Fits of depression come over the most of us. Cheerful as we may be, we must at intervals be cast down. The strong are not always vigorous, the wise not always ready, the brave not always courageous, and the joyous not always happy. —Charles Spurgeon
Depression has been called the “common cold of psychological disorders.” Negative thoughts preoccupy and dominate the depressed person’s mind. Sometimes depression is linked to certain events or circumstances, sometimes not. It often produces withdrawal and fatigue, and can become so debilitating that a person ceases to function normally. That in itself leads to further depression.
Often depression is the result of a sense of personal loss. This may be the loss of a loved one, pet, money, job, health, skill, or reputation. Depression almost always involves a negative or deteriorating view of self, which feels like a loss of personhood. Ultimately, any of these may lead to a loss of hope, and a loss of a sense of God’s loving presence.
Depression may stem from physical causes, particularly chemical imbalances. Sometimes it stems from the hormonal imbalances of PMS (Premenstrual Syndrome) or menopause. In such cases both medical and counseling professionals should be consulted.
Twice as many women suffer from depression as men. Nearly three times as many women carry depression to its ultimate extreme by attempting suicide.
Primary warning signs of suicide include withdrawal, personality changes, quiet resignation, and apparent indifference about life. Common circumstances that seem to trigger suicidal thoughts are lengthy illnesses (especially terminal), unemployment, marital and/or family problems. Sometimes the suicidal person talks as if she doesn’t expect to be around much longer. If these circumstances or symptoms apply to yourself or someone you know, get professional spiritual help immediately.
Most depression does not end in suicide, but it is serious nonetheless. Among its physical effects are aches and pains particularly in the stomach and bowels, changes in appetite, sleep disturbances, and sexual dysfunction. Its mental and emotional effects often include a sense of despair, despondency, and helplessness.
Some depression comes from simply feeling the crushing weight of pain and brokenness in one’s life and the lives of others around the globe. Of course, self-preoccupied woe-is-me depression quickly becomes deeply unhealthy. But sometimes when we feel burdened, we may simply be joining the whole creation in groaning because of a world of suffering. In that case, we’re in good company, for “the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express” (Romans 8:26).
It’s no sin to feel that burden, and sometimes it’s a sin not to. Some of what passes for Christian contentment is, in fact, indifference to the evil and suffering around us. It’s apathy toward the plight of God’s image-bearers, demonstrated by the fact that we do so little and give so little to help them. Our lives should reflect a groaning that gives way to joy, celebrating what God has done for us in Christ, and thanking Him that He will rescue us once and for all from evil and suffering.
I feel a profound sadness and mourning for human brokenness, for children exploited by the sex trade, killed by abortion, and dying of diseases and disasters. Still, my confidence in an all-good and all-powerful God allows me to simultaneously feel happiness even in this world of evil and suffering. When I ponder the scars on His hands and feet I say, “Yet will I trust him,” then I seek to be His hands and feet to a needy world.
A novelist friend wrote me:
I went through a long spell of clinical depression. I was even hospitalized for a short time. I felt bereft and hopeless.
…Never, in all my years of being a Christian, did I cling to God so closely. Never had I talked to Him so honestly. Those weeks, months, and even years of questioning and searching drew me nearer to Him. Walking through my discontent led me to a life so much richer than the one I’d been living. God used my depression and pain for something so much greater than I could envision. I’ve learned that there is purpose in struggle... even when we can’t see it.
During her depression my friend couldn’t see anything good. Now, looking back, the good seems obvious.
While I don’t suffer chronic depression, I’ve had a few several month periods of depression that have awakened me to its reality and the hold it can have. Several years ago, for no apparent reason, a cloud of depression descended on me. Day after day, it was my constant companion. God used it in my life, teaching me to trust Him, and giving me some intimate times with Him. I studied the life of Charles Spurgeon who battled depression, and found comfort in the fact that godly men and women had walked the same path I was walking. I saw this experience as part of living under the Curse, and it made me appreciate more deeply the promise of God “No longer will there be any more curse” (Revelation 22:3).
