Home Page | Calendar | Forums | Login | Turn Images On |
Home > Christian Life > Christian Survival Resource

Depression and the Christian (1)

Jesus said that He those who were to follow him would enjoy life in all its fulness (John 10:10).  In this context should Christian disciples suffer from depression. Johan Tangelder has written on the subject.

Ed preface:
Dr. Martyn Llloyd-Jones is one of the best-known preachers of yesteryear. Yet the great preacher who was also trained as a medical doctor suffered from depression and delivered a series of sermons on the subject.  These have since been published in a book entitled 'Spiritual Depression; its causes and cure'. The following is a short essay by a Dutch-born pastor on the subject.
-----------------------

"Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God; For I shall yet praise him, Who is the help of my countenance, and my God."

Psalm 42:11

Spiritual Depression

by Rev. Johan D. Tangelder

Is it possible for a Christian to be depressed? Years ago a Pentecostal lady asked if she could talk to me about some of her problems. I asked of course why she did not want to confide in her own pastor. She told me that her pastor had said to her that born again Christians should have no spiritual or emotional problems. They should be able to sing, "I am happy all the day." So I listened to her story. I mentioned to her that every Christian has problems at one time or another. There is nothing so misleading as to give the impression that the moment you believe and are converted, all your troubles are overcome and you will never have another problem in your life. We must realize that there are general problems which are common to all Christians and common to the whole of life simply because we are human beings and Christians in addition. We are not immune to what happens round about us. If we assume that the Christian life means only coming to Christ and we will never have any worry in the whole of our life, we are harbouring a terrible fallacy. In fact it is a delusion. In Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure, Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones comments: "If you never had any trouble in your Christian life I should very much doubt whether you are a Christian at all. From the moment we become Christians we become the special objects of the attention of the devil."

The Darkness of the Soul

Some Christians may go through a period of spiritual darkness, sometimes called 'the darkness of the soul'. They ask desperately, "How can I know that I am truly a child of God?" They are not usually asking to be reminded that they are saved by grace through faith. They know that. They are asking how they can know that their faith is real. It will be a great advantage to the struggling Christians to remember that struggles are normal in the Christian life. In Psalm 40:1-3 David tells about his experience with spiritual darkness. It is as if David had fallen into a deep, dark well and plunged into the lifethreatening mud.

There was one other time when David wrote about this kind of experience. He cries out to God, "Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me" ( Ps. 69:1-2). In these verses he expresses his helplessness and desperation. In When I don't' Desire God. How to Fight for Joy, John Piper observes, "There are times when our faith is the size of a mustard seed and barely visible. In fact the darkest experience for the child of God is when his faith sinks out of his own sight. Not out of God's sight, but his. Yes, it is possible to be so overwhelmed with darkness that you do not know if you are a Christian - and still be one."

Deserted by God

In the Christian life one often finds variations in feelings and sentiments. One matter that often troubles and perplexes God's people is the feeling of desertion. A Christian may find that for some reason or another, the closeness with God he has been enjoying, suddenly comes to an end. No matter how diligent he seeks God, He seems nowhere to be found. And he says with Job: "O that I knew where I might find Him." He prays but the door of heaven seems slammed shut. He wonders, "Does God really hear me?" The Bible, once a source of strength, has little to say. God seems to have withdrawn Himself.

The Dutch leader of the Second Reformation, Gisbertus Voetius (1589-1676) describes this spiritual condition as "an inner cross or a spiritual sorrow and trial as a result of which a person, now being truly converted to God, fails to feel his or her heart's delight in God and divine things. It results from the darkening of one's assurance and clarity with respect to appropriation by a personal faith." But this is not an unusual experience. God undoubtedly at times seems to withdraw Himself and hide His face from us.

This is the great theme of the book of Job. As Job was tested, God may test us by withdrawing from us the sense of His consoling grace and fatherly favour. We should remember that the true subjects of spiritual desertion are believers. Even in the spiritual darkness God does not abandon us. He is for us. He will sustain us.

