About 3 weeks ago, my wife and I came across a blog on depression entitled, Doctrine Cures Depression. After reading it and spending some time talking through her own experiences with depression and my experiences as her care-giver, she was compelled to write a response in an attempt to bring up some of the common misconceptions that we’ve seen and heard over the years in a couple of different Christian settings. Unfortunately, her response has not been posted as of this writing, so we want to post it here, alongside the original blog post. We do this not to pick a fight, but because we feel strongly that the views expressed in the original blog are wrong and harmful in dealing with depressed Christians. Susan’s views expressed below are also my views as He’s taught me ways to care for a depressed Christian and I pray that the Lord will use them to His glory and in His way.
Here’s the original post that prompted her response:
Doctrine Cures Depression
I know that the title “Doctrine Cures Depression” seems a bit strange, but actually it is quite biblical. Looking at our life from a biblical point of view is the cure for whatever gets us down. The biblical point of view is applying whatever Scripture has to say about our situation, and that is doctrine. I came across this thought while reading that modern classic of a work entitled, “Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Its Cure” by D. Martin Lloyd-Jones. Here is what he says, In other words, the great antidote to spiritual depression is the knowledge of Biblical doctrine, Christian doctrine, Not having the feelings worked up in meetings, but knowing the principles of the faith, knowing and understanding the doctrines. That is the Biblical way, that is Christ’s own way as it is also the way of Him, and you get that in His Word. Let’s apply this truth to see how it works. What is the cause of our depression? Depression is the result of examining our life from an unbiblical point of view. Romans 8:28 tells us that absolutely everything we experience as a believer is orchestrated by our Father in heaven, and yet he cannot be blamed for the evil that is done according to that plan (Acts 4:27-28). Not only does our Father orchestrate our life situation, but what we experience is also his perfectly wise and loving plan for us. Therefore, the only proper response for the believer is a biblical response. By biblical response I mean the wholehearted giving of thanks and acknowledging that whatever we are experiencing is coming from the loving hand of our Father (1 Thessalonians 5:18). The hard part in this whole equation is the issue of our feelings and thoughts or perception. In order to embrace the biblical perspective on our life we must ignore how things seem to us or how they feel to us. This is why the biblical statement about the need for each of us to allow other believers into our lives is so critical (Hebrews 10:24-25). We need friends who love Jesus more than they love us. We do not need friends who come along side to tell us that our life is so hard and that it is quite reasonable for us to be down about our life. It is not biblically reasonable for us to be down since what we are experiencing is exactly what our Father in heaven wants us to experience. The quicker that we embrace the perspective of our loving Father the quicker we will free ourselves from that ugly effect of the sin of refusing to believe our Father’s words about what we are experiencing. Depression is the natural result of this type of sin. So…… doctrine is the cure for depression. The application of biblical truth is the antidote for the ailment of depression.
Here’s Susan’s response:
I would have agreed with you at one time on this topic. I also believed that having good doctrine should take care of everything, including depression. But now, this side of depression, I have to disagree with you. To say that “depression is the result of examining our life from an unbiblical point of view” is incorrect because it is an oversimplification of this widespread problem. Certainly that can happen, and I would say that I had a very unhealthy way of examining myself at one time. Anytime you look at yourself without the view of the cross, despair will quickly follow. David Murray, in his book, “Christians Get Depressed Too” has a very compassionate and good understanding of the different causes of depression. He says, “It is absolutely vital for Christians to understand and accept that while depression usually has serious consequences for our spiritual life, it is not necessarily caused by problems in our spiritual life.”
I learned many things about my God, myself, the idols of my heart, and yes, my sin because of my depression. But, that all came later. When I was in the midst of my depression, which lasted at least a year, what I needed to hear was that Jesus loved me and accepted me just where I was, not a future version of me. He loved me and died for what I was going through. Despite what people thought, I did not need to hear that I was in sin, dragging the name of Jesus through the mud, or that I needed a to-do list of some sort to rescue me from my condition. I needed to know I was a child of the King right where I was. The message of grace and the gospel brought healing to my heart and ultimately delivered me out of depression.
You say that “The quicker that we embrace the perspective of our loving Father the quicker we will free ourselves from that ugly effect of the sin of refusing to believe our Father’s words about what we are experiencing. Depression is the natural result of this type of sin.” But I have to tell you, as someone who’s been there, that you can’t tell the depressed person “to do.” In depression, you can’t rescue yourself by doing more or doing better. Heaping performance expectations on a depressed person will cause them to crumble. In my case, I couldn’t “do” anymore. I was done. And that’s just where He wanted me. When I was in my darkest moments, a dear friend called and told me “Susan! You don’t have to do anything! Just look at the cross!” She spent the next weeks and months pointing me to the gospel and reminding me of God’s love for me. I got my assurance back, not by doing anything, but by the Holy Spirit teaching this ravaged heart of the sacrifice of Jesus for me.
Now I live clinging to the cross, praising Jesus for His love and acceptance of me just as I am. And it’s because of that knowledge, not the doctrine that I had come to idolize, that makes me want to serve Him, doing the good works He has determined for me to do. My theology was not the answer. Yes, I love that God is sovereign and that He is in complete control. I believe He took me through those very dark waters to teach me how far I had left my first love in pursuit of knowledge and the acceptance of man. I don’t believe it’s doctrine that sets things right, It’s knowing that Jesus died for me, loves me and accepts me just the way I am, even if I’m depressed.
In the beautiful words of David Murray as he references John 11, “In the meantime let us take our depressed Christian brethren continually before the throne of grace and plead, ‘Lord, he whom Thou lovest is sick.’”
-Mike (and Susan)