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    Thoughts on Spiritual Depression

    Anyone who has ever felt rolling into his soul the black clouds of depression, who has gone in an instant from the passionless peace and contentment of the mundane to the paralysis, the hopelessness, the feeling of drowning in meaningless and despair that constitutes the essence of the black beast Depression, will know well the subject about which I hope to say a few words. It may appear superfluous even to consider a topic which appears so inexplicable and insoluble; and the feeling of pointlessness, far from being ameliorated, may well be strengthened in those who, having once known the sweet joy of fellowship with Christ, and being still convinced intellectually that a Christian above all ought to be joyful – who can bring to their minds ten thousand reasons why depression is not reasonable or sensible for themselves, but all to no practical avail – to these brothers and sisters in Christ, the reality of depression may seem a thousand times more inexplicable, and hope for a lasting solution in this life may seem a thousand times more impossible than it is for those whose depression comes amid a Christless existence. The baffling unreasonableness of their malady, combined with the overwhelming guilt which comes from knowing that their lack of joy does despite to the great sacrifice of Christ, by which he purchased every reason to rejoice, tends to a downward motion, by which, in every passing moment, the sea of crass despair is plumbed to new depths of horror and blackness of soul. To you I write these words, not as one expostulating from the outside, but as one who has tasted the bitterness and who has found that the power of Christ is able to give a fresh taste of something sweet and all-but-forgotten on the other side of the valley. By God’s grace I have known the comfort which our Father is able to give in the midst of depression; and I am now able to say with the apostle Paul, “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God” (II Corinthians 1:3-4). Everyone to whom I am speaking (you know who you are), take heart! It may be that God has left a tiny spark in an area of your heart that you had long considered cold and dead. In his time, he will blow upon it, and cause to flame up anew the passionate joy of knowing Jesus. This will be as dear and wonderful to you as new life from the dead; which indeed, in a figure, it is.

    I wish to make clear from the outset that I am not speaking as one who has acquired knowledge of the physiological or medical causes of depression. Nor am I speaking as one who has studied the writings of learned men that have discoursed upon the nature of spiritual depression. Everything I have learned has come to me experientially, from the laboratory of my own heart; and, while the less scientific therefore, yet it is a knowledge which I hold all the more firmly as one having tasted the empirical proof. This is my only apology, and the only defense of my credentials that I dare to offer for the following thoughts on spiritual depression that I have accumulated over the years. May God use these rough thoughts to kindle perseverance and hope in the souls of those who are even now hard-pressed by despair.

    The Nature of Depression

    It is my conviction that depression usually arises from a perception of the world (as it is apart from Christ) which is more honest and accurate than that of the average person. This may come as a surprise to those who have never experienced deep depression, or even to those who have. After all, the common response, when one is depressed, is to remind him of all the good in life. If one is depressed, is it not because he has an eye only for that which is wrong in the world? Because he is blind, as it were, to the many thousand legitimate delights that life has to offer? I would contend that this is not the case. The world is deeply, deeply wrong. The hatred, the killing, the lust and sinfulness that run rampant throughout life are hardly to be compensated for by the fleeting and ephemeral diversions from reality that distract the minds of the common inhabitants of earth. Life begins in pain, proceeds through struggle and travail, and from these rough beginnings does not go on to brighter days, but instead fades increasingly until it ends in death after the manifold trials of old age have finally and fully been undergone. The pointlessness and gratuitousness of the many sorrows and pains of life are so blatant that the only response by which one may cope with them without despair is to numb himself from the pervasive presence of reality by amusements which divert the attention from life’s sad dilemmas. This is how most of the world gets by; and so great is the self-delusion, that they are smilingly able to call themselves happy. But their happiness is built upon chimeras, upon the elaborate constructions of unreality in which they spend the greater part of their lives. For a few persons, this coping mechanism of diversion appears as hollow as it is in reality. It is largely to these faultedly honest persons that depression comes. This is not to say that depression comes only from a conscious deliberation on the nature of the world as it really is apart from Christ. Many times, perhaps more often than not, it is the unconscious reaction of the soul that has felt, even if not deliberated upon, the vanity of life in a fallen world. But in any case, it usually arises from some recognition, deliberate or not, that the world is all wrong. These preliminary thoughts lead me to my conclusion that the only true cure for depression is the hope that is in Christ. Everything else is a mere masking of the symptoms. But before we broach that topic, there remain some conclusions to draw respecting the nature of depression in the world as it truly is apart from Christ.

