum depression. After the birth of my third baby, during my bedtime prayer, I became convinced that I had committed the unforgivable sin (whatever that is) and thus began my odyssey of several years dealing with despair that cannot be described. With the prayer and support of my Christian family, I gradually regained my normal life, but with the specter of depression always lurking in the shadows. (This was in the early 60s prior to the proliferation of anti-depression drugs). During menopause, the depression returned and I was prescribed Prozac which changed my life and I am so grateful. I have weathered divorce and the ongoing drug addiction of my oldest child, not without the normal roller coaster emotional challenges, but with the ability to cope without going into full fledged panic mode.

  19. I used to have depression.

    I was diagnosed by psychiatrists as a child, and I continued seeing psychiatrists and few psychologists over the years, as an adult too.

    I was really spiritual, read my Bible, and so on, and none of that alleviated the depression. I even took anti depressants for many years, but they didn’t help.

    At times I have approached other Christians for help (during the time I was depressed), I sometimes received some of the ill informed, pat answers that were in the original post. I was told to pray more, read my Bible daily, I was blamed and shamed (the assumption seemed to be I was doing something wrong or bad that was causing my depression, such as not thinking about God enough, or whatever).

    I finally got out of depression by realizing it was a symptom of my larger, real problem, codependency, which I in turn figured out after doing research on the topic on various sites and blogs over the past few years, mostly Non Christian blogs, because most Christians don’t think a “real” Christian can have depression, and they don’t think codependency is real (they think it is a humanistic/ secular trick to get Christians to not focus on their sins).

    While someone is in the midst of depression, it can be helpful to just sit and listen to them talk for an hour or two about it. Listen without interrupting them, don’t try to fix them or give solutions, don’t lecture, scold, blame, or give advice. Just listen and give sympathy, tell them you are sorry they are hurting.

    Depressed people don’t have much energy or interest in going out, so if you’re good friends with the person, maybe call them first and ask them if you can bring over a movie to watch together. That way, they get human interaction but don’t have to worry about going about.

    That’s really crucial for females… I felt like I had to put on lip stick, fix my hair, etc, before going out in public, and I hated having to gussy up and look presentable. It was always a relief when a friend would say, “We can just stay at your place and watch movies, don’t worry about it.”

    Oh, something else. If you dare to mention this on your blog, you WILL get irate or air headed Christians who drop by. What I mean is, even if you spend the whole post you wrote explaining why depression is not spiritual and cannot be cured by prayer, faith in Jesus, you will STILL get rubes leaving you posts saying, ”
    You should realize you can be cured of depression by having faith in Jesus!”
    And you wonder if they bothered to read your post they are leaving the comment under, where you just spent a page explaining no, faith / prayer/ Bible reading cannot cure depression.

  20. On one level I agree with you, but on another I don’t. I agree that the Bible doesn’t offer an answer to a medical problem. On the other hand, the Bible offers answers and instructions in many areas and levels of our lives, even how to deal with suffering, anger, hopelessness, affliction, sin, etc. Jesus, revealed to me through God’s Word, saved my life and it was only after I submitted to Jesus and scripture that I’ve been able to address my personal issues. So, God’s Word = guilt? No. But God’s Word = wisdom? Yes.

    I hope this helps.

    • Jean,
      to whom were you replying? Me?

      If me…

      I had depression for years, and Christianity did nothing to help me. I had to read material by Non Christian therapists to be healed.

      Codependency was at the root of my depression.

      Christianity actually made my codependency worse, because some biblical passages seem to support codependency.

      How I heard the Bible preached from the time I was a kid to the time I was an adult by various preachers, led me to think that the Bible supports codependency, even though I spotted verses time from time that contradicted codependency.. but I was told their way was the right way to interpret the Bible (ie, thru a codependent lens).

      I was freed by reading secular books by mental health professionals, and one or two of the books were by Christian counselors who do not believe in using the “Bible alone” to be cured.

      I was not healed and delivered not by faith, prayer, Jesus dying on the cross, or whatever other spiritual think you would like to chalk it up to..

      Where you say,

      On the other hand, the Bible offers answers and instructions in many areas and levels of our lives, even how to deal with suffering, anger, hopelessness, affliction, sin,

      I cannot even agree with that.

