Dealing With Depression, Pt2
Today will be part two of our study titled “dealing with depression”. In my last lesson, we spent some time defining what depression is, the causes of it, and the remedy for it as we examined Job as our case study. I would encourage you to listen to that lesson if you were not here, and if you have any questions, please feel free to ask them.
Today I would like to go a little more in depth about a point I made in our prior lesson about the cure for Job’s depression.[i] I stated that there was one thing Job desperately needed during his time of suffering: He needed good, caring comforters. Obviously, he didn’t get this from his friends. Job himself told his friends what they should have been doing for him. Obviously, since they had come to comfort him, he says in 16:4-5 that he could have, just as they are, built a case against them, but instead he says that he “would strengthen” them with his mouth and comfort them with his words. What his friends instead did for him is make his condition worse. They sent him into deeper sorrow and depression.
I would like to look at some of the things these “friends” of Job said to him when they came to comfort and counsel him so we can learn, as we try to encourage and counsel each other, how we too can be miserable comforters. Of course, Job’s friends came with good intentions, and for at least a week, did good in being there for their friend. But by the end of their time together, this is what Job had to say to his friends:
“Then Job answered and said: 2 "I have heard many such things; Miserable comforters are you all!” ()
If we want to help those who are suffering from depression we need to see in these friends what it is that we should not be doing. Our goal will be to do the opposite! But before we get into this lesson, I want to say this: although I will be focusing on how to help the person suffering from depression, many of the points I will share today can be used in the majority of circumstances in which we would sit down with a brother or sister in Christ to help them in their faith. Let’s keep this in mind as we examine the “help” that Job’s friends give him today.
WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP SOMEONE WITH DEPRESSION?
Everything we will look at today assumes the fact that the depressed person wants help… This may not be the case with the depressed person you know. One of the interesting paradoxes with depression is that many who are depressed know that they need the help of others, but they do whatever they can to isolate themselves and to push away those who want to help them, even using outbursts of anger to do so. It may seem at times that they are acting in a way that shows they are addicted to their emotional state, and even though they know it is not best for them to remain there, they may do whatever they can to stay there. They may think that this is the easier road to take. Overcoming their depression may seem to daunting a task that they don’t feel like they can do it. We need to be patient with them and help them overcome this obstacle.
And one final point before we get into the lesson: What is our goal in helping our brothers and sisters who are depressed? Is it to help them to be happy? The answer to this may shock you… Our purpose in helping the depressed person is not to make them happy. This is not our ultimate goal! Our purpose is two-fold: First, we want to obey our Lord in making a disciple of the one we are trying to help (). Secondly, our goal is to help them to fulfill their purpose as a disciple, “we make it our aim… to be well pleasing to Him” (). Fulfilling their purpose needs to be their first goal, not alleviating the depression…
This is very important because our help is unbiblical if it is focused on them; if it is focused on the depressed person and making them feel happy instead of pointing them to the Lord. We all need to remember that life is NOT all about us! It is about the Lord and Him being glorified in us! This is a big problem with a lot of secular counseling. It is all about the depressed person. It teaches the depressed people to think more about themselves instead of pointing them to their ultimate purpose and to the foundation that can help them to deal with the storms in their life. Society has led us to think that if we are feeling depressed, that if we feel like there is something wrong with us inside, that we are sick and that the first step we need to take is to go the doctor and get medicine to help us.[ii] But just because a lot of smart people say these kind of things does not make them true. I don’t believe this to be the Biblical response to our problems, including depression. We are to be disciples who point people, including our brethren suffering from depression, to the Lord.
With these things said, I would like to look at three things that Job’s friends did that made them miserable comforters to Job. Our goal, if we don’t want to be miserable comforters towards those who are suffering, is to do the opposite of what they did.
The first thing we need to do if we want to be miserable comforters is:
Job’s friends listened to a point. They did allow Job to vent in chapter three. But once they heard things that contradicted their presuppositions about God and suffering, they had enough. They had allowed Job to express enough about his pain. Job would not have another opportunity to open up without the feeling that he would be attacked.
