Spiritual Depression: Call it Suffering

Depression is a form of suffering.

First, let me say I am indebted to Ed Welch in Depression: Looking up from the Stubborn Darkness.

Depression is a form of suffering.

What is suffering? Suffering is when something uncomfortable, painful, or debilitating happens to us through no fault of our own.

  • When a sickness takes us down for a day
  • When we cancer cells racing through our bodies
  • When an unfair boss fires us from our jobs
  • When people gossip about us and ruin our reputations
  • When we are falsely accused of something we did not do
  • When some natural disaster befalls us and takes from us our property, livelihood or family
  • When someone sins against us physically with some sort of attack (either against us or against someone we love)

Each of these things has one thing in common. It is something outside of us, coming at us, hurting us, and causing pain. This is suffering.

Now a small caveat. Does this mean when I sin and am suffering the consequences of my sin I am not suffering? Right. Maybe it can be classified as suffering, but this is not what I primarily have in mind. Why? Because we can trace its roots back into our actions.

Does this mean that we who suffer have no sin? No, that does not mean that. Take the list above for example.

  • When a sickness takes me down for a day – I can respond with anger and frustration
  • When cancer races through my body – I can still have and idol in my heart.
  • When an unfair boss fires me – I could begin to gossip about the boss out of frustration

So just because we are suffering does not mean we are sinless. And just because we have consequences for our sins, does not mean we are suffering.

However suffering is something that is not obviously connected to our direct actions, and it comes and causes us pain.

God speaks much about suffering and how to handle suffering:

  • James 1:2-4
  • Matthew 5:11-12
  • 1 Peter the whole book really
  • Romans 5:3-5

So if depression is a form of suffering AND God tells us how to handle suffering, THEN we can handle depression through the same way we would handle suffering. That means there is hope for depression.

But the question is: IS depression suffering?

  • Do you know where it comes from?
  • Is it because you have unconfessed sin?
  • Is it because you are living out a sinful lifestyle that you are trying to hide from others?

I think if the source of the depression is not you some how, or at least not obviously you, then it is something that comes from without. And therefore it is suffering.

So take up the Bible read those passages about suffering. Walk the Darkness, Talk over the Darkness, and Call the darkness suffering.

God has always promised to be with his people in their suffering. He calls them to suffer (Phil 1:29) and he will never leave us alone in our suffering (Hebrews 13:5). Therefore you have all you need to live in the darkness and to do so with godliness (2 Peter 1:3-4)

Spiritual Depression: Talk over it

Depression is the slow, soft whisper of hopelessness.

Depression is the slow, soft whisper of hopelessness.

You are standing in the middle of room. It is full of people bustling by laughing and carrying on. Your own voice sounds odd with a chuckle or snort as you respond to the things around you. However, your voice is distant and faint in your own head because whispering in your heart and in your mind is a voice.

This voice accuses the people in front of you of being too well off, or he tells you they really don’t care about you. He begins to highlight your failures in your relationship to the people with you. He reminds you of the time you were angry. He points out the lying spirit you have. He even begins to remind you of broken relationships not in this room. You hear the names of your parents, siblings, lost loves. You hear about the lust, the greed and the gossip that griped your heart for years. And when you try to shake it loose, it grips tighter, and the voice reminds you about last night and the shape of your house. He accuses you of being lazy because your apartment looks like a pig sty. Over and over and over again, the voice accuses, belittles, discourages, and mocks you.  Eventually he tells you that there is only one way out. He paints the picture of solitude, isolation, and maybe even death as the paradise of mercy.

I don’t know about you, but I have listened to this voice too many times in my own life. And it may sound differently to each of us. But the effect is the same: hopelessness.

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote a fantastic book called Spiritual Depression. While I don’t remember everything in that book I do remember the idea that we must stop listening to ourselves and instead we must take ourselves in hand and start talking to ourselves.

In Psalm 42 the inspired author does this very thing. It is interesting to watch what he does.

Verse 3 he describes his life:

“my tears have been my food day and night. While they say to me all the day long, where is your God?”

How terribly hopeless for the voices to tell us God is not going to help.

In verse 5 the psalmist does what Dr. Lloyd-Jones tells us we must do: he talks to himself.

“Why are you cast down o my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?”

This is taking yourself in hand. Imagine grabbing yourself by the shoulders and shaking yourself just a little. “Hey what’s wrong with you? What is this hopelessness mounting up?”

The Psalmist goes on to say:

“Hope in God, for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”

Now the psalmist is talking to himself. He is commanding himself to do something different because what has he been doing? Listening the voice of hopelessness resonate in his head.

How many of us might benefit from a good dose of: kick-yourself-in-the-pants? If others speak these things to us, the voice whispers with them and accuses them of being unloving. So we have to take ourselves in hand and demand an answer. Why are you cast down? And then we must command an attitude: HOPE IN GOD.

I am convinced that many Christians face unnecessary depression because they have never learned to talk over the darkness. Raise your voice, run outside, get off the couch and out of the bed. Regardless of how much your body hurts with this stuff, go shout at the hopeless soul that has been listening to the darkness. Talk over the darkness until your soul can hear you, and then preach to it: HOPE IN GOD.

This is not a magic formula for getting rid of some disease. This is just how Christians face hopelessness. And you may be the kind of person who every day of your life, you have to run outside and talk over the darkness. I have done it enough to know, it does get better.

Walk this darkness and then Talk over it.