Christians facing depression can grow discouraged, wondering if their struggle is a sign of spiritual weakness. Today, Ed Welch explains how Scripture helps us think about depression and how we can respond when it comes.
NATHAN W. BINGHAM: Joining us on the Ligonier campus this week is Dr. Ed Welch. Dr. Welch is a counselor and faculty member at CCEF. Dr. Welch, can a genuine Christian experience depression?
DR. ED WELCH: Before I answer that question, let me offer a guess as to why the question’s even being asked. One might be a person’s struggling with depression, and they encounter in Scripture all these calls to be joyful. And there is a sense that the Christian life should be one that is a little bit better than good—that’s how you should be feeling. And if you don’t feel that way, somehow you are a bad testimony. I’ve heard people say that. “You’re a bad testimony to other people because shouldn’t the Spirit have a power that has you feeling better than good?” So that might be one way into it.
Whatever way you move into this question, it’s an important question. Can a genuine Christian experience depression? Let me speak on Charles Spurgeon’s behalf, who was very familiar with depression. And he would say, “Indeed, a Christian can struggle with depression, and they can struggle with depression their entire life.”
Let me speak, bespeak on behalf of another person who you might not know of, but he was a well-known Bible translator. His name was J.B. Phillips. He wrote a book called The Price of Success, and in that book, I think he had one goal. That was for people to see a seemingly successful Christian person in ministry struggled with deep depression. He wanted to make that public.
As a way of answering this particular question “Can a genuine Christian experience depression?” when you look at the Psalms, “The water is coming up to my neck. It feels like it’s overwhelming. My feet are sinking in the mire. My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?” These are some of the experiences of depression. And in the Psalms, the Lord is saying, “Is it like this?” He’s inviting us to speak these things.
The background, how can depression be a genuine Christian experience? You can probably see behind my comments that I am assuming that many people who struggle with depression there is a physiological, there’s a brain reason for it that we can’t identify with any precision. But the fact that depression can be gone one day and envelop you the next without any changes in your circumstances or your spiritual condition certainly suggest that the body can have a cause in this.
Let me go just a little bit further. Can a genuine Christian experience depression? Absolutely. A genuine Christian can experience depression. What is one or two ways we can go with it? One, ask somebody to pray for you. Depression, there’s a hopelessness to it. Why bother speaking to anybody else when you’re hopeless? What can they do? Ask another person to pray for you. Give them a specific way that they can pray. That would be one thing that you could do.
Second thing, just as we’ve been trying to do here: Speak. Find words for your depression that you can speak to the Lord. Find them in the Psalms. Underline them and speak those words to the Lord.
Perhaps the third thing: Recognize depression sometimes can be deceiving. It is this enveloping, beclouding experience, but sometimes it can lie and say, “There is no hope. There is no life in this world, only death.” In that way, we want to try to take a stand against the lies. So consider where might depression lie to you about the words of Jesus, and how can Scripture and the Spirit equip you to take a stand against it?
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