Job’s friends often said that his words were pointless; they were not worth the time listening to. Bildad, in his first speech in chapter 8, said, “How long will you say these things, And the words of your mouth be a mighty wind?” (). Are these words of someone who cares about what you have to say and wants to help you?
If we want to help the hurting, we must let them express their pain without feeling threatened or without being attacked or judged as Job was. They need to see we care enough about them to actually hear exactly how they feel, even if that means we say nothing for some time, unless we have a question for them to clarify something. We cannot help someone if we are not willing to listen to them so we can understand them.
As we listen to them, we need to learn from them what they believe brought on their depression. Listen to the feelings that overwhelm them: the fear, anxiety, loneliness, guilt, sadness, etc. Let them tell you about their difficult circumstances in life. And this is very important: listen to how they chose to respond to these feelings and circumstances. What role do they believe the Lord played through all this? This is where we will be able to help the most later on. We need to learn how they interpreted their circumstances and chose to respond.
And be ready at times to hear some hard things; some shocking things that you never thought you would hear a brother or sister in Christ say. As with Job’s friends, we can allow what we hear to put us into a defensive mode where we want to just correct them and rebuke them. We may even cut them off to do so. Don’t fall into this temptation.
19 This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. ()
The depressed person will many times say things that seem very illogical and irrational. They will say things to you that are wrong. But these things are how they feel. These things are what they are thinking. We need to make sure we care enough to them to hear these things and to not cut them off from venting. You, Lord willing, will have the opportunity to deal with their wrong thinking and actions later. Not now. Keep listening, jot down some notes, and if you want to deal with the incorrect thinking later (when you have allowed the shock of what they said to wear off) you can, but you must be careful how you do so.
Our second point in how to be a miserable comforter is:
DON’T EMPATHIZE OR SHOW MERCY/LOVE
We must enter into the pain of the people we are attempting to help. Job’s friends started off well. In , they came to Job and sat with him in mourning for seven days. Too bad they did not continue doing this, even after Job takes some time to vent. Once again, they allow Job’s complaining and claims of righteousness to stop them from showing empathy. Often showing empathy means getting out of our comfort zone (and our incorrect opinions).
Soon, they would say many things that showed that they did not understand how Job felt. There are some things that they say that make it seem like they didn’t care about how Job felt.
Even in the first speech of Eliphaz, which is the “nicest” of many of the friends speeches, he lacks empathy. He seems like one who has a lot of knowledge and has searched for answers, which he believes to have found the truth, but he does not put himself in Job’s shoes to try to understand what Job is going through. Knowledge doesn’t matter much if you aren’t going to try to understand where the one you are attempting to counsel is emotionally.
For example, in 5:25 he tells him that he will be blessed with more descendants if he allows God’s discipline to do its work. Man, he just lost all of his children, and all you have to say to bring comfort is “God will give you new ones”? There is no compassion here.
In 8:4, Bildad, with thoughtless cruelty, referred to Job’s dead children in an effort to demonstrate his point that it is the guilty who suffer. “If your sons sinned against Him, Then He delivered them into the power of their transgression.” Do you see a desire to empathize in these words? Do you see someone who cares about Job and truly has put himself in Job’s shoes?
Also, The majority of what the friends say to Job is irrelevant to the situation at hand. They do speak rightly concerning many things in the book, but still, their application is wrong. All of this was because they were unwilling to put aside their incorrect presuppositions. Job said that he was innocent; that he did not do anything that was leading God to punish him. Job was not in need of discipline. He was just in the sight of God.
They also minimized what Job was going through many times. For instance, in , Eliphaz says this:
3 "Behold you have admonished many, And you have strengthened weak hands. 4 "Your words have helped the tottering to stand, And you have strengthened feeble knees. 5 "But now it has come to you, and you are impatient; It touches you, and you are dismayed. ()
Do you see how he severely minimizes what Job was going through. Touched you…? It walloped him. It knocked him out and kicked him while he was down. This probably wasn’t the most encouraging thing to hear from a friend.