    When Depression leads to a Break with Reality

    It is an undeniable fact that severe depression, especially as it occurs over an extended period of time, has the tendency to bring its victim to a decisive break with reality. Insane asylums and mental health wards are filled with those who have struggled with depression all their lives. This fact may cause some to question the validity of my prior assertion. How can a depressed person be dealing more honestly with reality, if depression so often goes hand-in-hand with insanity? I would suggest that the nearly unspeakable pressures of dealing with an honest view of Christless reality over the space of many years ultimately lead to a desperate, subconscious act of self-preservation, in which the person finally succumbs to the coping mechanism of the world-at-large. Because the depressed person refuses to engage in the intentional unreality of common amusement and diversion; or rather, when he does engage in them, because his perception of true reality is so vivid that he is not able to draw any consolation, or “trick himself” numbingly; therefore, being unable to profit from the little, intentional unrealities, he is finally constrained to find some small comfort in an unreality which is vivid enough to obscure his pain at beholding the sin-cursed world. It is precisely because his perception of reality is sharp enough to avoid being fooled by amusement that he must ultimately find solace in a more encompassing unreality, and so avoid a pain that has become unbearable. The only other option, which I will discuss below, is to attempt to find meaning and joy in a different level of reality – the old recourse of the artist and poet.

    Manic-Depression and the Artist

    It has often been recognized that the great artists and poets of the world have typically been touched with what has been called manic-depression – the state of alternating periods of deep depression and intense creativity. It is usually supposed that this manic-depressive state is a physiological condition which has as a side-effect the enablement of great artistic achievement. I think that this analysis confuses the effect for the cause. The artist is one who, because he is more aware of true reality, is better able to express the actual nature of the world than the common person who is confused by his diversions of intentional unreality. This sensitivity of perception enables him to produce great works of art (for art is simply the honest portrayal of that which is fundamentally real); but it also has the effect of exposing him to depression (for reality, apart from Christ, is all wrong). In coping with this honest perception of flawed reality, he chooses, instead of masking the symptoms, to search for meaning in a higher reality which makes sense of everything. To some degree, the great artists are successful in this attempt. They are able to broach a higher world of ideological reality which contains much that is beautiful and good. And yet, their attempts are ultimately doomed to failure; because, those higher goods which they perceive cannot be possessed by fallen humans except through Christ, who has purchased all good things which mankind has lost, and apart from whom there is no way of regaining them. They can glimpse the higher good, but are at a loss as to how they might own it. They are as starving beggars in a world of starving beggars, who differ from the others in that they can smell the feast of rich things which awaits those in whom the curse has been overcome. But they can never eat and drink of that feast to satiety. They are better off, in a way, than the common beggar; but in a way more miserable; and thus they spend their lives in apprehending the good and beautiful through artistic means, but falling into depression when that apprehension is not sufficient to satisfy their deepest needs. This dynamic of the poetic consciousness finds one of its most inspired expressions in John Keats’s “Ode to Melancholy”; in which he expresses the startling truth that the dark lady Melancholy (i.e. depression)

    “…dwells with Beauty – Beauty that must die;
    And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips
    Bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh,
    Turning to Poison while the bee-mouth sips:
    Ay! In the very temple of delight
    Veil’d Melancholy has her Sovran shrine,
    Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue
    Can burst Joy’s grape against his palate fine;
    His soul shall taste the sadness of her might,
    And be among her cloudy trophies hung.”

    This startling description is perhaps the truest assessment of reality possible for those who have not been gifted to taste the surpassing goodness of Christ.

    The Place of Medical Treatment

    In light of what has been said, it stands to reason that the medical cures for depression can be nothing other than a chemical means of alleviating the symptoms and masking the true problem. I grant that there may be genuine chemical imbalances in the brain which lend one to feelings of depression – but even those natural chemicals, which enable one to pass through this world of wrong reality un-phased, are ultimately only symptom-alleviators. When a person is clinically depressed, and, through chemical means is enabled to live a life of happiness, his latter condition of being happy apart from Christ, while more comfortable, is certainly not better than his former condition, in which he at least recognized that something is truly wrong. I am not suggesting that chemical treatments of depression should never be employed – on the contrary, we have scriptures such as Proverbs 31:6-7 which seem to indicate otherwise. But when chemical treatment is the sole means used to combat depression, the latter end of its victim, no matter the outcome of the treatment, cannot be ultimately improved. He may have a more comfortable ride to destruction, but he is proceeding to destruction nevertheless. It is the truest part of Christian love to address the problem of sin and the curse, which can only be cured by knowing Christ, as the ultimate answer to depression. And from that point, to decide whether or not it may be beneficial to alleviate the symptoms with chemical treatments. Both means may legitimately be used – but to use the latter exclusively can never be ultimately helpful. This is a vital point to keep in mind for the depressed Christian as well. Chemical treatment may, in some cases, be useful. But it is worse than useless if employed apart from an exhortation to look for comfort in Christ alone. The following may be used as a sort of litmus test to determine whether or not the means of chemical anti-depressants would be an appropriate tactic for depressed Christians: does the chemical treatment allow the Christian to be satisfied with life in a way in which he is not finding his satisfaction in Christ alone? If anti-depressants facilitate a Christian’s contentment with the world, then they are positively harmful; but if they are a means of overcoming emotional obstacles to seeking Christ alone for satisfaction, then, with prayerful consideration, they may perhaps be employed usefully. Now, let us turn the discussion to depression as it affects the Christian.

