This post is a continuation from the first part of a response to a question about depression. I’ll begin with the question I posed at the end of the first part:
What hope is there in all of this?
There are a few common responses people give to this question. Perhaps the most common one can take different forms, but basically comes down to the idea that “things will get better”. It’s a promise that this point is one of the lowest you will encounter, and some day you will either “break out” of the struggle or a change in circumstances will help the situation.
The main problem with this form of hope is that there is no guarantee that things actually will get better, especially in the timeline you want or expect that “betterness” to come. Thus, this idea provides a potential false sense of hope to the person struggling. And if this hope is not realized, the person struggling could fall deeper into despair.
Another way people offer hope is to say something like, “God has a purpose for what you’re going through”. There are many cases where people do realize the purpose behind them going through a particular struggle. Kristin Anderson, for example, came to this type of realization.
After Kristin decided to lay on the tracks, the train ran over her and completely cut off her legs. She somehow survived, but lived a constantly painful and more difficult life. Eventually, God showed Kristen how her story can impact others’ lives, and she began a ministry that intends to help young people who are experiencing depression and suicidal thoughts.
While God may have a purpose for the struggles you are going through, focusing on this idea as a source of hope may not be helpful. Ironically, it could turn you away from hope in the midst of struggles. You may not understand what this purpose is for years, and there’s not a guarantee that a full understanding will ever come. If your hope comes solely through discovering a purpose for what you are going through, and you are not on track to discovering that purpose, then that hope becomes difficult to accept.
We’re getting close to an appropriate source of hope for Christians, but aren’t quite there yet. Let’s turn to a quotation from Jesus found in the New Testament. In John 16:33, Jesus tells his disciples, “in this world, you will have tribulation”.
Although Jesus gave this message specifically to his disciples, the idea he expressed can apply to all of us. We all go through struggles and difficulties in life. Death, pain, and poverty can drag us down when we least expect it.
But Jesus doesn’t stop with that idea. The quotation continues – “in this world, you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world”. Jesus points out a feature of reality – that tribulations will be part of life. And then he gives the answer of where hope is found in that reality.
The answer isn’t a future circumstantial change or a future realization of a purpose. Instead, the answer is Jesus himself. Who he is (the redeemer). What he has done (overcome the pain and difficulties in life). And what he will do (restore all things to perfection). Now we’ve come to an appropriate source of hope for Christians.
Other passages in the New Testament provide guidance for dealing with tough situations where hope can be hard to find. In his letter to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul talks about his experiences of being in need, and what he has learned through those experiences:
“I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him (the Lord) who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:12-13)
Paul recognizes that in good and bad times, it is Jesus who gives him the strength to carry on. Paul also gives an example of one of his “bad times” in 2 Corinthians 12. In this chapter, Paul boasts about a vision that he witnessed in order to show how foolish boasting is. He goes from this boasting to talking about a difficult time in his life – a “thorn” that was given to him “in the flesh”.
He doesn’t specify what the difficulty involved, but does make it clear that he wanted whatever it was to go away – “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.” I’m sure you can relate to this type of situation – wanting to escape from a difficulty that has dragged you down.
As the passage continues, Paul talks about the response to his inescapable circumstance:
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, I am strong.”
The response to Paul’s circumstance does not involve a hope that the difficulty will disappear. Instead, the response focuses on the grace and power of Christ. Paul can be content when going through this difficulty because he trusts in Christ – trusts that his grace is sufficient in times of weakness, and trusts that his power overtakes the most difficult circumstances.
These passages establish a foundation for hope in the Christian worldview. While the hope is there, it can definitely be hard to grasp while going through something like depression. I do not know what exactly can help you in that process, but in the next post, I’ll offer some direct thoughts about the content of your question.