December 15, 2017

The Bible Does Not Speak to That

By Chaplain Mike

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 good disclaimers in its counsel to those who suffer from this malady: (1) See your doctor, (2) Go talk to your pastor.

He rightly notes that there may be physical causes that a doctor could diagnose and treat (an observation that he unfortunately dismisses later when he disparages anti-depressant drugs as “happy pills”). And his advice to see one’s pastor is helpful in the sense that one should first seek out counsel from someone that person knows and trusts. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure this blogger is recommending the pastor and not a counselor because he views the problem as primarily “spiritual” and because he would advocate the “Biblical counseling” approach, with its heavy emphasis on Bible verses as the cure for all that ails us.

He goes on to make 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.

He 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. Is this really where we have to start every conversation?

Now, 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 Christians never suffer this life-controlling disorder? Would it not be better to listen to my friend’s complaint, to sit in silence as Job’s friends did, and let him/her know that someone cares and will not abandon him/her? Are there no words of encouragement I can share? No 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?

He 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 points the reader to an article that 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 then 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 demanding that God change things first so that we can then receive his gift of joy. He brings out Scriptures that condemn “testing” God as the answer to that. 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.

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.

And what I object to the most is when someone presents “teaching” that asserts the Bible specifically deals with the subject of depression and provides remedies for it. It does not. The Bible does not 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 story and teachings of the Bible speak to something deeper than the emotional vicissitudes of our human experience, to whether we find ourselves happy or sad, or whether we struggle with clinical depression or some other psychological malady. The “emotion” words of Scripture speak to eschatological realities. “Joy” is not the opposite of “depression.” Joy is an unquenchable assurance that is ours no matter how we feel. It speaks of the kingdom, the kingdom that has dawned in Jesus, that has begun to take root in our hearts through the Spirit, that will be consummated in the new creation. I can be depressed and still have ultimate joy. I can be depressed and still believe.

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

  • For one thing, it 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 calling me to overcome afflictions like depression, it turns my attention away from the acts of God that bring me the deepest assurance and my only hope of any kind of victory.
  • 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.
  • If you want to talk about the Bible—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.

Furthermore, this approach is ultimately docetic and world-denying. There are so many things the Bible doesn’t address in life, or if it does, it speaks of them through its Wisdom literature. Wisdom literature like Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and so on contains ground level observations about life, people, family, finances, character qualities, decision-making, and other aspects of living in this world. It has a spiritual context: the God who created us and the good world in which we live. It contains observations that arise from “great discernment and breadth of mind” like Solomon had (1Kings 4:29), not just from special revelation about “spiritual” matters.

It is my position that we should deal with matters like depression from the perspective of wisdom. That means taking a person’s full humanity and life in this world into account. If someone should come to me to ask about how to overcome the depression that is disabling him/her, my list of questions and recommendations would look quite different than the ones I read in that article.

  • 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.
  • How are 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 treating depression.
  • 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.

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 very much for this post.
    I suffered from depression for many years and was at a loss to its origins or how to overcome it. I in many ways followed what i suspect the author you mentioned advocated about unbelief.
    eventually my depression became so severe, i was unable to function properly; at work, or with other people. my bible college dean suprizingly suggested taking drugs for depression. i was always opposed to such measures as ungodly, but i respected this man as mature.
    eventually i followed my dean’s suggestion and got medication. i immediately got better (as in within a day or two), and i have never succombed to depression again, eventhough i have stopped taking medication years ago.
    it is in areas like these that we stumble greatly because of our biblical literalism and assumed teaching about faith. we see passages in Proverbs about the sluggard and we assume we that we are being evil because we cannot face the day in the morning. we don’t realize that these proverbs are speaking about proto-types and are not to be universally applied to every situation (or even if they are, that they are not the last word, or the only word on the situation).
    again, thank you.

  2. Chaplain Mike,

    Thank your for this post.

  3. Rob Grayson says:

    Mike, with this post, you nailed a problem that is rife in modern evangelical Chrisianity, and one I have often been guilty of. May God lead us into all truth and wisdom. Thanks.

  4. I heard a very famous Christian speaker/preacher/pastor on the radio the other day exhorting people to “grab hold of the biblical principles and apply them to your life…it’s easy”. I will not mention his name out of Christian chariity.

    Well, it’s not easy. Some might claim that living the way God wants us to live is easy, but I am saying that they have watered down that word of law, to make it managable…for them. Usually preaching like that will either lead people to pride or despair. (one could add phoniness to the likely outcomes)

  5. Almost never, never go to a pastor for depression. Whatever they say will make it feel worse.

    Things I have actual pastors say
    – “If you are not enjoying an abundant and joyful life, you are not spending enough time reading the bible and helping with the program I am trying to get moving.”
    – When I asked to start a small group study so people at church could get to know each other and support each other, “Why don’t you come before dinner on Wednesday, we need help setting up chairs.”
    – “God has brought all these depressed people to my church so I can tell them about God’s sovereignty”

    • sarahmorgan says:

      don’t forget the big ones:
      “You need to stop talking about how you feel” and “You need to just get over it”
      (both spoken to me by a pastor)

      • And the classics “well, just leave it to the Holy Spirit” and “it’s under the blood.” (I was still young and naive when those were told to me, and had yet to discover that often “under the blood” is used to mean “under the rug” …)

    • I think if you were depressed/are depressed the way that I have experienced and you ONLY want to tell me about his sovereignty and not his mercy to sinners, that might just lead someone totally off the edge.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        A couple weeks ago, someone mentioned that Jonathan “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” Edwards had problems with suicides among his congregation.

