‘You are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you’ (Isaiah 43:4a).
There’s an old legend which tells of a good angel being sent to Satan to take away all of his favorite temptations. After much argument, the devil agreed. But he begged to be allowed to keep the least important of all his temptations.
‘Which is…?’ asked the angel.
Satan shrugged. ‘Depression’, he said.
Satan got his wish, and was allowed to keep depression.
‘Good!’ laughed Satan to himself. ‘In this one gift I have secured all’.
Yes, depression is a difficult condition. It can shatter our zest for life and our faith in Jesus.
Depression is a common problem. So today we would ask, what is depression? What are some of the causes of depression? What are the results of depression? How can we find a way through depression?
I WHAT IS DEPRESSION?
First, what is depression? The word itself means to press down, to sink, to slump. Depression means a reduction in strength, vitality and spirit. It is a mood of hopelessness, inadequacy and failure. One wants to give up on life. Depression is often accompanied by physical symptoms.
Depression is very widespread. One survey showed that 56% of factory workers had suffered from depression in the previous three years. I’m sure all of us know of people who have suffered from depression. Maybe we are one of them.
Many of the great heroes of faith suffered from depression. The great prophet Elijah once told God, ‘It’s too much, Lord. Take away my life; I might as well be dead’ (1 Kings 19:4). Job said, ‘O God, put a curse on the day I was born… I wish I had died in my mother’s womb’ (Job 3:2, 11). Jeremiah said, ‘Cursed the day in which I was born’ (Jer 20:14). King Solomon lamented, ‘I have seen everything that is done under the sun. It’s all a vapor, like trying to catch the wind’ (Eccles 1:14).
These examples give us heart. They show us that depression is not a sign we have lost our faith. Nor should we say that if only a depressed person had faith, they wouldn’t be suffering from depression. Although depression may be painful, it needn’t extinguish faith; and faith can help us in our darkest hour.
II ITS CAUSE
Second, what are some of the causes of depression? One of the greatest causes of depression is loss.
- You lose your boyfriend or girlfriend. You feel down in the dumps. Depression.
- You lose your children as one by one they leave home. After the last one goes, you have a good cry. Depression.
- You lose your best friends when they move elsewhere. You miss them badly. Depression.
- You lose your job; you feel useless. Or you lose your job when you retire. You still find things to do, but you feel empty inside. Depression.
- You lose things from your house after it is burgled. As you walk through the mess, counting all the things that were stolen, a cloud of gloom comes down on you. Someone else has been touching your things. Depression.
- You lose your health. You feel miserable. Your mind gets focused on your ailment. Will I ever feel well again? Depression.
- You lose the respect of your family. You are not appreciated at home. You are treated as a fixture, a piece of furniture. Your children or grandchildren rarely visit you. You feel forgotten, unloved, lonely and passed by. Depression.
- You lose the vitality of a younger life. You are getting old. You can’t get around as you once could. You need a walker. Your hearing is bad. Your eyesight is poor. Your memory is slipping. It takes you twice as long to do even simple jobs. Depression.
- You lose your house. You can’t safely stay there anymore. You have to go into aged care. Depression.
- You lose someone through death. You had a miscarriage, maybe years ago. You think about the child that might have been. You go through a painful divorce. Your spouse dies. Everything is different. The empty space at your table; no one to consult when you have an intimate problem; no one to share your life with. Or maybe you never married and now you’re old. Life has become lonely. Or your best friend dies. Their absence leaves a gaping hole in your life. Depression.
Another major cause of depression is sin. We know what God’s will is. But when we examine our lives we see blunders and failures. There is a huge gap between who we are and who we ought to be; a big gap between what we do and what we ought to do. The devil uses these failures to promote depression.
So loss and sin all cause depression.
III ITS EFFECTS
Third, what are the results of depression? What happens to the person who is depressed? This poem gives us a glimpse of the depressed person.
Surveying an unbelievably messy house,
Piles of laundry,
work undone, and not being able to lift a finger.
Doubting that God cares,
Doubting in my prayers,
Doubting he’s even there.
Depression leads to lethargy. We can’t motivate ourselves to do anything. We sit in our chair or lie on our bed and can’t get up and go.
Depression often leads to self-pity. We feel sorry for ourselves. Then this spreads to anger. We get angry with ourselves and others for the way we think about ourselves. So we may lash out at a victim for no apparent reason at all. Another result of depression is that we give up trying. Depression tells us that we won’t succeed so why bother trying in the first place. It’s no use looking for another job – we won’t get it. It’s no use trying to please our husband or wife, or our parents – they will always find some fault in what we do. It’s no use trying to please the boss – he or she won’t praise me. It’s no use inviting others to church – they won’t listen to us. Thus depression discourages, weakens and paralyses.
Depression often makes us believe things won’t get better. It sees no light at the end of the tunnel. Things will continue as they are or may even get worse. Such a bout of depression makes us sour, unhappy, defeated. It’s a good recipe for driving away friends, which only serves to increase depression as we are left alone.
Depression also affects our health. Bad health can lead to depression, but depression can also lead to bad health. Our appetite may decrease. Our return to health may be slowed. We may be less likely to survive an operation. Indeed, studies in a Sydney hospital showed that 80% of patients who died after surgery were depressed at the time of the operation.
Severe depression can also lead to suicide or attempted suicide. The great hymn writer William Cowper, was one of these. Several times Cowper tried to commit suicide. On one occasion he went to a river to drown himself. But when he reached the river, he found a man seated at the exact place where he intended to end his life. He returned home and threw himself on his knife, but the blade snapped. He then attempted to hang himself, but the rope broke. Yes, depression can be a cruel master.
