The following is by Pastor Rob Golding of First Artesia Christian Reformed Church.
I have noticed a world of difference between visiting the depressed and visiting the physically sick. The physically sick will chat with you and will enjoy a prayer at the end of your conversation about their illness and the medical plan to take care of it. The depressed, on the other hand, want to talk to you about God. They weep over their sins. They look to the words of the pastor as if life were in them. Their eyes contain tear-filled expectations, simultaneously expressing grief and hope.
If we evaluate these types of sicknesses—mental and physical—it is easy to see that one type lends itself to an openness to the Lord. Of course, as Lewis says, “God shouts to us in our pains.” We hear God, like Job, when we physically suffer. But mental pain (that is, depression) makes us alert to God in a heightened way.
If you have cancer, you will think about death. You will worry. You will ask your pastor to pray. You will turn to doctors and hope that they can fix you. Cancer can be a gift, which is why John Piper says, “Don’t Waste Your Cancer.”
But when you are depressed, and the depression does not lift, you are backed into the corner of hell. Behind you are the flames, and no doctor extends a hand to help. There are none to pull you from the flames but Christ.
Your conscience is burdened with the feeling that you are to blame for your predicament. The guilt weighs upon you like a thousand-pound weight. Every thought is another burden added to the weight, increasing the pain until it becomes unbearable.
This pain vents itself in cries of desperation, “God, please help me!” When He does not answer, the weight pushes you through the floor.
People with cancer know nothing of this desperation. People with cancer want to live, but people with depression want to die.
We wonder how Paul was able to say, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.” We marvel at the humility of John: “He must increase, and I must decrease.” The Psalmist outshines our spirituality on its best day when he says, “There is nothing on earth I desire besides You.” How are these people able to say such glitteringly spiritual things?
They walked through the valley of the shadow of death. They have experienced life without God. Like the title of Martin Lloyd Jones’s book, they have tasted Spiritual Depression.
It is staggering to see how many people are depressed today. Someone recently told me that, on average, Americans are more suicidal than those interned at the Nazi concentration camps. Could this be a grace, a gift of God?
I just heard a pastor say that revival always occurs when a society loses the most hope. When people look around and say to one another, “There is no hope left for us!” The eagles of Christ’s mercy swoop down with healing in their wings.
When we are depressed, we sprint toward the medicine cabinet. When we do not feel well, we turn to the bottle. When anxiety strikes, we open the refrigerator. Like a doctor striking our knee, we have instant responses to depression—and they are always to mask it.
But what if our depression is actually preparation? What if the Lord is preparing our hearts to be humble and meek, like His? What if this collective cultural malaise is really just the tremor of God’s work of redemption which will shake the earth?
Does He not deserve our desperation? Wicked creatures we are; Holy, Holy, Holy is He! Shouldn’t we grovel at His feet in self-loathing despair? Shouldn’t we shout, “Wicked men that we are! Who will save us from these bodies of death!?”
Jesus said it is better to lose a limb and enter heaven without it than to be cast into hell whole. If that is true, then it is better to be depressed and crying out to God than healthy and cruising to destruction.
Look at how many people around you are happy—nice cars, a nice house, a pretty little family, nice jobs, fun vacations, nice clothes, entertained and fed. But if that is you and you do not have Christ, what a terrible life! This kind of Christless existence is like sitting in a Bentley, listening to your favorite song, eating your favorite food, and driving toward a cliff. How irrational to be happy in such a state!
Yet, how many people around us are in exactly this position? How much better it would be to be carless, foodless, songless, yet hopeful in Christ! Depression can be the gift of God if it drives you to Him. “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting” (Ecc 7:2).
If you are depressed, God loves you. He is guiding you. He is showing you life outside of Him so that you will run to Him, where there at pleasures forevermore. Do not mask this grace but embrace it. Allow the weight of your depression to dash you upon the Rock of Ages. Press into Christ. Let the sadness press you toward Him. Abandon everything but hope in Jesus. Run into His arms because there is nothing good anywhere else. You have been given clarity that very few people have. You understand that there is nothing good anywhere without God. Everything is death and decay without Him. Sports, entertainment, career, and even family have lost their luster because you see what they are without Him. All these things are but filthy rags compared to Christ. They cannot save you. You are a rock falling into a bottomless pit, and everything but Christ is a spider’s web. Your career, family, hobbies, and health can do nothing to even slow your descent, let alone stop it. But His hands are strong. His love is deep. Cast yourself upon Him. You must let go of everything else to do this, and your depression is the hand of God tearing all else from you. This causes great pain, and some cannot bear it. But those that open their hands and release their lives find them in Christ. Depression brings about desperation, and God loves those who are desperate for Him. The heart of Christ bled for such ones. The heavenly Father will move earth and sky to hold you in His arms. Be desperate for Him.
Depression makes the worries of life seem terrifying. Getting out of bed, speaking to that certain person (or any person for that matter), going to work, dealing with problems, and dealing with financial issues all seem like voracious demons skulking toward us. Each task is daunting and frightening. This brings about depression’s best friend—anxiety. So we look through the windows of our sanctuaries into a world that offers no joy yet threatens us constantly. This is to see the world as it really is, without Christ.
However, when we abandon all hope that is not in Christ, we cling to Him, and we feel His hand hold ours, and the demons vanish. The Psalmist was terrified of the evildoers that sought to kill him. He trembled before them. But when He went to the house of the Lord and heard God’s plan for him and them, he said: “O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms” (Ps 73). We get scared, but when God stands up, the “scary” things of life are like little holograms without any true substance. They cannot even touch us! The dreary landscape of listless existence transforms into the loving household of God, at whose right hand there are pleasures forevermore. What was once depressing and anxiety-producing becomes joyful and peaceful. But we never get there without recognizing that life without Christ is nothing.
Our world says, “You are a highly evolved monkey without purpose. You should be happy all the time!” The people who believe this (sometimes Christians believe this for a season) are often depressed. The world looks at that depression as a strange deficiency, something to be solved as quickly as possible with medicine and increased self-esteem. But perhaps you are saner than anyone. Maybe you see the horrific reality of life without Christ, though they do not. Thank God for that—God is pulling you by the heart away from the world you have been cemented to. It is unbelievably painful. But when we come to the end of ourselves and give up every single desire we have, He catches us. He holds us. He cherishes us and brings us to His heart. Do not stop your freefall with lies—life is really meaningless without Him. Dive deeper instead—give Him everything, and He will give all of Himself to you.
3 thoughts on “The Secret Benefit of Depression”
Thank you for this. Really ministers to me today for depression I am battling
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
All is not lost; perhaps all is really gain.
So lonely, yet never alone.
Thank you for the article. My late son-in-law was a believer but the depression crushed him so much that after many attempts at suicide he finally succeeded in August of 2020. His suicide letter stated that everyone would be better off without him (among other things). I truly believe he is in heaven. Not every Christian who battles this overcomes.