THE SAINT IN DEPRESSION
by GLENN PEASE
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THE SAINT IN DEPRESSION Based on Job 3
By Pastor Glenn Pease
I read a humorous story that fits the experience of Job. A man was on his roof trying to fix the TV antenna. Suddenly it began to rain, and while struggling with the guy wires he slipped. As he tumbled down the roof, he made a last ditch effort to grab the drain trough. There he was, hanging from the edge, three stories up, and in seconds his fingers began to tire. Desperately he struggled to hold on, but his strength was nearly gone. Not knowing where to turn, he looked up into the sky and asked, "Is there anyone up there who can help me?" Sure enough, a cloud parted, and a voice came from behind the cloud, "Believe and let go." The man starred blankly into the sky for about 20 seconds, and then shouted, "Is there anyone else up there who can help me?"
It is easy to understand why the man wanted a second opinion. We always desire a second opionion when the first opinion is not what we want to hear. If we do not like God's first response to our prayer, we seek for a second response more favorable to our desires. We are lovers of the second chance, and of the truth that, if at first you don't succeed, try, try again. This is one of life's most joyous positive facts. Thank God for the second chance. But there is another side to this truth illustrated by our story. Life also gives us a second chance to blow it. Doubt gets a second chance to overwhelm faith, and cause you to question God's answer. You may succeed today, but Satan will give you a second chance to fail tomorrow. You may stand fast in the storm of affliction today, but Satan was not discouraged, for he will give you another chance to sink later on. Peter stood on water,
but Satan gave him a second chance and he sunk.
It is important that we see both sides of this picture. Just as we never give up hope for the sinner, because as long as he is alive, there is a chance he will repent, and open his heart to Christ, and become a forgiven child of God. Satan never gives up on the righteous saint either, for as long as he is alive, there is always the chance that he will fall through temptation, or crack under pressure and curse God. Just as no defeat in this life is final, so no victory is the end of the battle, for in the next round Satan can lead us back into defeat.
Job illustrates this truth so dramatically in chapter 3. Chapter one draws to a close with Job saying, "The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord." Chapter two has Job rebuking his wife for her pessimism, and saying, "Shall we receive good at the hand of God and shall we not receive evil?" Both these first two chapters emphasize that Job did not sin with his lips. There is just no doubt about it, Job won round one and two easy. Satan got a lot of punches in, but Job never even said ouch. Now we come to chapter three, and all the judges agree, this one goes to Satan. Satan does not win the fight, for he said Job would curse God, and it is to Job's eternal credit that he never did that. He did, however, do some cursing, and that gave Satan this round.
Job so cursed the day of his birth, and his very existence, with such hostility, it is understandable why this chapter is the first one with no praise of Job. It does not say, he did not sin with his lips. Satan gave Job a second chance to express his grief with rebellion, and Job did it. Thank God! Yes, thank God, Job broke loose with this bitter curse of his life. Without this crack in his armor, he would be of little value for us to study. If Job was like a machine that could take all the suffering he endured, and just keep smiling, and saying that God is in heaven, and all is right with the world, the book would have no message for us.
You might just as well study the rock of Gibraltar for insights into life's meaning. If Job had never become depressed and hostile in suffering, he would have nothing in common with the rest of mankind. If Job never had to battle rebellion, we could not identify with him anymore than we could with a bowling pin. It takes a lot of punishment, but just keeps standing in there without complaint. If you can find comfort in that fact, then you could enjoy Job without chapter three. Most people need chapter three to make the story of Job realistic and relevant. Chapter three shows us Job the man. The man like us, with feelings and emotions. The emotion that stands out here is one we want to focus on. It is the emotion of depression. There are three things about depression that we want to consider.
I. DEPRESSION IS NASTY.
It is nasty in the sense that it is very disagreeable and objectionable, like nasty weather. It is nasty in the sense that it is harmful and dangerous, like a nasty fall. Depression is of the kingdom of darkness, and not of the kingdom of light, for it robs the soul of the fruits of the spirit. Faith, hope, love, the great virtues all begin to wither in the darkness of depression. That is why it is so superficial to say that suffering purifies the soul. This is an aspect of the truth that can be illustrated from life, but to try and apply it in all situations is to be blind to the facts of life. If suffering made everybody stronger, we would live in a world of heroes, but the fact is suffering makes most people worse and weaker.
Job's soul is not being ennobled by his suffering. Here is a man who is crying out, "I wish I was dead." His ideal would be to never have been born, and his second choice was to have died at birth or shortly after. Death would have been sweet relief to him. "If only the night had never been when I was conceived. If only the day of my birth had never dawned, I would be so relieved." If a great man of God could feel this way in depression, it makes sense why depression is a major cause of suicide. 35 to 40,000 people a year, in the United States alone, take their own lives because of depression. This represents over half of the suicides. Many feel that depression is the cause of more human suffering than any other disease in the world.
