Monday, May 3, 2010


Depressed people need hope more than anything else. They have been fighting a foe that is greater than they and have despaired of their own efforts. Psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl, had observed many struggle and finally acquiesce to the verdict of the death camps. In Man’s Search for Meaning, he writes:

"The prisoner who had lost his faith in the future—his future—was doomed. With his loss of belief in the future, he also lost his spiritual hold; he let himself decline and become subject to mental and physical decay."

Frankl understood that the best elixir for despair was hope. The Bible concurs: “A man's spirit sustains him in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?” (Proverbs 18:14, NIV). But how does one obtain hope? In The Noonday Demon, termed by one reviewer as “the definitive book on depression,” Andrew Solomon, himself a long-time sufferer, writes,

"Since depression is highly demotivating, it takes a certain survivor impulse to keep going through the depression, not to cave into it. A sense of humor is the best indicator that you will recover; it is often the best indicator that people will love you. Sustain that and you have hope."

A sense of humor is a great gift. Some have a natural endowment of it, while others have to learn it. However, it’s more than a skill; it’s also a vision of life. It can laugh at itself and one’s foibles, because they are foibles when compared to eternity (Rom. 8:18-19), and not the actual substance of life. Solomon understands the difficulty of laughter in the context of his reality:

"Of course it can be hard to sustain a sense of humor during an experience that is really not so funny. It is urgently necessary to do so…Whatever time is eaten by a depression is gone forever. The minutes that are ticking by as you experience the illness are minutes that you will not know again. No matter how bad you feel you have to do everything you can to keep living, even if all you can do for the moment is breathe. Wait it out and occupy the time of waiting as fully as you can. That’s my big piece of advice to depressed people."

Do better, try harder! That’s not very hopeful—especially not for those who really need hope. Indeed, we must often wait, but we also need to know that, when we are at our weakest and lowest, we are actually at our highest (2 Cor. 12:9-10)! We need the assurance that even in the midst of depression, our dear Lord is drawn to us in our pain (Isa. 57:15; 66:1-2; Psalm 34:17-18), is suffering along with us (Heb. 4:15; Isa. 63:7-11), and is working even our defeats and failures towards a blessed and eternal conclusion (Rom. 8:28; Phil. 1:6; John 6:37-40)!

Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Traveled, writes 15 years later about his journey from Zen Buddhism to Christianity. He had repeatedly observed that his Christian clients would improve, no matter how serious their psychiatric condition. He concludes,

"The quickest way to change your attitude toward pain is to accept the fact that everything that happens to us has been designed for our spiritual growth…We cannot lose once we realize that everything that happens to us has been designed to teach us holiness…We are guaranteed winners!"

If our hope is in ourselves rather than in our omnipotent and all-loving God, we have no guarantees except death and decay. Solomon also appreciates the power of faith:

Frankly, I think that the best treatment for depression is belief, which is in itself far more essential than what you believe in. If you really truly believe that you can relieve your depression by standing on your head and spitting nickels for an hour every afternoon, it is likely that this incommodious activity will do you tremendous good.

Indeed, it is a well-demonstrated fact that the placebo effect is powerful. If we believe in something, anything, it will make a difference, at least for the short-run. However, unless a faith accords with reality (our experiences and observations) and is nurtured by compelling evidences, it will subside and so too its positive influences.

God has not left His suffering people destitute of compelling reasons-to-hope. He has not been slack in providing authenticating miracles (Mat. 11:5-6; John 5:31-36; 10:37; 20:25-31; Acts 1:3; Heb. 2:4) and fulfilled prophecy (Luke 24:25-27, 44-45; John 14:28-29; 16:1-4, 32-33; Acts 17:2-4; 18:4; 28:23) to reassure our fretful minds.

The alternative to a trust in God is a trust in self. Such a trust is constantly under the attack by our experiences that indict this notion. We’re not worthy of self-trust, and consequently, it can only be maintained through a most repressive form of denial. Nevertheless, we yearn to trust, but trust can only flourish when finally married to its intended Husband.

No comments:

Post a Comment