Does evangelical spirituality help or hinder those who are depressed? Glen asked this question a few days ago and got some great responses.
Here’s one from Paul:
Evangelical culture so often puts a deep emphasis on internal ‘states’ rather than simple life practice and structure. When the emphasis is all on what is happening inside me – emotionally and psychologically – then it tends to be too demanding or uncontrollable. One of the core reasons that depression so easily attaches to evangelicals is… something to do with the over-complicated emotional and psychological expectations –[ as Glen says, the spiritual expectation to ‘really mean it’]. Church history has so much on liturgy, church buildings, daily/yearly patterns, structures of life… because that is where and how the Christian life happens. The structures and patterns come first… and the emotional/psychological states come along as a possible consequence… and then only as a secondary aspect.
When we were discussing this kind of thing, some people said that they found evangelicalism depressing because there was so much ‘demand’ – so many demands on obedience and performance, whereas we should just sit back and contemplate all that Jesus has done. I hear this, but I’m not sure I buy it. Yes, I want to think about Jesus more and more… but when I do that I find Him teaching about how to live in His way. He doesn’t just tell me about what He has done…in fact, in His main teaching in the gospels, He doesn’t really do that very much. He tells me to follow Him. Is this a demand? I think it is more of a liberation. When I am stuck in a prison, I want to follow the Man who can lead me out.
In evangelical culture there may sometimes be a kind of performance driven and ‘works righteousness’ flavour to the kind of obedience that is demanded… and THAT would be a problem… BUT, the Bible itself is filled with the offer of a new way of living that Jesus makes possible. Far from demanding and depressing, I find His description of following Him to be filled with hope and freedom. I really don’t know how to live… and I only seem to make a mess of my life, my emotions, my thinking and attitudes. When I look at Jesus I see someone who seems to be very good at life… and seems to have His stuff together on thinking, feeling, attitudes… day to day coping. When He tells me how to follow His way, I don’t find that demanding or depressing in any way. It gives me a sense of hope. Can I really follow Him? He tells me that I can, and because HE says this, I trust Him and however stumbling and faltering, I follow.
If my life is filled with greed and ‘stuff’, Jesus tells me that it’s possible to sell it all, give it away and help people. Yes, life is so much more than the stuff… and I had none of it when I was born and will take none when I die. Jesus shows me a new way of living where I can be free from all my stuff… and find a new kind of treasure in the church family.
If my life is filled with anger and bitterness, Jesus tells me that it is possible to forgive and bless… to actually do good even to the people who I get on with least of all, the people that annoy me most. When I do what He says I find that the bitterness and anger get replaced with… something like love.
If my life is filled with lust and sex, then Jesus tells me not to look at people like that. He doesn’t tell me not to feel or desire like that, because how can I go about changing that? No, He just tells me not to look at people like that… then I find that as I do what He says, the feelings begin to change. People become more valuable and less like commodities.
The point is… Jesus tells me simple things to do… things which may well sound too simple, even simplistic. He doesn’t tell me to introspect or order my emotions or achieve a psychological state. He tells me to share what I have with the church family, consider the birds, do good things even for the people I don’t get on with, take each day one at a time, keep food and clothes simple… and leave the harvest, the outcome of all that to Him.
I trust Him that if I … stretch out my withered hand…. even though that doesn’t seem to be enough to make me whole… that if I simply do what He tells me, without getting all intense about how I feel or how ‘authentic’ it all is…then His way will bring… life’.