Meditations on Depression
Depression can sometimes feel like a dirty word for Christians. Christians are supposed to be happy people. James says that we are to count it all joy when we go through trials. Christians are people who have been changed by the Gospel. The Gospel literally means “good news”. So, how can a Christian suffer depression when they’ve been transformed by “good news”? Shouldn’t they be the happiest people ever? In one sense, the answer is, “Yes!” However, there is often a silent assumption that accompanies this answer in the mind of Christians. That assumption is that that a true Christian doesn’t get depressed. And if one does, there must be something wrong with them. You can’t be in the pits of despair if you truly believe the Gospel…right?
There are two problems with this way of thinking: (1) we live in a fallen world and (2) Jesus never promises that we won’t experience the fallenness of this world in this life. While the Gospel does save us from the guilt and power of sin, it doesn’t promise that we are now suddenly excluded from the effects of sin in this life. The reality is that pain, sorrow, grief, darkness, and mourning still exist, and Jesus never promises that we won’t experience them. There will come a time when these things are no more. Revelation 21:4 promises that God will “wipe away every tear from [his people’s] eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” However, that is a future state. The “former things” are currently the present things. And while the present things remain, Christians should expect to experience pain and suffering.
Once we begin to understand this, we come to realize that tears and pain are not “bad things” in and of themselves. They definitely aren’t pleasant things, but they aren’t bad things. In fact, they are very good things. Heartache, weeping, and mourning are all good and proper responses to the realities of this fallen world. It is good to feel bad when bad things happen. Even Jesus wept when he experienced the realities of this fallen world when his friend died. To experience deep and poignant pain and anguish does not necessarily mean that one is broken. It means one has been touched by the broken world.
Of course, there are many reasons why people may experience or even struggle with depression. Some people may have biological tendencies towards depression. Others may experience it because of the intensity with which the fall has touched their lives (see Psalm 88). Whatever the case may be, there are two promises that should be a comfort for the Christian in their periods of darkness.
The first promise is that Jesus will never leave you or forsake you. In Psalm 23, the Psalmist writes about walking through the valley of the shadow of death. There are a number of interpretations of what that may mean, but the point is still the same. The Psalmist doesn’t say that God will miraculously deliver him from the valley, but instead, he takes comfort that his God is with him. Jesus knows the dark times that we go through. He knows the pain and suffering we experience. He experienced pain as well, but he is with us when we go through it. When we go through the valley, God is there with his children leading them. He doesn’t leave them to go through the valley alone. Because of that, the Psalmist can say, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” The presence of God gives the Christian strength to persevere even in the face of great darkness.
The second promise is the one that’s already been mentioned from Rev. 21:4. There is coming a day when the former things will pass away. This fallen world is temporary. The brokenness we experience in this life is temporary. And since those things are temporary, our experiences of pain, tears, grief, and sorrow are also temporary. The darkness we experience now will only be for a little while. There is coming a day when every tear will be dried and every downcast heart will be lifted up. The Christian walks in the hope and confidence that the day is coming when their savior will welcome them into their rest where there is no more pain.
There are times in the Christian’s life when darkness seems to press in on every side. The pain just won’t go away. But the Christian’s hope is not in the pain going away now. Hope is found in the strength and presence of Christ in the present to enable us to persevere when the darkness won’t lift. And as the Christian perseveres now, they look forward to the promised day when they will experience the full blessings of Christ when Rev. 21 is no longer a promise, but a reality.
(1) John Piper, When the Darkness Will Not Lift
(2) Abraham Kuyper, The Practice of Godliness
In this book, Kuyper distinguishes between “resignation” and “Patience.” For him, Christian patience is an active war against the flesh, the world, and the devil; he makes a similar point as above regarding perseverance amidst the world of sin and sadness.