Depression affects our faith. We may begin to doubt the love of God. The clouds of life block out God and we are no longer warmed by his goodness. Faith can be shattered by deep and constant depression.
Naturally depression also affects hope. The future looks bleak and tasteless. Even the joys of heaven don’t seem all that great. Depression is a serious threat to our standing as children of God.
IV THE REMEDY FOR DEPRESSION AND ITS EFFECTS
Finally, what is the remedy for depression? There’s no use being told, ‘Snap out of it; things aren’t as bad as you think. Or, don’t feel like that; others are a lot worse off than you’.
Drugs and counseling may help. But today I want rather to talk of God’s help for the depressed. God meets us when we are depressed. We would like him to fix things in our lives with a wave of his arm: better health, wealth, a job or new job, great hopes that are fulfilled, patched up relationships. But sometimes God leaves us with his word only. As if to say, ‘My grace is enough for you. When you are weak, my power is doing its best work’ (2 Cor 12:9).
God gently tells us, ‘Yes, you are a sinner, but my Son Jesus took your sin to his cross; Jesus died in your place so you are free from the penalty of sin – death. Jesus rose from the dead and lives in you. Because of Jesus ‘I will remember your sin no more’ (cf Is 43:25). Those sins which weigh you down into depression – forgiven, washed away by the blood of Jesus. More, my Son Jesus has clothed you in his holiness and righteousness. When I look at you I see Jesus. So I am no longer angry with you. I am your loving God. “You are precious in my eyes and honored, and I love you”’.
God’s Word is a powerful antidote against depression. Write some Bible texts and put them on your fridge, or behind the toilet door. Memorise them, and let God speak to you through them, especially when you are down.
The whole 43rd chapter of Isaiah is a wonderful tonic for the depressed. Listen, ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine. When you pass thru the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you … For I am the Lord, your God … I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more’ (Is 43:1-3, 25). Or think of this beautiful verse from Isaiah 32:2, ‘You, O God, are as a hiding place from the wind, and a covering from the storm, as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land’. And in John’s gospel, Jesus says, ‘Believe in the light (me!) while you have it, so that you will be people of the light’ (John 12:36).
So when the gloom of depression begins to cover us, we can look up to God and say, ‘Jesus died and rose to make me your son, your daughter. Through Jesus I am born anew, I am righteous and holy. Through Jesus I can call you Father. And, Father, you call me, yes, me, precious, honored, loved’.
As we reflect on God’s love in Christ, our faith begins to bloom again. We are not alone in this world. We are not forgotten. God is here. And he loves us in Jesus. The causes and results of depression begin to lose their power over us.
Take loss. Whenever we suffer loss, we know that God is with us in the midst of that loss. He reassures us that he is concerned for us. He tells us, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you’ (Heb 13:5). You may lose everything, but you will never lose me. ‘I am with you always to the close of the age’ (Mt 28:20).
Take loss of respect. The whole world may be against us, but God is for us (Rom 8). Our life depends not so much on others as on God, who claims us as his own in Christ. We are God’s precious children, honored and loved by him.
As faith controls our life more and more, our hope will be renewed. We can exult, ‘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’ (1 Pet 1:3). We are baptized! We belong to God! Precious, honored, loved! That’s us!
Depression is also eased if instead of shutting ourselves up we make the effort to visit someone else. Their presence helps to lift depression.
Renewed faith and hope also foster good health, both physical and emotional. Remember, too, that Holy Communion helps us, not only spiritually, but also physically. It gives health to our bodies and emotions too. The early church fathers called the Lord’s Supper ‘the medicine of immortality’. Yes, the gospel of Jesus affects our health. Christians still get sick, of course. But the general rule is true that a healthy faith helps one have a healthy body.
Another remedy for depression is singing. Singing produces a happy heart which then beams its light into our life. Do know which hymn in a worship service is sung the loudest? The last hymn! Not because it is the last one, but because it is sung soon after we have communed. How can we not sing when we have tasted Christ’s body and blood given and shed for the forgiveness of our sins?
Yes, music lifts our spirits. William Cowper, who tried to commit suicide as we heard, was a hymn writer. The love of God raised him from his depression and enabled him to write the hymn, ‘There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Immanuel’s veins, and sinners, plunged beneath that flood, lose all their guilty stains’ (Hymn 68). He also wrote the hymn, ‘God moves in a mysterious way his wonders to perform’ (Hymn 414). What a hymn, written by a man whom God brought out of suicidal depression!
Martin Luther once became depressed. One day he came to breakfast to find his wife Katie dressed in black. Usually she said good morning to him, but this time she said nothing.
Luther asked, ‘What’s wrong?’
Katie announced sadly, ‘God is dead’.
‘Katie, how could you say such a terrible thing? God is not dead, nor does he sleep. Heaven and earth may pass away but God will remain’.
Katie then said, ‘Why do you wake each morning with such a sad expression on your face. You appeared to know God well, but from the expression on your face, God must surely have died’.
She said this with a sad look on her face. Suddenly Luther burst out laughing. ‘You have convinced me, Katie, dear. So, if ever you see me again with a sad face, remind me that God is living and that he will live forevermore. I promise you that I shall try not to appear as sad-faced as a shriveled turnip’.
Depression hits us too from time to time. This doesn’t mean we have no faith. But in Christ depression will not defeat us. Jesus died and rose to forgive our sins and bring us to God the Father. He puts joy in our hearts as he tells us, ‘You are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you’.