How to Process Spiritual Depression

2 Jun

Even the best of saints suffer from what’s known as “spiritual depression.” Now, this is not to say that all forms of depression are “spiritual” in nature, but very often (chemical imbalance-caused depression aside), there is a “spiritual” element that is involved.

And when – not if – but when it does, many Christians’ torments are exacerbated by the fact that they don’t know how to process what’s going on. That is, they are thrown into a deep sense of confusion because this issue is rarely, if ever, discussed in Christian circles because it’s often stigmatized.

But the good folks over at Sovereign Grace Ministries have put out this very interesting post in which they convert John Newton’s letters to a depressed pastor into a Q&A of sorts in order to make it more accessible to readers today. You can read the entire post here, but there is one particular part of it in which John Newton essentially teaches those going through spiritual depression how to process it in their minds. He writes:

First: There is an inseparable connection between causes and effects. Indwelling sin is an active cause; and therefore, while it remains in our nature, it will produce effects according to its strength.

So why should I wonder that I can feel no lively exercise of grace, no power to raise my heart to God, any farther than he is pleased to work in me mightily; any more than wonder that I do not find fire in the bottom of a well, or that it should not be day when the sun is withdrawn from the earth?

Second: Humbled I ought to be to find I am so totally depraved—but not discouraged, since Jesus is appointed to me of God, wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption; and since I find that, in the midst of all this darkness and deadness, he keeps alive the principle of grace which he has implanted in my heart.

Pray this is of some comfort (though I realize not much) to those who are in a season where, as the hymn goes, darkness is hiding his lovely face.

Here are a few other resources I’ve come across recently on the subject:

  1. Spiritual Depression: It’s Causes and Cure by David Martyn Lloyd-Jones. I’m about halfway done with the book and it’s been absolutely helpful so far not only in that Lloyd-Jones stays so close to the text in dealing with the issue, but also because he systematically goes through what it actually means to be a Christian (he believes that much of spiritual depression is caused by having a faulty grasp on what it means to be saved by Jesus Christ).
  2. Depression: A Stubborn Darkness by Ed Welch of CCEF. Here, Ed Welch (along with the rest of CCEF) deal with this issue in a balanced way. There are some who would deny that clinical psychology is of any help to those who need it. But Welch closely looks at the issue without idolizing either position. He looks at some very practical causes of depression (e.g., fear, anger, dashed hopes, failure and shame, guilt and legalism, and death).
  3. Christians Get Depressed Too by David Murray. I haven’t even cracked open this one yet, but it’s next on my list. But here’s a helpful summary from Ligonier ministries.
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