When Faith and Depression Collide

August 15, 2017

BY: Deacon Steve Ehrman

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

You may be surprised to hear that these words were spoken in great anguish by King David in Psalm 22! He continues in despair with “Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, and by night I find no rest.”

Last February when studying this Psalm, by God’s Holy Spirit, I finally realized that this is exactly what people with serious depression feel – forsaken, abandoned by God; separated from God with a loss of that intimate connection we all desire. I firmly believed that David was indeed depressed when he wrote this!

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” If you have suffered from serious and long-term depression, and have felt that you lost your connection to God, and that He had withdrawn from you, take heart: You are not alone! This is common in serious depression! God is still there, and has a great plan for you! You can’t long for God, unless God is present in your heart!

So, have you ever cried out in despair to God “Why have you forsaken me?” Many faithful people with depression have. I have, I’ve been there! Author Barbara Crafton, in her book “Jesus Wept,” gave many testimonies of people experiencing this anguish, frustrated and even angry of feeling abandoned by God. Has God singled them out for this seeming separation? Are they somehow defective in spirit? Much to my surprise, Barbara Crafton revealed that even Mother Theresa experienced times of darkness, feeling totally cut off from God!

God gave me a mini-miracle just last February at Best Practices Conference at Christ’s Lutheran Phoenix. For the first time in my life, I was able to meet and speak with a wonderful pastor who understood the enormous difficulties and complexities in the lives of faithful Christians dealing with depression. It was then that I committed to “come out of the closet” in my life and ministries, and admit that I’ve dealt with chronic depression much of my adult life – sometimes quite severe. In going public, I hope I can be a help to others suffering depression.

First, understand that there is a stigma associated with depression, “mental” illness. Due to that social stigma, one is reluctant to admit they suffer from depression. The public generally doesn’t know how to respond to an admission of depression. We can empathize with people with physical disabilities and diseases, but be very uncomfortable with and even suspicious of people with depression, a “mental” disease. They may view it as a weakness of character, or even a weakness of faith! After all, if you have Jesus, how can you be depressed?! I’m old enough now that I’m not worried about other peoples’ biases and mindsets.

Depression may bring chaos and doubt into one’s faith life! Living with depression is not for sissies! Folks with serious depression may have no sense of hope, no sense of joy. It saps their spiritual strength. At times it takes great will power to just put one foot in front of the other in their daily routines. They may be productive in life, but it is without joy. Often they do indeed feel separated from God. They may pray unceasing that God may take that burden from them, and restore in them a new spirit. But God does not seem to answer. What can they do? What can we do to help them?

Thanks be to God, David has an answer, right in Psalm 22! Folks, you just have to read this Psalm! Yes, David painfully speaks of feeling forsaken by God, and spends considerable time reviewing his laments. But, beginning in verse 19 he proclaims his trust that God indeed is his strength, and God is listening and will rescue him. You see, at just the time when David was feeling forsaken and alone, he chose to focus on his solid beliefs in the faithfulness and righteousness of God. His prayer, and our prayers, should not just be for the removal of such a burden, but perhaps more important, to claim and proclaim our fundamental trust that God is there, and that He will make all things right in His time. Yes, we are in pain, but He has promised us eternal life, and inheritance in heaven!

Bottom line:

  • If you too suffer from depression and feel separated from God as if He’s abandoned you, take heart! You are not alone! If you long for and pray for a renewed relationship with God, that is indeed proof that the Holy Spirit is at work in you, and that God still loves you!
  • This feeling of separation and abandonment does not preclude a saving faith! You may have both. As David did, in spite of your loss of joy and feeling of disconnect, intentionally give thanks to God and proclaim your abiding faith that He has promised you an inheritance in heaven, and will restore your joy in His time. Surrender yourself to His care! Realize that even if you do not feel it, He loves you and will help you through the tough times.
  • For those of you who have never felt such separation from God in the midst of depression, please realize that this does not come from a personal or spiritual weakness! People dealing with this hardship display great determination and strength in just accomplishing their daily and ongoing affairs!

God may not cure your depression – or your diabetes, or your heart disease – but he gives you little blessings such as Psalm 22 to remind you he is truly there, and will one day make all things right.

There is a beautiful song that helps me reaffirm and “claim” God’s promises in difficult times: “Because He Lives, I Can Face Tomorrow.” The chorus ends with “I know He holds the future, and life is worth the living just because He lives.”

Let’s talk – I’d love to hear your story of faith and depression colliding!

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