        Islam and Calvinist Christianity are all about God’s Sovereignty Uber Alles; look at all the happy and well-adjusted Believers they have 🙂

        P.S. I’m fighting another bout of Depression even as I write this. The same depression I’ve had on-and-off for years, which flared up about a year ago and has been off-and-on since. About a week into the current “on” phase and counting.

        …never go to a pastor for depression. Whatever they say will make it feel worse.

        I learned that a LONG time ago. Not just pastors, but self-identified Christians in general (until proven otherwise — my writing partner’s a preacher-man and he’s currently the guy I go to). A lot of God’s Anointed are quick and eager to Break Those Bruised Reeds in the name of Christ.

        • i had a severe (as in severe) nervous breakdown (general, non-specific medical condition) over 4th of July weekend 2009…

          eventually (10 days later) got to my family doctor, broke down in the examination room, pleaded with him thru sobs+tears to not let me leave without something to help me…

          was prescribed anti-anxiety meds & anti-depressants. amazingly, i responded to the anti-depressants in a matter of days, not weeks…

          the underlying spiritual issues were being talked out with a Christian Family & Marriage Counselor. my pastor was supporting me in prayer & frequent lunch time get-togethers to share progress. it was in my estimation a miraculous process that preserved my sanity & my physical health…

          i had been a very melancholy sort all my life & even being aware of this trait i was helpless & fearful of confronting it or getting help. fear & pride & low self-esteem kept me bondage many, many, many years…

          anyway, i will be the first to champion medical intervention where anything physiological is ruled out thru a battery of tests. and cooperating with doctor prescribed meds & having them adjusted until relief is experienced a God send IMHO…

          also being honest with oneself & God in a trusted counseling atmosphere a necessary element in dealing with the emotional component of our person-hood. okay, enough of my commentary. i just wanted to say that God is not against working thru & with all aspects of care & support that are available to the saint suffering unspeakable things that remain off the radar most of the time…

          • Joseph, your story is a good example of the comment I made in response to S.J. It usually takes community and teamwork to help people with profound needs. I’m glad you were helped and that you felt free to share your story with us.

        • The Guy from Knoxville says:

          Chaplain Mike – Know that you are a pastor and I apprecate the emphasis on depression…… myself and many of my family on both parents side have suffered from major depresson (dad’s side) and mental illness (mother’s side – depression+) and needless to say so have I and I take meds regularly for it and it’s been very helpful over the years.

          Another aspect of this is that many have spoken about the church (esp evangelical/fundamental) and how it deals with this area of depression and the track record, for the most part, is horrid beyond words and borders on abusive at times! As some have said – never go to your church pastor and to that I give a big AMEN!!! In my experience that has seemed to be like walking into hell itself…… can anyone be more unkind, uncaring and unloving than an ego driven puffed up so called pastor who is never down, never has any problems – all seems just so and right all the time and glad to tell you what your problem is that you just need to get right with God – need to get saved! Now a little disclaimer, there is some truth in that last little statment – sometimes getting right wtih God – getting saved is just what’s needed but a great many times that’s not the case and I wish some of these pastors would realize that before they start pontificating about what they have that I need when they know nothing about me to begin with.

          Sorry to be so hard on the pastors – believe me they are not all that way….. I’m sure of that – however, of the few I’ve had the fortune (mis-fortune?) to be around there is not a single one of them I would dare share anything with regarding things going on in my life regarding depression or otherwise. Out of them all there is only one – an older mature man in his mid 70s – still pastoring a small congregation on the south side of Knoxville….. he’s the only one I would trust with any issue, depression or secret and have had the opportunity to sit and learn in the last couple of years from this man. Oh that we had more such as this – other than this pastor I couldn’t recommend any of the others I’ve known in recent years.

          As has been said – see your doctor, use the prescribed meds, find something that you like doing and do it from time to time…… walk, take a drive or day trip, shoot some hoops etc – find time to spend with friends, with your spouse and yes do take time to spend with God and if you are fortunate to have a pastor you can trust then talk with him as well.

  6. Christiane says:

    I wonder what happens to children and teenagers in such evangelical communities, who need help, and have their problems turned back ‘on them’, with no hope of professional intervention.
    For an adult, to be steered away from professional help, is one thing . . . but for the young, is there no consideration in these communities that is appropriate to their age and need for intervention?

  7. “Can we please just learn to be human beings with our neighbors?”

    That would be great, Chaplain Mike.

