How can the Church Minister to those that are Depressed?

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Edward T. Welch, a seasoned counselor, says, “The church must move toward the depressed person and mourn with those who mourn (Rom. 12:15), pray for God’s deliverance (2 Cor. 1:9-11), and search for encouraging words that can bless and give hope.”[1] It is important for depressed people to have friends speak truth, gospel truth, into their life.

Hebrews is good to remind us of this. It says to meet together and encourage each other (Heb. 10:25) It says “Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:13). We all need each other. We all need brothers and sisters encouraging us in the faith and speaking the truth in love to us at all times but especially in times of depression.

We need people to remind us that our labor in the Lord is not in vain, our life is not vain, because Jesus has resurrected from the dead (cf. 1 Cor. 15). We need people to tell us that when we grieve, we do not grieve as those without any hope. And we need reminded of the hope we do have. Secular people, even trained secular people, cannot sufficiently do this. Why? Because they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor. 2:14).[2]

Dietrich Bonhoeffer speaks to this point (whose own father was a prominent psychiatrist).[3]

The greatest psychological insight, ability, and experience cannot grasp this one thing: what sin is. Worldly wisdom knows what distress and weakness and failure are, but it does not know that man is destroyed only by his sin and can be healed only by forgiveness. Only the Christian knows this. In the presence of a psychiatrist I can only be a sick man; in the presence of a Christian brother I can dare to be a sinner. The psychiatrist must first search my heart and yet he never plumbs its ultimate depth. The Christian brother knows when I come to him: here is a sinner like myself, a godless man who wants to confess and yearns for God’s forgiveness. The psychiatrist views me as if there were no God. The brother views me as I am before the judging and merciful God in the Cross of Jesus Christ.[4]

I certainly do not think that psychiatrist are bad. They are not. However, they cannot point you to the cross of Christ. They cannot restore to you the biblical perspective that you so need.

Paul was able to say, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor. 1:3-4 italics mine).We see that God in part comforts us so that we are able to comfort those that are likewise suffering. Through this we see that than God comforts in very concrete ways through people. Of course, God comforts through His Word, His Spirit, and through a host of other means, but here and very powerfully He comforts people through other people who have themselves been comforted by God. Here, as in many places in Scripture, we see the great importance placed on community.

Part of how we can comfort others in their affliction and depression is by reminding them of the gospel. Reminding them that though they are rebellious and sinful and so often fail to trust God He still loves them. And has in fact adopted them as His children so that when they struggle they can go to God our Father who cares. We also need to remind them that we await the day when God Himself will wipe away all tears (Rev. 21:4) and make all things forever right.

We saw the huge impact that trusting God had on Ruth. She clung to Him in dark times, but why? I think she must have known of His past faithfulness. She must have heard from Naomi of how the LORD delivered Noah; how He called Abram, the nomad wonderer, to Himself; of how He used the murderer Moses to deliver the people of Israel. Ruth trusted the LORD not merely because someone said, “Yeah, it’s dark but just trust the LORD.”

No. She trusted the LORD for a reason, He is worthy. Paul also trusted the LORD because He is worthy and He showed His worthiness in the gospel. In the two “case studies” we looked at we saw the difference that trusting (Remember, trusting can be synonymous with worship, fear, believe, etc.) the LORD makes. So what does that mean for us counselors and Christian friends? Share the gospel! Where else does God more show His amazing trustworthiness? We need to remind others of God’s amazing faithfulness by reminding them of the gospel so that in the midst of despair they can trust God and continue on as Ruth and Paul did.[5]

Depression is difficult and seems insurmountable but it is not. With the help of Christ’s body the church, depressed individuals can once again hope in God and trust Him for all they need in life. The church must lovingly help those that are depressed by reminding them of the hope that the gospel instills in us. The church must proclaim through all its ministries, “God can be trusted, look at what He has done for us in Jesus!” 

[1] Welch, Blame it on the Brian, 121.

[2] Simon J. Kistemaker commenting on this passage has said, “The unspiritual man repudiates the things of the Spirit of God because he does not understand them nor does he desire them. He accepts only the things of the world… Granted the unbeliever can excel the Christian in various ways: intellectually, educationally, philosophically, or even morally… Yet, the non-Christian is unable to understand spiritual matters. He lacks the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit to enlighten his understanding” (1 Corinthians, 92).

[3] See Eric Metaxas’ book, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010), 13.

[4] Life Together: The Classic Exploitation of Christian Community John W. Doberstein Trans. (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, Inc., 1954), 119.

[5] Of course, there are other practical things that must also be addressed. Such as sleep, exercise, and eating habits.