The story is told, and angel of the Lord informed Satan that God was going to take away all of his weapons but one. "Which one is that," he asked? When the angel replied, "Depression," Satan laughed and said, "Good, in that one I have them all." Depression is a nasty weapon. Look what it has done to Job. It has made him his own worse enemy. This is one of clues to determine if you are heading for depression. Satan uses depression to get you on his side against yourself. If you begin to lose your sense of self-esteem, and get down on yourself, you are coming under Satan's influence. Depression is a tool Satan uses to distort reality in the human mind. In extreme cases wealthy men will moan because they cannot provide food for their children. Beautiful women will beg for plastic surgery in the belief that they are ugly. Brilliant men will berate themselves for being stupid. Depression makes people see only the worst about themselves, and long for escape from life, and themselves.
If you find yourself complaining, griping, and being pessimistic about everything, that should be a clue that you are fighting depression. Job was always such an optimist about life, but now we see the storm begins to drag his anchor, and the lines that held him fast to heaven are straining. He is becoming a pessimist like the author of Ecclesiastes who writes in 4:2-3, "I thought the dead who are already dead more fortunate than the living who are still alive; but better than both is he who has not yet been, and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the son." The bliss of death, or non-existence, looks so good to those who reach the bottom of depression. This is despair, and that is where we find Job in chapter three, on the bottom. You have to admit it is a nasty emotion that can do that to such a saint. The second thing we want to see is-
II. DEPRESSION IS NORMAL.
It's nasty, but it's normal. That is, you don't have to be ashamed that you get depressed. It is a natural response to life's negatives, and both God and man expect it. By being normal, I do not mean it is good, or all right. It is normal to burn your hand if you pick up the hot end of a stick, but that is not to say, it is okay to pick up burning sticks at the wrong end. Just because something is normal, does not make it good. It is just that something that is normal eliminates shock or surprise. Nobody is surprised that a red hot stick burns your hand when you pick it up. It is no shock that a man of God blisters from such an act. So, also, it should be no surprise that God's people get depressed. It is normal for Christians to get athletes foot, tooth aches, and gray hair. It is also normal for them to get depressed.
Had Job not gotten depressed in his suffering, he would have been abnormal. Anyone who goes through life and never experiences depression, is abnormal. It would be wonderful to be abnormal, and escape all depression, but the fact is, most Christians are normal, and at some point they struggle with depression. Tim La Haye surveyed over 100,000 Christians, and never found one who could say they had never been depressed. You chances of getting through life without depression are about as slim as your chance of keeping a pound of jello nailed to a tree. But don't feel bad, for depression is a sign of normalcy.
Dr. W. L. Northridge in his book, Disorders Of The Emotional And Spiritual Life says, it is healthy to have a mixed temperament that can experience the negative side of life as well as the positive side. He writes, "Those who never feel depressed are rather superficial, if not psychotic." He is saying, if you never feel depressed, you may be sick, and not able to deal with reality as it is. You are not prepared to weep with those who weep, because you cannot grasp the reality of the sadness that leads to weeping.
Job's friends could not accept his depression as normal. The result is, they could not be true comforters. Many times we fail to be Christlike in relating to the depressed, because we cannot accept their depression as normal. We try to hide it or escape from it, rather than accept it as part of life's real battle. Joni illustrates this in her book, A Step Further. She tells of Jeanette and her husband who lost three year old Bradley to cancer. He was a cute little blonde blue-eyed boy they loved as deeply, and fought for so earnestly for one and a half years. Two weeks after the funeral she went to a women's Bible study. A little boy about Bradley's age was on his tiptoes trying to get a drink at the fountain. When she saw the darling, she began to sob. A woman she did not know saw her, and patted her shoulder saying, "I am praying for you honey, praise the Lord." This sounds like a nice gesture to us, but for Jeanette the words stung like fire.
Jeanette later told of how she felt. "I really had to ask God to help me with my feelings about that woman. I know she only wanted to help. But the way she said praise the Lord made me feel like I didn't have any right to cry if I was trusting the Lord. Maybe she didn't know that trusting the Lord doesn't rule out crying. Maybe she forgot that God told us to weep with those who weep." Here was a woman who was hurt, because she was made to feel she had no right to be depressed as a child of God. We often do this in trying to help fellow believers out of depression, but we would help more by recognizing the right to be depressed.
