Friday, September 12, 2014

Some say, “You're depressed because you don't have enough faith.”

For a Christian leader to pass judgment on a Christian suffering from depression by saying, “you're depressed because you don't have enough faith,” or “you need to have more faith,” demonstrates not only a lack of sensitivity that beggars belief, but also demonstrates the depth of the leader’s ignorance.

To demonstrate how such comments are so far off the mark, let us take a moment to consider what King David wrote in Psalm 143.

Psalm 143:1-7
A psalm of David.
O LORD, hear my prayer,
listen to my cry for mercy;
in your faithfulness and righteousness
come to my relief.

Do not bring your servant into judgment,
for no one living is righteous before you.

The enemy pursues me,
he crushes me to the ground;
he makes me dwell in darkness
like those long dead.

So my spirit grows faint within me;
my heart within me is dismayed.

I remember the days of long ago;
I meditate on all your works
and consider what your hands have done.

I spread out my hands to you;
my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.

Answer me quickly, O LORD;
my spirit fails.
Do not hide your face from me
or I will be like those who go down to the pit.

The persecution afflicted upon King David by his enemies has lead him to the depths of depression, as we can see as he laments that he has been crushed to the ground, that he feels like he is dwelling in darkness like those long dead, and that his spirit has grown faint and his heart dismayed. Overwhelmed, David cries out to God to save him quickly lest he becomes like those who go down into the pit (which could refer to the grave or hell.)

We see David pouring his heart out before God. There is no empty religious rhetoric in a vain attempt to comfort himself - he makes no pretence that everything is fine. Yet in all this David is not demonstrating a lack of faith. Rather, although he is going through a very difficult time, David has found the courage to honestly express exactly how he is feeling.

The intensity of David’s suffering is so devastating that his life has been shaken to the core. Yet even as so many aspects of his life are crushed, we get to see what is left - the very foundations he is standing on. Let us keep reading:

Psalm 143:8-12
Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
for to you I lift up my soul.

Rescue me from my enemies, O LORD,
for I hide myself in you.

Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God;
may your good Spirit
lead me on level ground.

For your name's sake, O LORD, preserve my life;
in your righteousness, bring me out of trouble.

In your unfailing love, silence my enemies;
destroy all my foes,
for I am your servant.

So what are the unshakeable foundations in David’s life that have withstood these terrible trials? It is his trust in God - “I have put my trust in You,” and “I hide myself in You.”

This proves that it was not a lack of faith in God that led to David’s dire circumstances or depression. In fact, it was his faith in God that SUSTAINED him throughout that dreadful trial.

And so is the case with so many if not most Christians who are suffering from depression and other disabilities such as long term illnesses and handicaps. It is their faith in God that sustains them through such trials, that helps them keep going and not give up when so many others have done so.

My diary has entries very similar to Psalm 143, such as this one:

13th May 1990 -
Boy it is hard, it is so hard.
The deep pain is gone, but I’m still a mess.
This is one difficult road,
And I feel for all those who have had to tread it before me.

The old fears and doubts which swamped me before rise up against me,
But I have found that if I don’t examine and analyse them,
Then they don’t overcome me, I don’t fall.
I try to keep my eyes on Jesus, to trust Him, to rely completely upon Him.

How I long to be normal again,
As I believe this will end one day.
The recovery will be slow, I think.
It needs to be, I couldn't cope with anything instant.
I'm beginning to see some hope for the future, which is good I guess.
But it still seems so distant.

The Bible says to consider it joy to endure trials,
I must say that there has been no joy in this trial.
It defies any previous experience known to me.
But I’ve been forced to trust God when it seems He has abandoned me.
I have been forced to come to a place where I have trusted Him without feeling like doing so.
All I want to do is cry out that He had abandoned me, that He is not faithful.
But He is faithful. And I know that.
He is faithful and true. He is Jesus.

The fact is that depression destroyed my life goals and for a time, turned my life into a living hell. Yet in the midst of that hell I did not walk away from God or give up on Him. Instead, I clung to Jesus like a shipwreck survivor clinging to a life-raft, and He did not let me down. He sustained me, helped me to cope and keep going - even during the blackest phase when I could not feel Him doing so. And then, in His timing, He led me out of that place to greener pastures. And as I continued to trust Him, He used the trial for good, drew me closer to Him, set me free from lifelong anxieties, and helped my faith to grow so that I would be better equipped to deal with future trials.

Now that is faith – trusting in God when our world falls apart. Anyone can say, “I trust in God!” when they are well off, healthy or their life has no problems, but how deep is such faith? Gold is purified by fire and the Bible uses the same analogy regarding the maturing of our faith. Faith grows and matures when tested by the fiery trials that come our way.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:3-9

These judgmental leaders who say, "if you had more faith you would not be depressed, or would not have this or that illness or handicap," are suffering from faulty theology to the extreme! Faith does not prevent us from going through trials - such trials develop our faith.

I would go so far as to say that those Christians who trust in God to sustain them through depression and other disabilities actually have a much stronger and deeper faith than leaders who tell them that they “need to have more faith." The fact is that these accusers have obviously never been through such a trial; otherwise they would have never made the accusation in the first place.

