Christians Get Depressed TooTuesday, August 16, 2011
One of my favorite Christian leadership conference moments to date is an interaction I once saw between John MacArthur and John Piper. The details are a bit hazy, but if memory serves me correct, they were participating in a panel discussion and the moderator asked them about depression. Piper described some of the darkest hours of his life and ministry, saying that for a long period of time—months or years—he wept every day. Then it was MacArthur’s turn to speak and he said, “I’ve never been depressed for a day in my life.” It was a practical statement, I think, devoid of any kind of judgment. It was simply the truth. I may not remember it perfectly, but it happened something like that. And it set in stark contrast how two men, both used mightily by the Lord, can have such different experiences and such different dispositions.
Christians get depressed too. This statement may seem a wee bit trite, but it’s an important message and one Christians need to hear. Too many people have been taught that Christians—true Christians, good Christians, real Christians—don’t get depressed or that depression is always the outworking of serious sin. This heaps guilt and anguish upon those who are already suffering mental or emotional pain. Is my depression a result of a sin I’ve committed against God? Is there a sin I need to confess to make it all go away? Am I even a Christian? With the anguish comes stigma so that those who suffer so often suffer in silence, afraid and ashamed to admit what they are going through. Many Christians sympathize with physical pain but roll their eyes at emotional pain.
The message at the heart of David Murray’s little book about depression is all in the title—Christians Get Depressed Too. This message is remarkably liberating. Immediately it clears away so many of the dangerous and unhelpful misconceptions. We wouldn’t want this to give license to wallow in depression, but we would want it to allow us to see and believe and understand that for many people depression is to the fallen mind what illness is to the fallen body. The book follows a simple six-chapter structure:
The Crisis - A list of eight reasons that we ought to study this topic.
The Complexity - The attitude and the spirit Christians should maintain when they study this topic. Here Murray asks Christians to avoid extremes and to pursue balance while also avoiding dogmatism and seeking humility.
The Condition - In this chapter Murray defines depression and offers a list of ways in which it may work itself out in life.
The Causes - In what may be the most important chapter in the book, Murray discusses the varying causes of depression.
The Cures - There are many ways to cure depression. To answer the question everyone is asking, Murray recommends the careful and measured use of medication in some circumstances.
The Caregivers - How friends and family members and pastors are to care for those who are depressed.
I believe this book’s greatest strength is its liberating message that depression does not need to be a source of shame and that it should not carry a taboo that causes those who suffer from it to hide away in shame. At the same time, it should not cause other people to respond with shock or scolding or judgment. Murray does a good job of aligning depression—mental or emotion suffering—with the physical suffering we all encounter in life. Though it may be caused by sin or aggravated by sin, we must not allow ourselves to assume that this is always the case.
Another strength is the book’s measured, pastoral tone. Too much writing on this subject falls prey to broad strokes and sweeping judgments. Murray makes it clear that he is no stranger to depression; he has faced it in his ministry and “among friends and some of those I love most in this world.” This leads him to speak carefully, to speak sensitively, and to use nuance where nuance is warranted. The person who is dealing with depression, with anxiety or with panic attacks will find sympathy and hope in the words of this book and in the gospel message it depends upon.
Weighing in at just 100 pages, Christians Get Depressed Too is short enough that it can be read by those who are suffering; where a 200 or 300 page book may be too much, this one is short and accessible and urgent. It is also a valuable read for those who are trying to help friends or family members who are dealing with depression. It’s just the kind of book that is the right size and the right price to purchase a few to keep on hand, ready to give away—and I pretty much guarantee the opportunity will present itself before long. It will prove a valuable resource for the pastor or counselor or pretty much everyone else. I highly recommend it.