Spiritual Trials

Christians should not be surprised by trials in their walk with God. According to the Scriptures the more we seek to come closer to the Lord Jesus Christ in our life and living, the more likely we are to meet troubles in the world. The world in its heart of hearts hates Christ and it hates Christians. Someone wrote, not without good reason, "Let this be a sign to you that when you are advancing on the road to the city of the King and are coming closer, that you will undergo the greatest temptations; the further you go, the greater the temptations. Because God does not give great gifts without great temptations."
We must not be surprised when God chastises us. The argument in Hebrews 12:10 is as strong as this. "God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness." The apostle Peter wrote, "You may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith - may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed" (1 Peter 1:6,7). That is the theme of all the Scriptures. Indeed, it is particularly the theme of the last book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation. Storms and trials are allowed by God.

We must start by understanding that we may well find ourselves in a position in which our faith is going to be tried. Difficulties and suffering make us face up to wrong attitudes, values and goals in life. Times of loss or frustration, may be times of spiritual change and growth.

Guilt Feelings

We must take objective guilt seriously. A Christian can be plagued with feelings of guilt. He searches his mind to find some un-confessed sin. He gets depressed by dwelling on past sins. He prays to the Lord to show him his sin and his disobedience, and when the Lord does not lay His finger on some wilful sin he continues his own unrelenting self scrutiny. Or he decides he never was a Christian or that he had committed the unpardonable sin. There is a self-examination, which is desirable and profitable. But we must understand the difference between true guilt and guilt feelings. Remember that if there is a sin in depression it's connected with not accepting forgiveness, rather than not asking for it.
Un-confessed sin can lead to the darkness of the soul. We quench the joy of fellowship with God when we refuse to confess our offences. This is powerfully expressed in Ps. 32. David had sinned grievously and his adultery with Bathsheba had been covered up, but God had seen it and David's conscience was not clear. He recalls the misery of it all. "When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me” (Ps. 32:3-4). The apostle Peter related this to marriage and said that if a husband sins against his wife, his prayers will be hindered (1 Pet. 3:7). Like bitterness and resentment, guilt can eat into hearts and cause psychological and physical problems.
Some Christians fear that they are not good enough. They reach for perfection. There is a deep-seated sense that either they can make themselves good enough for God by their own efforts, or they deserve some punishment for justice to be done. They are very self-critical. They set for themselves unreasonable high standards and struggle to reach impossible goals. They are more vulnerable to depression and self-defeat. This perfectionism is sometimes inherited, sometimes learned from parents, and is sometimes a way of coping with insecurity. The fact is that being a Christian does not mean that you are perfect.

Some Christians are continually burdened by a deep sense of sinfulness. They say, "I am not good enough. God will not accept me the way I am." But they will never be good enough. The essence of Christian salvation is to say that the Lord is good enough and that I am in Him. Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones comments, "As long as you go on thinking about yourself and saying: 'I am not good enough; I am a sinner, a great sinner,' you are denying God and you will never be happy."

In summary, spiritual depression can emerge from a failure to appreciate the completeness of God's forgiveness. The glory of the Gospel is that God does forgive even the most terrible sin. David was forgiven for adultery and murder and his famous prayer in Psalm 51 has been used by many Christians when they have come to their senses after doing things which they thought might bring them some happiness and satisfaction but later realized were terribly wrong.

The Attention of the Devil

One continuing element in a Christian's life is the unremitting attention of Satan. He will attempt to accentuate the sin in such a way as to cast doubt on the forgiveness of God. But it is not fashionable in our time to mention the role of Satan in spiritual depression. The idea of demonic forces is viewed as a relic from Medieval times.

While the supernatural is denied by the ‘secular intelligentsia’, all the major bookstores feature large sections with books about astrologers, mediums and occult power. And for commonplace leisure activity many dabble in seances, spiritual healing, parapsychology and black magic. But the demonic is real. Satan is always at work trying to lead Christians astray, to destroy the work of God in their lives and to wreak confusion and havoc in society. Voetius observed: "Diabolic temptation occurs when the devil (especially called the tempter, Matt. 4:3) opposes people, either externally with his agitations and torments or internally with his evil promptings, to bring them to unbelief, despair, disobedience, and all kinds of sins."

