Ed Welch writes, “Depression is a form of suffering that can’t be reduced to one universal cause. This means that family and friends can’t rush in armed with the answer. Like most forms of suffering, [depression] feels private and isolating” (Welch, Depression: Looking Up from the Stubborn Darkness 4). Most people struggling with depression do not understand the cause of it, begging the question of, “why is this happening to me?” Hopelessness is a dark friend to the depressed. It sounds off in a subtle series of indifferent thoughts on life and relationships. This essay will attempt to provide a counseling plan moving forward from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, not primarily to eliminate depression, but to encourage faith in objective hope for the depressed.
One thing is sure; depression gives the impression that you are alone and without hope. Additionally, though many people suffer from depression, the depressed often believe that they are without sympathizers because they feel understood by no one. Ephesians 1:7 says, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.” In this passage, Paul alludes to Christ suffering for the sake of redeeming the saints. This he provides as a concrete example as one who knew suffering, physically, emotionally, psychologically, as he was beaten and crucified, abandoned by all his closest companions, mocked and ridiculed by his countrymen, and separated from his Father to whom he was in perfect communion for eternity past. The point here is that there is one who knows intimately how the depressed feel, and went deeper into that feeling, for their sake, then they ever will.
Depression has a way of darkening the realities of the past. It depicts itself as the biggest problem, both past, present, and future, but neglects to remind them of their past relationship with God. Ephesians 2:1-3 comes to remind the saints of who they once were before their regeneration in Christ. The reminder comes to tell the saints that they once walked in opposition to God, and thus were dead men, objects of God’s wrath. The image that is communicated here is that, though men walked, breathed, ate, slept, thus very much alive, from the eternal perspective, they were dead. Worse still, they were objects of God’s eternal wrath. This eternal death is certainly the epitome of hopelessness. However, Ephesians 2:4-5 reminds the depressed that, “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” Having been redeemed from your worst in this life, there is hope for future glory, happiness, and joy in the life to come (Eph 2:6-7).
Depression also has its way of deceiving the depressed by communicating that even God doesn’t care, and therefore, doesn’t listen to their pleas for help. Ed Welch says, “all suffering is intended to train us to fix our eyes on the true God.” (Welch, Depression: Looking Up from the Stubborn Darkness 31). The Scriptures make abundantly clear that God does hear his children’s pleas, but also that he knows what is best for them (Ps 18:6; Is 55:8; Prov 16:9). But the narrative of depression that God does not care and therefore doesn’t listen, tends to drone out the objective truth in the Scriptures, resulting in asking the question, “Why pray and cry out to him?” However, having faith in the God of the Bible is trusting that he “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us” (Eph 3:20). Those in depression can either believe in the object truth that God is working in their suffering to help them see himself, or drown in the falsehood that God does not care or listen to the depressed. In one there is hope, in the other, there is only more darkness.
Lastly, though previously mentioned, the great hope for the suffering saint is in the future glory to be had in Jesus Christ, sealed now with the guarantee of Christ’s Spirit living in them (Eph 1:11-14). By the seal of the Spirit on this guarantee, the hope that suffering and depression will actually end is an inevitable future event. Though suffering is real now, it will not be a factor when the saints are ushered into the glory of Christ. Having now a redeemed heart and new life in Jesus, the saint then, is to push past the alter-reality of current suffering, and live in a manner consistent with the promise of future glory (Eph 4:22-24; 5:1-2; 6:10-11).
David Mishler is a Missional Community Leader at Kaleo Church, a seminary student at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and has a passion for serving the local church in organization and administration.