“As to mental maladies, is any man altogether sane? Are we not all a little off the balance? Some minds appear to have a gloomy tinge essential to their very individuality; of them it may be said, ‘Melancholy marked them for her own;’ fine minds withal, and ruled by noblest principles, but yet most prone to forget the silver lining, and to remember only the cloud.”
To many people of faith, the preceding paragraph may border on heresy to their sensibilities. That “gloomy tinge” should not exist in a mind set on the joy and peace of Jesus Christ. Remembering “only the cloud” runs counter to admonitions to command your downcast soul to praise the Lord at all times. “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” Right?
What heretic uttered these blasphemous words? None other than Charles Spurgeon, the “Prince of Preachers.” Spurgeon did not just have his down days; he suffered from bouts of full-blown depression. “My spirits were sunken so low that I could weep by the hour like a child, and yet I knew not what I wept for,” he once said. He described his depression as his “worst feature” and spoke of how he was “heartily ashamed” of it. He also firmly believed, though, that “there is no remedy for it like a holy faith in God.”
To be a Christian with depression is often an uphill climb, not only because of the sometimes debilitating effects of the illness itself, but also because it seems almost offensive to other believers. There is frequently a sort of unspoken vibe that maybe that depressed person is not really doing enough to deal with their mood. Maybe they’re not reading their Bible enough. Maybe their prayer life is lacking. Maybe they don’t really know God that well. Maybe they’re not saved at all.
Of course, as in Spurgeon’s case, those doubts could not be further from the truth. In many instances, depressed people are turning to the Bible more and praying more than most of their fellow congregants. For the severely depressed who have reached the end of their ropes, their cries to God are probably more fervent than any jubilant saint. Too often, though, the advice given to Christians in this predicament is almost offensively simple: “You need to read your Bible more and pray harder.”
It has been a struggle in my own life to not harbor resentment toward fellow Christians who did not understand not being able to fully grasp piece of mind. After many years, however, I realized anger was a wasted emotion in this instance. Some people, I finally concluded, just don’t understand depression because they’ve never experienced it. They may have had “the blues” from time to time, but never wrestled with days of utter hopelessness. While their advice may have been misguided, it was not malicious. They just wanted to point me to what worked for them, and that’s fine.
Spurgeon was correct in his assessment that a holy faith in God can lift a soul from the depths of depression. Just as he never stopped battling his own hopelessness, however, sadness in a fellow Christian is not an indicator that they have given up the fight. They may be chasing God with all their heart and soul. The good news is, if they are, He will be found.