We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 2 Corinthians 4:8-9
“Yet it is an indescribable blessing to me that I was mentally depressed as I was.” — Søren Kierkegaard
I “stumbled” upon the above quote by Kierkegaard recently. As someone who has long suffered from depression, I was more than a little startled by the assertion. How could he call the unrelenting, oppressive darkness of depression an “indescribable blessing”? I have always felt in our culture that there is a stigma attached to depression – a shame. Trying to understand his viewpoint of a blessing, I found this explanation:
“Kierkegaard thought that depression only becomes a curse when it is coupled with despair. He proclaimed that despair is not a psychological disorder, like depression, but a spiritual disorder. Although one may be afflicted with a depression that is extremely difficult to shake, Kierkegaard thought that an individual was free to maintain hope not only that his/her life will and can improve, but also that one’s bout with depression is an opportunity to learn valuable life-lessons and cultivate internal strength … despair is related to the French word “desepoir”, which means the negation of hope. According to Kierkegaard, as long as one maintains hope, one is spiritually healthy despite being afflicted with depression. Once one relinquishes hope, however, one descends into the worst of all possible conditions: despair and thus spiritual poverty.”1
… but not in despair …
Charles Spurgeon, the great preacher, was another who was tested by depression. Spurgeon frequently mentioned his struggles from the pulpit, and famously declared, “I would venture to say that the greatest blessing that God can give to any of us is health, with the exception of sickness.”2
He also admitted, “I do not suppose there is any person in this assembly who ever has stronger fits of depression of spirits than I have myself personally” (MTP 15:640). And again, “I think it would have been less painful to have been burned alive at the stake than to have passed through those horrors and depressions of spirit” (MTP 53:137-38).3
I can relate to that description. Yet, it has been written that “Spurgeon’s ministry sparked a wildfire throughout the world because it was forged, to be sure, in the fire.”4
Forged in the fire of an indescribable, most valuable blessing, a gift of the opportunity to learn priceless life-lessons and gain inner strength – if we don’t give up on hope, give up on God, and give in to despair. I begin to see that this is the daily, even minute-by-minute, decision I face – to choose hope. Yet, it is not an impossible choice.
Kierkegaard said that “the transition from depression to despair is one of making oneself, perhaps angrily, perhaps pridefully, deaf to God.”5 Yes, I am deaf to God when I wrap myself in the darkness and dwell on the condemning voices of the past, the mocking voices foretelling my future. Listening instead for his loving voice makes all the difference, for he calls me forward, out into the spacious place. And if depression is what leads me closer to my God who never fails, who has a good plan for my life, then it is indeed an “indescribable blessing.”
Choosing hope, then, is choosing to trust in our trustable God. This hope is the counterbalance to depression and suffering, keeping us from sinking into despair. It is the softening and purifying flame of the forge. Softening our hearts to be formed into His compassionate heart, purifying us from self-pity and rebellion against His will. Our hope can then rest in His faithfulness, His unfailing love, and the unfailing promises in His word.
For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. 2 Corinthians 1:20
God’s promises never fail. They are yes, truly, even so, surely, truth, verily, yea, yes indeed, most assuredly, even so. And even in deepest depression we can cling to them and proclaim Amen! Verily, truly, surely, of a truth, firm and trustworthy, faithful is He.
Look upon my suffering (my depression, misery, affliction) and deliver me, for I have not forgotten (mislaid) your law. Defend my cause and redeem me; preserve (revive) my life according to your promise. Psalm 119:153-154
Remember your word to your servant, for you have given me hope. My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life (revives me). Psalm 119:49-50
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? … But I trust in your unfailing love … Psalm 13:1-2, 5
He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. Psalm 40:2
We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. Hebrews 6:19-20
Walking around these walls
I thought by now they’d fall
But You have never failed me yet
Waiting for change to come
Knowing the battle’s won
For You have never failed me yet
Your promise still stands
Great is Your faithfulness, faithfulness
I’m still in Your hands
This is my confidence
You’ve never failed me yet
I know the night won’t last
Your word will come to pass
My heart will sing Your praise again6
1Academy of Ideas https://academyofideas.com/2013/12/kierkegaard-depression-and-despair/
2C. H. Spurgeon, “The Minister in These Times” in An All-Round Ministry (Banner of Truth, 2000), p. 384, italics in the original.
3MTP = Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit
410 Quotes for Wounded Christians, The Spurgeon Center https://www.spurgeon.org/resource-library/blog-entries/10-spurgeon-quotes-for-wounded-christians/
5Quoted in Ethics, Love, and Faith in Kierkegaard, edited by Edward F. Mooney.
6Do It Again lyrics © Worshiptogether.com Songs, Sixsteps Music, Said And Done Music, Thank You Music Ltd., Be Essential Songs. Songwriters: Christopher Brown / Mack Brock / Steven Furtick / Matthew James Redman
Photo by Jack Bair
“… you, however, are still the same, the same mighty God who tests spirits in conflict, the same Father without whose will not one sparrow falls to the ground.” — Søren Kierkegaard