Saturday, 16 May 2015

Can A Real Christian be Depressed?

Rethinking Faith and Church started a discussion on its Facebook page on Thursday May 7th, 2015 with the following:

"Is 'Blessed' the opposite of 'Depressed?' If so, and at the risk of over simplifying the problem, does that then imply that a potential biblical answer to depression may be found in the Beatitudes of Matthew 5? Why or why not? Thoughts?"

Thankfully, at least in Canada, the stigma attached to mental illness is gradually being removed, and for many people with chronic depression, it is becoming easier to get treatment. I don't feel that this discussion was intended to include those for whom depression is part of their over-all mental health. Neither I nor Rethinking Faith and Church, would ever want to make light of the living hell in which people with chronic depression must live.

However, many people do go through short periods of depression... sometimes lasting several months. And before you say “several months” doesn't sound short, consider that there are many people who enure depression for years. I myself, have endured depression for several months. My life wasn't going the way I thought it would be going, and in my mid to late forties, I slumped into a very dark time ... more than once.

Before going into the thoughts that this discussion stirred up in me, let's review the Beatitudes:
Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them. He said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:1-12; NIV)
As an initial observation, I don't see Blessed are the Depressed.

The responses to the Facebook post were swift. Mostly stating that the question of Blessed and Depressed being opposites was in fact over-simplifying it. And I tend to agree. I suspect that Rethinking Faith and Church was trying to stimulate conversation on a subject that many Christians try to avoid. Many Christians do feel that being depressed is an indication that one's faith is weak, and perhaps even non-existant. It's sad, but during my darkest days, meditating on how blessed I am, only made my depression worse. That meditation would introduce feelings of guilt for my depression in the midst of such blessings. I would often ask a brother if he wanted to join my “pity party”.

I added to the discussion the following. What was missing in our discussion were the preceding words to the two words that were being considered. Both of these words are typically preceded by one of two verbs: "to be" or "to feel."

As Christians we are (ie: "to be") always blessed. That blessing will (at least) be manifested when we leave this rock and avoid the eternal damnation that we all deserve. However, we don't always "feel" blessed. Feelings are temporary states of mind that come and go throughout our stay on this rock. Sometimes we feel depressed, sometimes we feel blessed, and (if we're honest) sometimes we even feel damned. So, yes ... one could make an argument for these two words being opposites, but only in combination with the verb "to feel." However, one must avoid using a reminder of our blessed future as a tool to "snap" someone out of depression. As I said earlier, in my experience that only exacerbates the depression.

If you are suffering with depression, I would like to encourage you with this:
1. Your feelings are not “bad” feelings. There is no such thing as bad feelings. Even Jesus asked why God had forsaken Him. (Matthew 27:46). 
2. Your depression is temporary. Yes, even chronic depression for the Christian is temporary, because there will be no depression when we go to be with our Lord. (Revelation 21:4).
3. There is help. Reach out to your family, friends, church, doctor, dentist... whomever. If you are seriously thinking about hurting yourself to make it stop (I understand), go to the emergency unit at your local hospital, or call 9-1-1. 
4. Know this: You are loved. Though right now, you may not “feel” loved, you are a child of the most high God, and He knows what you are going through. And, He will sustain you.
And though I may not know you, I love you.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
(2 Corinthians 13:14; NIV)

Photo Credit: Don Hankins, Flickr Creative Commons
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POSTSCRIPT:
Guest blogger Waldo Rochow is, of course correct, when he stated: “I suspect that Rethinking Faith and Church was trying to stimulate conversation on a subject that many Christians try to avoid.” We believe that any discussion, if done in the right spirit and with grace and love, can be a very healthy thing, and may even help to promote healing. This blog post was titled, “Can a Real Christian be Depressed?” Of course they can! But perhaps that’s where the Body of Christ comes in and truly shines; not with a bunch of accusations and finger pointing and “thou shall not’s” and the all too common practice of poor eisegesis (as opposed to exegesis), but with genuine and non-pretentious LOVE and CARING and COMPASSION for our brothers and sisters who often struggle just to make it through another day. Something to think about. Thanks for sharing, Bro. Peace and Blessings.

2 comments:

  1. people can be afraid of simple answers for things that the world thinks to be so complicated?
    It's been 20 years since I first began to observe how it was impossible for human beings to continue feeling depressed while consistently thinking to the benefit of others. The other option is drugging, but even a prescription pad can't keep you from frying some of your brain with what are pricey re-formulated street drugs.
    "Christians" and unbelieving people... meeting more folks through the years who identify with keeping focus off of "self" as a healthy choice and a very efficacious to avoiding the next bout with "depression". Not an easy adjustment, though surely a simple one.

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    1. Marshall, these are valid observations, and I thank you for contributing to the conversation. It is important for those who are suffering to know that options exist.

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