Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Rutherford, et. al. -- Depressed Christians

Depressed Christians? It should sound like an oxymoron. In fact, it would sound like an oxymoron if it weren’t too often our experience. So what does a depressed Christian do? Chances are Prozac and Zoloft aren’t the best options. But my question isn’t so much about how a Christian gets out of depression as how a Christian gets through depression. How do depressed--or lamenting--Christians talk? How do they sing? How do they think?

Check out these depressed believers from history:

1. Job – If anyone had a reason to be depressed, this guy had it! He lost everything…I mean, everything…in one day. Many of the Katrina victims can’t even come close to the loss that Job experienced (although their loss may feel just as great). This is what Job said:

"Why is life given to a man whose way is hidden, whom God has hedged in?" (Job 3:23)

Job asks, "Why, God, do you take everything from a man and yet let him live then in his misery?" Do we scold Job for asking? Do we somehow feel his frustration with him?

2. Paul – Like Job, Paul experienced sufferings that most of us will never endure for the cause of Christ’s Kingdom. He told the Corinthians,

"We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life" (2 Cor 1:8).

"Despaired even of life." That doesn’t sound very "Christian." Yet what gets Paul through such a despairing situation?

3. Samuel Rutherford – Perhaps it was more his disposition than his circumstances that brought on Rutherford’s depression, although he definitely had his share of depressing circumstances as well. In January of 1646 he writes to James Guthrie,

"I am at a low ebb as to any sensible communion with Christ; yea, as low as any soul can be, and do scarce know where I am; and do now make it a question, if any can go to him, who dwelleth in light inaccessible, through nothing but darkness. Surely, all that come to heaven have a stock in Christ; but I know not where mine is…. I should count my soul engaged to yourself, and others there with you, if you would but carry to Christ for me a letter of ciphers and nonsense (for I know not how to make language of my condition)" (Letters, 176-177).

4. Charles H. Spurgeon – Spurgeon considered himself born with a certain disposition towards “melancholy,” the old word for depression. He often lamented the depressing nature of people who criticized his sermons: "'Thou shalt not yoke the ox and the ass together' was a merciful precept: but when a laborious, ox-like minister comes to be yoked to a deacon who is not another ox, it becomes hard work to plough" (Lectures to My Students, 311). But he especially experienced depression when some jokers yelled out "Fire!" in the middle of one of his sermons at the Surrey Gardens. There were more than 10,000 people present and pandemonium broke out. Seven people died in the stampede that followed and many more were injured. Spurgeon was only 22 years old at the time. Spurgeon described himself afterwards as having been "a soul [that] went so near the burning furnace of insanity."

So the question again is what does a depressed Christian do? Can he pray? Can he sing? Can he question God? I ask these questions not because I am suffering from depression; I’m actually quite happy this morning! I ask them, rather, because I see so much suffering around me. In my church people are suffering and distraught. In my school young men preparing for the ministry are weighed down with despair. And in my reading I come across Rutherfords and Spurgeons and Jobs and Pauls who say things like, "Why does God even let people live when he brings such sorrow on them?"

Here are some thoughts. First, respond in a Rutherford-like way. After his complaint to Guthrie about his depressed state, he begs his friends to pray for God to rain down infinite mercy upon him. Rutherford understood that only the infinite, sovereign grace of God could help him. "Millions of hells of sinners cannot come near to exhaust infinite grace."

Second, read Spurgeon’s sermon, "The Sorrowful Man’s Question." You can read it by clicking here.

Third, Justin Taylor’s post on his blog "Between Two Worlds." The post is called, "What Can Miserable Christians Sing?"

I know, I know, that’s a cop-out. I won’t even answer the questions I raise! That’s okay, though. Rutherford, Spurgeon and Trueman (on Taylor’s blog) answer the questions very well. Check them out, and lament like a real believer!

1 comment:

Trooper137 said...

Sometimes I get accused of being too happy. I guess you can push it to extremes. ALL of my problems are of my own making. If I would listen to God in my choices I would not have to suffer the consequences. My true desire is to serve God and in the process make those around me see how much fun it really can be. Sometimes because of my disposition I expect perfection. I look forward to heaven where that will be the norm. Good post.