Depression creates all kinds of problems. For the Christian, more than usual. It raises questions and poses dilemmas that mesh deeply with our faith. People’s experience can include:
“I don’t feel like I’m a Christian.” God seems very distant. It doesn’t feel like he’s listening or even there. I don’t feel any joy, just a dark heaviness. My peace has gone, displaced by turmoil and anxiety. I don’t feel good about anything, and when it comes to worship with the Lord’s people, my heart just isn’t in it.
“I’m not thinking like a Christian.” I feel useless and life has no real point. I can’t see anything to look forward to. I question what God is up to. I know in my head what Christ did, but the sense of guilt makes me doubt that it’s real for me.
“I’m not living like a Christian.” I struggle to read the Bible – if I can be bothered at all. I can’t get it together to pray. I’m missing church; it just feels too hard. I’ve no motivation to do things I need to be doing. I know we’re called to fellowship but I really don’t want to be around others.
Depression is suffering that can feel like sin. That’s the dilemma. But there are many references in Scripture to believers being in darkness and sorrow: Psalms 23, 42, 43, 88, to name only a few. Jesus himself was overwhelmed with sorrow and deeply distressed. Those experiences are in themselves not sinful.
Depression is suffering that needs relief, help, comfort, strength – a Refuge. Psalm 46:1 reminds us, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” In the midst of real-life suffering, the psalm-writer finds real help in God. Depression weakens; we need strength. We can’t bear it alone; we need help. God is our refuge, strength and help in the trouble of depression.
But how do we take refuge from depression? By faith. Real, raw faith – the kind of faith that believes the truth and lives as if it’s true, even when the feelings are sick. The kind of faith that acts even when the motivation isn’t there. The kind of faith that recognises that our bodies are fallen and may need antidepressant treatment. The kind of faith that sees that we are in a body of believers where others can help. Faith like that seeks a joy that runs deeper than depression.
But faith like that can sound too hard! So it’s worth remembering that faith itself is a gift. In depression, let’s turn to God our Refuge, who is the Giver of every good and perfect gift.
Audio resources from our 2015 residential conference: