Spurgeon on Depression

I note that some whom I greatly love and esteem, who are, in my judgment, among the very choicest of God’s people, nevertheless, travel most of the way to heaven by night.

–C.H. Spurgeon

I don’t mean to murmur, but it doesn’t seem that this is the prevailing attitude nowadays.

I was going to leave it at that, but I remember what I also found earlier today on David Black’s blog. It’s a quote by Terry Waite, but I want to include Prof. Black’s commentary.

Whenever I discuss the Greek word apostolos with my students, I always ask them to translate the word, not just transliterate it as “apostle.” Students usually suggest “personal representative,” “messenger,” or “ambassador.” I tell them that my personal favorite is “envoy,” and I usually mention the name Terry Waite as an example. If you recall, Waite was the British hostage released in 1991 after five years of solitary confinement in Lebanon. Waite was not held captive simply because he was a British citizen, however. Terry Waite was serving as the Envoy of the Church of England at the time, a high and honorable position. As an apostolos, he represented in his person the power, prestige, and authority of the entire Anglican Church.

But there’s another side to this story. In addition to being an envoy, Waite was a remarkable Christian theologian. When asked how he had survived all those years of solitary confinement, he said:

I have been determined in captivity, and still am determined, to convert this experience into something that will be useful and good for other people. I think that’s the way to approach suffering. It seems to me that Christianity doesn’t in any way lessen suffering. What it does is enable you to take it, to face it, to work through it, and eventually to convert it.

Wow. Christianity doesn’t in any way lessen suffering. I wonder how many Christians, besides me, need to learn this lesson? Today Becky has had excruciating pain. Christianity doesn’t in any way lessen suffering. Her body is gradually weakening. Christianity doesn’t in any way lessen suffering. I want you to pause right now and ask yourself whether your Christianity is anything like Terry Waite’s. Fortitude is integral to Christian living. I say this as perhaps the softest man who has ever walked this earth, a pampered American free of poverty and, for the most part, pain. My task is to avoid suffering at all costs. Convert suffering into good? How impossible that sounds! But for the Christian, only scars produce lasting sanctity. I know this intellectually, but I want to run and scream whenever I face problems. Leveraging suffering for good — this is actually something I know very little of, but I want to learn how to do it.

10 Responses to “Spurgeon on Depression”

  1. 1 Thomas Provost

    Great message Jeff. Fortitude is one of those attributes that I would prefer to have down-loaded into my character. I do not desire to have to learn it; being a softy myself. But fortitude must be learned, in fact, can only be learned under the heat of pressure and pain.

  2. 2 Scripture Zealot

    I don’t like how it has to be that way, but I’m so thankful that God works in suffering at all. He could let us suffer with no redeeming value until we get to heaven, which would obviously be much worse.

  3. 3 Eric

    Great post, Jeff! I’m with Thomas, I’d rather have fortitude downloaded too. Somehow I got the idea that life was supposed to be pain-free (if we did it right) & there should always be a happy outcome, like on Leave It To Beaver & the Brady Bunch. I think I still expect that & look at any adversity as a sign that I’m not doing things right. A lot of food for thought here. Thanks & God bless, Eric