We must not forget the existence of the devil, the adversary of our souls. In the New Testament, in many places, illness is clearly distinguished from demon possession (Matt. 4:24, Mark 6:13, Luke 6:17-19, Acts 19:11-12). Those who were not demonpossessed were not healed by exorcism or binding of spirits.

There is no Scriptural evidence for saying that the manifestations of demon activity - the activity of evil spirits - came to an end in the apostolic era. The Reformers, therefore, took seriously the activity of demons. Luther testified about himself, "We are all doing well, except Luther himself; being healthy in body, he is tried externally by the whole world and internally by the devil and all his angels."

Today the work of the demonic is still real. And Satan who, though he cannot rob us of our salvation, can definitely rob us of our joy. And it is cruel and harmful to tell someone in the depth of depression that he/she is possessed by a demon unless there is very clear evidence of such activity. We need the timely reminder of C. S. Lewis: "There are two equal and opposite errors into which our face can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. And the other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors."

Satan is anxious that we remain confused. He constantly seeks to lead us on a wrong path, away from God. His most common way of working with us as individuals is described by C. S. Lewis in The Screwtape Letters when Uncle Screwtape, the senior devil, gives his young pupil Wormwood very practical advice about exploiting times of depression in the ‘trough periods of life’.

The Good News

But this is the good news. Although the devil and his forces try to make life miserable for Christians, we can overcome them in the power of the Holy Spirit. We are Good Friday and Easter Christians. When we look at the Cross and the empty tomb, we can see not only the relentless tragedy of human suffering but also a complete victory and triumph. The victory over Satan has already been won. On that foundation of a triumph already won by Christ the lives of the first Christians were built. This is the good news of the Gospel. God sent Christ into the world to die for our spiritual blindness, pay for its penalty, and absorb the wrath it deserves.

Because of Christ's shed blood for our sins, the devil cannot destroy those who are in Christ. The reason is that his accusations are no longer valid. The cross obtained complete forgiveness. The promises of Christ are not empty. Suffering, whether physical or mental, cannot separate the Christian from Christ (Rom. 8:18-25). What are we? Forgiven. We are reconciled to God by the Blood of His Son on the Cross. We are glory bound. All these truths show that the great antidote to spiritual depression is the knowledge of Bible doctrine, Christian doctrine. We must remind ourselves of God, Who God is, and what God has done.

The Community of Saints

Christians who experience the darkness of the soul need the warm embrace of the church community. But this is easier talked about than done. It is sad to see many Christians today whose relationships are so superficial that they have to pay to relate to somebody on a deeper level whether it be psychiatrist, counsellor or therapy group. Of course, the essential task to the church is to restore men and women to the right relationship with God. But it is high time that the Church restores the Biblical perspective of church membership because we live in a day when people shun responsibility and accountability. We are the family of God. We are called to encourage fellow church members in the faith, seek their welfare. The church should make sure it looks after the depressed it will have within its community.

The Psalms

What help does the Bible offer when we walk through a dark valley of despair? We can turn to the psalms. They have always been a great source of solace and encouragement to God's people throughout the centuries. The psalmists often referred to the heights and the depths they had experienced. The fourth century church father, Athanasius, noted: "All God's Scripture certainly teaches virtue and true faith, but the Book of Psalms is like a mirror in which one observes the condition of the soul."