  8. Thank you.

    Of course it should go without saying, but probably needs to be said, that the view of depression you explode here is “biblical” only on a highly selective reading of the Scriptures. The Psalms, the Prophets, Ecclesiastes, the historical narratives in OT and NT, all are blisteringly real about the reality of depression (spiritual or otherwise) that has afflicted even some of God’s most faithful and obedient followers. If the Weeping Prophet doesn’t convince you, try the Psalms of Mourning or the book of Lamentations. It’s all over. For every “The joy of the Lord is my strength,” there’s a “Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless!”

    In other words, the deficiency is not in Scripture but in our eagerness to read it superficially and then label ideas “biblical” just because we have a proof text for them.

    I don’t doubt you agree; I just like to see these things made explicit rather than implied.

  9. …this post makes me want to cry. i’ve fought– yes, fought is the most appropriate word– depression/anxiety, self-harm, addiction, and suicidal urges for the past 10 years of my life. i’m 23. i’m also the daughter of an evangelical pastor. i’ve lost count of the times i’ve been told that if i would just pray more, read the Bible more, do this that or the other in regard to my spiritual life– i would be “all better”. Under such a belief, my problems aren’t legitimate and neither is my faith. Believe me when i say that little else could do more damage to a person…

    You said it best, Mike–
    “Can we please just learn to be human beings with our neighbors?”

    • Ally-

      I wish I could give you a hug and say I’m sorry. Evangelicalsim can be a harsh and brutal place. My family has dealt with mental illness and I boil when I see how the world attaches stigma. to it. Truth be told it can be toxic when when people are harmed more in the name of “God” or scripture.

      Why can’t fundgelicals juts know how to love, love, love, love, love!!! Is it that hard?

      • @ Eagle, wondered where you’ve been. Good to know you’re ok. Whatever that means. Ha *smile*

        @ Ally, I too am a daughter of a pastor. And granddaughter of one too (no longer living). I believe you when you say little else could do more damage to a person.

        I’m glad you’re here! IMonk, it’s writers, along with many of the daily commenters, have more grace and love than most Christian’s I’ve come across in real life.

      • Can we make it a group hug! Thanks Eagle ( :

    • Here’s a very big HUG.

    • brilliantvapor says:

      Ally C., I’m pretty sure that I’m not the only one who has just said a word to God about his daughter here. Grace to you…

  10. Thank you.

    I just cannot fathom the ignorance that goes into some people’s so called Biblical approach to this kind of thing. And I think there is a Biblical approach, but it’s not so much a Biblical approach for the depressed, but for the rest of us.

    We’re called to love the broken, to be with them, to help heal their wounds as much as we can.

    I think a lot of the problem comes from people being afraid to face what depression really is. Despite the many things the Bible has to say about the brokenness of our world, many people want to believe the world is rosy. And here’s someone suffering, suffering because of what’s been done to them, often my nature itself. I know too many people who’ve been hurt by just this sort of self-help spirituality.

    And seriously? Treating “be joyful!” as a legal command is so incredibly stupid. No one can truly be joyful if they’re going around constantly beating themselves up for not being joyful enough.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Treating “be joyful!” as a legal command is so incredibly stupid. No one can truly be joyful if they’re going around constantly beating themselves up for not being joyful enough.

      Not even all those Joyful Joyful Joyful North Koreans, Constantly Dancing Joyfully with Great Enthusiasm before Comrade Dear Leader?

  11. “He goes on to question whether we are really believing Jesus if we say we don’t or can’t seem to find joy.”

    Old-school evangelical invitational clap-trap: “Are you sure that you’re sure? If not, come down front tonight and settle it once and for all.” (At least until the next revival-minded guest speaker comes to town).

  12. Oh my heart! Reading this triggers a flood of memories, most of them are troubled. Takes me back to the years when I was sitting under this kind of teaching. No need to fill this space with my horror stories… I am sure that Ally C & I are not alone in knowing the “damage done”. I spent much of my life battling depression, perhaps some of it is genetic, and some due to a horrific childhood, and a whole lot of it due to the ways I sinned to numb the agony inside because it hurt so much to be me. Long story (not all that interesting ) on finding my way out of the nightmare of depression…
    This person is ignorant for saying that anti-depressants are “happy pills” he obviously hasn’t taken them otherwise he would know that they barely take the edge off a serious depression. As for me, I am sticking to Jesus and my Zoloft. God Bless You Chaplain Mike.

    • I would love to hear some of your stories…I think we would all benefit from it. This type of crap really needs to end. Too many people get hurt!!!

    • @ Gail, I have a past filled with sins I committed to numb the agony of being myself. I was too loud, too unlady like, too rebellious, too whatever.

      Enter Jesus…..not a meeting, a sermon, a revival or a Christian, too many trust issues for that!

      He continues to smooth out my rough edges, but I’ll never be the quiet, submissive, dress wearing lady. And ya know what….He loves me in spite of myself. And because of that, I am learning how to love others in spite of themselves. Which is far more than I can say for my Baptist Fundamental background folks.

  13. I should add specific to the issue of this post that I personally have not found the bible to be a universally useful “tool” for fighting depression. In my experience, between its recording of human failures and brutality, coupled with the evangelical tradition of using it as a guilt-inducing weapon, its effect on depression is more causative than curative.

