Facing Depression Personally
Many, if not the vast majority of Christians, think that they should never struggle with depression. And if they do, there must be something wrong with them. After all, Jesus died and was raised on the third day to purify us of all of our sins. So, if a Christian’s sins are forgiven, we should always be happy, right? Right?
In If I’m a Christian, Why Am I Depressed?, Dr. Robert Somerville gives a gentle reminder. As he notes:
“Remember that you are not alone in your struggle against depression. Statistics indicate that this year alone, millions of Americans will suffer mild to severe depression. With that in mind I have shared the stories of others whom God has brought across our path, who have come out on the other side or who are still in the battle with depression. Read their stories and be encouraged! They are warriors who have also learned to put their hope in our faithful God. May their stories give you courage to take heart and fight on!” (p. xii).
Dr. Somerville does a great job of bringing us on his journey through severe depression and the hope that is found in the Lord Jesus and His Word. Throughout the book, Somerville writes about the questions that he was struggling with and how the Lord helped him through those times. By using his own life as the example, Somerville is able to help dispel the notion that Christians do not get depressed.
Before his depression began, Dr. Somerville had been a pastor-teacher for 35 years and had been able to bring hope to those in distress through the power of God’s Word. He writes:
“When the fall semester came I couldn’t teach. The counseling professor was in depression! How humbling is that! But my colleagues and the administration at the college couldn’t have been more supportive. I thought that I would never teach or preach again. I thought my life was over and my usefulness for God’s kingdom was finished. When you’re in the pit, there isn’t any hope” (p. 17).
Dr. Somerville sets the tone of the book by not only sharing his own experience, but also by carefully explaining what true hope is and whom it is…Jesus Christ. When a person is depressed, hope is lost. Therefore, the person needs to be able to see the true hope of the gospel. Dr. Somerville does a great job from the beginning of pointing his readers to the Lord Jesus Christ and His all-sustaining Word.
At the end of each chapter, Somerville includes accounts from people he has had contact with and who have either been delivered from the depths of depression or who are still struggling with depression. Therefore, the reader is able to see the Lord work in the lives of those who are struggling and be encouraged by what those people learned through the process. In addition to the comfort and the call of the gospel, it is helpful to read the accounts of those who have gone through times of difficulty and whose faith has grown as a result of it. One such person wrote:
“Depression does not care if it ruins our lives. But we are not at the mercy of depression. It operates under the dominion of our sovereign God, who determines its pre-appointed boundaries. I’ve never felt more weak, desperate, and vulnerable than when passing through this darkness; yet each day God grew my confidence that if He is for me, nothing can successfully plot against me—nothing” (p. 93).
Another aspect that I like about If I’m a Christian, Why Am I Depressed? is that each chapter ends with a very practical section entitled “Response.” In this section, Dr. Somerville encourages the readers that are in the midst of depression to work through a series of action points and plans. The author is encouraging right responses to the depression that people find themselves in as he directs them to the Word of God and His church.
Hope for the Caregiver
Dr. Somerville’s depression affected his entire life, family, and ministry. As he was struggling with depression, he needed someone to take care of him, which became the job of his wife. How are the caregivers to cope? How are they able to keep from succumbing to the gloom of their loved one’s darkness and encourage them in the Lord? Mrs. Somerville does a great service to us all by giving us her honest account of how she was giving her husband the care that he needed. She states:
“‘Are you managing?’ This is a legitimate question to ask a caregiver who is dealing with the constant strain of living with a depressed person. It would be so easy for him or her to give up and be sucked under by the constant undertow of hopelessness. But I want to show you from God’s Word that we caregivers can cope; and we can do more than just cope, we can rejoice, we can rescue, we can glorify God!” (p. 195)
If I’m a Christian, Why Am I Depressed? is a fantastic resource for those who are in the darkness themselves or for those who are wanting to help the person struggling with depression. I am encouraged by the honesty of the Somervilles, and the way they clung to the Lord and His Word even when they didn’t feel like it. The Lord continued to show His faithfulness to the Somerville’s through Dr. Somerville’s journey with depression. I am also thankful to the Somervilles for allowing us to see God’s work in and through their lives and marriage.