Depression-Life in the Minor Key
Most of the Bible seems to be lived in the major key. Saints fearlessly witnessing, churches valiantly serving against all odds—and what a joy those sections are to our souls.
But side-by-side with all that is the minor key. God's Word contains true glimpses into the weaknesses and frailties that God understands and shows us in the lives of some of His greatest saints. These are men and women who were sad, discouraged, and depressed—yet the Lord does not correct them and tell them they are in sin. He just encourages them and helps them go on.
Life in the minor key—is it always sin that makes us depressed? Is it always a sin to be depressed? ‘No’ is the answer from God's Word.
We have come to Psalm 142, and as you open there with me we enter into David struggling with depression. In verse seven he asks the Lord to bring his soul out of prison. The cave, the pursuit of Saul, the men and all their troubles had locked him down emotionally—it was keeping him from the joy of his walk with the Lord he loved.
· Psalm 142:7 "Bring my soul out of prison, So that I may give thanks to Thy name; the righteous will surround me, for Thou wilt deal bountifully with me.” (NASB)
A SHARED STRUGGLE
What do Paul, Ezra, Hezekiah, Job, Elijah, Moses, Jeremiah, Jonah and David all share in common with us today? They were all spirit filled servants of the Lord, and they all struggled with negative emotions.
Our question to answer from God's Word is-‘can believers struggle with emotional problems and still be spirit filled servants of the Lord?’
We must be careful to not say that anxiety, depression, discouragement and other negative emotions are in themselves sinful. This is because we see these same emotions in God’s servants. In Christ we see anger that is not sin, deep emotional distress, grief, and anguish all of which were perfectly displayed. In the
The key is not to call each occurrence of a negative emotion sin—the key is to not stay there. That is what David explains to us. “The Christian who remains in sadness and depression really breaks a commandment: in some direction or other he mistrusts God—His power, providence, forgiveness.”
As we open God's Word, look how these key servants of the Lord all suffered from crippling and sometimes even paralyzing depression.
Have God’s servants fared any better than these from the Bible over the past centuries? Let listen to a few of the best know saints:
The great hymn we all love to sing, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God was penned by the great 16th-century reformer Martin Luther (1483-1546)-during his darkest days of depression. It was a testimony to God’s power to lift him out of the prison of his soul, back to hope and strength.
As a devoted pastor, he sought to bring spiritual counsel to struggling souls. His compassion for those souls shines in numerous places, including his sermons, lectures, Bible commentaries and table talks. Besides observing mental difficulties in others, Luther had a greater reason to affirm their reality--Luther himself endured many periods of depression.
TEMPTATION AND STRUGGLES WITH NEGATIVE EMOTIONS ARE NOT SIN
Luther described his personal experience in varied terms: melancholy, heaviness, depression, dejection of spirit; downcast, sad, and downhearted. He suffered in this area for much of his life and often revealed these struggles in his works. Evidently he did not think it a shameful problem to be hidden.
The famous preacher Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892), who lit the fires of the nineteenth-century revival movement, struggled so severely with depression that he was forced to be absent from his pulpit for two to three months a year. In 1866 he told his congregation of his struggle:
“I am the subject of depressions of spirit so fearful that I hope none of you ever get to such extremes of wretchedness as I go to.”
Those words were spoken in a sermon by Charles Haddon Spurgeon whose marvelous ministry in
The next great man of God after Spurgeon was also called in his day “The Greatest Preacher in the English-speaking World”—Dr. John Henry Jowett (1864-1923). He pastored leading churches, preached to huge congregations, and wrote books that were bestsellers. In a message he also confessed:
“You seem to imagine that I have no ups and downs, but just a level and lofty stretch of spiritual attainment with unbroken joy and equanimity. By no means! I am often perfectly wretched and everything appears most murky.”
I could go on and on through the “Who’s Who” of ministry and find countless other testimonies that say the same. So the answer to our question is a definite yes: Spirit-filled Christians can experience emotional problems. And some godly believers will always struggle with being “down”.
In many cases as we look back on history we can conclude that many of these saints suffered because of physical conditions that prompted depression. One Christian medical doctor who has spent his lifetime helping people writes this:
“Consider this thought experiment. Give me the most saintly person you know. If I were to administer certain medications of the right dosage, such as thyroid hormone, or insulin, I could virtually guarantee that I could make this saint anxious with at least one of these agents. Would such chemically induced anxiety be explained as a spiritual sin? What if the person's own body had an abnormal amount of thyroid hormone or insulin and produced nervousness?”
We as believers should never condone willful sin, but we must learn to accept that some fellow believers may suffer from emotional symptoms that are not the result of personal un-confessed sin.
It is possible to feel horrible and be in great emotional anguish and still be obedient to the Lord. As we saw, listen again to what Job cried out in the midst of his suffering.
"I cannot eat for sighing; my groans pour out like water. My life flies by—day after hopeless day. I hate my life. For God has ground me down, and taken away my family. But I search in vain. I seek him here; I seek him there, and cannot find him. My heart is broken. Depression haunts my days. My weary nights are filled with pain. I cry to you, O God, but you don't answer me" (3:23-24; 7:6, 16; 16:7; 23:8; 30:16-17, 20, LB).
Notice that even with his depression, the Bible says, "In all this Job did not sin" (1:22). Moreover, God reproves Job's friends for accusing Job of sin and for their "failure to speak rightly concerning my servant Job" (42:7-8).
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