  4. 4 Anna Kieken, PhD

    Many men and women of God have suffered great depression, perhaps in part because of their sensitivity, including sensitivity to God. Sensitivity can also be a heightened awareness of the brokenness and suffering in the world. How overwhelming that can be.
    In Spurgeon’s day, depression was not something that could be cured; it was a thorn in the flesh that could only be taken to God in prayer. We read the term “spiritual depression” used frequently in those days. Perhaps they thought that all depression was a spiritual issue, perhaps not.
    God made the world in perfection, and the fall brought great brokenness and suffering. His intent is that the perfection of God and of his kingdom be, as much as possible, brought about on the earth now, as it is in heaven.
    While I deeply respect Spurgeon and others who had only prayer to deal with their depression, today this is not necessarily the model with which we address depression and the sensitivity that can overwhelm us.
    One way in which God’s kingdom of peace and health has been brought to the earth in recent decades is through a deeper recognition of what depression is, a neurological issue. It is important to realize that all depression is not the same. Depression can be mild, moderate, or severe. Mild depression and some moderate depression can be alleviated by prayer, by support, by therapy.
    Severe depression is in some ways an altogether different entity. Despite prayer, despite support, it can cripple for a lifetime. Often these individuals feel tremendous guilt for not being able to overcome it by prayer, concluding that they are spiritually weak. This sense of failure of course adds to their depression.
    At this point in time, we do not have to “travel most of the way to heaven by night.” Severe depression–unless God chooses to give miraculous healing–must be addressed neurologically. God has given us tools to bring the wholeness of the kingdom of God to earth in the area of depression, even as it is in heaven.
    Neurological research has given us great understanding of the physical causes of depression, and antidepressants can be a significant agent of healing. In my clinical opinion, those with severe depression must try antidepressants to see if they are effective in bringing God’s healing to them. Medication can be seen as an experiment, not necessarily a life commitment. Some individuals’ brains can be “rebooted” by 9-12 months of medication, and then they no longer need it.
    Some individuals need to remain on antidepressants for years or for their entire life. This is not because they are less spiritual or less blessed. It is because of the type of depression that they have. It is also vital to understand that it is not more spiritual to take this medication for as little time as possible or to take the lowest dose possible. This can seriously limit God’s bringing about his kingdom in our hearts–and in the lives of our family and loved ones–if we accept only a little of the healing that He has provided through medication.
    “Severe depression” may bring to our minds only someone who must be hospitalized for depression, or who “takes to their bed” for long periods of time. Even well-functioning individuals can have severe depression: real struggles and sometimes despair that may not be seen by many. One helpful gauge of severity is how much effort it takes to do what needs to be done. Even if by a stiff upper lip we are able to survive, this too can be severe depression.
    And it is vital to remember that the goal of antidepressants is not just to feel better, but to feel good. It doesn’t mean that you will experience a high or will no longer care about the suffering in the world. The goal of antidepressants is that you feel like yourself.
    Your internist is most likely more than willing to prescribe an antidepressant for you, and you can see how much it helps.
    Fifty percent of people, though, need to try more than one antidepressant before they find one that is effective for them. If you don’t find relief, consider going to an expert in depression, a psychiatrist. If you know a counselor that you respect, ask them if they know of a good psychiatrist that they recommend. Ask only a counselor who respects the choice of Christians to take antidepressants.
    “Natural” antidepressants such as St. John’s wort may be effective for mild depression, but are not effective for severe depression. St. John’s wort has side effectives, and many foods and medications should not be used when taking St. John’s wort.
    Spurgeon inspires us with his prayerful endurance through the great suffering of depression. It is tempting to conclude that in this day and time the dark path of depression and agonizing prayer is our only hope.
    Antidepressants will not make us unfeeling people with little sensitivity to God. Rather it helps us not feel overwhelmed by the suffering that we see all around us. It will help us not to have such a “thin skin” that the suffering we see all around us will constantly pierce our soul to the point of being crushed by it. And we don’t need to worry that we will no longer suffer if we take antidepressants, rather, they should keep us from being debilitated by suffering.
    Thanks be to God for the great blessings that he has brought us through medicine. May His kingdom come, His will be done in our hearts and bodies as it is in heaven.

  5. 5 Scripture Zealot

    Yeah, downloaded is a pretty good thought. I suppose in a way it is uploaded to us by God, it just takes a long time, and and he uses other stuff with it in order for it to work.

    i also thought it just couldn’t be God’s will for a Christian to suffer so much, but that’s pretty insular. If we just look around we can see it, like Joni ET. So then I thought that everybody gets possibly one bad condition, and that’s about it. I found out I was wrong on that too.

    Golly, Eric, aren’t you praying good enough on account a what the Bible says?

    Glad to see you here.

  6. 6 Scripture Zealot

    Hi Anna,
    Thanks for your thoughtful reply.

    I have been on the “med merry-go-round” and am practically a pharmacist because I know all of the medications. I research, to a degree (not like you do though), every med I take. Many, like me, and as you know, are ‘medication resistant’. For 5 percent of the population (of those with depression?), meds do nothing. I’m one step above that, where meds help only a little. Dealing with Bipolar Disorder only complicates things, because some ADs can actually make things worse. After that diagnosis, there was another trip on the merry-go-round, because nothing really worked, but I found a med that augments an AD slightly, and that’s about as good as it gets, until something new comes along, like ketamine or some other meds that they didn’t realize would work for depression. There’s one that works for blood pressure that they’re looking at now. They seem to have pretty much exhausted the serotonin/norepiniphrine/dopamine stuff as far as depression goes.

    So, hopefully they’ll find better ways of treating every type from a medical point of view, but praise God that he knows exactly what’s going on and that he works through suffering. God has been teaching me so much through this, and my depression from a mental point of view has improved a little, although physical symptoms remain the same. As long as we’re working out our salvation and not willfully hindering the Holy Spirit, our suffering will be redeemed.

  7. 7 Eric

    Gee whiz, Jeff, I think you’re giving me the business! Eric

  8. 8 Scripture Zealot

    I’m not sure what you mean, but I was replying to Anna, just to make sure. If you were speaking in Beav talk (the Gee whiz probably tips it off actually), that was funny.

    Why is it always Anna Anna Anna? (Kind of rhymes with Marcia.)

  9. 9 Eric

    Yeah, I was actually responding to your prior reply (“Golly, Eric, aren’t you praying good enough on account a what the Bible says?”). And, you’re right, it was supposed to be Beav talk. Don’t make me come over there & slug you! 😉

  10. 10 Scripture Zealot

    I haven’t been bopped in the kisser or the bread basket in a long time.

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