Depression and the Grace of God

God’s grace goes deep. Really deep.  This means we can be really, really honest with ourselves. So when things hit the wall, when depression or confusion or any other debilitating form of suffering is, um, debilitating us, we can be honest.

I think this is harder than it seems though. Many Christians think that the opposite of honesty is faith. The brutally honest are condemned as unfaithful. Honest=unfaithful. And depression, in my non-medical-but-experience-based definition, is when honesty burns down the house of artificiality we have been comfortably living in. So, the depressed are the unfaithful.

This is a crap definition of faith, though. Faith is not telling lies. Faith is believing truth. Faith is believing the scandalous proclamation that God loves you, even in your depression. This type of faith makes God quite big, so be warned. Only a big God can love you on the days when you are so blinded by your suffering that you don’t know how to begin to love him or others.

If we can’t be honest about our frustration with life, then we will always be superficial about our love for the gospel. Honesty is a good thing. Christianity doesn’t prohibit honesty.

But we young Christians can’t burn out, hit the wall, or curse loudly, without the voice of some former youth pastor ringing in our heads: “Don’t be ungrateful. Glorify God in all your thoughts. Don’t be unfaithful!”

Depression will drain its victim of all their energy. And artificiality requires a lot of energy. Honesty, though, requires very little effort, but a little bit of bravery. Bravery that even in our messiness, the gospel is still true. The brave proclamation that Jesus is greater than our pain.

An old pastor wrote a book. This old pastor has been depressed a few times in his life. He gets it. Steve Brown writes:

When it hurts, don’t run. Go there and probe it until it hurts so bad that only Jesus can fix it.

And later…

Trying harder doesn’t work. You should know that by now. Becoming more religious will only magnify the problem. Being disciplined and making a commitment will, more often than not, cause you to “hit the rocks of reality”; and your efforts, in the end, will turn to dust. Pretending is stupid. At some point, you will slip up and be shamed. And reading the latest book on making an impact, changing your world, or being driven by a purpose (as good as those things can be) will probably drive you nuts. You will only feel guiltier. Motivational advice, biblical directives, challenges, and resolutions are dogs that simply won’t hunt anymore.

Oh my, is he getting a bit too honest? If people knew all this, I think we would not have wasted so many hours feeling guilty after reading popular evangelical books that ignore our suffering and highlight our strength (…that isn’t there).

Tullian Tchividjian – pastor of a small church in Florida – reminds us that we don’t need to artificially construct a fake narrative of our lives. We don’t have to pretend that our suffering is somehow going to make us stronger and better. We don’t have to run from our suffering by calling it a learning experience. Maybe that is true, but depression – when you’re in it – sure as hell doesn’t feel productive. Tullian writes:

God is not interested in what you think you should be or feel. He is not interested in the narrative you construct for yourself, or that others construct for you. He may even use suffering to deconstruct that narrative. Rather, He is interested in you, the you who suffers, the you who inflicts suffering on others, the you who hides, the you who has bad days (and good ones). And He meets you where you are. Jesus is not the man at the top of the stairs; He is the man at the bottom, the friend of sinners, the savior of those in need of one. Which is all of us, all of the time.

When your honesty makes you realize you are at the bottom, remember that Jesus meets you there. Honestly.

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