  14. Yup…

    The Bible has an answer for everything!!!! I do like some of the questions asked…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jZu0szdFjG4

    I read posts like this and I boil. Where is the common sense? Where is the love among fundegelicals? Where is the grace? Where is the community? Where is the support system? Also why is this happening in the 21st century with all the science, medical research, etc.. that exists?

    CM…Good response…I applaud you for calling this type of teaching on the carpet. Why don’t more do this?

    • just wow….. my favorite riff was THE MORAL VIEW OF RAIL ROADS……. I…..ummmm…… never knew….

      GregR

      • brilliantvapor says:

        I think mine is actually “The Moral Use of the Sea”. Oh yeah. I’ve been totally confused for years about how to morally use the sea.

  15. I’ve heard preachers say that the Bible has an answer for any question in life you could ever have. And it makes me wonder…..what Bible are they reading? My BIble doesn’t do that. It does much, but answer all my questions it does not.

    This post could be about my grandfather. It kinda made my skin crawl. Lord have mercy!

    A short story……About a year ago, I sent an e-mail to a friend requesting prayer for my dad’s wife. She was being tested for cancer. This person responded withyou want to make sure she gets rid of any pride she may have so she could be right with God.

    Oh the emotions that spewed out of me that night (my poor husband)! I was crying and throwing out all kinds of f-bombs. Livid would be an understatement. How is it that people presume Jesus ALONE didn’t accomplish the work that makes us right with God?

    So it’s pride that creates cancer? And it’s us that makes us right with God?

    My Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has shown me many Truths since that day. I do not communicate with that person anymore. There is no telling a person who knows it all anything!

    • Heck. Not only does the Bible not give answers to everything, it actively says there aren’t answers. That’s what Job seems to be all about if you ask me.

  16. “Can we please just learn to be human beings with our neighbors?”

    Amen! Thank you for this post. Well said.

    I’ve seen this “bible has the answer to everything” mindset in the nouthetic counseling movement. Theologically, I think it’s an outgrowth of an extreme application of the calvinist doctrine of total depravity. Common grace is pretty much eliminated, and every problem and issue necessitates a spiritual/biblical solution before anything else is efficacious.

    It’s not only theologically flawed, but as others have said so eloquently, it’s incredibly destructive. It’s one of the ways evangelicalism finds to make other people second-class instead of embracing them as immortal beings created in the image of God. That’s not the way to win people for the Kingdom.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Zero-Sum Game.

      Build yourself up by cutting others down. Even in your Standing Before God.

  17. Thank you for this post, Chaplain Mike. Just this morning I had a conversation with a loved one about the same things. As a Christian who’s been struggling with depression for over a year now, this is a great encouragement. Now if I can only get my family to read this… 🙂

  18. Mike, I saw that blog too. That team of bloggers comes from a tradition where the answer to everything can be found in the Bible – as interpreted by their pastor – and rarely is that answer a simple “walk in freedom”.

    I was recently reading Ezra 10:9, which says “all the people sat in the open square before the house of God, trembling because of this matter [their unfaithfulness] and the heavy rain.”
    In other words, their symptom (trembling] had a spiritual AND physical component, and you could NOT discern the difference just by looking them.
    Their solution in 10:13-14 was to leave and reconvene later, because (1) it was the rainy season (physical/environmental), and (2) they had transgressed greatly (spiritual) and needed time to sort things out.
    They needed a wholistic approach, NOT ruling out one or the other.

  19. Adrienne says:

    Thank you Chapain Mike ~ You have set a lot of people free if they read this and take it to heart. I was one of the people who did not need medication – I had the joy of the Lord as my strength. My health collapsed after several years of severe strain which I did not recognize. Early on a physician prescribed medication for me as he straight out told me I could not contine under the stress. without damaging my health. I “Spiritually” came home and promptly dumped the pills down the toilet. Two years later, down I went. After a loud and clear lecture from my wise and godly physician I tearfully agreed to take the medication. After 3 weeks. as my close friends said, I was back. I was almost my old self again. I have now turned around completely and if someone expresses symptoms of depression I tell them there is help out there – go and get it. I have even driven one friend who was severely depressed to the doctor – she is doing very well now and is smiling once more. Thank you so much for this post. I needed it also!!

  20. Having had a depressive disorder for most of my life, I’ve had to learn to live with it. I won’t talk about stupid things I’ve heard in church about depression or all the time I’ve spent explaining that depression as a disorder is not the same as depression that comes from sad events. I’d be talking for days. What gets me through bad days (even with medication, some days are still bad) is God and my daily routines. I talk to God and I remind myself about what I’ve learned about his character and promises to renew creation. Even though my feelings, emotional and physical, don’t change I still have a rock to hang on to. I don’t mean to sound evangelicheesical, but that’s what does it for me.

  21. Well set out Mike.
    I work within this environment, and serve individuals who’s lives are immeasurably broken.
    What sort of world does this guy circulate in?

  22. Let me add my thanks to this list. I also battle with depression, I’m on an SSRI that I’ll probably need to take/adjust/take again for the rest of my life, and I find most of the “christian” response to be nothing short of offensive. I can/will recommend Archibald Hart’s book “Unmasking Male Depression” for any men fighting with this disease. I found that he didn’t over-spiritualize things and addressed the medical facts first. It’s definitely a Christian book but not of the “pray more/read more/complain less” variety. He knows it’s a human problem with medical solutions and has almost NOTHING to do with a weak faith.