    Depression in the Christian

    It may at first glance appear reasonable that, if depression comes from perceiving the world as it truly is apart from Christ, and if knowing Christ is the only true cure against depression; then once one has come to know Christ, he should therefore no longer struggle with the malady. The only problem with this assessment is that things do not always fall out this way. Christians often do struggle with depression; and because their struggles are compounded with guilt, they are often afflicted worse than the unbeliever. That this is a reality is due, no doubt, to the fact that, when a person receives Christ, the wrongness of the world is not immediately changed thereby. Although the joy of knowing Christ may indeed be for some the immediate and lasting cure for the depression with which they had long struggled; yet for others, the struggle remains, because the world that they are perceiving is still a miserable world. God usually gives the gift of living experientially in the happy reality of the completed redemptive work of Christ only by slow degrees and through much struggle. The conversion of a depressed person may mark the turning point of the struggle, so that its victorious conclusion is ultimately assured – but that conclusion may not come as long as “this body of death” remains that person’s abode. A person that is depressed before becoming a Christian may well struggle with depression long thereafter. If he does not, it is only by a very gracious dispensation of the heavenly Father.

    The fact of the matter is that, persons who suffer from depression before they are converted may well struggle with it after their conversion. But even beyond this, it sometimes so happens that a person who has never been depressed, once he has truly awakened to the realities of the gospel, may eventually come to struggle with depression in his Christian life thereafter. This is because, at his conversion he has come to know the blessedness that reality in Christ ought to contain – he has come to experience reality, and good, beautiful, joyous reality at that, with an honesty that he had never known before. Previously, he may have been content with his intentional unrealities of amusement and diversion. Now, having tasted something better, he can no longer be satisfied with them. So what happens when, through the weakness of his faith and the remaining lusts of his flesh, he is drawn aside from his joy in Christ, and experiences periods of life in which he lives as he did before he had known Christ? Because he now has a truer perception of reality in Christ, he is able to see that the condition of his life is deeply wrong. This is the cause of depression in anybody – how much more in him who has experienced, not just the wrongness of the world as it is apart from Christ, but the rightness of the world with Christ? In this way, someone who had never been depressed may, after becoming a Christian, struggle with depression at periods in his life. And since that struggle is often enhanced by guilt and shame, it is frequently quite severe. We will consider in more detail the cause of this spiritual depression and the means for overcoming it, in the paragraph below.

    Unbelief as the Cause of Depression

    Even more than the depression of an unbeliever, the depression of a believer has as its ultimate cause, unbelief in Christ. In order to make sense of this assessment, we must be clear on what precisely is included under the heading “unbelief”. Belief in Christ is not simply intellectual assent that he is who he says he is. That is a necessary component – but even the devils believe that much (James 2:19). True belief occurs when the Spirit of God opens up our eyes to behold the glory of Christ and causes our hearts to rejoice in all the benefits that the knowledge of him holds forth to those who are his (II Corinthians 4:6). So then, unbelief is that frame of mind which cannot be satisfied or overjoyed by considering him. Unbelief focuses (whether consciously or not) on the wrongness of the world to the exclusion of the ultimate rightness of the world as redeemed by Christ. This unbelief, which is at its heart a focus on the world and not on Christ, is the cause of depression in a Christian. And this unbelief can only be combated by an earnest, scriptural, Spirit-reliant meditation on the pleasures of knowing the Redeemer. If a Christian is depressed, he has no other recourse but to plead with his heavenly Father to give him another taste of the pleasures of Christ. This is the only true cure of depression.

    The secondary causes of unbelief may include any number of things. The Christian may feel as though his sin in failing to find pleasure in Christ is too great for him to come again before the throne of grace. He may feel as though his sinfulness, even after having been forgiven, is so great that he cannot overcome his shame to remember that nothing can separate him from the love of God. He may not feel as if God’s work of grace can ultimately triumph in his life because his rebellion is so ingrained. Whatever the cause, although he may intellectually and scripturally understand the lack of reason for his fears, he still cannot feel that he is secure forever in the grip of God’s grace. This feeling of reality as wrong, no matter how differently he may know things to be intellectually, must be the source of depression in the life of the Christian. And the ability to overcome these groundless fears can only come as a gift of the Almighty God. Therefore, whatever other means may be pursued, without fervent, heart-deep prayer, the ultimate cause of depression can never be vanquished, even in a believer’s heart.

