This article looks at the relationship between the Christian faith and depression. Can some Christian doctrines induce depression? The author maintains that even difficult doctrine (such as the doctrine of sin, depravity, and predestination), when preached within the biblical context, cannot cause depression.

Source: Diakonia, 2006. 10 pages.

Depression and Faith: Can Christian Doctrines Induce Despondency and Depression?

Potential causes of depression🔗

In the title of this essay the order of depres­sion and faith is intentional. In considering depression, I raise the question whether it can be brought about by the Christian faith. I do not say that this is impossible. There are so many things in life that can trigger depres­sion, that it would be imprudent to hold that depression and faith are mutually exclusive. At any rate, I personally am not prepared to go this far.

Being depressed🔗

It is useful to pause at this point to briefly explore some terminology. Although depres­sion and being depressed are closely related, they are not the same thing. In my view being depressed describes a passing mood. It refers to a temporary condition that may last a day or so. Full-blown depression is more than a tem­porary mood, but rather an ongoing state of mind. Having entered into a state of depres­sion, it is difficult to extricate oneself.

To be depressed is a momentary mood. It can be caused by bad news, a devastating event, or even a sermon which – as we say – touches a nerve: a gloomy exposition which runs counter to the mood of the moment. A depressed feeling does not last. A sermon or a spontaneous reflection on a Bible passage can have a depressing effect. Yet this is not exactly what I seek to discuss in this chapter. I wish to focus on the relationship between lasting depression and the Christian faith.

Depression🔗

Depression describes a condition of despon­dency, in which the desire and courage to live are lacking; in which one cannot cope with the experiences of life but is weighed down by them. One has a sense of being a victim of events rather than their author. Something is being done to you rather than that you take the initiative and have the situation under control. This is accompanied by troublesome physical symptoms such as fatigue, a lack of appetite, a lack of energy, a sense of paralysis. This is a rather non-technical description. The official definition of depression can be found elsewhere in my book.

Faith🔗

What do we mean by faith? The answer to this question is not difficult to give. We all know what is meant by faith, particularly the Christian faith. I do wish to point out that the word 'faith' has two aspects. In the first place there is the act of believing, which is a human act. There also is what may be referred to as the object of faith. It is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ in whom we believe. We know Him through Scripture. Therefore the Bible is also part of our faith.

Is there a connection?🔗

The topic depression and faith concerns par­ticularly the relationship between depression and the content of our faith. This is also the focus of Aleid Schilder. She highlights specific doctrines and considers them to be causes or causal agents of depression.

This leaves aside the role of the believer as actor in this relationship. Does the problem lie in what one believes or also in how one believes and how one lives out one's faith? We cannot solely blame the object of faith – if it is indeed a question of attaching blame. It obvi­ously is important to consider also the subject of faith, i.e. the believer herself or himself. This does not specify where the point of grav­ity lies. This is difficult to say. At this point I merely wish to point out the duality of the object or content of faith and the act of faith that directs itself to this object. One will have to do justice to both of these aspects.

In developing this theme, I concentrate on the content of faith, i.e. doctrines, points of confession which have a negative influence on some people. These are referred to as potential causes of depression. To what extent believing per se plays a potentially negative role will be discussed later.

Guilt and sin🔗

There is an aspect of the Christian confession that is sometimes directly linked with de­pression. This is the doctrine of sin, which is associated with guilt and the need for confes­sion. Is it not utterly disheartening to listen to sermons about guilt and guiltiness Sunday af­ter Sunday? At the same time the audience is implored to confess their guilt and to repent from their sins. Does this not place a person in the dumps? The sky is black with our guilt! There is no end to accusation and confession.

To some people this is rather depressing. They see nothing but guilt. They hear noth­ing but a call to repentance. The sense of guilt and the call to confess negatively affect people's self-image. These factors influence both the style of preaching and the emotional life of church members.

Would one not start to doubt oneself, having to hear this over and over again? Does it not make you think: I cannot do any good? In such a somber mood one begins to question the sense of life. Is there any way out? Is there still hope for someone who must say day after day: LORD, I have made a mess of it? I am continually in the red with You. I see no way out!

When as a result of such preaching depres­sion ensues, this is sometimes exacerbated by additional experiences. There are people who are so weighed down by sin and guilt that they end up in depression. There are also people who lose their balance as a result of disappointments and setbacks, and at the same time feel the burden of guilt weighing down on their souls to such an extent that they become depressed. The idea of being a sinner before God exacerbates the depth of their depression.