    Of note, my depression was only diagnosed AFTER becoming a Christian. While I’m certain I’ve suffered with it my entire life it only came to be properly diagnosed later. It’s NOT a spiritual thing. I weep for my brothers/sisters who are suffering with those kind of “diagnoses” by pastors and friends.

  23. Yuri Wijting says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you… at last someone who has a handle on both spiritual and physical realities. I can speak from personal experience of the pain of being blamed for spiritual failures. This is most markedly visible with those who have struggled with sexual addictions. I tried every bible-based approach, which only addressed one reality, namely the spiritual. When I regressed, I was told that this was because I didn’t “do all I could to stand”. Fortunately, for the guy, this was online otherwise I would have uncorked on him and probably get arrested for assault.

    Ironically, I got help from a guy who didn’t believe in religion, but he addressed brilliantly the human side of sexuality and intimacy. Ultimately, my issues were related to intimacy. That was like a huge relief and the self debasement could stop.

    So I connected the dots between spirituality and physical realities and it freed me up like never before as now I had a spiritual and a physical way to approach sexual issues.

    I cannot tell you the untold harm we do by making people feel like failures because of their condition that they try to fight so hard against. It’s time we used both spiritual and physical solutions to be more rounded theologians and pastors.

    Thank you,

    Yuri

  24. Thank you for a very good article. As a Christian who has battle depression for many years, I get a bit more than a little irritated with those who seem to think the answer to everything is a Bible verse. Depression is caused by any number of problems, or combination of problems. I am not suggesting that the Christian ignore the Bible. I am saying, rather, that the place to start is with a good medical doctor who can refer one to a competent psychologist, or psychiatrist. One thing I have learned from experience is that both the mind and the brain (not the same thing) are very complex. Someone with a few lessons on how to council church members with personal problems that are related to spiritual questions is not qualified to council someone suffering from depression, except to say, “See your doctor!”

  25. I love watching “House”. Each week there is a story of mysterious illnesses which baffle doctors, and often their efforts to diagnose and treat the illnesses sometimes makes the matter worse.

    If it is difficult for doctors to diagnose physiological ailments, just imagine how difficult it is to diagnose psychological ailments. There are so many variables affecting a subject which science is still struggling to comprehend. At least medicine has put behind them the days of Walter Freeman and mass lobotomies.

    But I think Einstein’s warning applies here: religion should not hide in the dark places of science. Just because science doesn’t have an immediate answer to a problem doesn’t mean that the problem is outside the realm of science. Coming from a background in engineering and computers, often it is extremely difficult to diagnose intermittent problems in the creations of human-made technology. God’s creations are far more mysterious. Sometimes an epiphany moment occurs, when the answer suddenly appears.

    But I think both science and religion are abused in the name of modernistic optimism. Neither science nor religion can keep us free of suffering in a fallen world. Religion dare not say that it can answer all questions and end all suffering where science has failed.

    • …and vise-versa: science should not be abused as the path to utopia. I think science and religion ultimately point us to the same answer: “from dust you came, and to dust you shall return”.

    • There are ways of dealing with suffering which I won’t go into, this being a meeting place for Christians. I will say that depression also comes from setting up an alternate reality according to someone else’s ideas about how things SHOULD be. We have to define our own subjective realities then strive to find the one best at describing things as they really are. This disconnect between our own perceptions and how things really are can cause any number of mental illnesses.

  26. S.J. Gonzalez says:

    As somebody that just came out of a Calvinisticish (as opposed to Calvinistic) Fundjelical Youth Ministry in a Fundjelical Dispy Arminian Church…

    (Nuts, I know).

    I don’t think the issue is Calvinism. Total Depravity means that a person can do nothing to get right with God, and that God needs to give that person faith. It doesn’t mean that every person is Hitler, though the implication is that every person has the capacity to be Hitler. And of course every person has the capacity to love God, just with God’s intervention.

    But I digress.

    Also, my understanding of historic Reformed theology has a strong belief in common grace. At least I do, if only because I prefer non Christian music over CCM. But that’s another story. I’m addressing John in this, though

    And Steve, yes, I read that blog as well. When I first read it I was all like “Yah! They should be depressed!” but then after reading this I thought “Man, I’m a Pharisee”. Agh.

    And Mike is right, depression can be physical, and I’m learning that too. I’m seeing a counselor for… well initially suicidal tendencies but now alot more (who went to RTS, and is a pastor in the PCA) and part of the reason I was feeling/am feeling the way that I am is quite frankly, I grew up being teased all the time. That affects people. And his suggestion to me? He’s telling me to cry and make friends. No reading the Bible there.

    The only word he tells me is grace, when I feel that I’m worthless, he tells me that in Christ the Father loves me, dearly.

    So yah, the Gospel is holistic. Yah, Mike is right. But to be fair, I think it’s the fundamentalists that became Calvinists (and they’re bad at it too) rather then Calvinists are just fundamentalists on the whole.