    Concluding Thoughts on Depression

    All of the foregoing thoughts are only a foundation to bring us to understand how we as Christians might combat the unbelief of depression when it confronts us. The victory is ultimately a gift of God; but in seeking that gift, it is vital that we remember several things. In order to help Christians as they fight for joy in the face of depression, I have compiled a list of five things to keep in mind when despair attacks. These five things are as follows.

    1. Depression is preferable to complacent contentment.

    No matter how uncomfortable and undesirable depression may seem to be, we must remember that it is a better condition than the complacency which finds contentment in the things of life that can never ultimately satisfy. We must remember when we are depressed that our state is at least one step beyond that of those who find happiness in unreal diversions. We have at least come to recognize, by the grace of God, that the fleeting, mindless pleasures of the world cannot give us eternal joy. In the midst of depression, let us be encouraged that we are not given over to self-delusion in our extremities, and let us be motivated to turn to God, who alone can bring eternal pleasure!

    2. Depression is not God’s ultimate desired end.

    Although depression is a condition somewhat better than ungrounded, temporal happiness, we must assure ourselves as well that depression is not the ultimate design of God. He may use it as a means to break us of any tendency to look for satisfaction in things outside of Christ; but in the final analysis, he breaks only so that he may bind up. He brings people to the end of themselves only so that he might introduce them to the one who is infinitely more able to bring joy and peace than they are able to find in themselves. Depression, when it comes, is not its own end, but is a means to make us more accommodating to the free grace of the only One who can give eternal happiness.

    3. Depression must lead to a desperate seeking of God’s face.

    If the two previous points are true, then it stands to reason that we are not able to overcome depression by our own power. On the contrary, we must look in faith to the one who is able. We must cry out to him for the joy that Christ has to offer. The great tragedy of Christian depression is that, those who suffer from it tend to think that they must overcome it before they come to God. That was not the way they found salvation; and that will never be the way that they are enabled to overcome depression. The only way by which to find ultimate victory is to recognize one’s own insufficiency and to cry out to the One who alone is sufficient to conquer.

    4. Depression must be fought with the belief that God is ultimately merciful.

    In order to find the strength to call out to the One who is able to conquer depression, the Christian must assure himself from scripture that God is indeed merciful to them that love him. He must be confident that, although weeping may tarry for the night, yet God is pleased to bring joy in the morning (Psalm 30:5). If the Christian would ever find true victory in the midst of despair, let him remember the example of Job, and know that the Lord is pitiful and of tender mercy (James 5:11). If he should lose sight of this reality, then all hope will indeed be cut off.

    5. Depression may be used to equip a Christian to minister God’s grace to those who are hurting.

    When one is in the midst of severe battles with depression, the pointlessness of it all may quickly overwhelm him. It is always helpful, in these times, to remember that there is a purpose for the struggle. It may be to purge him from dross and cause him to come forth as refined silver; but even beyond that, the Lord may use the experience of depression to enable a believer to minister grace to those who are hurting. This may not be much comfort in the time of trial. But it well may be the most lasting earthly good of the difficulty; and remembering that there is a sovereign God who has a purpose for everything he brings across the paths of his children cannot fail to be comforting.

    Conclusion

    I cannot know who may read this article or what difficulties may be confronting him. It may be that someone is greatly distressed by obvious, pressing hardships. It may be that someone is battling with depression even without any obvious cause (which could be more difficult, because those around him see no reason for his struggles, and are unable to sympathize). Whatever your struggle may be (I am speaking to Christians), let me give you a few words of truth and comfort. I can promise you that God has not abandoned you. No matter how you feel, the God who has given up his own dear Son to bring you to him cannot fail to provide everything for your greatest and lasting good. The God who cannot lie will never renege on his promise to complete in you the work of grace which he began. Whatever your struggle, hold fast! You are an overcomer in Christ! It doesn’t matter how hopeless the situation seems, or how tedious, or how infinitely long – look to Jesus, cry out to him, reflect on who he is from the pages of scripture, beg him to bless you again with a taste of the joy with which he alone can flood your soul. You are not lost. Rescue is coming. Whatever is the sickness, Jesus is the cure. You are his now and forever. Battle to believe those truths. Search the scriptures, enlist your Christian friends to intercede for you, and cry out to the Savior. He will never leave you nor forsake you.

    Posted by Nathan on June 12, 2006 10:10 PM

    Comments

    I appreciate your article, especially in light of the incredibly difficult nature of the topic. I appreciate your God-focused conclusions. This is a very tough area for me personally, since I have a close relative who has suffered depression for years.

    The pain that this person has gone through has touched many in my family. I have prayed for years that God would either cure this person, or at least give them strength to endure. The former prayer has been answered "no" up 'til now, and the latter has been periodically answered "yes" with occasional periods of "I can't handle this."

