Existential depression

One of the things I struggle with from time to time is depression or discouragement. Here is a facebook note I wrote about it a couple of years ago. The only change I’ve made is to add links to some of the people I mentioned in it.

————————————– Existential Depression ———————————————-

Existential depression: depression based on the hopelessness or meaninglessness of life in general.

I regularly struggle with it. This is in spite of the fact that I believe with all my heart in the infinite love and goodness of God, and that I will spend eternity in joyful, glorious fellowship with Him.

About 20 years ago a friend of mine asked me why he still felt deeply lonely and unsatisfied with life after becoming a Christian, since Jesus said that knowing Him would satisfy our spiritual thirst. At the time, I couldn’t understand what he meant. I myself felt spiritually satisfied. I had no answer for him.

Today I share his question, but I am less sure that Jesus promised spiritual satisfaction in this life. 2 Cor 5 says we are groaning inwardly, longing for the day when our mortal nature will be swallowed up in eternal life. Living by faith means accepting that we may feel spiritually empty until our salvation is made complete on that day.

Most people have no idea what I’m talking about when I describe my sadness. Yet, they don’t seem any happier than I am if you look closely. “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation” (Thoreau). My brother David is an exception to this. He seems deeply and truly happy. Being around him strengthens my capacity for joy too.

Last night Kate and the girls went to a Beth Moore telecast, which they discussed with me afterwards. She is teaching on Ps 37:4, “Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.” As usual, she seems to have profound insight into the issues she is discussing. I get frustrated, though, that most of her audience won’t get what she is saying. They will hear her teachings as a series of trite assurances along the lines of “trust God and everything will be right”.

The question of how to find spiritual satisfaction in God has far-reaching implications. Our thirst for real life drives our personal relationships and fuels our addictions. Sometimes I feel as though the church I’m a part of reduces this to: if you want spiritual things and obey God, you’ll be happy; if you want worldly things or disobey God, you’ll be unhappy. It angers me that my fellow Christians treat these profound questions so flippantly.

The sins I struggle with most are those which grant me temporary relief from my sadness. As a result, the holier my life, the heavier my heart. I wish more people understood that life is hard without the anesthetic of addiction.

For years I’ve dreamed of seeing God reveal himself in revival, of growing in holiness and love in my walk with him, of becoming caught up in worship. Aren’t these spiritual desires? Yet somehow God’s satisfyingness does not depend on my seeing them fulfilled. Even if he hides himself from me the rest of my life on earth, he will still be the source of all joy in principle. He will still be gracious and glorious and worthy of worship.

It’s hard to maintain the tension inherent in faith, believing that God will fully satisfy in time, while acknowledging the hunger I feel now. Should I expect that knowing God will make a difference to me today? When I do, I run the risk of idolizing my own spiritual experience, but when I reject the expectation, I drain God’s promises of their meaning, making them abstract and irrelevant to my life.

If I simply refused to think about my sense of emptiness I’d generally be less depressed. That’s what everyone else seems to do. It seems wrong to me, though, to close my eyes deliberately to something that is true. Also, God uses that emptiness to draw me forward toward him spiritually.

At the same time, this can become the sin of discontent, deliberately doubting the goodness of God. I don’t want to be like the dwarves in C.S. Lewis’s “The Last Battle”, refusing to be taken in and missing some of the easy joy there is in a walk with God. Somehow as a believer I am responsible to *interpret* my life in joyful terms. There must be a way to do this with my eyes wide open.

Furthermore, in some Scriptural passages, discontent is linked with grumbling against God. We are supposed to praise God in all circumstances, but grumbling is a kind of anti-praise. We believers are called to give glory to God by the way we speak about him, but it’s a call I’ve often neglected. I hope to see that change in the next few years.

In the meantime,

… is a puzzlement.

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