Christianity, depression, and illness

A friend sent along this cartoon (in Reddit’s Rage/FFFUUU idiom):


He added:

What is your take on Christianity, depression, and other illness?

I ask this because this image, while meant to be humorous, hits close to home and reminds me of my interaction with other (new) Christians.

I remember talking to my friend some time ago about being sick, and another time about depression, and the general response would be whether or not my faith is strong enough. She knows that I grew up depressed, but her counterargument would usually be along the lines of “with Christ, old things have passed away.” By this logic, I’ve essentially been wasting my time, because I still get depressed sometimes.

So, anyway, physical illness and depression, should we expect God to heal these things? Does visiting a physician show one’s lack of faith in God? How do I know that God is working in my life, especially in these cases? Are there any scripture that can back these things up?

I wish I had some wisdom for you. All I know: If God starts instantly healing every single physical ailment on demand, then I’ll expect clinical depression due to chemical imbalances to instantly clear up too. But since Christians still usually have to suffer through their illnesses, I’m not surprised that some Christians experience depression that doesn’t just go away.

I noticed something several years ago. In some Evangelical circles, if someone asked how I was doing and I said “Struggling,” they’d usually get concerned, since that sounded as if I were barely hanging on. Years later, living in an Orthodox monastery, I noticed people saying they were struggling and the response was, “Oh, good!” – because the alternative to struggling is drifting away downstream.

There are faith communities where it’s not okay to not be okay. As if life is expected to be smooth, victorious and uniformly delightful, only punctuated by occasional crises that test our faith but then they’re over. But in my experience it looks more like life for pretty much everyone is a struggle to be at all faithful to Christ – and every painful circumstance or constraint or crisis just morphs into another. Like peace between nations, we experience times now and again where everything is wonderful, and we make the mistake of expecting that all the time. But Jesus unconditionally promised, “In this world you will have tribulation.”

I’ve got several friends who suffer from depression. And I know others who live with chronic pain, or with addictive or self-destructive family members. Not to belittle your struggles at all – but as Thoreau said, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” so you’re not at all alone. It’s never profitable to compare the cross we carry to someone else’s – but know that everybody, including the shiny happy people, carries his own cross, badly or well.

I hope you’re able to find a Christian community that doesn’t think being Not Okay is a shameful or unmentionable thing.

Author: Father Silouan Thompson

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