    Granted I haven't read through your entire article yet, but it sounds like you are dismissive of medical treatment. Or, at least, dismissive of the ultimate curative power of these medications. I'm not sure if you're saying drugs shouldn't be used, or if you're saying that they are an incomplete solution.

    After many years of coming alongside this person to help and comfort, I have reached the view that depression is similar to other debilitating physical conditions such as MS, paralyzation, or even diabetes. While it is absolutely true that the ultimate answer to our human problem is Jesus Christ, I don't think we'd counsel anyone in these conditions to abandon their medication and treatment.

    This family member has struggled with their faith. They made a profession of faith and were baptized, but their disillusionment with their painful circumstances has led to many years of spiritual uncertainty. I have done my best (via long distance with God's help) to shine the light of God's love into this person's life. I hope that over time, there would be many believers -- myself included -- who would remind this person of God's love, mercy, and grace. I pray this will help comfort them and help settle their doubts.

    Nathan, I do not know what prompted you to post these particular thoughts at this moment in time; but I can tell you that they met me during one of the deepest periods of depression that I have ever known, at least since I have become a Christian. I cannot articulate in words the surge of thanksgiving to God that boiled within me when I discovered that one of my favorite blogs had just posted on the very matter I am struggling with, and on which it has been so difficult to find a good Reformed perspective. If only for that your writing this would have been more than justified.

    Even beyond that, though, you clearly understand much of the experience of depression for the Christian, and have helped me to think about this in a different light. As someone in the midst of it myself, I'll offer a few thoughts, in the hope that they may prove helpful in some way.

    I am not sure what I think of your analysis of the cause of it - the heightened awareness of the curse in the world and the utter failure of petty amusements to silver it over. It's a very new idea to me that this could be the source of depression. But it seems plausible; it would explain much in my case. I'll have to think on it, but it seems promising.

    I can affirm without hesitation your picture of what depression looks like in the life of a Christian, at least if my case is at all representative. You identified the shame; it is very real. Depression has hindered my ability to do many things, including important responsibilities of worldly life, but also things like reading the Bible and praying regularly. I know better than to think that those have special merit; all the merit that matters lies in Christ and not in us. Still, it is a loathsome state to be in. I definitely feel the shame of not being joyful and glad and eager to follow Christ after all that he did and suffered to purchase my freedom. It's not purely shame, though; it's also mixed with frustration, because joy in Christ is not just something that we ought to do, it is something intrinsically good, to be desired whether or not it is enjoined upon us. Thus, even in the moments when I am most able to accept Christ's forgiveness for my lack of joy, it is still very difficult to live without it.

    This brings me to the second part of your analysis that you really nailed: the division between what we know and what we feel. Part of me remains certain that Christ is risen, that He is good, that He is the source of all life and joy, and that all things work to the good of those who love Him, and that by His completely undeserved grace I am among that number, and that He will keep me secure until my race is run. But the rest of me despairs because everything about my life right now feels like that isn't the case, remembers the passage from James that you mentioned about the demons believing and trembling, and wonders if it is possible for me to know the truth and still not be among the elect - to die knowing that God is good but not actually having received His grace and thereby to be condemned. Oh, I know, even as I think that stuff, that it isn't true. Yet I continue to think it. That is one of the darkest parts of the condition.

    Indeed, Romans 7 and other such chapters have never made more sense to me than they do now. It is really like there are two of me inside my head: the real me who understands and loves the truth, and this foul beast that is prepared to do anything in its power to draw apart from my Savior and drag me to ruin in this world and the next. The intense frustration that the "real me" seems to be constantly on the losing side of this struggle has numbed me over the course of years to the point where the "real me" has all but given up the fight, and consequently the foul beast continues to gain ground (if not in the eternal, salvific sense, at least in the present, practical one) and the cycle gets worse. Prayer has become the hardest thing in the world even now as its importance is so clear. I submit this as one further reason why depression over the long term may drive people to madness: civil war within one's own soul is not an easy thing to bear for long without something breaking.

    You made several other points that resonated, but those were the ones that struck most deeply, and this post has already very long, so I will conclude.

    Thank you, Nathan, for your insights. You clearly have "tasted the empirical proof" and your wisdom has been a tremendous blessing to me, even now, having only just read it. Thank you above all for pointing back to the joys of God in Christ, back to the one place from whence help can truly come. I am not the only committed Christian I know with depression, and I have found good information on this subject harder to come by than one might expect. Please keep up this ministry, and may the God of peace bless you and your family with all the rich joys of his goodness, now and in the age to come.

    Jeff,

    Even as I write this, I am offering up a prayer for your depressed family member. I trust that Christ's mercy may still prevail in his heart.

