Equipping God's People to Create Missional Culture

Coping with Depression in the Church with Matt Rogers Part VI

Losing GodA guest post by Matt Rogers, a good friend, author of When Answers Aren’t Enough and Losing God; and pastor at [nlcf]. This entry is part of the Coping with Depression Series.

Not as simple as an easy answer

Well-meaning, but simple minded, Christians often offer glib advice for people battling depression. “Jesus is the answer!” “Give glory to God!” “If you feel far from God, guess who moved?” I heard all of those infamous expressions during my four-year bout with darkness. The problem for me was that turning to God only intensified the pain. Far from the heavenly peace my brothers and sisters in Christ promised, devotion brought further misery.

“Why won’t God answer me?”

Depression breeds confusion. The victim’s mind, so taxed by its despair, can hardly think clearly at all. For the Christian, this usually means wallowing in doubts about God because the brain can’t reason its way to faith. The pain of depression is too excruciating, the mind too foggy, too exhausted. When the depressed soul reaches out to God, he or she is often met with a piercing silence out of heaven that only adds to the despair: Why won’t God answer me? Why has he abandoned me? Does he not love me? These questions were made all the more poignant for me by a fear that God had hardened my heart and condemned me to hell. For four years, I lived under constant threat of eternal judgment.

“Give glory to God!” one friend told me. How? By burning in hell forever?

What to do when faith complicates things

Let’s face it: sometimes faith makes the situation worse. What can we do to survive the sense that God himself is the problem?

  1. Surround yourself with understanding Christians. They do not have to “understand” your struggle, but they must be “understanding.” Such people are quick to listen and show compassion. They are slow to speak and are well aware that mindless bumper sticker platitudes seldom solve complex problems. They know that “Jesus is the answer!” is not the answer.
  2. Sing in hope. Since I couldn’t very well sing “Jesus loves me, this I know” when feeling he had rejected me, I instead sang worship songs in church with the hope that one day I could sing them sincerely. Sometimes I would pray before a song, “God, help me one day mean this.” This routine made worship services bearable.
  3. Tell God how much it sucks. Don’t hold back. Let him know how you feel. Throw at him the full weight of your grief and anger. If you can’t quite find the words to speak (or yell), try praying the Book of Lamentations or the Book of Job from the Bible. Above all, be honest with God. He can handle it.
  4. Get a copy of Philip Yancey’s book, Disappointment with God. (I won’t complain if you also pick up a copy of my book, Losing God: Clinging to Faith Through Doubt and Depression.) You’ll get no simple, silly platitudes from Yancey. Just well reasoned wisdom from one of Christianity’s best minds on the problem of pain.
  5. And of course—and perhaps I should have listed this one first—see a doctor. It may be that the depression will have to subside before you can sense God clearly again. Medication may be in order.

I’d love to hear what works for other people. Add your comments below.

Matt Rogers is co-pastor of New Life Christian Fellowship [nlcf] at Virginia Tech. He is the author of When Answers Aren’t Enough: Experiencing God as Good When Life Isn’t (Zondervan, 2008) and Losing God: Clinging to Faith Through Doubt and Depression (InterVarsity, 2008). Learn more about his writings and his blog at his website.

3 Responses to Coping with Depression in the Church with Matt Rogers Part VI

  1. Ronnie says:

    This is one of the best articles I read so far these few weeks! Tks a zillion!

  2. Pingback: Dream Awakener » Coping with Depression in the Church with Matt Rogers Part VII

  3. Scott says:

    I can totally relate to this from the perspective of my youngest son who wrestles with God and wonders if he is truly a disciple of Jesus often – his biggest question is “Why won’t God answer me?” Thanks for the practical insight on facing this issue…

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