One psalmist wrote, "Why are you downcast, o my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God" (Ps. 42:11). (See note 3 below.) While the psalmist was deeply troubled, he reminded himself of the true perspective on life. When everything seemed to be going against him and could not see things very clearly, he clung onto the Lord Whom had been his real source of hope in the past – the only One who had a true perspective on his situation – God.
Johan D. Tangelder
March, 2006

See also related article: 'Depression and the Christian (2)'

Footnotes:
1. Rev. Johan D. Tangelder (1936 - 2009) was born, in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. In 1954 he immigrated to Canada with his family and became a Canadian citizen in 1959. In 1995, after almost forty years as a minister in Canada and missionary in the Philippines, health problems forced Rev. Johan Tangelder to step down from the pulpit. He continued to write and teach even larger numbers than he did through his preaching until the time of his homecall.
2. Use of pen-names. Given the nature of the above subject, anyone posting a response to this article is free to use a psuedonym; but if doing so, please use only one. Thank you.
3. The book Spiritual Depression: its causes and cures (Rev. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones) is a classic on the subject.The series of sermons which the book contains is based on Ps. 42:11.

(Author: Johan D. Tangelder)

See feedback for this article


Articles in this group

An 'exchange of views' on the Pre-trib rapture
During the 'QnA' session with Tony Higton on endtime events Donald Cameron responded at length with rebuttals to Tony's writings to which Tony has replied. (Author: Donald Cameron / Tony Higton)

Deception in a Dumbed-down environment
Our fast-food culture could be robbing Christian believers of the ability to discern between truth and error. (Author: The Editor)

Of the Spirit or not?
During his lifetime Derek Prince wrote on the subject of phenomena in the church and the need for discernment under the title: 'Uproar in the church'. (Author: Derek Prince)

Will there be a sudden, secret Rapture?
A highly-influential interpretation of Scripture evolved in the mid 19th century teaching that believers will –without warning – be removed from the earth prior to Jesus return. But is it scriptural? (Author: Tony Higton)

Sound Doctrine for the Remnant; a resource for believers
A free 'Christian library' resource offering teaching material on DVDs and CDs. The ministry aim is to strengthen 'the Remnant' in the days in which we live. (Author: Christians Together)

Is the church heading underground?
With increasing pressures from new legislation and growing constraints on freedom of speech, how will Christians and churches respond? (Author: Christians Together)

What to look for in a church
As more and more believers are finding that existing church structures, practices and teachings are inadequate and/or flawed it is important to examine some basic characteristics of meeting together. (Author: Christians Together)

What we are not hearing from God's Word
Joel Rosenberg offers some notes on prophecy and eschatology; subjects which he believes are vital and yet not being widely taught. (Author: Joel Rosenberg)

Peter made the connection: we must do the same
When the Holy Spirit fell at Pentecost, the The apostle Peter ‘joined up the dots’ between that event and its relationship to God’s prophetic word. The same perspicacity is vital in our day. (Author: Christians Together)

Christians are being robbed of their faith
Cessationist teaching is robbing Jesus’ disciples of a fully-orbed faith and can result in Christians turning towards dangerous ‘remedies’ on health issues. (Author: Watchman)

Study Bibles: danger handle with care!
A Study Bible can be a very useful and convenient tool in exploring the Word of God. However there is a very real and unavoidable danger when using one. (Author: Christians Together)

When Jesus Returns
Every believing Christian holds the view that Jesus is to return. The 'when' is beyond question: only God knows. However the how and why attract a range of views. (Author: The Editor)

The (Coming) Millennium
A chapter extract from an excellent little booklet entitled 'The Coming Saviour and The World's Crisis' by a Scottish lay preacher and former City Missions' Superintendent. (Author: William H. Shanks)

Satellite Christian TV - Blessing or Danger?
With the spread and reach of Christian TV broadcasting we need to ask the question whether all that we see and hear is trustworthy an true. (Author: Christians Together)

Putting a stop to Cessationism
The Gifts of the Holy Spirit has, and continues to be a subject of much controversy, mis-understanding and abuse. In a day when the Christian church needs to be all the God intends for her, Ray Borlase defends his corner. (Author: Ray Borlase)

Clericalism is killing the church
While there are many sincere and conscientious believers in pulpits who are labouring diligently in their calling, the unbiblical clergy/laity divide is killing the church. (Author: Watchman)

