There is a lot of material out there geared toward trying to describe the nature of depression, especially when a Christian experiences it.
Everyone gets sad. Everyone experiences grief from some kind of suffering. However, what about those experiencing it over longer periods of time? Why are they still dragging their feet?
This issue is a labyrinth, so moving from generalities to specificities would take a lot of time and patience, and a combination of education and experience.
I do not speak here as one who is completely objective. Rather, I speak as someone who experiences this “labyrinth” daily. Even more confusingly (to some, anyway), I experience it as a Christian ( 1 Corinthians 15:3-4; 2 Corinthians 5:21 ; Galatians 1:4; 2:20; Romans 8:1,2). How could someone who is a Christian experience depression? For many of us (including myself at times) it doesn’t seem right. So you can imagine how a Christian who experiences depression could add layers to their suffering by questioning the integrity of their own faith. “I’m depressed because I’m depressed and I’m a Christian!” gets added into the mix of causes. That’s been my experience, anyway! Has it been yours?
It’s been good for me to be surrounded by godly influences, so that when I’m not thinking straight, they can speak loving truths gently into my fractured frame of reference. With the help of a few of my own mentors, and a range of biblical counseling sources; I’ve been trying to arrange my own thinking accordingly.
As someone who is under the influence of depression, I can testify that it’s hard to think clearly. I would imagine it’s same with any given believer. In Christ, we have all been given the same Spirit that unites us all into fellowship with Him. On the other hand, “there is a variety of gifts, ministries, and effects (or operations/activities)” (1 Cor 12:4-7). I think this passage could very well account for the variety of personalities in the Church. It may be why one believer may be of a different “constitution” than another, even though they both have genuine Spirit-wrought faith. I’ve seen this encouraging insight in C.H. Spurgeon (whom also suffered from depression):
“Some minds appear to have a gloomy tinge essential to their very individuality. Of them it may be said, “Melancholy marked [them] for her own”; fine minds withal and ruled by noblest principles, but yet they are most prone to forget the silver lining and to remember only the cloud. These infirmities may be no detriment to a man’s career of special usefulness. They may even have been imposed upon him by divine wisdom as necessary qualification for his peculiar course of service.”
My struggles with depression (and anxiety) can be somewhat traced to my heavy tendency toward introspection. Introspection is the process of self-examination. It is “thinking about thinking”. There is a sense in which the Christian should examine themselves (2 Corinthians 13:5; Lam 3:40); though in my own experience it can quickly morph into a neurotic exercise of self-sufficiency. Without the boundaries of the Spirit speaking through the Word of God, and the communion of other believers, it can quickly transform into a trust in my own abilities to locate the source of the problem and lift myself up by my own “cognitive bootstraps”. Sometimes I need to repent from my own religious scrupulosity.
Catastrophizing is one particular manifestation. This pattern of thinking takes the form of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Take any event and predict a negative outcome of that event. Given the negative outcome, a catastrophe will be sure to follow. (A common test-case this in Scripture is 1 Kings 19.) Catastrophizing is usually more geared toward the future. It is a virtuous ability when used by the godly to avoid problems that could arise from a course of action. It is good to know the consequences of the behavior of ourselves and others. However it can become a vice when we forget that we are not like God and do not know the future, yet continue to think as if we do. This can fuel depression and anxiety, and you can understand why. We were not created to know every possible outcome for any given event. Though we are tempted to say with Job; “For what I fear comes upon me, And what I dread befalls me. “I am not at ease, nor am I quiet, And I am not at rest, but turmoil comes.” (Job 3:25)
Another pattern of thought for this depressive introspection has it’s eye on the past-present. This is memory-rehearsal. This happens when we replay our memories on the big-screens in our heads, and analyze everything that went wrong, and how we could have done better. It isn’t always sinful, in that it can be useful for us to biblically analyze our faults and sins, and take action to “put them off” in the newness of life given to us by the power of the gospel. However, I can become overwhelmed with unnecessary burden when I don’t take all of my past failures and sins to the cross of Christ, where he became my curse. “He will not always accuse” (Psalm 103:9) “Nor will I always be angry” thus says the LORD (Isaiah 57:15-16) “His anger lasts only a moment” (Psalm 3o:5). We should not harbor anger against our neighbors or ourselves (Leviticus 19:18). I don’t easily forget and forgive my sins (or the sins of others for that matter), but the Lord says that He does (Isaiah 43:25). The constant rehearsal of my faults and the faults of others can often be due to my unwillingness to forgive. So, “‘Vengeance is Mine’ says the Lord” (Deu 32:35; Lev 19:18; Romans 12:19) is a call to peace for my trouble heart.
In conclusion, remembering how God addresses my depression and anxiety, whether it be sin or suffering, does not erase my experience of it. I’ve asked the Lord more than just three times to take it away. To which He answers, “My grace is sufficient to you”. Depression/anxiety may be my thorn for life, left with me by the providential hand of God as mercy to keep me from being more of an egotistical jerk than I already am. It may be there to deflate me from being too easily arrogant (which is very easy for me).
These two verses in “God Moves in Mysterious Ways” have been very comforting to me. They were penned by William Cowper, who experienced a few breaks with reality in his own life:
“Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.”