The Gift of Depression

Christmas gift box on wooden table

Depression. You may know someone who suffers it, but you don’t know it till it has coiled it’s fingers around your neck and slowly squeezed as it held you down for weeks, months, years….

It is relentless. It is chaotic. It drives out every comfort from before your eyes and it rubs out every coherent thought from your mind. It follows you like a bored 5 year old down every hallway and into every corner and then it traps you there, rummaging through your pockets and stealing every illusion of control over your own life that you thought you had. It empties you of every ounce of pride and robs you of every trace of self esteem, and it strips you of any self reliance. It rips out your ability to feel emotion like an aborted child is ripped from the womb and tosses it unceremoniously in the trash.

Depression takes everything.

For some it happens quick, like a trigger on a gun, while standing in line to buy salmon or when taking a bath or driving to work. For others, like me, it develops over time.  We can feel it sneaking up on us…we try to build a defence with bricks made of jello. Your brain chases its tail like a crazed juvenile canine, running in circles, slobbering everywhere, digging up the yard looking for a bone of reasons, explanations, and answers. But eventually your faith falters, and face plants in the dirt. You can’t find that bone, it is just not there, and soon doubts crop up, they cloud your vision. You question, beg, and plead. You cling to your own strength. You scream out to God, “Help me!” And when he doesn’t answer us the way we want, doubt sets in.  We can hear it when Satan giggles but we don’t care. And when the depression has it’s fingers completely coiled around your neck, you no longer fight it, there are no more gasps, there is no more struggle…and you give in.  You collapse on your bed emotionless, lost, empty.  Clinging to your pillow for comfort, isolated, alone and empty. There is nothing left, but you, your misery, and God, if you can even feel him any more… The dark night of the soul has arrived.

Some make it out alive, some do not.

Everyone involved is hurt.

And I called this a gift.

I stand by it.

Recently I posted a link to an Adam Ford article on Depression and Anxiety on Facebook. Without even thinking about it, I led off with the sentence, “It is interesting to see who God has granted the gift of depression.”  I received a number of responses that depression is not a gift.  I understand why people would question my choice of words.  I mean depression really sucks, it is hell on earth – just read the opening paragraphs for a taste of what I went through! But,  I have come to view depression as a gift – even though I never want to go through it again!

The response to that one little word “gift” was striking to me. I did not expect it as the reformers and puritans clearly taught that suffering is  gift. One person said to me that, “God might use depression, but he does not design it, it is not a gift!”

My response is that it is not enough to simply say that God only uses depression and stop shy of saying that he designs it.

God permitted me to suffer with depression, and what he permits, he permits for a reason…that reason is his design. Think about it. If God is sovereign over everything, he would see the rewiring of neuro-pathways in our brains or the changing equilibrium and chemical imbalance and he would be able to stop it. If he does not stop it, if he permits the trigger to happen that leads to my severe depressive episodes, then he has a purpose in it. And if we confess that God is infinitely wise, which we do, then it is also correct to call His purpose in depression a design. And if he designed it specifically for one of his beloved children, would it not be correct to say that it is a gift?

Some may say, “But it is a result of the fall into sin!  It is caused by Satan!”

Yes, I agree with that. But even if Satan is the one to strike me with depression, it is not ultimately his choice to afflict me.  He must be permitted by God to afflict me, especially since I am one of His covenant children. For instance, when Satan causes Job to suffer with boils he attributes it ultimately to God:

So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and struck Job with loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. And he took a piece of broken pottery with which to scrape himself while he sat in the ashes.

Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil? In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

At the end of the book of Job, we read that it was not Satan who caused the evil, but the Lord:

And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends. And the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. Then came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and ate bread with him in his house. And they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him. And each of them gave him a piece of money and a ring of gold.

A hard word to be sure, but through out the Bible we are taught that we will suffer because God willed it.  In Phil. 1:29 Paul inspired the Spirit says,

“For it has been granted to you that for your sake, you should not only believe but suffer.”

John Piper elaborates on this verse by saying about suffering,

“It’s granted to you. It’s given to you. It’s a gift to you with a big bow that you will suffer.”

If my depression is caused by God permitting Satan to afflict me, and the outcome of that depression is that God is glorified, and I am, as Psalm 34 says, lacking in no good thing, that is, that I receive a greater measure of God himself, then I can only view it as a gift from Gods own hand…as much as it sucks and hurts at the time.

Now, just because I believe that the Bible teaches that my depression is a gift designed by God for me, that does not mean I should just grin and bear it. The reality of God’s design is that we also get to cry out in honest anguish to the Lord our redeemer when we suffer. Jesus wept for Lazarus, He weeps when we weep, and he tells us to cast our cares and anxieties upon him. Remember the honest weeping of King David in the Psalms of lament, of King Hezekiah  in Isaiah 38, and of many others through out scripture. These children of God are brutally honest in prayer to God because they know that God is infinitely wise, that he is sovereign over all, and that they have set their hope in him alone.

Yes, depression is a result of the curse. But the gift, the blessing of my depression comes in what God does in, with, and through my depression. He brings his great and merciful gospel of redemption to light right smack dab in the middle of it, onto the stage of the curse. He pulls back the curtains and shows that here on this cursed dark stage stands his Son, beaming in glorious radiance. My depression, in itself, is one of many different ‘shadows of death’ spoken of in the Shepherds Prayer in Psalm 23.  We all have our own shadows of death and valleys…addiction, loss of loved ones, sickness, cancer, and so on. But the beautiful thing in the midst of this ugly sin stained world, whether depression kills us, or cancer kills us, or a terrorist kills us, is that in his beloved covenant children, our gracious and kind Father works a glorious good through our most grievous loss and pain. Sometimes he heals us, always he sustains and preserves us, and he is continually teaching us through our suffering that we might know and love him more deeply and personally. It is here in the midst of our unique “shadows of death”, that the refiner is refining us. It is here that our faith becomes deep and real, and our love becomes purposeful and wise.  It is here in the midst our suffering, my depression, your valley – whatever that may be- that God grants us the greatest gift of all – Himself.

That is why I count my depression as a gift.

 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. James 1:2-5

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  1. Jan Folkersma says:

    Think about this! The opposite of depression is expression, this is a law of nature, creation. In a depression are you doing to yourself what actually is meant for somebody else!

  2. ve4haz says:

    Thank you Ryan, for your wisdom and insight. I have depression as well and have never thought of depression as a gift. You have reminded me that God uses all things to make us the people that we meant to be! Thanks!