Dr. Tim La Haye, one of the outstanding pastors of our day, tells of his being deeply depressed. It was because a project he had worked on for years, to build a new church, was voted down by the San Diego City Council. A dear missionary friend heard the bad news, and came to cheer him up. With a big smile on his face, he slapped him on the shoulder and said, Praise the Lord ! Tim writes, "My reaction was one of intense anger. I not only resented his lack of sensitivity and understanding, but even his cheerful grin." You only add to people's problems when you think a cheery Praise the Lord settles it all. Prov. 25:20 says, "As he that taketh away a garment in cold weather.....So is he that singeth songs to a heavy heart." We are to weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice, but not rejoice with those who weep, for this says they do not have a right to be sad.
As we have said, it is normal to be depressed, and one should not be judged as a failure to be what God wants them to be, when they are depressed. God expects Christians to get burned when they touch fire, and He expects them to suffer depression when they are touched by grief and serious suffering. This does not mean it is good, it simply means it is normal. It is nasty but normal emotion. But the best thing about depression that we want to consider is-
III. DEPRESSION IS NEGATEABLE.
You can nullify the effects of depression, and deprive it of its very existence. It can be neutralized and abolished, with no permanent victory for evil. As down as Job was, and as deeply as he sank into despair, he did not give depression a permanent victory. Satan won this round with his powerful punch of depression, but Job still went on to take the fight. How did he do it? By something he did, and by something he didn't do. Here are two keys to getting out of the dungeon of depression. The first thing he did to negate depression was-
1. He expressed his feelings. Chapter 3 is an excellent example of spiritual vomiting. He was getting all the bitter poison in his soul out of his system. If you really want to help people in the depths of depression, induce vomiting. That is, help them to verbally pour out their feelings, and express their sorrow and despair over their loss, whatever it might be.
It is not easy or enjoyable to clean up a mess that the stomach could not handle. Nor is it easy to hear the verbal pessimism of a depressed soul, but someone has got to do it to be a true comforter. Most of us would have cut Job off after his first sentence when he said, "Let the day parish wherein I was born." We would have prevented him from ventilating his feelings. It would not be for his good, but because we could not stand to hear such things. We don't want people to vomit because we don't want to see it, and we don't want people to let out their poisonous feelings of their depressed mind, because we don't want to hear it. But the true comforter says, "Let it out, and if it hurts me to hear such awful things, then I will suffer with you, and weep with you."
Joni said something that should open our eyes to understand Job, and all who suffer depression. She writes, "At first it may seem that a person who has just lost a leg, discovered he has terminal cancer, or broken his neck, is desperately looking for answers. Why did this happen to me? He cries, and so we jump right in and give him 16 Biblical reasons why it happened. But more often than not, when he first asks "Why?" He doesn't really mean it as a question. He means it as an emotional release---sometimes even as an accusation. It's not the genuine "Why?" of a searching heart, but the bitter "Why?" of a clenched fist.
It takes time for a person to realize that he will never walk again, or that he really does have terminal cancer, or whatever. After he has had time to cry, to agonize, and to sort out his feelings, then he gets into an "Asking mood," and then our advice and counsel is helpful."
Job was being wise and normal in getting his feelings expressed. We need to be wise in recognizing it is good to do so, and, therefore, listen to those who cry out, and have sympathy, and not try to cut them off. Job expressed his worse feelings, and that was healthy. The second thing is what he didn't do.
2. He didn't act on his feelings. Feelings are not evil, no matter how negative they are. Feelings are neutral. Good feelings are not a virtue if they do not lead to good actions. Bad feelings are not evil if they do not lead to evil actions. Feelings are the potential for good or evil, but in themselves they are neither. It is what the will does with feelings that is good or evil. If you do not chose to act on negative depressed feelings, they will be negated, and time will erase them. There is a time for action, and a time for inaction. The time for inaction is when you are pessimistic and depressed.
The rule of life that most counselors recognize is, never make any major decision in a depressed mood. Don't pay any attention to yourself when you are down on yourself. Don't decide to quit anything, or give something. Just refuse to do anything based on your depression, for actions will lead you to do what is wrong, and that is how depression wins the battle. It gets you to do what is foolish. Feelings can change, and as long as you just feel, you have not lost, but once you act on your feelings, and quit your job, jump off the bridge, or hit someone, evil has won the battle. Job felt like committing suicide, but he did not act on his feelings, and so he gained the victory over depression.
Jesus did these same two things on the cross. He expressed His deep feelings when He said, "My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken Me?" Yet, He did not act on His deep feelings, and come down from the cross, forsaking His commitment to be our Savior. Jesus endured the worst than Satan could throw at Him, and like Job, He conquered, but Jesus is more than our example, He is the source of our victory. As we remember what He did for us on the cross, let us thank Him and ask Him to give us victory over that great enemy of the soul-depression.
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Excellent, Glenn. Thanks for this. As someone who suffers from chronic clinical depression, I can totally relate. I would be lost if not for Jesus ...