    Then again, my experience with Presbyterians have been quite pleasant so far. But to quote a comment I read once here, it’s the Baptists that read church growth books and are Calvinists that are dangerous.

    And even then, Reformed Baptists are cool when you take away the church growth books.

    But I digress. Thanks for putting this article up, and thanks for the website. It keeps me sane.

  27. Randy Thompson says:

    It’s interesting and maybe just a little amazing that so much of evangelical Christianity’s response to depression seemingly has more to do with self-help than it does with the Gospel.

    The problem with self-help is that the self needing the help is the self giving the help. The self that needs to claim and believe the Bible verses is the self that has already failed to do so. Such Christian self-help entails a lot of huffing and puffing that gets you nowhere. Emotionally, and spiritually, you’re like a gerbil running hard and fast in his wheel, going nowhere, getting tireder and tireder.

    The Gospel of the love of Jesus didn’t immediately blast me out of a mild form of a major depression years ago. But, it did encourage me to trust and rest in a love I couldn’t feel, and that was a huge step in the right direction. Once I began to (slowly) trust the love of Christ, I was never depressed alone. I can still get depressed, but now I do so with a sense that I’m not alone, that the one who cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” is with me.

    As a pastor, I was struck by the comment posted above that you should not go to a pastor for depression. From the responses of people here, I suspect that might be wise counsel, especially for those in the evangelical and pentecostal subculture(s). However, I do have a suggestion. If you find a pastor who has been depressed and doesn’t hide it, and who is willing to talk about it freely, even in the pulpit, I would take the risk of talking with her (or him). At the least, the odds are pretty good that this person will have ears to hear you, and with some empathy. I say this, because I’ve been pretty straight up about my own history with depression, and I’ve found my experience of depression hugely helpful in listening to others. If nothing else, it has freed me from the desire to “fix” people.

    • Randy Thompson says:

      A further thought:

      The only Savior who makes sense for a depressive is one who cries out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”

    • S.J. Gonzalez says:

      “As a pastor, I was struck by the comment posted above that you should not go to a pastor for depression. From the responses of people here, I suspect that might be wise counsel, especially for those in the evangelical and pentecostal subculture(s). ”

      Most of us on this blog, at least, from what I’ve read, come from those backgrounds. You’re right, we should be going to our pastors. They should be taking care of us. They should be hearing our cries. But instead we have broken people breaking people.

      I wonder if our seminaries should have an extra year where we taking counseling courses while we ourselves get counseling…

      • S.J., I agree with you that it is sad pastors are not more trusted as sources of comfort and help to people with depression, etc. However, I’m not sure the answer is to train the pastor in counseling. I do, however, really like the idea of prospective pastors getting counseling. One of the key sections of Eugene Peterson’s memoir tells how he became involved in a group that was involved in providing counseling and social services. It was tremendously stimulating to him, but he realized that his calling as a pastor differed from what they were doing. I agree. Pastors should play an important role in pastoral care, and that includes counseling on a certain level, but not the professional level. For that, IMO, it is better to partner with professionals you trust.

      • Randy Thompson says:

        I agree with Chaplain Mike about training pastors to become counselors, which is to (generally speaking) train them to do what others do better. I think, though, that it would be better for seminarians to enter into a relationship with a godly, wise, and Christ-centered spiritual director who can help them connect the Gospel with their own brokenness, and help them be pastors rather than simply play the pastoral role. Or, better maybe, help them to be pastors rather than to merely “do” ministry. To be a pastor is to engage with people as people; to “do” ministry to people is to treat them as objects.

        By the way, I think many here might benefit from a look at Peter Scazzero’s books, “The Emotionally Healthy Church” and “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality.” The first of the two is something of a confession of a pastor (Scazzero) who was like the pastors referenced here, but who, by God’s grace, was broken, learned to face his own brokenness, and relearned what it means to be a pastor. I found the book powerful and helpful because it is part confession and part conversion story (a conversion story that is, by the way, a healthy one).

      • Perhaps not training to become professional counselors (though that seems to have been taken up as part of the pastoral job description, for good or ill), but certainly some training is needed. I’ve talked to quite a few pastors, as well as seminary/ministry professors and administrators and those involved in disability ministry. One theme has shaken out of this: pastors are woefully ill-prepared in the area of pastoral care. At the least, we need a theology of brokenness and need, a call to service in the lives of those who struggle with various long-term, complicated, debilitating circumstances in the body of Christ. What does love really mean? Beyond our simplistic gospel (come to Christ and all your problems will go away!) we also seem to be infected with an American cultural pop-psychology mindset and a presumption that our job is to fix (and aquick fix at that), not serve. Sometimes pastoral counseling in particular can be infected by these things. Certainly evangelical culture as a whole is; ironically, the nouthetic counselors with their proud rejection of “worldly” psychology may be some of the worst offenders.

        A good book on mental illness in general and depression in particular: “Broken Minds” by Steve and Robyn Bloem. One of the few books from an evangelical perspective that I would recommend, and the Bloems have been working very hard to shine a light in the church’s dark corners re: mental illness.

