There is a dark night of the soul from which no light can seem visible. We can sink into depths where meaning, purpose, and life are shrouded in darkness. This state of being may be one of many possible combinations of our personalities, circumstances, and physical or mental health. Followers of Christ are not immune to these depths, and nobody is beyond the scope of hope.
While I can say that I’m familiar with such dark nights, I cannot say that I’ve known them as frequently or intensely as others. Nonetheless, I can relate to retreating into myself, losing interest in everything, and feeling meaninglessness tapping me on the shoulder and whispering lies to my downcast soul.
The depth of depression can feel like being shipwrecked and frantically swimming with no shore in sight. It may seem like a relief to let go and succumb to the deep, unforgiving waters. Despite the noblest of others’ intentions, help is rarely helpful, particularly in the church.
Unfortunately, the church tends to preach sermons on how to swim better rather than throw life preservers. For those, like myself, who have dark nights or seasons of the soul, churches constantly preaching the law feels like tying anchors to our already weighed down spirits. Some within the church also try to make the Bible into something it simply isn’t. Let me be clear. Scripture is inerrant, infallible, and sufficient, but it is not a mental health textbook. Handing a believer whose world is falling apart prescription pad Bible verses is insufficient.
The church can also neglect those struggling by failing to let worship include mourning. One avenue to grant downcast souls hope is to give them the means to express the honesty of their hurt to a good God. One-third of the Hebrew praise songs are laments. Ask yourself if modern worship runs parallel to that? Do mourning Christians have praise to bring? Do they have songs to sing?
We are not those without hope. The stumbling, struggling, downcast, and depressed have hope in Jesus Christ. Jesus proclaims that the poor in spirit, mourning, thirsty and hungry, and persecuted ones are blessed (Matthew 5:3-11). Neither are we without the means to have peace, comfort, and grace imparted to our hearts, minds, and souls. Christ has promised the Holy Spirit as a comforter. God has provided for the care of our souls through the means of grace. More than an intellectual exercise, the sermon should be a proclamation and offer of peace through Christ. The bread and wine are tangible nourishment to strengthen our faith amid doubt and despair. These are ways that the gospel is a consoling balm to our troubled souls.
The scope of hope is Christ. To the anxious, he says, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). Not long before His betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion, Jesus spoke to prepare His disciples for the sorrow of His departure. “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). We have tribulation and sorrow, but we are not alone, and He still speaks peace to our hearts.
Christ didn’t come, live perfectly, and die in our place so that we could live up to the church’s moral standards. He came and died because we can never live up to the perfect standards of God. To those struggling, weeping, failing, broken, hurting, and mourning, know that you are the beloved of God, and Christ has endured your deserved penalty. He went to the cross in your place, bore God’s wrath, and rose again three days later in victory over death, Hell, and the grave. Look to him and find rest, peace, hope, love, and joy.
Depression can be a deep hole from which we cannot see hope. Christ is a Savior not content to leave us where we are and who dives into the depths of our weakness as a human and as a high priest to extend mercy and grant grace.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
There was a dual hesitance within me to address this topic. Pride didn’t want me to share my weakness. There is also a trend in the Christian community to wear our pain like a merit badge we earn for suffering. I had to repent of the pride, and I had to sort through my motives.
For those who are not well, I hope that you’ll seek help. You may need professional help from a psychologist, which can be grace in and of itself. However, please know that in Christ, you always have spiritual help. Depression can run deep, but the comforting hope of Christ is deeper still.