This Depression: How Could it Be?

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John Bertram Phillips was one of England's most respected pastors and theologians. He wrote books that helped thousands of believers keep the faith in times of great controversy. He translated the New Testament in a way that the sacred text came alive for readers throughout the English speaking world.

If anyone deserved total spiritual joy and well-being, it should have been this godly servant of Christ.

But he didn't.

This saintly man suffered deep mental anguish during most of his adult life.

This is how J. B. Philip's himself described it: "At night it was as if I was the picked target of the enemy. Irrational fears gripped my spirit, unreal guilt swept over me. Even my sense of God disappeared. I turned to God for help and he seemed remote and unapproachable."

After his death in 1982, his wife, Vera, wrote that even through times of deep depression, his ministry remained directed toward helping people in their struggles, encouraging them not to lose faith in God. He so well understood the many people who turned to him.

A 79-year old woman once wrote him, "Where is the dear Christ of experience with whom I have walked and talked through the years? What is all my bright faith, my sure knowledge; has it been an illusion?" Philips wrote this reply: "Do you imagine that Christ himself was not in agony of doubt both in Gethsemane and on the cross? So hold on, and keep the flag flying; the King is in residence."

And so, dear reader, who will understand the mental pain you may have had?  Who can advise you? But your Savior Christ knows and understands. In his time and in his way he will visit your soul.

In the meantime we realize again that we are all members of the one family of faith. We need each other, especially in the area of inner well-being. In some small way, we can express that concern by responding to the lines above in writing.

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Community Builder

Very good post. Mother Theresa had a similar experience; and many pastors probably suffer in secret. And I think of our colleague who suffered from severe depression and disappeared a year and a half ago. Wounded healers.

Community Builder

First, mental illness has nothing to do with merit, so to imply that other people deserve to suffer from depression because they aren't as helpful as he was is cruel and adds a burden that they don't need.

Second, the reason he was able to help so many people is probably BECAUSE he suffered from depression himself. The pain of mental illness has spurred many sufferers to help others in a way physical pain may not have.  There is something about mental anguish only those who have been through it can understand in a world where stigma still holds people back from seeking help.  So many people who don't know what it's like to suffer from a mental illness still heap shame on those who do.  So if people like this pastor came out and spoke about their pain more willingly, they would help even more people than he did by keeping it a secret.

Community Builder

Michele,

Well said.  Too bad that we humans cover up our mental illness like Adam and Eve covered up their nakedness. In the church we created the climate for this to happen.  Would that we had more Pastor Phillips'.

My mental pain was described best by William Styron in his book Darkness Visible.  " If the pain were readily describable most of the countless sufferers from this ancient affliction would have been able to confidently depict for their friends and loved ones (even their physicians) some of the actual dimensions of their torment, and perhaps elicit a comprehension that has been generally lacking; such incomprehension has usually been due not to failure of sympathy but to the basic inability of healthy people to imagine a form of torment so alien to everyday experience."

I tried to describe the pain I experienced from mental illness in my book, This Poison Called Depression.

Pastor Larry Van Essen

 

Community Builder

 We, in the Western world, need to get rid of the notion that health, wealth and merit are somehow related.  Those who preach the Health and Wealth Gospel would have us believe that they are, and that if you're a Christian AND sick or poor it's your own fault because you lack faith or you have unconfessed sins you need to get rid of.  That is BULL.... When I began to have symptoms I confessed a host of sins, both real and imagined, and the symptoms NEVER went away.  Job's friends believed he was guilty of some evil, and they harassed him about it to the point that God demanded they offer sacrifices before Job could pray for them to be forgiven.  The Lord NEVER promised we would enjoy health and wealth in this life, so let's stop assuming there is a connection between health--mental or otherwise--and being a faithful servant of the Lord.  I was not given ANY guarantees when I made profession of faith in the Montreal CRC at the age of 18 other than to expect suffering.  Nor was I told in what form it would come.  Apparently, the devil doesn't scorn causing believers to become mentally ill if it can add to their suffering through the lack of compassion of other Christians.  That way he gets a bigger bang for his trouble.

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