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.
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.