Depression and Faith
Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. Psalm 43:5
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, known for more than a century as the prince of preachers, began his remarkable ministry at the age of 18. Early in his ministry Spurgeon was speaking when a fire broke out in the tabernacle. Not hearing what the commotion was about, Spurgeon urged the people to remain seated, something that caused the deaths of several people. Spurgeon was devastated and the tragedy plunged this young man into deep depression. He overcame it, but for the rest of his life he battled depression, sometimes so severely that he couldn’t rise from his bed.
Depression is something that almost everyone faces, to some degree, at some point in time, but in most cases the depression is temporary and in a few days or weeks those dark clouds seem to lift and the sunshine appears. For others, however, like a dark shadow, depression becomes a jailer that locks you within the bowels of darkness and seems to allow no light into the cell.
There are many external factors which contribute to depression: unfulfilled expectations, personal failures of all kinds, circumstances from which there seems to be no escape, loneliness, let-downs, physical weariness, and the oppression which comes from Satan. Then there are internal or biological factors—chemical imbalances, temperaments which are dark and moody, and a host of other factors, far too elusive to document and often even to understand. Sometimes depression is spiritual. Look at Jonah, who ran from God, whose self-pity turned to depression. The individual who turns his back on God realizes there is no other hope or light, and that’s depressing. Sometimes trying to pinpoint the cause is futile. If it is there, it’s there no matter what has caused it. The objective is to escape its grasp.
Spurgeon took heart that one of his favorite biblical characters, an individual who was known as “a man after God’s own heart,” King David, struggled with depression. In one of David’s prayers he cried out, “O Lord... your arrows have pierced me, and your hand has come down upon me... there is no health in my body; my bones have no soundness because of my sin. My guilt has overwhelmed me like a burden too heavy to bear... I am feeble and utterly crushed; I groan in anguish of heart” (Psalm 38:3-8).
But David threw himself on the mercy of God and his equilibrium was restored. Again he cried, “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” (Psalm 43:5).
Some people work through their own depression. Others need help, and without strong individuals to lean on, they may be swallowed up by the darkness of the soul that vexes their lives. Knowing that it is OK to say, “I need help and need it now!” takes courage, but it’s the first step. If you see someone who withdraws, who isolates himself or herself, who neglects appearance, who sleeps or turns to drugs or alcohol, who despairs of getting better, you need to be the one who helps that person get help.
God is not indifferent to the suffering of someone who needs to break the bondage of depression, and those who struggle with it need help emotionally, physically, and spiritually.
Personally I have never struggled with depression, and having sat and listened to those who describe its darkness is like listening to sometime tell about a world that I’ve never entered; but helping them realize that life has not ended and as long as there is God there is hope, gradually lets them get their hand on the doorknob that leads down the hall to their families and their lives again. He is the God of the living, and as Jeremiah wrote, “his compassions fail not.”
Resource reading: Psalm 43