Just imagine you’ve got jet lag plus an overwhelming feeling of grief. That’s how one person described what depression is like. Somebody else said it was like having a migraine headache that never goes way.
I’m talking about this significant problem we call depression, and how common it is today. Depression is widespread, and the professional health people say that a quarter of us have or will experience it sometime. Maybe you know what it feels like. The researchers tell us that depression is increasing more and more and is causing acute anguish.
The United Nations’ World Health Organization (WHO) named depression as the world’s number one health problem. They said that by the year 2020, depression would probably rank second only to heart disease. On any given day, it affects 18 million people in the USA, and 12 million go untreated. So, it has become a huge stigma associated with weakness, and people will do anything to hide it from their friends and family.
Depression Can Have Many Causes
Depression can be caused by a chemical imbalance in the body. Improper diet, inadequate rest, or inadequate exercise can also cause it. So can an extended illness, or a constant pain. I read recently that, in the USA, back pain is a leading cause of depression. Depression affects the body so adversely that it can contribute to an early death. Many depressed people take their lives, and others allow themselves to give up over a period of years.
Harry Emerson Fosdick, the founding minister of Riverside Church in New York City, and one of the great Christian leaders of the last century had depression as a young man. So when he heard about a friend and fellow pastor who was depressed, he wrote to him and said, “People will tell you to pull yourself up by your bootstraps. But don’t you believe it because what you would normally pull yourself up with, is already broken.”
Those who are depressed understand this. They did not choose it; it is as if it chose them. It is not a condition that is isolated in the soul, subject to religious discipline, because, as one person who had been depressed put it, “When you are depressed, it is so clear that body, mind and spirit are inseparable and you wish it weren’t so”.
Is there any hope for those who suffer? Does God understand how depressed people feel? I’m sure he does. Christians suffer in this way; it’s like the bottom falls out of their soul—so dark is that period! It was Saint John of the Cross in the 16th century who first coined the phrase, the night of the soul. It refers to a difficult time of testing and, ultimately, of spiritual growth.
It is also a phrase that is sometimes borrowed to describe depression. And it is true that there are those who have found that their spiritual lives have been deepened by their experience of depression—Martin Luther comes to mind, and Mahatma Gandhi as well—but that is only once the depression itself has passed, if even then.
When you’re in the midst of depression, it is not something to learn from as much as it is something to get through. Anita Barrows, a poet who has battled depression, put it this way: “In the fire what you get is the fire.”
God Is In the Midst
Where is God in all of this? Where is God in the midst of depression? God is in the midst. That’s where God is—there, with the person who is depressed, in the thick of it, there in the valley of the shadow, right there.
The Psalmist knew dark times of the soul, but he was astonished to find God was there all the time:
I can never be lost to Your Spirit. I can never get away from my God. If I go up to Heaven, you are there. If I go down to the place of the dead, you are there. If I ride the morning winds to the farthest oceans, even there your hand will guide me, your strength will support me. For even darkness cannot hide from God; to you, the night shines as bright as day.” (Psalm 139: 7-12 – TLB)
The Apostle Paul, who experienced the full range of human experiences and emotions, including the heights of ecstasy and the depths of despair, was able to say:
I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39 – ESV)
If today you are depressed, there is a reason for this black cloud. Talk to your doctor, a close friend, your minister or a competent counsellor. Above all, talk to God. He understands you fully, and loves and cares for you.
13 11 14 (Crisis support and suicide prevention)