It is important to distinguish between a single cause of depression and complex causes. In the latter case depression is due to life's experiences in addition to the Christian faith. In writing this, I must point out that there can also be complex causes of depression that have nothing to do with the Christian faith. The human psyche is rather complex. This becomes especially apparent when difficulties are encountered.

Incapable of any good🔗

There is yet another perspective. As a conse­quence of sin man is incapable of doing any good and prone to all evil. This is the inability to do any good. There are people who be­lieve that this inability is inculcated by their preachers. Deep down they do not consider themselves to be all that bad. As a result of the heavy focus of preaching on this inability they gradually begin to take it on board. Or perhaps they come to believe that they are supposed to believe this. They cannot extri­cate themselves from this inability to do any good. To the contrary, they become stuck in it. They become so obsessed with their inability to do any good that they become depressed. In my experience this factor is frequently the one and only cause of depression.

The inability to do any good is reportedly a negative force that paralyzes the soul's exis­tence. The soul's existence is an old expression derived from the title of a book by Professor Dr. J. Waterink. With this I mean, of course, our psychic existence that reveals itself partic­ularly in abilities to think, feel and desire. The inner connection among these three functions and overall psychic functioning is paralyzed by the repeated message in church that man is sinful and utterly incapable of any good.

All resistance to sin and prayer for forgive­ness and renewal do not engender such a radical change that we overcome sin. We must continually concede our failures and confess our shortcomings in relation with God and our fellowmen. This is discouraging, even disheartening. This is especially the case since we are indeed called to do good. We must act differently and better. We put all of our effort into this, but fail to succeed. We know this both through preaching and experience. Failures and shortcomings mark our lives. It causes some people to despair. This factor is probably an even greater cause of depression than the one mentioned first.

Predestination🔗

I mention yet a third factor, another promi­nent element of Reformed doctrine, namely predestination. It is a much-discussed and simultaneously disputed doctrine. From eternity God has elected people to salvation. People cannot save themselves and change themselves for the better. They need forgive­ness, which only God can give. The same is true of internal renewal. We must receive it as a gift of grace from God. God is prepared to grant us this grace of forgiveness and renewal (as well as perseverance). However, He only does this to those whom He has elected to sal­vation from eternity. The benefits mentioned form part of this salvation. They are implicit in predestination. To use a current expression, it is an all-inclusive package of salvation. The reader will appreciate that I do not use this expression flippantly. I only wish to indicate in everyday language how radical and simul­taneously all-inclusive election to salvation is.

Predestination implies that there must also be those who have not been predestined. One can imagine the anxiety that this dichotomy can induce. Am I among the elect? Or do I belong to those who have not been chosen? The latter are sometimes referred to as those who have been rejected. This is not the place to pursue this term any further. The reality of the dichotomy is clear. It is discussed in sermons and is taken into account in pastoral care. In particular Calvin focuses in his ser­mons and commentaries on the elect.

Apart from the question: To which group do I belong? And therefore the question: Am I among the elect? There is the concern: How do I acquire certainty in this regard? And espe­cially: How can I be sure that I have been pre­destined and belong to the elect? In a sense, this is not a separate, different question. It is part of the whole set of questions that are trig­gered by the doctrine of predestination.

During my own childhood I heard people ex­plain it as follows: If I have been predestined, there is no doubt about my destination. If I am not among the elect, all my Bible read­ing, praying and church attendance is of no consequence. In this case I am excluded from eternity and will remain excluded forever. I encountered these same ideas subsequently during my pastorate and professorship on the part of both older and – no less – younger people.

The gospel of Jesus Christ indeed presents a division of people. One's fate – salvation or damnation – has been decided from eternity. Whatever preachers, parents and believers say about the gospel, there is nothing that anyone can do for himself or herself. Either you are doomed or you are not.

When this factor – or rather doctrine – of pre­destination is added to the elements of guilt and inadequacy already mentioned, we end up with quite an accumulation of tenets of the Christian faith that could possibly induce a state of depression. It is a daunting experi­ence to have to grapple with the question as to whether one has been predestined from eternity or not. There is indeed a division of people into two groups. This partition has been determined from eternity. There is nothing one can do about it.

Sometimes predestination is indeed a factor that coupled with the two preceding consider­ations leads to depression. Even the contem­plation of and struggle with predestination all by itself can have this effect. Even if it was a matter of a combination of all of these factors, I would still not describe it as complex causa­tion, i.e. a combination of the Christian faith and life's experiences. The three topics must be viewed as a unity in the teaching of the Christian faith. Sin, guilt, spiritual inadequa­cy and the grace of predestination go together in the Christian faith.