Occult spirits in the church?
A mature believer writes of his exposure to 'bizarre behaviour' in the church; and of leaders who ignored the warnings and silenced the expressed concerns. (Author: DN: a personal testimony)

I will set a Plumb Line amongst My People
When the foundations are faulty it is pointless to fiddle with the superstructure. The problem needs to identified and remedied before the building can be soundly restored. (Author: )

It's right to allow calls to gay ministers
Amongst all the hoo-ha surrounding the Church of Scotland’s decision on gay clergy, the folk of Queen’s Cross were and are – at one level – totally within their rights to call Scott Rennie. (Author: Christians Together)

Once saved; always saved
The 'Platypus Challenge' series kicks off with the question: 'Once saved; always saved'? (Author: The Editor)

What is Next for Rick Warren?
Roger Oakland sees the drive for 'peace and unity' as the bait which will draw Christian churches and believers into a multi-faith mix. (Author: Roger Oakland)

Q 'n' A sessions after Sunday sermons?
The apostle Paul advised his audience to 'check him out'. Surely contemporary preaching should be subject to the same scrutiny? (Author: Christians Together)

Sexuality, eschatology, Israel: and falling leaves
A recent letter from a believer outlined these issues as important when looking for a spiritual home amongst the range of churches and denominations. They are vital issues in our day. (Author: Christians Together)

Countering the Insider Movement: a new film
The newly-released film 'Half Devil: Half Child' is a response to the tendency to compromise God's Word in order to reach those of different religions and cultures. (Author: Christians Together)

Voting: the great church splitter
‘One person; one vote’ may be the preferred option in a democratic situation but it has no place in the body of Christ. (Author: Christians Together)

Facts about Islam
Dr. Peter Hammond outlines the normative progression of Islamic influence and behaviour in countries in relation to the demographic statistics. (Author: Christians Together)

Ten things everyone needs to know about Islam
Dr. Emil Caner sets out some of the basic facts regarding what is by some, judged the fastest-growing religion on the planet. (Author: Dr. Emil Caner)

Obstacles to Spiritual Growth: An Overview
An introductory session to a 6-part teaching course on the 'blockages' and difficulties which disciples of Jesus face in the road to maturity and righteousness. (Author: Christians Together)

The Platypus Challenge
A previous article related to those ‘awkward’ (Platypus) verses which do not fit comfortably within some traditional theological frameworks. This present article sets out a mechanism to address the issue(s). (Author: The Editor)

Platypus Verses
Every belief system has its pet doctrines and dogmas; but some of these need to be challenged. The exception proves – or disproves– the rule. (Author: Christians Together)

Wycliffe Woes
The problems afflicting Wycliffe Bible Translators (WBT) are continuing to run over the concerns that basic words such as ‘Father’ and ‘Son’ have been removed in order not to offend Muslims are growing. (Author: Christians Together)

To whom it may concern
With whole denominations moving into open rebellion against God and His Word, believers are being left shaken and unsure of how to respond. (Author: The Editor)

Truth, error and deception
The world with its deceptions and error is a dangerous place for any Bible-believing Christian to be: sometimes it is even more dangerous in the church. (Author: Watchman)

Will the church be all-conquering before Jesus comes back?
Two different and opposite theological systems both see the church as coming to assume a dominant position over the nations; but is this view biblical? (Author: Al Dager)

Something biblical; or just more of the same?
In the present collapse within society and within the church there is great potential: the potential for rebuilding from the foundations or merely seeking to restore that which has failed. (Author: Christians Together)

Rick Warren builds bridge to Islam
Al Dager of Media Spotlight magazine looks at the issue of compromised faith as 'America's Pastor' Rick Warren works towards syncretism with Islam. (Author: Al Dager)

Passion Week/Last Supper/Traditions
Chris Hill speaking on the events of Passion Week. He speaks on the Last Supper and the nature of that meal, the question of which day was Jesus crucified and touches on the problem of 'traditions' (Author: Chris Hill / Christians Together)

