As we continue to blog through David Murray’s book Christians Get Depressed Too, the first question Murray tackles is, “Why should Christians study depression? He gives us eight reasons:
We should study depression because the Bible speaks about it. Though the Bible doesn’t address every cause and consequence of depression, and though the Bible never states that a certain Bible figure was depressed, there are numerous verses that refer to the cause, consequences and cures of depression and severe anxiety. For example, symptoms of depression can be seen in Moses (Num. 11:14), Hannah (1 Sam. 1:7), and Jeremiah (Jer. 20:14-18). Though we are not told whether these symptoms reflect long-term depression or a valley in someone’s emotional and mental health, the symptoms are still evident. Similarly many of the Psalms reflect a heart that is deeply troubled (Ps. 42:1-3, 9; Ps. 88).
We should study depression because it is so common. One in five people experience depression and one in ten experience a panic attack at some point in their lives. 121 million people worldwide suffer from depression, and it is not uncommon even among professing Christians.
We should study depression because it impacts our spiritual life. Christians are made up of body and soul, but there’s a third aspect that links the two, namely our thoughts and feeling. Because of this, when our body is sick, often our spiritual life and our thinking and feeling processes are affected as well. Likewise, when our spiritual life is in poor condition, our thoughts and feeling are affected, and sometimes our bodily health is too. Murray states, “The depressed believer cannot concentrate to read or pray. As she doesn’t want to meet people, she may avoid church and fellowship. She often feels God has abandoned her” (Kindle Edition, loc. 129).
We should study depression because it may be prevented or mitigated. Murray maintains that many people have a genetic predisposition to depression, which increases their likelihood of suffering from it. In these sorts of cases, a knowledge of other factors that may be involved in causing depression can help prevent it, or at least mitigate it. Others who may not be predisposed can fall into depression in response to a traumatic event. Having strategies to support and encourage those struggling with trauma related depression can help shorten a depressive episode. Knowledge of depression also keeps one from damaging and dangerous misunderstandings that often lead Christians to view psychotropic medication as a lack of faith in God’s grace and healing, rather than a gracious gift from God.
We should study depression because it will open doors of usefulness. A better understanding of depression will allow us to be more useful to those suffering from it. Ministering to those who are depressed in a superficial way is like taking the coat off of someone fighting their way through a blizzard (Kindle Edition, loc. 141): “Whoever sings songs to a heavy heart is like one who takes off a garment on a cold day, and like vinegar on soda (Prov. 25:20).”
We should study depression because it is so misunderstood. Murray rightly maintains that there continues to be, in the church, a terrible stigma attached to depression and this is a result of widespread misunderstanding about the causes of depression, its symptoms, and the available cures. Though some of these misconceptions are understandable because depression is an invisible disease, Christians often wrongly conclude that there’s no problem at all, or that spiritual anemia must be the culprit. Murray, however, maintains, “It is absolutely vital to understand and maintain that while depression usually has serious consequences for our spiritual life, it is not necessarily caused by problems in our spiritual life” (Kindle Edition, loc. 157).
We should study depression because it is a talent to be invested for God. Depression, like all the affliction in our lives, should be viewed as a talent, something that can be invested in such a way that brings benefit to us and others, as well as glory to God. Often it is broken people who are able to minister most effectively to other broken people.
We should study depression because we can all improve our mental and emotional health. Though there are many in the church who don’t suffer from severe, debilitating depression, many do suffer from long-term, low-level depression-anxiety that impacts their physical and spiritual health. Learning sound strategies and techniques to improve their mental health and therefore their bodily and spiritual health would have substantial benefits.
In our next installment, Dr. Murray will consider the attitude and spirit in which a Christian should study depression.