    • ya, good words.
      at one of my most difficult times i turned to a Nav Press book called “the pursuit of holiness” thinking that this was my answer to my problems. it wasn’t. then a friend gave me the book, “in the grip of grace” by Max lucado. i always thought max lucado was a flaky joke. the book probably saved my life.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        If Nav Press is the same as the Navigators, I’m not surprised. At Cal Poly in the Seventies, the Navs had a reputation for the most X-Treme Holiness, Wretched Urgency Aggressive “Witnessing”, and the highest burnout and flunkout rate of any on-campus Christian organization.

  28. I wanted to add my voice to the chorus of those who are really thankful for this post. I am a long term sufferer of anxiety problems, & struggle with agoraphobia, & at the moment am crawling through the debris of a severe grief reaction to my Mum’s death 4 months ago. Even though me & God are currently in the kind of mess I never imagined, I am utterly thankful to be in a church that does its best to love me right where I am, not put blame on me & try to stop me feeling so awful about suffering from my current mental health issues.

    But, because of previously experiencing the kind of teaching this post was demolishing I still feel guilty for not being ‘spiritual’ enough about it all, & worry that I’m missing how God wants me to deal with things. A lot of suffering over the last 2 decades could have been prevented if, when I first realised something was really wrong, anxiety wise, I hadn’t been around Christian friends who were into the whole ‘PsychoHeresy’ thing, thus putting me off going after some serious therapy, which could have helped a lot.

    I’m always amazed at the sheer amount of ‘information’ some believers seem to get from the Bible, reams of instructions about all sorts of things, which I could never find, somehow. I wonder if they teach their Doctors anatomy from the Bible rather than from natural revelation?

  29. Perhaps for the sake of perspective, check out this article regarding the effectiveness of Buddhism to treat depression. Answer? There’s no replacement for medical treatment.

    http://blog.beliefnet.com/onecity/2009/05/to-what-extent-can-buddhism-help-with-depression.html

  30. The modern evangelical understanding of salvation has made it nearly impossible for us to deal with issues like depression. We’ve reduced the Gospel to: what’s wrong with us is that we do sinful things, and the solution is repentance and forgiveness through the cross. Essentially, we act as if all Jesus accomplished was to be punished in our place, and therefore the only power the cross has is to wipe out sins we’ve committed.

    Traditional Christianity, by comparison, saw the cross and resurrection of Christ as a complete victory over the powers of “sin, death, and the Devil.” In that view all illness (mental and physical) fell under the category of “works of the Devil” – ways that our Accuser seeks to obliterate the image of God that is stamped on us. Understanding salvation and the work of Christ in those broader terms gives us a theological reason to believe that the death and resurrection of Jesus can set us free even from something like depression, without first having to translate it into a “sin” issue. (Not so say, of course, that believing Christ has won that victory implies we’ll never struggle with any darkness in our lives, any more than it means that the world is already perfect.)

    In my own struggles with depression, I reached a point where I recognized that the form of Christianity I was practicing – which defined all problems in terms of sin, and which urged endless introspection to identify and root out sin in our lives – was, for a depressed person, a dangerous and unhealthy religion. There may be some people who are not sufficiently aware of sin in their lives and need preaching that is designed to increase their sense of guilt. But there are others beset by too much guilt, for whom that sort of preaching is harmful.

  31. I’m on the verge of weeping…so many of us (myself included) dealing with depression and mental illness. I suppose I can take solace in the truth that I’m not alone in this.

    I’ve dealt with depression for many years; likely since I was in my early teens, although it wasn’t diagnosed until about five years ago. I believe that had God not intervened and got me help, I wouldn’t be alive today. But it still is something that many in the Church don’t want to talk about.

    My story: After about a year of counseling and medication to help get my head right, I felt the Spirit urging me to share my story with the congregation. The pastor allowed it, so I told the story, including the day I almost flung myself from the top of my employer’s ten-story building. The point that I was making was that there is hope even for someone like me, and that perhaps counseling and medication were tools that God used to make me whole. I don’t regret sharing my story, but it makes me sad that many in the church, including some that counted me as friends, started treating me like a virtual leper. One even said that it’s obvious I had sin in my life that I needed to confess, and that a “real” Christian has no business being depressed. I haven’t talked to them since then (their choice).

    I don’t need preaching to increase my sense of guilt. At my lowest, my sense of guilt was so great that I was practically paralyzed. It’s only in the last year or so that I’ve truly come to understand that I don’t have to feel that way. Counseling — and yes, medication — have helped me have the clarity of mind I needed to truly understand the Gospel. Thank God for that.

  32. Alejandra T says:

    Depression can affect anyone and I do not think it correlates with relationship with God. I have seen several great christians that struggle with depression. Using a more known case, Mary Beth Chapman, struggled with depression after the loss of her daughter (her article here: http://www.crosswalk.com/spirituallife/women/11641789/) but as she lays it out, depression was a way for her to know that she depended on God.