    About the medical treatment: I am somewhat leary of it, because I know it can be misused, and I suspect it is in fact misused more often than not. But I would certainly not reject it out of hand. If it enables one to experience any sort of relief apart from contemplating the glory of Christ, then I suspect that in the long run it is actually harmful (although much easier in the present). But if it ameliorates any physiological condition which is an obstacle to contemplating the glory of Christ (which I think could sometimes be the case), then I would certainly advise, after prayerful consideration, that it be used -- but again, only as a means to minimize an obstacle to looking for happiness in Christ alone. Basically, I simply want to make it clear that I am not against medication; I just think there are some factors to consider before taking that route -- particularly, the question, will this help me or hinder me from finding joy in Christ alone? I pray God's mercy on you and your family.

    Ryan,

    Thank you for your openness. I'm sure it will be helpful to many Christians who are struggling. I can add nothing to what you have said, but I can add my prayers to the prayers of those who are interceding for you in Christ.

    Look to Jesus.

    P. S.

    Ryan,

    You mentioned that it was difficult to come across a good reformed perspective on depression. I just remembered that D. Martyn Lloyd Jones wrote a book called Depression: Its Causes and Cure. I haven't read it, but I have much respect for D. Martyn Lloyd Jones, and I trust it would be very helpful. If you're interested, you can buy it here:

    Nathan,
    Thanks for your kind words. I covet any and all prayers in this matter.

    In my relative's particular situation, I'd definitely say that the depression is an obstacle to his faith. When this person is not going through a period of depression, he is open to spiritual conversations, wants to study the Bible with me, etc. When the bad times come, hope and light seem to fade from his life.

    I would love for him to be off medication entirely, and God willing that will happen. For now, though, that's not the case. May this situation ultimately glorify God, our infinitely merciful Savior.

    And Ryan, may God bless you richly and make His love and peace clearly known to you. Do not let your shame or guilt wear you down. Our God is the One who never tires of forgiving, so we should never hesitate to go to Him.

    Nathan,

    You have captured the reality of the dark storm of depression unlike anyone else I've ever come across, esp. within Christianity. Thank you for taking the time to write this and for overcoming the stigma we've so readily attached to it.

    This is very, very good. Thank you very, very much.

    thanks

    Thank you Nathan, for this article, am passing the link to others who I know are struggling with this, as well as myself having bouts with it from time to time. I agree with your conclusions, thank you for taking the time to share them.

    Nathan,
    As I am battling one of the most deep battles of depression I have ever faced in my life, I am so thankful for what you have wrote today. Depression is very real. Who truly in their heart wants to be depressed? Not I. I want to know the liberating joy of Jesus Christ in my mind, body, & soul! I know I have been called too spiritual by some of those who have known me all my life and are now seeing the drain of this depression on me....too spiritual is not what I am trying to portray in my life,...what it is is just a true hurting soul that knows that his only hope is though Jesus Christ and who is doing everything he can to know Hs closeness.
    I am thankful for what you have expressed, for it enourages me to yet reach out again to the only one that can truly save my soul, Jesus Christ. I love you all. May the soothing aloe of God's Spirit sooth your souls. God Bless You

    Thanks brother. very good thoughts.

    Steve

    I was born with melancholy. And it's exactly as you say. I thank the Good Lord for leading me to your article. I always wondered, "If I'm a christian, why do I suffer from melancholy? Where's the Joy of Salvation?" It really makes sense to me now.
    Question: where does the anxiety come from?

    Anonymous,

    I suppose the broad answer to your question would have to be sin and the curse. Whatever physiological elements are at play are in operation because of the curse, and certainly the ongoing weakness of a faith which finds absolute security and comfort in beholding Christ has a sin nature at its root. The ultimate answer (and cure), then, must be sought only in the Great Physician, Jesus our Savior. His completed work of redemption was powerful enough to overcome all sin, sickness, and despair of soul -- even melancholy. Succour your soul with the blessed hope that Christ is returning again, and that his return will be the occasion of everlasting joy for all who hope in him, no matter how weak they are in this lifetime.

    God bless.

    It is not often that I am stricken speechless. But, after reading what you wrote, I must confess that I am finding it difficult (to say the least) to finds words to frame what I am feeling. It is quite a surprise to find this. I guess serendipity has not forsaken me after all.

    I have harboured these same sentiments for what seems like ages. Since childhood, I have been what one would label as “serious” and “morose” – the “loner” beyond her years. It is not uncommon for others to brand me “hypersensitive” and “melodramatic” for my candor. I find it sad and frustrating that people prefer avoidance and distraction to acknowledgment and constructive action. As it goes ... “ignoring a problem does not make it disappear.”

