For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.
Eph 6:12, NASB
Major depressive illness affects nearly 7% of the U.S. population each year. According to the World Health Organization, it is the biggest cause of disability worldwide. It is a brain disease, a medical illness related to psychological stress and genetic predisposition, causing multiple symptoms that can be severe and life threatening.
Besides the pain of anxiety, hopelessness, suicidal thoughts, isolation, and the inability to have positive and hopeful thoughts, there is another, even more insidious destructiveness to this illness. Depression makes you feel responsible for and in control of your depressive suffering. It leads the afflicted to accept the blame for their pain. During depressive illness, even for the smartest and wisest sufferer, perception and judgement is altered. This is the scariest part of any mental illness. Depression leads to thoughts that you alone can change the suffering. It convinces you that it’s your failure that led you to these feelings. Although you can choose to ask for help and get treatment, depression encourages you to resist help from others, and masks the illness process.
With other medical symptoms, such as the sudden onset of chest pain signaling a heart attack, one is immediately alerted to the need for urgent medical care. On the other hand, depression causes “emotional blindness.” It makes you resist others who may love and care for you. Trusting a loved one and consulting a doctor or pastor can be the way to healing. Depression leads away from these connections and encourages isolation.
Viewing the effects of depression in a spiritual context, it transforms life into a bondage of lies. As Ephesians 6:12 describes the struggle with evil and darkness on earth, so depression prevents the ability to feel God’s presence and love. The ability to reach out in relationship is difficult at a time when you need it most.
Besides enlisting the best professional psychiatric and psychologic help you can obtain, healing depression requires two spiritual elements:
1. For the one suffering: search for faith and hold onto your hope despite the loss of feelings. Remember that God is still here, and that hope, grace and love exist. Push yourself to connect. If anyone in your life is trustworthy, trust those who give freely, without strings, and surrender to loving help. Allow yourself to receive.
2. For the church community and support system around the sufferer: don’t be like Job’s friends, who didn’t understand Job’s suffering, but were quick to judge him. Don’t add to the dark thoughts of blame and condemnation, but be informed, loving helpers, enable and assist appropriate professional treatment, provide helps and prayer, encourage hope and faith in God’s redemption, restoration and healing.
As we “bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ,” we are part of that redemptive process.
There is no magic avoidance of pain and suffering in this life. We are called to have faith that we have a God who loves and heals us, and will never leave us in darkness. We claim the only God who promises restoration and redemption. We are drawn to that light.