  33. My oldest daughter was prenatally exposed to meth, alcohol and cocaine. She spent 4-years in an environment of severe neglect. She spent three more years in foster care. In three years, she had 8 placements and failed an adoption at her maternal uncle’s home. He and his wife had just learned that their youngest son had Duchenne’s muscular dystrophy. They didn’t feel that they could meet the needs of two very disabled children. They were probably right. But, that little 7-year-old girl only understood that her family had rejected her. She came to my home with developmentally disabled (fetal alcohol syndrome), severely mentally ill and mad at the world! She is 19 now, not much has changed. Adoption doesn’t magically heal these kids.

    My church, the youth group leaders and many others preached the same attitude toward mental illness. My daughter has classic facial features of FAS. Her IQ is borderline. She tries to pass as “normal,” but anyone who spends even 15 minutes talking with her will figure out that she isn’t neurotypical. Still, people wanted to evaluate all her behaviors through sin colored glasses. I needed emotional and spiritual support from the church. Instead, my parenting ability was questioned. I sometimes needed respite care. No one from the church ever offered it to me. I asked for a one-on-one mentor at the youth group that could provide the extra structure and support she needed to participate with her peer group. They couldn’t do that. The message became obvious, we don’t have the time or patience to deal with you kid. She isn’t valuable to us.

    And yet, when an adult suffered a stroke, and post stroke behaved in a similar way everyone was able to show compassion. They saw the dying of brain cells and the loss of function and didn’t tie it to sin. This was a good man or woman who was suffering greatly. It seems that the universal church needs a better theology of disability, one that is more inclusive. I counter that by remembering that until just a few short years ago, people like my daughter would have been institutionalized. Our society is still on a learning curve. I just wish the church was leading the way — demonstrating that we really, truly believe that humans are the crowning glory of God’s creation.

    • God bless you and your daughter, Julie. My heart breaks, but there are a few voices in the wilderness. Thank you for your articulate and wise response — we do indeed need a theology of disability and, as children of the One who sees the sparrow fall, should be taking the lead in serving the vulnerable.

      In a previous comment I mentioned Steve and Robyn Bloem’s book “Broken Minds” as a good resource about mental illness from a Christian perspective. Another book I’ve found helpful is “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Christianity, & Culture: Between God and an Illness” by James M. Rotholz, PhD. While, as the title states, the context is Rotholz’s struggle with a particular condition, he brings his background as a trained anthropologist as well as his faith to bear on disability issues at large. In some ways it contains some of the most Biblical thinking regarding disability that I’ve seen. Would that more would be motivated to think about these things and step forward in service without having to be thrown into the fires themselves first.

  34. I wish I had a dollar, for every time someone, told me if I just got right with God, I wouldn’t be depressed. I was the one in a right relationship in my God. Joy does not equal happiness. I’ve also noticed a shortage of testimonies when someone was injured in an accident or was ill, the body of Christ prayed for healing, and no healing took place. Yet, God can be glorified in both situations and in depression.

  35. I’m a bit late to the game, but had to share this gem of a quote that shows just how damaging the views that some Christian leaders hold on depression can be. From the section on depression in “Lies Women Believe”, one of the ‘truths’ we can use is “I do not have a ‘right’ to ‘feel good.’ Regardless of how I feel, I can choose to give thanks, to obey God, and to reach out to others.”

    I know it amounts to a steaming pile of bovine droppings, and yet the weight of guilt is crushing. It is no wonder people do not turn first to the church for help when this is the type of teaching we get from it.

    • there was a time when i was an older teenager that if asked i would have easily volunteered for physical pain & discomfort vs. the emotional turmoil i was experiencing…

      for those that have not experienced the scary, dark vortex sucking one down into mental & emotional oblivion, then there is no convincing them of the horror living that way can be…

      my emotional condition did harm me physically. i bear the scars of my body rebelling at the emotional shut-down that occured & the severe repression i was in a dark cycle of remaining in…

      i went to the emergency a few times to be cathaterized. i could not urinate as the tension in my body could not relax sufficiently to allow me to pee. boils broke out on my back & shoulders from the toxins i was retaining or increasing in my body. i was a mess. in a few years i became a Christian. i had the misconception i would be able to leave my past behind & not have to deal with the deeper emotional/psychological issues. God was merciful as the deepest depression was lifted, but never eliminated. i suffered as a melancholy soul for 40 years until a severe nervous breakdown forced me finally to address all the issues that had been largely responsible for a failed 26-year marriage. i had to go back those 40 years in counseling sessions to address the very beginnings of my issues that only accumulated during the years. with doctor’s supervision & meds & those counseling sessions, i took ownership of my past (my responses to life’s negative circumstances) & made significant, if not miraculous, progress. a very supportive church group as well as 3 dear friends were indispensible in my healing progress. the doctor ruled out any significant physiological issues & my counselor did not think my issues warranted deeper psychiatric intervention although i did have a black-out experience during my nervous breakdown where i lost 2 days. anyway, the stigma of dealing with severe depression, suicidal planning (in detail), self-destructive behaviors (cutting, burning oneself), eating disorders, and the real issues of mental imbalances not what it once was. this is true of society outside a church environment, but i do know within some churches these issues are scary & they are ill prepared to minister with love, acceptance, support, prayer, patience and encouragment…