I had a dear friend solicit my thoughts, once, on how to preach on depression. He knew I suffered from depression and he trusted me to help him develop his sermon. He wanted to know how I would approach it.
I quoted him a few verses that have always been near to my mind when I have fought hardest along my journey.
Words like Elijah’s when, having witnessed the glory and might of God, ran from the threat of an evil queen:
"But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” -1 Kings 19:4
Words like Jeremiah’s when he cried out against the horror show that was his life:
"Cursed be the day on which I was born! The day when my mother bore me, let it not be blessed! Cursed be the man who brought the news to my father, 'A son is born to you,' making him very glad." -Jeremiah 20:14–15
And in case people still think that maybe those were just Old Testament stylings when things were really bad, the words of Paul:
"And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches." -2 Corinthians 11:28
"For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself." -2 Corinthians 1:8
My friend, who I still love dearly, listened to my thoughts on the fact that in a broken world full of broken people, depression happens to those both in Christ and those who are not.
He listened and then he taught. He didn’t teach from Jeremiah or Lamentations or anywhere we had discussed but, instead, taught from Philippians:
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." - Philippians 4:6
And though I understood what he was getting at, he took it out of context from the rest of Paul’s writings. He acted, in many ways, as though the command to not be anxious somehow took away the reality of depression and anxiety that Paul even says can bring repentance. (2 Cor 7:10)
Depression is Real
The truth is, I believe the American church has created a new problem for those who fight depression. Depression is really real, really is a problem, and really is hard enough all on its own. But the church has often said, “If you’re down, you’re not believing enough or in the right things with enough fervor.”
Does that sound familiar? It should. It should sound like the prosperity gospel because it is. People aren’t poor or sick because they don’t have enough faith. Just like people aren’t rich or healthy or because they do.
People aren’t depressed because they don’t have enough faith, either. People aren’t happy because they do have enough faith. That’s just not true. If it is, then you’re saying that Paul just didn’t believe enough. Or, to use a slightly more modern example, Charles Spurgeon.
I have fought this beast since I was a child, even before I was saved and now into my life, my real life in Christ, I can tell you that focusing on depression as a lack of faith is about as helpful for the depression itself as setting fire to a condemned house.
No, the answer, if there is one, isn’t to heap another burden onto the weary. It is, instead, to look to Jesus for our rest. Recently one of my pastors told me that the four words that meant the world to him in his battles are, “He restores my soul.” (Psalm 23:3)
So in the true fashion of a man I greatly admire, I want to pick apart those four words not as the remedy, but perhaps as a remedy.
Christ is a Real Hope
My help does not lie within me. When I look inside, all I can see is a broken soul. That’s it. That’s all. There is more there that I know through mental ascent, but depression doesn’t care about the truth nor does it waste time hiding. It just paints all the inside surfaces with a dull grey.
My help is external to me. My help isn’t an "it" either. My help is a person. He. He is a person and He is not me.
The Hebrew word in this passage is shuwb and it means to turn back, to return, to do over. It speaks of a way something was or maybe the way something ought to be. My help, my personal, external help, wants to change something either back to the way it was or the way it ought to be. Or both.
To restore, just in the English, is such a good and heavy word. We know what it means to restore something because even in the best lives we could possibly live, we have all had to work to fix something at one time or another.
This English translation doesn’t say, “He restores the soul.” It could have. I mean, it would have had some punch to it, even so. It could have used an editorial form, “He restores our soul,” but it didn’t. No, it says "my."
From a personal “He” to a personal “my.” This isn’t a clinical, aloof figure going about doing puffs of magic with no reason or direction. No. This is a person doing something for and to another person.
When my kids ask me what the soul is, I tell them it’s the part of me that’s immaterial. The "m:e that really is, not just the "me" that can manage a smile on Sunday mornings. And when I read that this is the part of me that God restores? Then I know it doesn’t hinge on that forced smile. It doesn’t hinge on not crying or having all the energy I need.
There is something to be said for it being in the present tense, too. If it said, “He restored my soul,” then there would be something I’m missing, right? Because I’m not restored. I’m not fixed.
And if it said, “He will restore my soul,” then there’s no real hope for now, for those mornings when I wake up but can’t really find anything to look forward to in my life.
It’s a present help. It’s a present hope. He restores my soul.