    The weight of the world has always been an unwieldy and cumbersome load. Sin has always been part and parcel of our earthly existence. But, these days, it just seems it has us in a stranglehold. It is absolute and total bedlam. That is how it feels to me. I just want out of this madhouse. It hurts to see what things have come to – and where they are going. It is enough to drive one off the deep end sometimes. I think I have been close a few times.

    It is honestly beyond me how anyone can go through life so anesthetized. If it is true that the key to happiness is lying to yourself (in no way do I believe this, by the way) then I am a lost cause. I would rather be hurting and depressed and it be the truth than pretend I am happy and know it is an illusion. It is one thing to do healthy things to manage and cope with the burden. It is another to try to pretend it does not exist. I understand why so many are tempted to do that. The desperate need to evict such horrendous discomfort can be unimaginably overwhelming at times. The problem is that it solves nothing and, in actual, just compounds our pain. It does much better in those times to slow down and remind ourselves, as you point out, that God is always right beside us – and I think He would want us to love ourselves and offer ourselves the same kind of patience and compassion that He does. It can be easy to forget that sometimes.

    I feel better, lighter, having read this. It has reminded me I am not alone – and that perhaps all is not lost. Good luck ... and God bless.

    Depression can be a problem with genetics, some are more prone to it, no one should be made to feel that its there fault. We do not live in paradise, we do live in a cursed world. Generally , those who are gifted in healing others suffer depression as they feel more deeply, their compassion and love for a healed planet runs deep. God is close to those who are broken in heart and in spirit. Only His love can bring comfort , healing to the pain. In my experience, it never leaves, but God is always showing the depressed how this precieved weakness can be made turned into the good of helping others.

    Thank you for this article. I thank the Lord that He has given you this experience and the ability to write and share about it. So many of the things you wrote speak directly to my heart. I have been a Christian for a few years, but for the last few months have been struggling with a lack of joy and currently, depression spurred by an unexplainable disbelief in Christ. Like your article said, I feel SO guilty because I know the saving work Christ has done and I know He has paid the price of our sin, but for seemingly no reason, I have trouble finding consistent joy in this knowledge. It is truly more than intellectual assent and I love the Lord and want to live my life for Him, but I feel so dirty.

    More points convicted my heart, but thank you for your honesty. It is an encouragement to know that I am not alone in this feeling.

    Praise the Lord for His goodness.

    This was an amazing article, thank you!!! Extremely insightful!!!

    Wow, some of these comments give me much hope. I came off of an antidepressant a few months ago. I was pursuing becoming a pharmacist and to a point, held it to be more important than the Lord, though I was prayerful about it. I failed the only class I was taking (embarrassing), so the Lord turned it on its head. By this time, my anxiety from coming off of the paxil was starting to take its toll. I was studying pharmaceuticals and math to sooth the wound I had undergone in failing the class anxiously. Then I gave it over to the Lord and pursued Him, then the enemy came at an opportune time and seemed to take away my joy in Christ. I have been in utter anguish ever since. It's been lasting for a couple of weeks although it got worse the more intensely I sought Him and the more people I employed for prayer. Like Nathan said, prayer and word time are just frightening. Throughout that year, I was entertaining some sins. Although one by one, I had put an end to them by God's grace and asked for forgiveness. The enemy has used Hebrews 6 and 10 against me. I remember this past sunday was one of the worst days of my life. I felt like an utter apostate sitting in my seat. God has graciously given me moments of great faith and joy throughout this whole thing so far. Which I am grateful for. I cannot take not being joyful in Christ. I have been fearing apostasy so much that at times, I've been half convinced that I was... that was one morning where I called as many of my closest believing friends as I could, although later that day was pretty well. What's encouraging is the moments of thanksgiving that seem to come over me and also that the MORE I sought the Lord alone, the MORE intense this got, which makes me think this is a spiritual battle. The Lord brought me some joy in seeing this website.

    Hey Lillie, I've had that unexplainable disbelief also last year. I don't know if you're still going through it, but there's a light at the end of the tunnel... the Lord delivered me from mine and I was the most assured man I knew until my current depression. I'll pray for you.

    From what I understand from recent scientific understanding, there are parts of the brain that control various human functions. For example, there are parts of the brain that control speech, vision, and muscle control. There are also certain parts of the brain that when damaged or stressed can increase anxiety and one's ability to control anger and the like. At least that is what doctor's and scientists are claiming. What about individuals that born with autism or mentally retarded? From our normal perspective they are definately born with something not working correctly. M

    My point is this. I believe it is possible that a person could have brain damage and that brain damage could lead to problems of functioning. And if this is true Isn't possible that someone with a damaged brain is stuck with improper chemical functioning or whatever that results in depression, poor organization, poor decision making, poor logic, abnormal amount of anxiety, racing thoughts, compulsive behaviors or what not?


    Thank you for this article and thank you everyone who shared. I have found much comfort and encouragement in knowing that I am not alone.