God uses such storms and trials to develop our faith, and this developing of our faith will assist us throughout the rest of our lives.

‘Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.’ James 1:2-4

Honestly, if such people stopping being so aloof, and instead of standing back at a distance and passing judgements, were to get close enough to someone suffering from depression, and upon seeing what they endure on a daily basis and yet continue to trust in God and cling to him, and if these accusers honestly cared about the depth of their own faith, they should fall on their knees and ask, “Please God, put me through such a trial so that I too can have faith like that.”

All verses from the NIV.

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    1. Wow Peter! This is excellent. I was just speaking to someone about this exact issue. And unless people, like us, speak up in truth, the ignorance will continue. So, thank you for this fabulous post!

    2. Oh, Peter, this is so so so so so true. I've heard people say that about those with other chronic diseases as well. It's heartbreaking and causes a whole lot of damage to those who need words of support and encouragement instead. Was wondering when you'd post on this, and I'm glad you did.

    3. Hi Shane and LauraLee, thanks so much for your support. I've been working on this post for the past two-three weeks, but was motivated to finish it after reading this heartbreaking post by Billy Coffey.

      You are so right, LauraLee, leaders should be coming alongside people who deal with chronic diseases and depression and encouraging them, respecting them, supporting them, even learning from them. (And I saw you've posted a beautiful tribute to your amazing mother on your blog, can't wait to pop over to read it in more detail later.)

    4. It is sad that many are preaching watered down faith and many are being deceived? They sound that they are following Christ when it's all about themselves and their own efforts, not of Christ's. I'm glad you wrote about it. God bless.

    5. I could not agree more. I amen each and every word here. This is an excellent post, Peter.

      I never understood depression until I endured it myself. I secretly assumed depressed people had to simply dwell on more positive things, pray more, excercise more, memorize more scripture. Then I became depressed. Like you, I clung to God like never before. Fighting an invisible enemy. And clinging to a God I couldn't hear or feel. It was horrific. And not one of those things worked for me.

      Now, I wish I could scream from the rooftops what you've written. In a sense, I have, on my blog. But so many more need to understand this.

      Keep speaking truth, my friend!!

    6. YES - faith IS trusting Him in the midst of your life falling apart. SO true.

      And I wondered if Billy's post was a motivator for you.

    7. There is so much comfort, understanding in your words. You truly have been there and you are an authentic spokesman to help others who suffer or who are beside those suffering. I have the utmost respect for you and the way you hung on to Jesus in those dark times.

    8. Peter most excellent post!

      Faith is the answer. Blessings dear one!

    9. This reminds me of something another FaithWriter told me once back when I was struggling with anxiety: "Amy, don't ever let anyone tell you that you don't have enough faith. What those people don't realize is that it takes us more faith to get through five minutes than most people use in a week!"

      Beautiful post. Keep up the encouragement. (BTW, there's a new section on the message boards you might want to check out, and maybe even post a link to this article there. It's at the bottom of the "General Discussion" area and is called "Sufficient Grace.")

    10. Hi RCUBEs, you are so right - what is going on today in so many churches is a tragedy. Instead of preaching God's word, it is all about themselves. They twist God's word and ignore so much of it.

      Hey Sandy, thanks for the encouragement. And I'm with you there. Before I went through depression, I had no idea what they were going through, and any advice I would have given them would have fallen short by miles. Thank you for being such an inspiration for the way in which you clung to the Lord during your terrible ordeal. God is using you heaps through your amazing testimony.

      Thanks Joanne. I know you've been there too. With your husband's illness your life 'went south' as well, yet you too persevered in your faith. I've never forgotten the introduction you put in the book you're writing.

      Thanks JBR. Faith is indeed the answer. Without it, we'd sink. God bless you heaps, my friend.

      Thanks for sharing the wonderful advice your FaithWriter friend said to you, Amy, that is so spot on. And thanks for the idea about the FW boards.

    11. I am SOOOO glad that you touched on this Peter. I actually used to tell myself this very thing wondering why my own faith wasn't strong enough to overcome some depression. This is truly an amazing post!! I love it!

    12. This kind of a comment to someone deeply suffering, from a Christian leader can be found on 'the list' of spritual abuse examples. Not to, metion, totally devoid of compassion.

    13. WOW. This is wonderful to hear. No one ever told me it was my lack of faith that led me to have depression and panic attacks. I managed to do it all by myself. I was afraid to let anyone know what was going on in my head because I thought it was all my fault and I couldn't be much of a Christian if this was happening to me. I suffer from PTSD because of things that happened in Northern Ireland during my teens and twenties. I have constant nightmares and feelings of dread, fear and self loathing. Thank you for making me realise this is not my fault.

      1. Dear Anonymous,

        You're welcome, just glad I could help. May I also encourage you to see an psychologist or experienced Christian counsellor about these issues that have been troubling you. If you can get them addressed and dealt with at their roots, you can be set free from them.

        God bless