For those who follow this blog you will already know that I do not stick to just one spiritual perspective, but I feel that there is value in many different faiths. So I have decided to do a series exploring how faith traditions deal with the issue of depression in light of the recent scientific advances that show that depression and bipolar disorder are biological and have nothing to do with a person’s character.
No Me Mireis! (Photo credit: El Hermano Pila)
I have been disturbed for a long time about the way mental illness is often denied by many Christians and their churches. This is not a problem unique to Christianity. Many people in other faiths draw a line that says “If you are spiritual enough then you won’t get depressed.” Depression is seen as a “sin against God.” So besides feeling overwhelmed by depression then a person has to cope with the guilt that they are somehow disappointing God!This of course is a false dichotomy. There is nothing in the Bible that says you have to be happy all the time and if you aren’t then you are sinning. Rather the Bible is pretty explicit that many characters in it in fact struggled a great deal with depression and despair.
I found a good article online called “Can a Christian Get Depressed?” by psychiatrist Adrian Warnock that expresses a more compassionate Christian point of view:
Some argue that a Christian should be able to reject depression “by faith.” Many would disagree with applying that notion to physical illness. Truth be told, we all know that Christians get sick. I have never heard of a “faith healer” who is 130 years old. Every great Christian of the past eventually succumbed to some illness or other. You do not simply die of old age.
As soon as we accept that Christians can get sick, we must acknowledge that they can get depressed too. Depression, like Bipolar Affective Disorder, Schizophrenia, Schizoaffective Disorder, and a number of other psychiatric conditions, is a real illness.
He goes on to discuss some of the scientific evidence to support his point of view. This reminds me of a discussion I had with a fundamentalist Christian who insisted that the brain cannot get sick. We started out discussing addiction issues and the disease theory of addiction promoted by AA. He insisted that the brain would never tell someone to do something that would be destructive to the body. Then the conversation went into mental illness with the same attitude. But exactly why would the brain be exempted from illness? We know that Alzheimer’s disease affects behavior as well and makes people do irrational things. So why should mental illness be any different?
The article continues as it discusses how the heroes in the Bible often struggled with deep depression:
The Gospel promises “joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8). So how can we still be sorrowful? The gospel also promises a life free of sin and sickness. But we know that all these promises are only fulfilled in part in this earthly existence. Jesus himself taught us to pray “your kingdom come, your will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven” precisely because it often isn’t done here. Even a Calvinist must accept that much happens here on earth that is contrary to God’s revealed will, his pleasure.
Paul spoke of the paradox of the Christian experience in 2 Corinthians 6 where he describes himself as “sorrowful yet always rejoicing.” The Christian may have a complex emotional state where the joy of knowing forgiveness battles with unquenchable depression, and the hope of eternity wrestles with despair.
One time Paul said of himself, “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart” (Romans 9:2).
It doesn’t take much reading of the Psalms to discover that King David and other psalmists had times when they suffered from severe depression. See for example Psalms 6, 30, and 31.
This is an important point. Did God ever say that our lives were going to be all sunshine and lollypops?
One message of the Bible, and the Psalms in particular is that depression does have an end point. Mercifully for most who suffer in this way, there are seasons of low mood that eventually give way to periods of resolution. We see that in the Psalms with such statements as,
“Weeping may tarry for the night,
but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5).
While that statement is generally true, it is not true in every case. Or at least it is not always true in this lifetime.
Theologians sometimes talk of an “over realised eschatology.” This happens when we take benefits of the gospel which are promised for us in eternity, and assume that they will be available completely for everybody today. God does heal depression in this life. But he doesn’t heal everyone. He does, however, promise a future where,
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
I think this point is important. I do not know if I will ever be completely healed, but I can look forward to a time where I will be.
We must face the fact that there is much about this world that is not right. And we must fight it, both in our own lives, and in helping to rescue others from the grip of everything that God did not intend for us. And we pray. We pray in hope that the God who promised that he will deliver us forevermore can and does give us foretastes of that deliverance here and now. And we rejoice with those who experience such supernatural touches of God. And we rejoice with those whose healing comes by the God-given skills of doctors. And we are compassionate towards those for whom it seems that in this life at least there will be no relief.
Read the whole article here. He also has written other articles on this topic so check him out!
- Depression Sneaks In (dgrupe.wordpress.com)
- Open Your Eyes (shieldofflowers.wordpress.com)
- Mental Illness (newcreationsite.wordpress.com)
- Psychology and Christianity (part 3) (piercedblog.wordpress.com)