Though I had written a number of books, including Heaven, about the world to come, I came to long for it more deeply than ever, clinging to God’s promise for the resurrection and the New Earth.
I blogged about my depression and in particular about Spurgeon’s experience and many people wrote me and told their own stories. A few people expressed shock that someone who had written about subjects such as grace and Heaven could ever be depressed! I had to laugh, since far better people than I have experienced far worse depression, including Martin Luther, John Owen, and William Cowper, to name a few.
When I wrote about what I was learning from the depression, someone brought me a “prophetic word” that I was depressed because I wasn’t trusting God. Ironically, I had come to trust God deeper in the midst of the depression than I had before it. God used that period of depression to enrich my life. I hope I don’t ever experience it again—but if I do, I pray He will enrich me through it again.
One morning, after four months of daily depression, I woke up, no longer depressed. I don’t know why it came or went, but I am certain the God of sovereign grace was involved in both its coming and going. Your depression may be short-term, or it may be long-term, but if you are God’s child, know this—even if it lasts most of your present life, it is temporary, and “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18, NASB).
Hurting Christians increasingly complain about the treatment they’ve received from other church people. If you’ve had a bad experience, write out a list of what you wish church people had done for you and what you wish they hadn’t done. Then follow your own counsel and use it as a guideline to reach out today and minister to others who need your wisdom and encouragement.
Don’t grumble about others. Look closely inside the church and you’ll find many believers way ahead of you in their care and compassion. Perhaps you haven’t seen the church helping the suffering because you haven’t stayed with the suffering enough to see what the church is doing. Many hurting people have told me amazing stories of faithful love shown by God’s people in Christ’s body. In hard times, Nanci and I have experienced the same. Imperfect as it is, we thank God for the church.
“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). Reaching out to others in need is one of the greatest cures for loneliness and depression. “In humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3–4).
I must mention suicide again because the idea seduces some suffering people. God commands us not to murder (see Exodus 20:13). Suicide is self-murder. God calls us to “endure hardship... like a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:3). To take your life is to go absent without leave.
The fact that Heaven will be so wonderful shouldn’t tempt us to take shortcuts to get there. If you’re depressed, you may imagine your life has no purpose—but you couldn’t be more wrong.
Trust God’s purpose for your life even when you can’t grasp what it is. Value the life He has given you, even when it doesn’t seem worth living. Reach out to others and get help. Talk with someone trustworthy who will stand with you and help you hold on to what’s right and good, including the preservation of the life God has entrusted to you.
As long as God keeps you here on Earth, it’s exactly where he wants you. He’s preparing you for another world. He knows precisely what He’s doing. Through your suffering, difficulty, and depression, He’s expanding your capacity for eternal joy. Our lives on Earth are a training camp to ready us for Heaven.
I know depression can be debilitating. Many godly people have experienced it. But if you are considering taking your own life, recognize this as the devil’s temptation.
Jesus said that Satan is a liar and a murderer (John 8:44). He tells lies because he wants to destroy you (1 Peter 5:8). Don’t listen to the liar. Listen to Jesus, the truth teller (John 8:32; 14:6). Don’t make a terrible ending to your life’s story—finish your God-given course on Earth. When He’s done—not before—He’ll take you home in His own time and way. Meanwhile, God has a purpose for you here on Earth. Don’t desert your post. (And by all means, go to a Christ-centered, Bible-believing church, and get help to find a wise Christian counselor.)
If you don’t know Jesus, confess your sins and embrace his death and resurrection on your behalf. If you do know him, make your daily decisions in light of your destiny. Ask yourself what you can do today, next week, next year, or decades from now to write the best ending to this volume of your life’s story—a story that, by God’s grace, will continue gloriously in the new universe.
“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).