The problem of despair and depression is fundamentally a spiritual problem, even if the world and its systems disagree. Solutions will be found in Scripture; and when we examine God’s inerrant Word we see that God treats these things exactly as we’d expect: a spiritual problem. That is not to say that depression makes one a “bad Christian” any more than being happy makes one a “good Christian”. But it does mean we should see depression through the Christian lens and apply what the Bible says, rather than being drawn by the tripe sold as wisdom by the humanist world. Emotions are part of how God designed us. Emotions are not our problem, despair is our problem.
Let me be abundantly clear. Emotions are not wrong, it is not an indication of sin that one suffers, and the church should not only expect suffering among its members, but plan for it and have compassion on the suffering too. God said as much in Romans 12:15 commanding us to share the emotions of others. Jesus, fully man and fully God, had emotions in John 11:35, Luke 3:7, Matthew 20:34, and throughout his earthly ministry. It’s indisputable that He also suffered. We shouldn’t be afraid of emotions. When something sad happens, it’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to grieve a loss. Emotions are part of how God designed us. Emotions are not our problem, despair is our problem.
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All suffering is the result of the fall of man, not a feature of God’s perfect design. It is the eternal will of God that we should suffer, but it is not the moral will of God (see more about the two wills here
) God allows that we SHALL suffer even though He does not desire for suffering to exist for us His beloved creation. Suffering is the playground of Satan and the tool of God. In a fallen world, Satan desires we suffer and takes great delight in afflicting mankind. God uses it to bring people to Him, or to teach those that are His something they need to learn; and/or mature them in some way. Generally speaking, those who are wicked will have much sorrow (Psalm 32:10), but the narrow path of following God is wrought with suffering as well (Psalm 34:19). The difference? The former suffers and will continue to suffer without any lasting benefit, the latter will be rescued by God, growing to be more like Him in the process, and can confidently look forward to the day when God will wipe away every tear (Revelation 21:4). So then the believer finds suffering purposeful, even though suffering is not God’s original design. Take heart, fellow believer! God is sanctifying you and conforming you to the image of His beloved Son, Jesus! He’s faithfully working in you to make you more like He is!
Therefore, our response should be to rejoice (Psalm 32:11)! Yes, you read that right. Rejoice! Make the choice… to rejoice (I swear I didn’t plan that, and I’m sorry). Your joy is a choice, believer. You have been given everything you need (James 1:17, 2 Tim 3:16-17) to make the right choice. So make it. This is not a popular thing to say in our modern church culture beset by psychology and infiltrated by more secularism than most are ready to admit. It is, nonetheless, true and most assuredly the Bible’s answer to despair (James 1:2-3).
Consider what Paul said in Philippians 4:6-9. Pay particular attention to verse 9; “The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” It can’t be much more clear than that; practice X and Y will happen. Does this mean that it always FEELS like the God of peace is with us? No. Just as we don’t always feel happy, and just as sad things should make us sad. Again, emotions are good and part of God’s design, despair is not. But emotions have their limits; they simply indicate how we feel. They will never indicate if God is with us or not. Many people feel very happy believing false gospels, many people feel sad even though they know and love the truth. How one feels is not the final arbiter of what is and is not true.
God is more compassionate than any therapist. Consider Psalm 40:1-3. God hears your cries! He understands your pain, and has the power to cause you to rejoice. Also consider Psalm 34:17-19. God hears the righteous and He DELIVERS them! He is NEAR the brokenhearted! He not only cares for those crushed in spirit, but He SAVES them! What precious truths! Christ is near you in every moment of your sadness and your suffering. He’ll never leave you or forsake you (Hebrews 13:5), He’s with you even until the end of the age (Matthew 28:20), and absolutely NOTHING is able to separate you from Him (Romans 8:38-39).
It’s all about where your mind dwells. It’s perfectly understandable that in the midst of grief or affliction, our minds are inundated with the affliction or grief. That isn’t a problem. There’s a season for everything (Ecclesiastes 3:1), and God commands other believers to join others in their emotions (Romans 12:15). Again, emotions are not the problem, despair is; and the solution is to rejoice. How then do we go about rejoicing? Go back to Philippians 4:6-8. Pray, choose not to be anxious, dwell on good things, noble things, pure things, etc. Change your thinking. Choose to fill your mind with good things. The children’s song “Be Careful Little Eyes
” seems appropriate here. If all you ever see, hear, do, run toward, and say is despair and hopelessness then it shouldn’t be a surprise when you are filled with hopeless despair.
Hopeless despair is exactly what the devil wants in you. This is why Peter warns us in 1 Peter 5:6-8 that Satan prowls around seeking whom he may devour. Peter’s advice is similar to Paul’s: cast your anxiety on Christ who cares for you and be sober. Peter also adds the command to be humble under God’s mighty hand. In other words, trust your sovereign God that He has allowed this affliction to come into your life. He’s teaching you, conforming you to His image. Nonetheless, be on alert. The suffering are vulnerable, and the devil wants nothing more than to pick off a wounded sheep and devour it.
It’s also important to remember that the world is full of suffering. For a people who are in the world (but not of it), we will suffer. But we should do so with courage and conviction because our King has overcome this world (John 16:33). We must always keep it fresh in our minds that we are but aliens and strangers here (1 Peter 2:11); this is not our home.
While we’re here we’ll be battered, bruised, and beleaguered; but one day we’ll go home to our Lord’s home where He has prepared a room for us (John 14:2). One day He will return to set right this broken world once and for all.
It’s easy in our suffering to look for quick answers that will take away the pain. Yet we must remember that it is not the priority of the Scriptures to give us a quick and easy answer. Rather, it is the priority of Scripture to give us the truth. We may hate everything that is happening to us when we suffer, and may be tempted to do anything or believe anything to be rid of our suffering. It is in those times that we must be steadfast to love the truth more than we hate our circumstances.
Christians should have nothing to do with godless psychology nor its answers of therapy and excuses. Yes, we can acknowledge biological realities and genetic predispositions Yes, it can be helpful to think critically about our state of mind and to gather knowledgeable perspectives. But ultimately, we must obey our Lord. Obeying our Lord may mean the courage to stand on our own two feet and take responsibility for our own state of mind. It certainly means living out the worldview our theology teaches us. Our worldview, the only worldview that saves sinners, stands in stark contrast to our culture’s pervasive yet hopeless humanism. This is the age for courage, especially when we are hurting. Courage to promulgate the truth our God has given us and to reject every lie of the world. Courage to trust the remedies of Scripture over the remedies of man. Courage to be a Christian.