This post is adapted from Faith That Engages the Culture by Rev. Dr. Alfonso Espinosa.
Sin, the world, and the devil throw many curve balls when it comes to trying to get a grip on a basic and right view about depression. Two basic problems arise:
- Depression is just fashionable, and it’s getting easier for people in the culture to isolate themselves anyway. For this reason, just live and let live. Here, the Christian is tempted to pretend nothing is really wrong and that there really isn’t a good time to engage people who are depressed. Here the Gospel is indefinitely put off.
- Depression is an ultimate scarlet letter and a frightening monster. The intricacies are so beyond us that one will feel instantaneously overwhelmed if engagement is permitted. The culture says, “Off limits!” and the demeanor of the depressed person says, “Stay away!” Here the Gospel is flippantly cut off.
These cultural inferences, however, are deceptions. There is nothing normal about the disorder of depression. While we should accept its reality and show compassion, we should resist the temptation to pretend that either nothing should be done, or that nothing can be done to help. Christ our Lord came for the sick, which includes all people. He did not hold back. He didn’t allow us to drown in sin, nor did He [stay at a safe distance from lepers].
Isolation Is Not the Answer
If you recall, we have been warning about the big three problems perpetuated in the culture: (1) individualism; (2) relativism; and (3) skepticism. We must be mindful that as Christians these things try to invade our minds and hearts toward those with depression. That is, these problems occur as a two-way street in relationship not only within people who are depressed, but also in the Christian suddenly tempted to avoid all engagement.
Individualism is the tendency for isolation (including detachment from the life-giving Word of Christ), and isolationism marks the one with depression. Here, a kind of individualism and preoccupation with the self is practically inevitable within the sufferer. However, individualism also strikes the Christian who reasons that engagement should be avoided. “It is just too much work to extend myself this way,” so the sinful flesh says, and in this way, we permit our individualism to join the bandwagon of the end-times sign: “the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12).
Depression and Distortion
Relativism is also an inherent problem with depression. Again, in the effort to desperately cope with the onslaught of something that is beyond the control of the one with depression, distorted perceptions become the norm. Inherently, therefore, depression produces a kind of relativism. But relativism also confronts the Christian who could engage with the Gospel. “Yes, God calls us to love our neighbor and to share the life-giving Gospel of Christ, but perhaps depression is somehow the exception to the rule. Maybe the chemical imbalance will render the Gospel ineffective, and maybe the loving thing to do is to honor the person who is trying to avoid overstimulation.” This is when the Christian gives in to relativism. We can never predict when the Holy Spirit will choose to work through the Gospel, the power of God unto salvation. We should not be the ones to limit His work. Stick with what is true, trust in God, and treat the person with depression as a real person for whom the real Savior came.
Depression, of course, is also a breeding ground for skepticism. Tremendous self-blame and shame fill the mind and soul of the person living with depression. In such a condition, it is easy to feel skeptical toward any potential help. This is to be expected. What is less excusable is when the Christian permits skepticism to cut off the life-giving Gospel. “Can people entrenched in depression really be receptive to the Gospel? Did God really say, ‘all nations’ [all people] should hear it?” When these thoughts come, the sinful flesh must be crucified, the world’s influence must be rejected, and Satan must be resisted so that he would flee from us (James 4:7).
Post adapted from Faith That Engages the Culture, copyright © 2021 Alfonso Espinosa. Published by Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.
Learn how to engage with those suffering from depression, along with other important cultural and societal issues, in Faith that Engages the Culture.