A wrong understanding toward these questions stunts the spiritual growth of some and truly damages the spiritual life and fellowship of others. Wrong understanding, often a spiritual haughtiness, can lead brethren – even church bodies – to assess the afflicted as faith deficient. ‘Caring spiritual folks’ shoot pellets of scripture, even sing songs and deliver sermons to convince the depressed soul they need not and should not suffer. ‘Only believe’ invalidates the place of total anguish and despair that true brethren often suffer.
Yes, true brethren often suffer.
We can firstly acknowledge here that sin will reap a harvest of destruction in the life of a believer and the discipline and chastisement of the Lord will be painful and costly. There is no doubt that sin will bring despair, guilt, loss, and emotional turmoil. However, we must also acknowledge that a God led life, one which seeks the Lord with a heart to obey, can be afflicted with great emotional suffering – overwhelming sorrow, weighty depression, attacks of anxiety.
Yes, a God led life…afflicted with overwhelming sorrow, weighty depression, attacks of anxiety.
With sin we are ‘reaping what we sow’. However, when suffering comes upon those who strive toward godliness all can be shaken but one immovable anchor: the promise that all turmoil, strife, and despair are held under the design of a sovereign God who can weave great eternal purpose into every pang of pain.
Spiritual giants such as Charles Spurgeon, John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, David Brainerd, are few of the many anointed who battled with deep inner pain. Great preachers, expositors, and missionaries often quietly suffer the weight of reoccurring depression, anxiety and despair. The question is not why, but why not?? They carry a cross – following in the shadow of a suffering Savior – who suffered great physical, emotional and spiritual pain on His way to victory. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death”. (Jesus, Matt 26:38, Mark 14:34) God Incarnate feeling overwhelmed…to the point of death.
The great prophet Elijah, in a time of deep discouragement and despair, “…prayed that he might die. ‘I have had enough’, he said, ‘Take my life.’” (I Kings 19:4) God’s Word reveals to us the emotional oppression and anguish of godly men, testifying of His sovereign power and ultimate victory over EVERY affliction, ailment, and onslaught over His Body. Ultimate victory does not negate the interim, longsuffering afflictions and attacks upon our body, mind, and soul while in this fallen world. We may be crushed and 100% of us will die one day. But there is an intimacy that is birthed when we hold tight to the Lord when darkness comes with inner threshing.
Depression and anxiety are not the fruits of faith deficiency – they can actually be the ground upon which spiritual fruits grow for God’s glory. Whether the He takes us through the storm or quells the thrashing waves altogether, the Lord Himself aligns with our pain, revealing Himself through it– never forsaking us in it.
Our frail, temporal bodies – prone to sickness, injury, mental anguish, dwell in a fallen world, wrought with powers of darkness that war against us. Those who venture, with faith, deep into the battle may fall under greatest attack. The apostle Paul solemnly warns, “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days”. (II Timothy 3:1) We are assuredly in the ‘last days’ and they are indeed ‘terrible’. Those acquainted with despair and those serving in the trenches receive this truth and wisely gain a life view focused on eternity, a view with great value in this temporal, condemned world.
We, as believers, can be ‘down for the count’ and, while there, experience further alienating pain and confusion as modern Christendom makes a ‘faith deficiency’ diagnosis; disavowing possible medical or other interventions. The place of pain is not a place of defeat or waste, but a place of opportunity, of separation, even assigned place of intimacy with the Lord.
Believers have anxiety attacks, bouts of depression and despair but unlike the world, our endurance through the darkness can yield supernatural reward and promise. As painful tilling of rocky ground, the Lord can enlarge our hearts for Him, humble us to raise us higher and refine us for His eternal glory.