Here’s our question:
“When another Christian is struggling with anxiety and depression but they know biblical truths that don’t feel real to them for a season, how should brethren come alongside them? We are to “encourage the faint-hearted” (1 Thessalonians 5:14), “exhort one another as long as it is called ‘today’” (Hebrews 3:13). With many other scriptures like these, how ought we to encourage them to trust God and admonish them for not trusting Him, but not enable them to remain where they are?”
Ok. My answer may not very popular here and it might considered unloving, but we have to address the root cause of why a person is undergoing what our questioner calls “anxiety and depression.”
When you have discussions with people who are in a period of depression, it’s interesting to find out how often they bring up Charles Spurgeon. Spurgeon is well-known for his bouts with depression and the sense you get when having discussions now is this: “Spurgeon was depressed, so it’s OK for me to be depressed.” Is it? Is Spurgeon’s experience the definitive response in such situations? No, it isn’t. Scripture is. Maybe people don’t bring up Spurgeon. They bring up those passages in the Scripture where people were depressed or downcast. Do we see men in the Psalms who aren’t exactly filled with joy and contentment? How about Jeremiah as he wrote an entire book of Lamentations? But we have to ask this: was Jeremiah “depressed?” Just because one laments, is that synonymous with being “depressed?”
How about anxiety? Can people become anxious in times of stress? Yes. Let’s think about times of stress in the bible. Jesus, with his crucifixion imminent. Anxious? No. Paul, as he gets closer and closer to Rome, in captivity, saying he’s ready to die if he deserves to die – Acts 25:11? No, we don’t see Paul being “anxious.” You could say Peter was “anxious” when they came for Jesus and he cut the ear off the soldier. Commendable, understandable anxiety – biblically? No. Jesus didn’t commend him.
I know this question will come up so let’s not dodge it. “Jeff, what about mental illness? People wrestle with mental illness and sometimes they can’t help it.” That’s real. People ask that. However, what is our standard? Experience? Those friends we have whom we love but spend a goodly amount of time in depression or anxiety? Or is Scripture our guide here? Our questioner wants to know how to come alongside the depressed and anxious but in doing so, not enabling them to remain depressed and/or anxious.
One thing to take into consideration is this: does Scripture give us the sense that God’s people, redeemed by Christ, justified by faith, having with God -should be in a state of depression or anxiety…and remain there? No, it doesn’t. It just doesn’t. You can’t go to Ecclesiastes and say, “Jeff, it says right there that there is a time to mourn, and a time to cry.” Is there a time to weep? Is there a time to mourn? Yes – but weeping and mourning are not the same as being depressed or anxious, and they need not lead them, either. When Jesus wept over the death of Lazarus or over Jerusalem, was He “depressed?” Anxious? No, He wasn’t. Sorrow over death and sorrow over a city full of lost people is a good thing – but it isn’t depression, nor is it anxiety.
What does Scripture say? I think about Psalm 42. The sons of Korah write this: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil against me?” Three times in Psalms 42 and 43 that question is posed. It’s real. Emphasis in Scripture is indicated by repetition. What’s the solution to the downcast soul? To the turmoil within? Do you get the sense that it’s OK for the Psalmist to be OK with where he is…as a downcast soul? No. There’s an answer and it’s not one which gets readily accepted, sadly: “Hope in God.” The solution for depression? Faith. Honest. Trust the Lord. If you think about why people get depressed how often is it due to circumstances? Life experience? Or physical trials, economic hardship, or things like that? The biblical answer to depression is faith. Doesn’t the Lord just want us to trust Him, whether the times are good or bad? Whether we have little or plenty? Is it just that simple? Yes, it is. If it’s not, then what else is there if faith isn’t the answer?
A question to think about is this: when your faith is strong, how depressed are you? I haven’t even addressed anxiety yet, so let’s go there. Doesn’t Jesus speak to this? Matthew 6:27 and Luke 12:25: “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” Those passages with the surrounding verses are all about worry and anxiety, and what does Jesus do? Does He commend the person who is anxious and who worries? No. He rebukes them for their “little faith.” The implication? You need more faith. You see, faith is the answer in both of these situations. Not programs, not psychology, but faith. That’s the divine medicine that Scripture applies to both depression and anxiety.
Our questioner wants to know how to come along side and be a help to the downcast and anxious, but not enable them to stay there. I had a discussion recently with someone about this very thing. They get down. They get depressed. What do you tell them? I told them this: choose to not be depressed. Jesus told people to believe more. Paul told people to rejoice in the Lord always – it’s a command – Philippians 4:4. Then right after that there’s another command: “do not be anxious anything,” and do what? Pray. James tells us to pray how? In faith, not being double-minded. We have these commands: believe. Rejoice. Pray. And they all revolve around faith, don’t they? Isn’t this all about trusting the Lord even when we don’t know all the answers? We know this, don’t we? Our Savior will never leave us nor forsake us, He has us securely in the palms of His hands, He intercedes for us with the Father right now, He loves us, right? Right? Christian – do you really believe your Savior, God the Son, Jesus Christ loves you? He does. Honest. How do you know? You know by faith. Trust Him. By faith. Believe what He said. By faith. Don’t worry. By faith. Don’t be downcast. By faith. That’s our encouragement to that person who isn’t responding – Scripture doesn’t commend a person for being depressed or anxious, nor should we. We shouldn’t give that person room to think it’s OK to be and to remain depressed or anxious because Scripture doesn’t. You want to love them through this, but not let them think they’re good being depressed or anxious.