      If you feel Bible reading helped you, or the faith helped you, that is swell, but it actually not only did not help me, but prolonged my stay in depression.

      The Bible does offer insight into what happens after people die, and what God is like, but it’s not an end all, be all manual for how to live life in regards to every minute situation one will encounter in life. There are some basic moral guidelines in there.

      The Bible won’t tell you have to put a new RAM card into your CPU. I had to get a computer book and read it to figure that one out.

      I find the older I get that the Bible is vague in some ways, on some level, and like I read in one book, like one guys said, the Bible is like an onion… as you peel each layer away there is but another layer. There is no final answer. Things are very open ended.

      I can’t find complete, final answers in the Bible for everything in life, and it certainly was not a help to me for all the years I had codependency and depression.

      Many Christians don’t even bother trying to live up to the stuff in the Bible that is totally clear, like the verse about “weep with those who weep.”

      When I called Christians up for support after my Mom died – so they would weep with me – they would either try to get me off the phone in a hurry, or lecture and judge me, no weeping with me, no comfort, no love.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        I’ve learned from experience that when you’re really hurting, the LAST people you want to be around for support are Christians. Doubly so if they’re Born-Again(TM) Bible-Believing(TM) Real True Christians.

        When I’m hurting, I have a short list of people I can turn to, including both my writing partners. One is a burned-out preacher, but I know him primarily as (his description) “a middle-aged fat guy with a bad back”.

      • You know what you said is true, sometimes faith makes mental problems worse. I have ocd and with that comes depression and my faith sometimes echoes the depressive and obsessive voices I hear. It’s hard to sort things out, to know what God really wants from me, what is really self-sacrificial and loving and distinguish that from codependency, weakness, fear. I guess for people like us faith is a handicap to being whole, or rather we need to go deeper than most people to discover the real truths and consolation from God. It is very difficult and painful sometimes.

  21. This is all so true. The good inquisitor knows exactly how to fix you – basically you aren’t “spiritual” enough, and the inquisitor’s task is to uncover what sin or sins you are guilty of to make you confess. Once you have confessed, then you are a good “Biblical” Christian, living 100% for the Lord at every moment, earthly problems will disappear for you – after all, you are now 100% “spiritual” so you should be unmoved by earthly problems because, thank God, you are finally above all that. I have noticed that such inquisitors don’t speak so much about following Christ as they speak, almost endlessly, about how they follow the Bible. There really is no love. To the extent that following Christ is mentioned at all, Christ is reduced to a stern example of moral perfection that we use as a model to save ourselves.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Christ becomes nothing more than their Enforcer to beat you into line.

    • +1
      Too often Christ is a quick mention at the end of what the bible says about your finances/marriage/work/family. When I ask what does the bible show us about Christ I get the answer of ‘he was without sin’. anything else?

  22. Thank you for this thoughtful article. Thank you also to those who spoke out in the follow-up comments. I learn much from you, we need your voice. The church has so much to learn in this area, we need support groups, not just for those suffering with depression, but also for those walking alongside a depressed loved one, it takes heart-wrenching to a whole new level.
    Thank you, Michael.

  23. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    But from that point on, the writer’s emphasis is all spiritual all the time.

    Until he becomes so Spiritual he ceases to be physical and floats up to Fluffy Cloud Heaven?

  24. You might find this to be interesting. The Gospel Coalition just posted it on their site.

    http://www.rpmministries.org/2014/01/depression-medication-and-biblical-counseling/

  25. Bob Myers says:

    Excellent article, not only wise Biblicall, rescuing the Bible from those who would use it like a club, but wise with the wisdom that comes from walking with people and walking with Jesus. Thank you.

  26. I do seminars on “Overcoming Sorrow, anger, and Bitterness” before (and without) forgiveness. I am writing a book and would love criticism and critical feedback from anyone interested in reading my 8 page “Forgiveness Overview” by clicking on the bottom of the Website – http://www.cleartruthministries.com . Even if I really am the world’s “leading expert” on Biblical forgiveness, I am ALWAYS WILLING TO BE WRONG, to be a Berean, and to listen to opposite view points. PLEASE let me know if and why you Biblically disagree with anything in the Overview, on the Tests, or any statements on the website generally. Thanks for taking the time to be critical of my studies.

    Scott