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.

Friday, 1 May 2015

of Antique Bibles and Dust Collectors

Tonight as I took a break from my studies (yes, I'm back in school yet again), I glanced around my home office and noticed how many Bibles I had on my shelves. On top of that, I also have a few more favourite versions scattered around my favourite chair in the living room. Clearly, I am not a Scripture deprived person!

As I dwelt on that, I became almost ashamed, as I also pondered how many Christians around the world would absolutely love to have even one Bible to call their own, but who do not.

However, to be fair and before I beat myself up too much, we have also been directly involved in shipping New Testaments overseas. I remember acquiring a few cases of New Testaments some years ago, one case of which was in the French language. As we have friends who have served as missionaries to Haiti, and as they were returning for a visit, we tucked all the French New Testaments we could into their luggage. After all, most Haitians are Creole speaking, and many of them read Creole's cousin language, French. It only made sense to send these to Haiti. Others I continue to periodically give away here and there as the Spirit leads.

But back to my own collection. As I perused my plethora of books and Bibles, I saw one little old Bible that I forgot I had. Many years ago, in an institutional church in which I served as bi-vocational pastor, someone came to me one day and presented me with an old Bible he found in a garage sale. It was a clearly an antique.

As I carefully opened up the Bible, I saw a hand-written inscription inside that was barely legible, but the date was still very much discernible. It was dated 1896. As I reminded myself about this treasure, I thought about how someone, now some 119 years ago, was presented a gift of this Bible.

I wondered about who she or he was. I wondered if he or she actually read this Bible, or if it simply ended up on a shelf, collecting dust, as it has in my home. I wondered if the recipient of this gift came to know Jesus, of whom this book is all about. I wondered if one day I will meet its original owner when the Lord calls me home and I too cross from this life into the next. Will she or he be there? Let's take that one step further; will we know each other? Who knows?

In our day and age, many of us do have multiple Bibles in multiple translations in our collections. There is no question that some of these do sit on shelves collecting dust, whereas others become our favourites that we read regularly. The important thing is that we are in fact reading.

How about you? Do you have a favourite Bible that you read regularly? Or are all your Bibles simply aging on a shelf somewhere collecting dust? If so, maybe at the very least, you should at least write this year's date inside the front cover. At least then, after you're long dead and gone, someone from some future generation may come across your now ancient Bible and be in awe at just how old it is.

Now I'm not suggesting that the difference between a Christian and a non-Christian is that one reads a Bible whereas the other does not. Certainly not! But maybe in all fairness, the person who one day finds an old Bible of ours in a garage sale somewhere, may also ask a similar question, wondering if its original owner really knew the Lord, or was just a Bible collector.

Something to think about. Peace.