Job’s thoughts: "For the despairing man there should be kindness from his friend; So that he does not forsake the fear of the Almighty. ()
This is what Job needed, and this is what those who we are attempting to comfort need. We will be miserable comforters if our response shows no empathy or love towards the person we desire to help.
If we listen how we should, then we will be able to empathize better with the one we are trying to comfort. Empathy is important in the life of a disciple. It is what I believe Paul is commanding when he says in , “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep”. If we are able to do this, we are going a long way in showing the depressed person that we (the Lord) can help them overcome their depression.
Also, unlike Job’s friends, we need to show love for the depressed person. If we understand how they feel and what got them there, we will know what to (and not to) say to show that we care about them and love them. We will be able to observe what Jesus commands in , “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you…”
We will be careful to show love in making sure we do not minimize the suffering that the depressed person feels. There are many ways we can do this. Saying things such as, “just cheer up” or “don’t worry, everything will get better,” not only do not help, but they are minimizing what they are going through. Even saying, “it’s ok, just trust in Jesus more,” minimizes what they feel. I agree that they in most instances need to trust in the Lord more, but just throwing statements out like this are not helpful. We need to walk them through the process of trusting in the Lord more.
These first two points are important for us to remember because our final point, to offer affirmation to the depressed person and to lead them to the truth, will not be possible if we do not first listen to them, empathize with them, and show love towards them. They will not have any desire to listen to whatever hope we are trying to offer them if we are miserable comforters like Job’s friends.
Our third point:
DON’T GIVE AFFIRMATION OR LEAD THEM TO TRUTH
In the end, Job needed more than the accusations his friends hurled at him. I love how on many instances Job instructed his friends on how to be counselors. He told them in 6:24 that what he really needed was truth, not accusations…
24 "Teach me, and I will be silent; And show me how I have erred. 25 "How painful are honest words! But what does your argument prove? ()
The friends took this and began showing Job where he erred, but not with the truth, but they “out of thin air” gave Job lists of the sins he had to have committed.
Job needed to know that God was not against him, but for him. He needed to know that in spite of these dire circumstances, there was still hope. His friends could have helped him see that his suffering was not necessarily a result of God’s discipline, but they did the opposite. They took every circumstance to accuse him of wrong-doing and to tell him that God was punishing him for His sin. Zophar even goes as far to say:
“Know therefore that God exacts from you less than your iniquity deserves” ( )
Later Zophar told Job that the only hope for him would be for Him to repent of his sin and return to God. Everything will be ok if he does this. There will be hope for the future.
I don’t know what I would have said if I were in the shoes of Job’s friends. I more than likely would have been right alongside them in what they were saying to believe it is understandable that they were responding the way they were. Everything they were saying was based on what they had learned from their experiences and from others who have seen that in general the guilty are punished and the innocent do not suffer. What other conclusion could they come to without revelation from God!
Just imagine how things may have turned out if the friends of Job knew what we know. What if they had revealed to them what we have in our Bibles. Would things have turned out different? Maybe. Maybe not. We do have many more things taught to us by God that can help those who are suffering that they did not have.
WHAT CAN I SAY TO HELP THE DEPRESSED PERSON?
So after we have listened to them, empathized with them, and shown love to them, what do we say to them?
Once again, we need to be thankful that God has given us revelation of Himself and how He works in scripture. This is where we as Christians need to go to help our brothers and sisters who are depressed. We need to first point them to the truth that God gives us, not to the wisdom of men; not to what society tells us.
First, we need to give them affirmation. They believe that their situation is just too much for them to handle; that it has left them feeling that they are worthless and that they are without hope and a purpose/reason to live. We need to show them (with love and gentleness) what God says about these things. We need to show them that, as a child of God, there is hope for them. They need to see that there is a reason for them to live. They have purpose, and they have value to God. They need to learn to think BIBLICALLY about these things!
They need to be taught about the sovereignty and power of God. This is what Job needed to learn, and what he was shown by God.