Are we really caring for one another?
Has the body of Christ succumbed to the common view that the primary provider of welfare and care for believers is the secular state rather than the church of God's people? (Author: The Editor)

Reformation document is damaging the church
A document drawn up by the Westminster Parliament in the 17th century has profoundly influenced the Reformed churches since that date; biblical in part only, it is severly damaging the church today. (Author: The Editor)

Reformation; Sacraments; Babies and Bathwater
Subsequent to the ecclesiastical upheavals of the 15/16th centuries, many Christians who are sick today are turning to highly-dangerous spiritual practices. (Author: Christians Together)

Off Message: attacks from the inside?
Lost in Translation? Modern user-friendly Bible versions; or paraphrases; or corruptions of God's Word? You choose. (Author: Berean Research Institute)

Depression and the Christian (2)
Depression is a problem from which Christians are not immune. However the response to and 'treatment' of the malady should be markedly different from those of the secular world. (Author: Christians Together)

Prophecy fulfilled: rumours of wars arising
Much of the prophetic passages relating to future events have been reduced to the point of meaninglessness leaving the body of Christ weakened and unprepared. This article seeks to speak into that void. (Author: Wilfred Hahn: Eternal Values Review)

A situation; a request
A recent letter to Christians Together sets out a situation and makes a request. Perhaps you can help; or maybe you are in the same situation. (Author: Letter to Christians Together)

What shape the church?
With the failures – in a variety of forms – within much of institutionalised churchianity many believers are now looking critically at a range of underlying issues. (Author: Steve Taylor)

Leaven in the lump, and tares amongst wheat
The parable of the wheat and the tares is sometimes mistakenly offered as a biblical justification for the resigned acceptance of error in the church. The problem has an ancient root. (Author: Unknown)

When everything shakes, in whom do we trust?
Widespread error and apostasy across the spectrum of organised churchianity has caused many believers to question of what or whom to trust. (Author: Christians Together)

David Pawson's Fireside Chats
In a completely new venture David Pawson is broadcasting 'Fireside Chats' with the fist focussing on the riots in Britain in 2011. (Author: Christians Together)

Don't read this...
Warning: clicking on this link could result in damage to your status, raise your blood pressure, cause your knee to jerk and challenge a lot of what you have been taught (Author: Watchman)

Is there anything wrong with Rob Bell's gospel?
J. Lee Grady suggests tha the controversial book 'Love Wins' by very popular author Rob Bell celebrates God's love but drifts dangerously into Universalism. (Author: J. Lee Grady)

The 'Left Behind' doctrine relaunched
With a fanfare of publicity the 'mega best-selling' Left Behind series of books is being re-launched.The question is whether today's Christians are taking their doctrine from their Bibles or from popular fiction. (Author: Christians Together)

Christian Survival Resource
A section of the Christians Together website aimed at being a resource for Christians in the 21st Century facing church fragmentation and false teaching. (Author: )

Kingdom Now teaching: beware!
With many movements it is difficult to define exactly what they are and believe. This article is a recent example of what Kingdom Now theology teaches. (Author: Example of Heresy)

Thank God: someone has said it at last
It is very very sad that it needs to be said. It's also very sad that no one has said it before. It's only an American who could say it: at last someone has.. (Author: J Lee Grady)

Kundalini spirits in the church?
Andrew Strom has expressed strong concerns about what he sees as the worst invasion in church history of deceiving spirits into the body of Christ. (Author: Christians Together)

The Shack; huge help or subtle heresy
In our microwave dumbed-down culture are enquirers and Christians helped or led into heresy by the easy-read attractions of 'Christian' novels and allegories? (Author: Watchman)

The 'Emerging' Church and Straw Men
The (so-called) Emerging Church presents a confusing picture, and offers huge possibilities for misunderstandings as Christians debate 'church in the 21st century'. (Author: Christians Together)

Disarming of The Church
“Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom in Europe." The words of a 18th-century politician with relevance for the church of the 21st century (Author: John Green)


© 2014 Christians Together High Accessibility Version. (Full Graphics Version)