A Complex Approach To a Complex Struggle

Though it is often hidden and unspoken within Christian communities, depression/anxiety has many Christians firmly within its grasp.  Partly because it’s still stigmatized in most churches and partly because it’s truly impossible for others to understand unless they have experienced it for themselves, Christians with this struggle often feel alone, confused, and helpless in the fight.

Compounding the problem is the debate within the Church on how to help the depressed.  It’s a gross generalization that should be much more nuanced, but essentially there are three schools of thoughts when it comes to treating depression.

Medical:  By far the most popular approach in our society is to consult an MD.  Depression/anxiety is a caused by a neurological imbalance, and medicine should be taken to correct the imbalance.

Therapy:  Increasing in popularity is to consult a therapist.  Depression/anxiety is rooted in your story.  Whether it be abuse, neglect, or the failings of your parents, the wounds of your past have led to this, and they need to be discovered, processed, and dealt with properly.

Spiritual:  Popular among Christians (particularly evangelical Christians) is to consult a pastor.  Depression/Anxiety is a fruit of sin, and the pathway of healing is through repentance.

So which is it?

Is it a neurological imbalance, past wounds, or the consequence of sin, do you need a doctor, a therapist, or a pastor?  The answer is yes.

This is an incredibly complex struggle that necessitates an equally complex approach.  The Bible describes human beings as both physical and spiritual creatures that are formed by experiences in this world.  Also the Bible says that every part of our humanity has been ravished by the fall and is in need of renewal. We are just one big complex mess.

Therefore when it comes to depression, be very wary of simplicity.  Well-intended people will emphasize one of these three approaches, but too often this is done at the exclusion of the other two.

The depressed need all three.  That’s not to say that all three are equally causative, usually one is needed more than the others, but all three must be considered

Perhaps it is an inherited imbalance from your family genetics, and for you it is primarily going to be a medical issue.  Perhaps you have a past history of horrific abuse, and for you it is primarily going to be a therapy issue.  Perhaps you have a besetting sinful pattern in your life, and for you it is primarily going to be a repentance issue.  But always the three are interconnected because the three cannot be separated within your personhood.

This is why I truly believe all must be considered and assessed with the help of an expert in each area.

I once experienced a 6-month stretch of crippling anxiety.  It was the most difficult season of my life, but I bless God for the way it sanctified me and for the way I can now sympathize and counsel others.  Though anxiety is always lurking, I’m now at a place of relative freedom.  How did God bring me to this place?

I consulted a trusted doctor, a trusted counselor, and trusted pastors, and as it turned out, I needed help in all three areas.

My doctor helped me see that my diet and exercise were horrendous and needed to change immediately, and yes he prescribed me some medication to help get me out of the hole.  My counselor helped me see past wounds, ways that I had been sinned against that needed to be processed, lamented, forgiven, and liberated from.  And my closest brothers in the ministry helped me see my arrogance, self-reliance, idolatry of productivity and esteem, and many other areas where I needed to repent.

If you are struggling with depression/anxiety, the condition is probably whispering to you in this very moment that there is no hope for you.  You’re being lied to. Hope is a reality and healing is possible, but for that to happen we must reject overly simplistic solutions and embrace a complex approach to this very complex struggle.

May God grant help to the hurting.

Rev. Robert Cunningham