Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Coping with depression

Some Christians suffer from depression. George Eldon Ladd is a classic case:

Depression has different causes. In some cases, like Ladd’s, it goes back to an unhappy childhood. There’s no substitute for a happy childhood. Ray Bradbury is a good example. Despite living through the Great Depression (father unemployed for 10 years), he was a happy kid. He illustrates how irreplaceable a happy childhood is. That was the key to his upbeat attitude. His happy childhood was like pushing a ball in a vacuum. One nudge and it just kept on rolling, like a frictionless surface.

By contrast, Ladd had the kind of father who instilled in him a deep, lifelong sense of inadequacy. Ladd never outgrew his insecurities. And he had poor coping skills. To some extent he became what he hated. Tragic.

What makes depression hard to take is that, if you have it, you can’t get away from it. It’s you. You live in your mind–24/7. You can’t escape yourself. You can’t take time out from yourself. You cant take a vacation from yourself. For better or worse, you are you all the time. Relentlessly yourself.

People can tell you encouraging things, but they are helpless. At the end of the day, you’re stuck with yourself.

Both believers and unbelievers can be depressed. But there’s a difference. Christians have hope. It doesn’t ultimately come down to you. And even if there are things you can’t get over in this life, there’s emotional healing in the afterlife. God will put us back together–better than ever.


  1. The first link article states:
    If I may make an unguarded personal note, Ladd's biography is disturbing for many of us who have used academic success as a means to compensate for feelings of inadequacy and inferiority from our childhood or adolescent years.

    It reminds me of William Lane Craig's admission HERE

    1. Sam Waldron's sermons on Elijah helped me during a period of spiritual depression I went through a decade ago. I've linked them below. I think two of the sermons are the same but preached at different occasions. But I'm not sure which two (it's not necessarily the last two which have similar sermon names).

      Elijah's Death Wish

      Elijah's Struggle with Carnal Fear

      When the Brook Dries Up

      Elijah Beside the Dry Brook

      D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones' book Spiritual Depression was extremely helpful (amazon.com link). I never finished the book because I was greatly helped by the middle of the book.

      Thomas Watson's book A Divine Cordial also helped.

      Finally, Mark Bubeck's book The Adversary: The Christian Versus Demon Activity was also very helpful (amazon.com link)

      I just did a random google search and I think I found an online copy of Ed Murphy's The Handbook for Spiritual Warfare. I've browsed through the book before, but not enough to be able to fully endorse it.

      Here's John Piper's bio of William Cowper the hymn writer who struggled with depression most of his life. HERE

    2. Murphy's book seems to be a bit extreme. Here's a classic Puritan work on spiritual warfare that most every genuine Christian would welcome. It's Thomas Brooks' classic Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices

      I'm personally convinced that even if the original source(s) of depression in a Christian wasn't demonic, it'll always end up having some demonic element that's aggravating it. Demons watch and can tell when you're feeling low and the devil and demonic minions don't fight fair. They will kick you while you're down and will never give you a chance to get back up or even catch your breath. Like earthly predators in the animal kingdom (e.g. lions), they will look in the herd for the stragglers, or the weakened, or injured, or the young, or the old (i.e. the mature Christian who might be battle weary) and pounce on them. That's why it's so important not to be ignorant of the devil's schemes.

  2. A good post. Thanks, Steve. :-)

  3. Steve,

    Thanks so much for posting this. Struggling with deep depression combined with being exposed to higher criticism over the last year caused me to lose my faith two weeks ago. By God's grace, I had it restored this past weekend at our church meeting. I have had too many dark nights of the soul that I care not count.

    Some Dude

    1. Some Dude, maybe these might help. Also, I'm sure many others reading this blog will keep you in prayer.

      William Lane Craig on Dealing with Doubt

      John Piper on how to deal with doubting God's existence

      John Piper on how to deal with doubting your own devotion to Christ

      John Piper - Battling Unbelief: Bank On His Faithfulness, Not Your Fickleness

  4. Ladd's life reminds me of the life of Edward J. Carnell. He's known for having formulated an abductive form of presuppositionalism which he labeled Systematic Consistency [or Coherency]. Like Ladd, he lived during a time when few would accept him because he was too liberal for the conservatives and too conservative for the liberals. Carnell suffered from depression and insomnia and he took barbiturates (by doctor's prescription?) to help him sleep. He was found dead (in a hotel, if I recall) from an overdose of barbiturates. The coroner wasn't able to determine whether it was an accidental overdose or whether Carnell commited suicide. Having browsed through Rudolph Nelson's biography about 10 year ago, I personally suspect it was accidental. And even though many Christians would think Carnell didn't "finish well", I still think he was a genuine Christian who made lasting contributions to the advancement of Christ's Kingdom and who's now in heaven enjoying his reward.

    BTW, the other major forms of presuppositionalism are 1. the authoritarian Revelational Presuppositionalism of Cornelius Van Til; 2. the Axiomatic (or Dogmatic, or Rational or Deductive) Presuppositionalism of Gordon H. Clark; 3. the Practical Presuppositionalism of Francis Schaeffer (who I heard was in the process of converting to Orthodoxy before he died, like his famous [or infamous] son would later do). 4. Ronald H. Nash's Abductive Presuppositionalism. Nash thought he was following in the footsteps of Carnell and Schaeffer and that their apologetic were abductive like his.

  5. Perseverance is crucial in the Christian life because the Lord Jesus said that only those who endure to the end would be saved (Matt. 10:22; 24:13; Mark 4:17; 13:13). As a Calvinist, I interpret that statement as descriptive rather than prescriptive. But even if it is prescriptive, endurance is not the ground or basis of one's justification. Regardless of how one interprets the statement, the application is clear. We need to endure in the Christian life if we expect to make it to heaven. We need to "Go On Loving [God]".