Depression and Suffering

depressed-216x300Reformed Theology has spent much time and effort with practical counseling.  Among these counselors is Dr. David Powlison.  Here is a talk he gave at RTS.  Well worth an hour and a half of your time.  You don’t have to agree with RT to profit.  Here are the notes I took while listening:

William Styron in Darkness Visible:  Depression used to be known as melancholia.  Depression describes an economic decline or a rut in the road.  Depression is a true wimp of a word for such a major problem.  Adolf Meyer first assigned the term depression to what was formerly known as melancholia.  The term leaves little trace of malevolence and horrible intensity of what one goes through in such a dreadful and raging experience.  

People like simple explanations and definitive solutions, but depression eludes such a reductionist formula.

Armand Nicolai, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard

    

  • Biological problems can effect mood.  But there are many other causes for depression that are not biological.
  • What goes on neurologically with depression?  Does depression cause neurological changes or is there a biological problem that causes depression (chicken or egg).  Nicolai says that it cannot be known.  Depression is not always biologically determined.

Joseph Glenn Mullin – Prozac Backlash (Harvard professor)

    

  • Antidepressants are less effective and more dangerous if you use them over a long period of time.
  • Placebo effect – 2/3 as effective as the real drugs.
  • 75% of those receiving medication could receive much less than they are taking.

Stephen Hyman (Harvard professor)

   

  • Psychiatrists cannot give people what they really need – meaning, purpose, and relationships.

Christian make the same error.  Is depression sinful?  Is there a place where Scripture reproves sorrow, anguish, and despair?  Does it call these things sin?  The wisdom books gives voice to this experience.  It is an experience of suffering.  The Gospel addresses what is wrong with us (sin) and what is wrong in the world (suffering).

Many of the psalms address this human condition of anguish, heart-ache, and sorrow.  

”Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14)

Immorality is unruliness.  But depression belongs to the fainthearted and the weak.  Sinfulness can be tangled up with suffering, however.  We can fail and experience anguish and guilt.  This is a proper feeling if you’re accurately gauging true offenses.

There is a normal sorrow at betrayal and the destruction of some temporal hope.  But that can lead to suicide and other warped thinking.  It can reveal that we made an idol out of something or someone on this earth.

Depression is hard and messy with not simple explanation or fix.  Job felt great turmoil and great grief.  His sorrow and anguish attended his pursuit of the living God.  He was presumptuous and God corrected him.  There are many causes that are external and internal that lead us into temptation.

The Bible does not weigh all the factors and give you a comprehensive analysis or full explanation.  The Bible doesn’t attempt to give a scientific answer.  The complexity of depression eludes such a cut and dry method of diagnosis.

  • Psalm 31 – sorrow, grief, abandoned, forsaken, despised, desperate; I commit my spirit into your hands
  • Psalm 32 – my body is wasting away
  • Psalm 34 – many afflictions, all my troubles, all my fears – you fill in the details; what are your fears and troubles
  • Psalm 35 – bereavement to my soul
  • Psalm 38 – sick, in pain, crushed, burning, utterly weak
  • Psalm 40 – evils surround me, evils overcome me, my heart fails me
  • Psalm 42-43 – Why are you cast down, O my soul?  Why are you disquieted within me?

Go through whatever you have to in life in order to get to Jesus.

Psalm 25 – 

It’s ironic that David dealt treacherously without cause (Bathsheba and Uriah).  People dealt with him treacherously and without cause as well.  “Lord, when you think about me, remember Yourself.”  
Read Psalm 25 carefully.

Many do not see God in their struggle.  Many do not see their sin and idolatry.  Along with the struggle, you must see God’s invitation out of it.  Psalm 25 has three things that many sufferers do not have:

  1. No awareness of sinfulness
  2. No Lord – therefore not teaching on mercy and love
  3. No faith with any kind of substance to it

However, their are a number of things that tugs at the sufferer in the person:

  1. Acute sensitivity to the beauty of creation
  2. Camaraderie and fellowship with other believers; pleasure
  3. Great valuing of Christian friends
  4. Impulse to get straightened out spiritually – can be unformed but the longing or sense is there
  5. Responsive to the candor of another
  6. Awareness of weakness and essential need

Eight Questions Creating Direct Linkages into Ministry:

  1. Do I need help?  We need awareness that we need it.  One gives it and another receives it.  God gives it through believers.
  2. Do I trust you?  It’s hard to trust people.  But God is to be trusted.  The only one who is truly trustworthy is God.
  3. Will I be honest with you?
  4. Do you understand me?  Have you gotten enough into my life that you truly understand what I’m going through.  God understands us for certain.  God is merciful and filled with lovingkindness.  He is willing to teach sinners to walk in His ways.  Christ both suffered and gives aid to those who suffer.
  5. Will the person listen?
  6. Will the person take to heart what you are saying?
  7. Will the person act?  Faith must move to love.  Small obediences …one step at a time.  What is the next right step right now?
  8. Will I persevere?  Will one thing lead to the next thing?  

L

Live in a dark hole or a wide world?  You can move from one to another through Jesus Christ.  It’s more than feeling better.  It’s about getting to Jesus Christ.  God gives us His Word and lends us His ears in Psalm 25 (Bonhoeffer).  The Holy Spirit blesses fruitful sowing of the Word of God – careful listening and good questions.

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