I am currently attending at my church an adult Sunday School class called “Depression and the Christian.” It is being led by my friend Phil, who is an MD; and it is following as an outline the chapters of my friend Gary’s book, Light On the Fringe (which I have referred to in earlier posts).
I finished Gary’s book a few months before the class began, but I know my grasp is pretty feeble—not my intellectual understanding in this case, just my ability to appropriate the ideas in my life. So I thought I would go to the class just to listen.
But in the last two sessions to which I have gone (I missed it on the 7th), I did end up saying a little bit. On the chance that someone out there might also see what I see or feel something like what I feel, I will try briefly to explain the substance of what I shared in the class.
Whenever Christian conversations about depression or low self-esteem happen, it seems that there is always an emphasis on the need to believe what God says about us. There is often the thought that we feel unlovable and therefore we struggle to believe that God really can love us.
I certainly understand that there are many of us who probably feel that way. And it is critically important that such ones improve their theology and begin to appropriate to their hearts the real, true and vast love of God for them. I am totally on board with that.
But that’s not my problem. I know God loves me. For me, that is almost never in question.
My problem isn’t God. It’s me.
I have said for a number of years now that I Peter 2:20 is for me the most haunting verse in all of Scripture. Here’s how the NLT renders it: “Of course, you get no credit for being patient if you are beaten for doing wrong. But if you suffer for doing right and are patient beneath the blows, God is pleased with you.”
This basically removes my ability to find peace in my trials. For 95% or more of the suffering and difficulties in my life are related, either directly or very closely indirectly, to my own sin and stupidity. Why do I suffer? Because I’m a blockhead. N.B. — “Blockhead,” in this context, is meant to denote one who persistently makes foolish and sinful choices and then reaps the consequences.
I have seen people who do stupid and sinful things and mess up their lives and do serious harm to others in their lives—I have seen some such people who, when the consequences comes crashing down on their heads, somehow manage to sit there and put on an air of beatific saintliness. They think they are Job on the ash heap, and they say, in effect, “Oh… yes… I am suffering with/for Jesus…”
And I want to say, “No, you’re suffering because you’re a blockhead!” I know I’m treading on dangerous ground when I begin to prescribe in my heart what would be good for God to do in the lives of others, but to be honest, it seems to me that some people could do with a little more self-blame and the commensurate depression.
I do not want to be depressed. But even less do I want a “cure” or a “release” from depression that I have to concoct in my own silly mind—or maybe with the help of a “counselor.” If relief does not come from the Lord, I do not want it. Platitudes and Bible verses are not the solution. No counselor can help me who does not first understand the realities of my sin and my errors and the real losses and regrets that I have incurred along the road. And then, the road to healing must be biblical, realistic and courageous in dealing with my real problems.
When I have expressed this line of thought to some brothers and sisters (including this last Sunday), the response often comes that I/we must remember that once we confess our sins to the Lord, He forgives us, and it is not appropriate for us to hang onto the guilt. This is a blessed and wonderful truth. Praise the Lord for that truth!
But there are two factors that keep that truth from being able to sweep aside my despondency. First, it is often the case that, the forgiveness of the Lord notwithstanding, the costs and consequences of our past follies continue to bear on our present and future life. Second, it is not always something that is neatly sealed off in the past. Often it is a matter of ongoing tendency or extended trouble that continues to plague us.
Now anyone who reads me here as having a defeatist attitude is, I think, misunderstanding my point. I know that there are some people who, when offered a way out of suffering—depression, in particular—would rather hunker down in their misery. That is not me. I would really love to move on in joy and peace in the Lord Jesus. I just want it to be real.
One last word here: I hope I have not freaked anyone out here or made anyone uncomfortable in any wrong way. I often wonder about the appropriateness of airing out such things in public. But the truth is, this is an important part of talking through THE LONG WAR. And that I am a Christian who struggles with despondency of spirit only puts me in company with the likes of David or Elijah. That I am being publicly honest about the connection of depression to my own sin only puts me in company with such brothers as Augustine or Martin Luther. So relax… 😉