The depressed person also needs to be shown from scripture different things that God uses suffering to accomplish. Help them to understand that their suffering does not necessitate that God is against them. This is what Job needed, and this is what our brothers and sisters need to hear. We have in other lessons looked at what scripture says about how God works in suffering. I know I have preached once on this subject before, so if you would like to see my notes on this subject you can get them off of my website. But as we study these things with the person suffering from depression, we need to be careful. Do not assume which of the things God is doing in this person’s life. The majority of times, we do not know! If we want to help the hurting, we must be willing to say, "I don’t know." These three little words are simple enough, yet Job’s friends were totally incapable of saying them. But it will be helpful to the depressed person to see that God is not necessarily punishing them or against them in. They need to see that, as a child of God, that God “causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (). The good that I believe is spoken of in the context of this passage is our glorification. We need to be reminded that no matter what may happen to us here, it is preparing us for Heaven; where we will be with the Lord and have no more pain and suffering.
The depressed person needs to learn over time to think biblically about God, self, and suffering instead of believing what they feel. A helpful thing to do for the depressed person is to give them homework. Give them Bible verses that they can use to, in a sense, preach to themselves when they are feeling depressed. Many who have suffered from depression have said that it is helpful to, instead of listening to what the “depression is telling them”, to speak the truth to themselves.
Side note: These things assume something very important: that they are Christians. There truly is not lasting hope for the future for those who do not know Christ. So if someone is not a Christian, and you want to help them to overcome their hopelessness and not feel like God is against them, you need to share the gospel with them.
Also, a very important thing that the depressed person need to do is “get out.” They need our help in being active. They need encouragement to get out of bed, to get out of the house, and most importantly, to look outside of themselves to serve others. It is amazing how getting out and serving others can help. We see in these things that the depressed person needs reintroduced to life and reintroduced to what it means to be a disciple of Christ. They need to be encouraged to and learn to do exactly what God tells them regardless of how they feel. They need to learn to look at the big picture and to see that their motivation, first and foremost, needs to be to please God and not to focus on themselves. (WE NEED THIS REMINDER TOO!)
WHAT YOU HEARD WHILE YOU WERE LISTENING… WHAT COMPLICATED THE DEPRESSION?
Deal with the wrong responses in their thinking and actions… Gently show them how their sin may have contributed to their depression.[iii] Don’t accuse them or be harsh towards them, even if you know sin was clearly involved in either causing or complicating the depression. When the person is suffering with a long-term and severe level of depression, there will more than likely be some kind of sinful thinking or sinful actions that need to be dealt with at some point as we try to help them. As we talked about in our last lesson, there can be many idols that depressed people give their hearts to; things that they run to and trust in to help them escape their depression instead of the Lord. They need help in seeing these things.
There are many other things we could look at, but for the sake of time, we will end here. I would encourage you to go back over these lessons. At the bottom of the outlines I am putting online, there is a list of other resources and notes you can go to if you would like to do some more research on how to help those who are suffering from depression. Hopefully some of the things that we have looked at have been helpful for you to see how you can serve your brothers and sisters in Christ who struggle with depression. You have all that you need in God’s word to deal with this common problem of men.
[i] Many of the thoughts of these lessons have come from books I have read and lessons I have listened to on dealing with depression Biblically. Some of these include:
• The Bible
• Depression: The Way Up When You Are Feeling Down, by Edward T. Welch
• Looking Up from the Stubborn Darkness, by Edward T. Welch
• Counseling the Hard Cases, Edited by Stuart Scott and Heath Lambert
• The Biblical Counseling Manual, by Adam Pulaski
• Dealing with Depression, 2 Sermons by Casey Head
• Helping Those Suffering From Depression. Training Class. Taught by Dan Wickert. The Biblical Counseling Training Conference.
• Counseling Those Who Are Depressed. Edward T. Welch. The Journal of Biblical Counseling. Vol. 18.2 Winter 2000
• Christian Cognitive Behavior Therapy: Biblical Case of Counseling Analysis. Douglas K. Chung and Ling Xing
• What Do You Do When You Become Depressed. Jay E. Adams. Tract. Prpbooks.com.
[ii] See footnotes from prior lesson. I deal with the common belief that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain there.
[iii] See previous lesson where I discuss how sin does contribute to depression becoming stronger.