    AC, thank you for sharing your struggle. You are definitely not the only one. I have struggled mightily with those passages and felt utterly condemned at times. I'll be praying for you.

    I just want to say thank you to Nathan and all the others for your contributions. I have been experiencing depression for at least 10 months now. It's pretty bad. It has effected all of my relationships, my grades in college, and worst of all my daily enjoyment and service of the Lord Jesus. When I look back before this deep depression started, I realize that I've always been prone to anxiety and loneliness, but this was overwhelmingly overcome by joy in Christ since I became a Christian 4 years ago! (until 10 months ago)
    It really helped me to hear from others about the shame, guilt, and dirtiness that is felt when we are not feeling the joys of our faith. I have gone through periods where I feel like I need to fix myself before returning to God. The best thought to remember seems to be the objectivity of God's goodness, faithfulness, and love. He IS Good. Always. No matter how I change and how I feel. And He is Worthy.
    Also, thank you to those who shared about the difficulty of prayer and time in the Word! Oh my goodness! It is SO HARD! And yet it is the most common "cure" offered to Christians in distress.
    Here are a few things that have helped me when depression keeps me from enjoying spiritual disciplines:
    -reading a theology book seems easier than Scripture (I know Scripture can never be substituted...but theology is better than nothing.)
    -sing my prayers (in the car is good)
    -listen to sermons & sermon jams
    -listen to Christian songs/sermons while you exercise
    -attend a more charismatic worship service! seriously, this has been wonderful. As long as they are gospel-centered and believe the doctrines that are essential to the faith and for you--try it!
    -write poetry/song lyrics to the Lord (just like David's psalms!)
    -when feeling dirty, reflect on the passages that promise righteousness and forgiveness. I like to write "Jesus Christ" on the under-side of my wrist, to remind me that His name is eternally written on my forehead.
    -write Scripture on note cards to place around your desk/room
    -anything tangible seems to feel more real

    I have recently started the anti-depressant, "celexa." It has not helped yet but it usually takes 4-6 weeks to become effective. I thought and prayed about it for a while, and I really believe that the purpose of receiving any medical alleviation will be to worship and glorify the Lord. I just want to know Him deeply again and spend enjoyable time in the Word and in prayer. I just want to have sweet intimacy at His feet again.

    Another help has been to pursue humility during this time. I am quick to become selfish, self-pitying, and prideful during this season of depression. Remember that were a called to "humble yourselves therefore, under God's might hand. For God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." (I Pet 5). Humbling myself before others has helped me to feel less guilty for social failures caused by depression.

    There is probably much more I could say, but I just thank you all so much for this source of encouragement and information. May the God of all grace remind us that there will be a day of complete CHANGE, when He will give us NEW bodies, NEW minds, and perfect peace. To Him be the glory forever.

    Nathan,

    Please consider a follow up to this. Absolutely the most accurate precise article I've read on this. As someone else posted, I was born with Melancholy also. From a child I remember feeling everything so deeply. I cried my way through grade school....then through life. God saved me 10 years ago...and after the initial cleansing of my conscience, I realized the deep melancholy remained, and has since driven me to things that I thought I would never experience as a Christian. Which then intensifies the darkness. But my Lord Jesus is here....guiding me through it, even when He hides His face from me. Take heart brethren...we will be in Glory soon and God will wipe away every tear. Until then, I pray that God will help me to serve Him and serve others for His own Glory.

    I thank God for you and for your post on this subject. Your words and the comments of others is exactly what I needed. I felt hoplessly alone, what a comfort to know that I'm not and what joy to remember that God hasn't forgotten me. What he started he will finish for he can do no other, he is God and his promises are sure. Praise to our Father in heaven for his faithfulness, to our Lord Jesus the Christ for his compassion, humility, and reightousness and to the Holy Spirit, the power of God in us, forever and ever Amen!

    This article is very good. Reading the other comments was very encouraging.I can identify with the many experiences of others, almost to a the tee! God bless and strengthen all of you by his grace.

    Excellent, helpful, refreshing!

    I'd like to express my gratidude to Nathan and the commenters who have been honest about their experiences. These discussions about causes and helps to fighting depression are useful, but it's the privilege of hearing what my fellow men, brothers and sisters, have faced along with me that I particularly wanted to thank you for.

    I, with respect, don't think I've heard a satisfactory account of Christian despondency (to avoid using a word having in some contexts what may be an overly-specific, technical meaning) giving proper place to physiology, the thought-world and faith. This is a subject in its infancy, perhaps.

    Anyway, thank you.

    Depression is a reality many so call servant of God are have their bout with it , answer are what we need .your material was insigth full.
    mohipaul samuel

    Depression is a reality many so call servant of God are have their bout with it , answers are what we need .your material was insightful.
    mohipaul samuel

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