Posted on May 24th, 2008
Several years ago, friend and former parishioner Bob Waters gently cautioned me about something I said about depression in a sermon. I have not stopped thinking about what he said, and the issue in general.
I have come to very much agree with him. Telling a person suffering from depression to “cheer up” – or worse, telling him that he is sinning – is like telling a homeless person, “Get a job.” An awful lot of factors have led the person to that point, and hurting people need help, not rebuke.
So, what does depression say about one’s faith? The way it is sometimes presented (even, I fear, in some of my former sermons), depression indicates a lack of faith. This makes it difficult for a Christian suffering with mental illness to seek the needed help (which ought to include proper pastoral care). Waters wrote about what a seminary professor taught him:
He emphasized that it is essential in dealing with depression that it not be treated as a moral issue. One does not help a person deal with hopelessness by telling them that it’s a moral failure, for the same reason why one doesn’t preach the Law to a person who has already been crushed by it.
In depression, one is called to cry Kyrie eleison! Could a season of sadness be sent, or simply allowed, by God to chasten and purify His child? That’s the way LSB 750 (“If Thou But Trust in God to Guide Thee”) seems to read; here’s stanza 4:God knows full well when times of gladness Shall be the needful thing for thee. When He has tried thy soul with sadness And from all guile has found thee free, He comes to thee all unaware And makes thee own His loving care.
I’ve been thinking about this particularly in light of tomorrow’s Gospel, Lazarus and Dives (Luke 16.19-31). Was Lazarus depressed? Did he struggle with anxiety and despair while lying in the dirt, dogs licking his sores? (Yes, I realize it’s [probably] a parable.) As the story is painted, the answer must be “yes.” Who wouldn’t? In this story is hope for those afflicted with depression, anxiety, despair, or simply physical suffering: Deus caritas est, and His deliverance is coming. The road is dark, the gravel stabs at the ribs, hope seems gone – but God has demonstrated His love for us in the death of Jesus. He is coming, and will “make thee own His loving care.”