I’ve not had cancer, though I do know cancer victims. It’s an insidious disease that robs people of life.
My purpose here is not to make light of cancer, but to help people understand that there is another form of cancer eating away at people and the cure requires treatment that is just as aggressive and just as purposeful as one would use to treat the various forms of cancer.
This cancer is called depression.
Because of divorce, a friend of mine suffers from it. I suffered from it because of a bad marriage and ultimate divorce, so I know first-hand that depression is a cancer in that it robs one of life and the ability to live it as God intended. In a positive sense, I am now able to be there for my friend when he calls on the phone. Although depression is not a good thing in and of itself, I can look to the Bible and encourage my friend and others as I share my story with them.
Sadly however, when confronted with depression, particularly that of someone else’s, many Christians have a default within their sin-nature that claims depression is a moral disease and it’s cure therefore can only be found in prayer for forgiveness. In short, they become like Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar, the trio of so-called friends to Job in the Old Testament book of the same title. In fact, we read at the end of Job’s story that God told Job to offer a sacrifice and prayer for forgiveness for his three friends because God was angry with the trio because they had spoken inaccurately about God.
In response to the depression I was in after losing a job and the fear of not knowing how I was going to support my wife and child at the time, a professed Christian actually told me “You just need to have faith!” While that was bad enough, he actually said it in the presence of someone to whom I had just been introduced by this same “friend.” Rather than slug the guy in the face (probably not a wise thing to do in church!) I simply walked away feeling more fear and rejection than I did before.
That’s sort of like telling a cancer patient that their disease is a direct result of them not praying enough: It’s a non sequitur! The very people who should understand or empathize simply don’t have a clue and seem to be willing to broadcast their unsympathetic ignorance to anyone in their way!
How is it that people are so quick to believe Satan’s lie that their depressed friend must not be a good Christian or otherwise they wouldn’t be depressed — as if clinical depression can merely be prayed away — yet when confronted with news that the pastor’s wife has cancer the last thing on people’s minds is that her disease must be due to a lack of faith?
Clinical depression is debilitating
Ask a doctor who knows depression and he will tell you that it has its physical causes as well as its environmental ones. While we can become sad for a variety of reasons, we can usually bounce back. Clinical depression on the other hand is typically deeper, lasts much longer, and requires help if one is to recover from it. According to the National Institute for Mental Health, “there is no single known cause of depression. Rather, it likely results from a combination of genetic, biochemical, environmental, and psychological factors.”
One doctor told me that depression has its physical and emotional causes, meaning that circumstances outside of ourselves can lead to changes in brain chemicals, namely the neurotransmitters that aid in the communications process between nerve cells in the brain. When these brain chemicals fail to work properly, communications between the cells (there’s a gap between the nerve cells called the synapse, which requires specific brain chemicals in order to communicate from one to the other) likewise fails to work properly. As a result it changes how the brain functions. It’s at this point that a vicious cycle begins where one cause begets another.
Medication can help the brain function normally and thereby help the patient recover from the debilitating symptoms of this cancer on the human soul. Nevertheless, there’s another form of treatment that, when coupled with medication, has been shown to have an even greater impact on helping the depression victim recover and live a healthy life, and that is the treatment offered by a professional Christian counselor. I’d argue that not just any professional counselor is equipped to help, but that’s another topic for another time.
Genesis 1 and 2 describes how God meticulously created all that we see, including our own bodies. Therefore, it stands to reason that God knows full well how the human brain functions. A good doctor, particularly one who is a Christian and fully understands God’s creative intent, is best equipped to help those suffering through depression to move past its crippling effects and begin to live the kind of life God originally intended. Christian counseling isn’t going to wipe away sin, but it will help the person who is suffering medically, whether brought on directly by sin or not, to live the kind of joy-filled life that the Bible tells us is ours if we trust in God. Moreover, a good Christian counselor will walk with you as you truly seek to draw closer to God during this period. Please note the emphasis and implication in this last sentence: drawing closer to God is a purposeful choice. In some ways, I’d like to think that it’s during the low times in one’s life that actually helps us draw closer to God and learn how to stay close to Him when things get better.
My hope for my friend is that he can find the courage and support to treat this disease for what it is and find the kind of aggressive and purposeful treatment available and necessary to discover the joy and peace that comes only through a relationship with Jesus Christ. While simple faith in Christ is good and necessary, I am not saying that faith alone will cure depression. Clinical depression can even derail one’s thought process regarding faith in God, even leading one who’s faith is grounded in Christ to believe that he has no faith or hope at all. I once heard a successful pastor openly discuss his personal experience with clinical depression, describing it as something that blindsided him.
Unlike physical cancer, which has an effective way of killing the human body if left untreated, depression is almost worse because it leaves one in a state of solitary confinement within a monochrome, foggy prison of doubt, fear, self-pity, confusion, shame, embarrassment, rejection and pain. It’s that last part — pain — that drives some people to seek suicide as the BEST and ONLY solution to ending the pain.
Believe me… it’s not!
- Is clinical depression a contagious disease? (zocdoc.com)
- Depression: Why Aren’t You Getting Treatment? (webmd.com)
- Depression and Insomnia (webmd.com)
- Stigma Influences Seeking Mental Health Care (skwillms.wordpress.com)
- Sleep deprivation and depression (psychologytoday.com)