“Matt, I think you’re depressed.” The statement shocked me because my wife is not given to exaggeration. Thankfully, because I was shocked I was also speechless, so she was able to continue. For about an hour or so, my wife helped me to see things that, as a pastor, I had seen in others, and had offered counsel for, but had never seen in myself. The conversation sparked a deeper journey into God and his Word. The journey began with a question: How does the Bible help us hold tightly to the Lord’s promises during our depression without losing our hope and even joy in him?
The question of how the Bible helps us with depression was too significant for me to try to handle alone, so I turned to an author, Ed Welch, who uses the Bible to counsel people through their hardest struggles. I started reading his book, Depression: Looking Up from the Stubborn Darkness. Welch offers one particular insight that provided me with the lens I needed to see how the Bible speaks to depression. Here is the insight: depression is suffering.
God’s Word for your suffering
The Bible never mentions the word depression, so we might conclude the Bible has nothing to say about depression. But no! The Bible says an incredible amount about depression because depression is a form of suffering. And the Bible is full of promises, insights, and commands that concern suffering. Sometimes we equate biblical suffering solely with persecution, but I think Elisabeth Elliot was right when she said: "Suffering is having what you don't want or wanting what you don't have.”
Space does not allow us to delve into everything the Bible teaches about suffering, but I want to offer four biblical insights about suffering that speak directly to depression.
1. Your depression can be meaningful.
One of the most challenging aspects of depression is the seeming meaninglessness of it. There are times when a melancholy fog falls on me, apparently out of nowhere and without purpose. But, the Bible says that things aren’t always as they seem. Rather, depression and other forms of suffering are a means of God’s grace to deepen our dependence on him; it allows us to experience the riches of his comfort, and enables us to comfort others.
One biblical illustration of this principle comes from the apostle Paul’s own life. Paul experienced intense suffering that he repeatedly begged God to take away. Yet God responded that this particular pain was causing Paul to depend on God’s grace in a way that would have been impossible otherwise. In the same way, our weaknesses pushes us to depend on the strength and grace of our God. Like Paul, we will discover that over time, this kind of prayerful, God-oriented weakness mysteriously becomes a kind of strength (see 2 Corinthians 12:7-10).
2. You can be depressed and choose to rejoice.
This Scripture passage has been helpful to me during dark seasons:
“Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the field yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.”
Habakkuk is experiencing an incredibly difficult season. Life is falling apart and there is no hint of change on the horizon. Like Habakkuk, depression can make us hopeless. Like him, we can look at everything that is or isn’t happening in our lives and wonder why God isn’t fixing things. Nevertheless, Habakkuk rejoiced amid his dismal circumstances. His posture teaches us that even when the darkness will not lift, we can choose to rejoice and take joy in the Lord. God is our salvation on the good days and the bad. Though it may be hard to do, try to sing your way through depression. Singing is a language of rejoicing. Gather with God’s people whether you feel like it or not and lift your voice in song. You can be depressed and still choose to rejoice and sing, and this brings great glory to God.
3. You should cry ... in the right direction.
The prophet Hosea records God giving one of the most interesting rebukes in Scripture: “They do not cry to me from the heart, but they wail upon their beds” (Hosea 7:14). When you suffer, when you’re depressed, you’re going to cry whether you can muster tears or not. The Lord does not rebuke our wailing. But he does correct where we’re directing our complaint. Depression has the power to turn us inward (to our beds), which only makes the darkness darker. Instead, the Lord invites us to look away from ourselves and cry to him for help. Our introspection should lead us to look up to God. There is an entire category of Psalms that can help us cry to God, called Psalms of Lament. Mark Vroegop defines lament as prayer in pain that leads to trust in God. When you’re depressed, cry in the Lord’s direction. It’s a great act of faith.
4. Your depression is temporary.
When it feels as though the darkness will never lift, remember that there is an eternal significance to what you’re suffering. 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 helps reorient us: “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” The Bible reminds us that although the sadness of depression feels heavy, it is light when compared to the eternal weight of glory that is coming. Therefore, we mourn our depression, but not as those who have no hope. One day our present sadness will be swallowed up by God’s infinite joy—forever. Our hope grows when we allow our suffering to push our gaze toward God’s eternal promises in Christ.
May the Bible continue to lead you gently into the arms of Christ your comforter who will never leave nor forsake you. Let the Psalms of Lament be your guide. If you Google “Psalms of Lament” you’ll find that over one third of all the Psalms in the Bible are Psalms of Lament. Pray line-by-line through a Psalm of Lament when you’re experiencing seasons of depression. God’s Word will guide you toward joy.
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