Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Reflections on depression

Ron Gleason Ironically, I submitted my manuscript yesterday to Crossway with the tentative title: "When the Unthinkable Happens. The Christian and Suicide." I do believe we need to be very careful when we toss the word "depression" around. Clearly, there are chemical imbalances in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Having said that, we are all too quick to throw the word "depression" around for what constitutes sinful behavior. A psychiatrist told me recently that a very, very small percentage of depression cases are actually depressions. Most behavior, he went on to say, that we call depression is simply the result of unbiblical living.

i) To be fair, Gleason is responding to a query by renegade Jason Stellman. I appreciate the need to puncture cheap universalism, where every dead celebrity goes to heaven. 

I respect Gleason. He's an admirable man with a remarkable resume. I wouldn't be surprised if his book is peppered with useful anecdotes about people coping with adversity and extremity from his experience as a pastor and soldier. 

ii) That said, I shudder at how his book will approach the issue of depression and suicide. This seems to reflect the same attitude that gives the nouthetic/"Biblical counseling" movement a bad name. I hope that's not the case. 

Depression has difference causes. Some people bring it on themselves. 

Others are despondent because they find themselves in depressing circumstances through no fault of their own.

But one of the frighting things about depression is that in some (many?) cases, it  overtakes people, engulfs people, from out of nowhere. And there's nothing they can do to fight it off. Here's one example:

During my second year at McGill, I plunged into the deepest depression I’ve ever known.  I wrestled in prayer, searched the scriptures, examined my conscience, and fell apart.  I told my wife about it one night; the next morning, a letter arrived from a Christian psychotherapist who had felt an inexplicable but irresistible urge to write.  I still have that letter.  Over the next year I learned more about myself and my emotions than I had thought possible.  If today I manage to function as a pastor, it is not least because I know something about pain.  I know, too, that healing of memory and imagination is not just wishful thinking.


  1. I believe Spurgeon struggled with what we would classify as depression.

    Regarding item ii.), would you expand briefly on your allusion to the "attitude that gives the nouthetic/Biblical counseling movement a bad name"? If you've already discussed this somewhere else please let me know.


    2. I believe Martyn Lloyd-Jones also suffered from bouts of depression. His biographer indicates that his books on the subject drew from personal experience.

    3. Thanks. The article and combox discussion were helpful. I hadn't heard that MLJ struggled with depression.

    4. The other Jay Adams died today.

  2. If anyone is interested, here's my blog Spiritual Depression:

    It includes a link to the original audio sermons by Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones on which his book Spiritual Depression was based.