Depression and Church: If not Here, Where?

“I loathe my life;

I will give free utterance to my complaint;

I will speak in the bitterness of my soul…”

Job 10:1

We come to church to worship, to praise God. Singing, preaching, sacraments—all are part of the activity of worship. We give thanks, especially this time of year, for all the good in our lives. The forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to us; we are given assurance that God’s Spirit is with us. As church leaders, we are often focused on creating a space for everyone involved in a worship gathering to have an “uplifting” experience.

This relentless focus on the positive doesn’t end when Sunday morning does. In American culture, Christian or not, we’re constantly confronted by celebration. Superhero movies often show characters at a low point, but inevitably they pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and triumph over their enemies. Romantic movies show couples falling in love as though the new relationship will solve all their problems. Social media presents us with a curated version of the lives of friends and acquaintances.

Here’s the thing: there’s nothing wrong with rom-coms, Captain America, or even Instagram (maybe). There’s certainly nothing wrong with praise songs, gratitude, or the assurance of God’s presence! Something is missing, though. There is a negative side to human existence, full of suffering, insecurity, and loss.

In the biblical book of Job, we see someone who is in the depths of depression. Job’s depression is brought on by immense loss, particularly the death of all his children, but we know that the relationship between depression and our outward circumstances can be obvious like it is for Job…or much murkier and less direct. It’s important to say that we don’t need to have lost as much as Job has in order to feel some of the emotions that Job feels.

How often in the world of church do we give people space to be as frank as Job is? When someone in our community says, “I loathe my life,” do we pounce on them with positivity and platitudes like “Jesus is the answer” or “Just give it to God”? In a culture that makes happiness and ambition the highest virtues, where will we go with our brokenness, where will we be able to “give free utterance to [our] complaint” if not in our communities of faith? How can we call ourselves followers of Jesus—who came to earth to suffer in solidarity with humanity—if we don’t freely and openly acknowledge human suffering, both internal and external?

Church cannot take the place of therapy, but as a space where we deal with matters of ultimate concern—God, good and evil, spiritual health—it must also be a space where we give ourselves and others to “speak in the bitterness of [our] soul[s].” Instead of being a place of greater harm, churches can help lead the rest of society into an era of greater awareness of and sensitivity to depression.

Join us Sunday for Real Talk about depression.

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