Eternal damnation🔗

I would like to mention yet a fourth element. In some sense it is additional to the preceding points. Nevertheless it is really part and parcel of it. I am thinking of eternal damna­tion. Some people will forever remain on the outside. 'Children of the kingdom (please note: Jesus does not say: gentiles, strangers) shall be cast into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth' (Matthew 8:12). Consider also the fate of the five fool­ish maidens. The door remains shut to them. 'Verily I say unto you, I know you not' (Mat­thew 25:12).

The thought of possibly being shut out in­definitely can fill a hearer of the gospel with tremendous fear. 'Weeping and gnashing of teeth' may be symbolic language. But aside from symbolism these words do indicate a reality – and this for all eternity. Just think of what this implies: To be excluded from the festal joy and simultaneously to know that this is due to one's own fault. The preaching of eternal judgment exacerbates the potential of depression. This factor could cause depres­sion all by itself. It can also cause depression in combination with the foregoing factors. Ev­eryone experiences this in his or her own way. A person who does not have the prospect of salvation in Christ can be frightened by the thought of ultimate damnation to such an ex­tent that he becomes depressed. Depression is the experience of someone who finds himself in prison without any support and where no light penetrates. The door cannot be opened from the inside. Psalm 42 is a good example of a psalm written by a depressed person. It is a blessing that even such songs can be found in the Bible. I shall return to this topic later.

The subjective side🔗

Up to this point we have only considered fac­tors arising from the doctrine of faith. These are sometimes referred to as objective causes. What is the role of the subjective experience of faith? This can vary from person to person. For this reason it is not easy to answer this question.

There are nevertheless a few things that can be said. On the whole this experience of faith is intoned in a dark, somber key. Nothing can stimulate such faith. It lacks all joy. There is a greater tendency towards gloom than cheer­fulness. The road seems to lead down rather than up. Any attempt to rise from the depths takes enormous effort. It is accompanied by a spiritual fatigue that at some point shuts off the way out. The outcome is easy to imagine: sliding back down rather than climbing up. Emotions sink into a minor key.

People like to believe that through the wor­ship service they will be lifted up from their pit of gloom, whereas in fact the exposition of Scripture confirms them in their negative views and feelings. This can happen as a re­sult of any of the four factors discussed above. It can also be caused by the accumulation of all four of them. The one thing reinforces the other. Merely hearing the sounds of those words without giving them much thought can cause one's depression to increase in terms of both duration and intensity. This is the subjec­tive side of faith's experience, i.e. the personal interpretation of the doctrines presented in preaching.

Negative self-image🔗

There is still another factor. I classify it also as subjective. It is a totally negative sense of self-worth which results in a negative self-image. There is nothing that I can do. What I would like to do is wrong anyway. My plans cannot lead anywhere, because they are sinful. I can indeed fight the evil inside me and around me, but I cannot conquer it. I shall always be the loser. I mean little or nothing to others and absolutely nothing to God.

This negative self-image is the result of a number of negative experiences. There are definite moments of being incapable of any­thing. These experiences attach themselves to the soul and determine all further activities. These can only be described as activities with a negative stamp: no, nothing, zero, inade­quate! This leads to depression or exacerbates it.

This negative self-image is more a conclusion based on experience than that it is conceived and cherished by us. It is more an existen­tial experience than a rational interpretation which is subsequently rationalized. The ex­perience is imagined and then becomes even more threatening than actual experience.

This is not imagination🔗

Is this indeed reality? Or is it imagination, for example religious fantasy? Fantasy is also reality, but different from the reality that sur­rounds us. It is the content of our psyche and therefore psychic reality.

It is correct to make this distinction. This does not mean that we relegate the condition described above to the realm of fantasy. This condition is indeed a real psychic experience. I have made an attempt to add some detail in order to describe the various factors in their uniqueness as well as their interrelationships.

It is undeniable that a pastor encounters the experiences described here in the course of his pastorate. He does not help his client by treat­ing the latter's experiences as imagination. In that case he would be able to wipe them away from the soul of this person like a spider's web. The pastorate and inner healing do not work that simply. The solution has to come from elsewhere. A physician can only help a patient when he takes the latter's complaints and afflictions seriously. This is to say, that he listens to them, probes the causes and seeks to link the symptoms to a particular disease. The physician must track down the illness itself, guided by its image. Only then can he initiate the healing process. The same thing is true of pastors who have indeed been referred to as physicians of the soul. Complaints should not be downplayed, minimized or belittled, but taken seriously through listening and profes­sional investigation.

Preventing caricatures🔗

I wish to make clear that the description of the Christian faith given here is actually expe­rienced by people as reality. At the same time I add that this description and experience are a caricature of the true gospel of Jesus Christ. This gospel is different from the experience described here. The immediate question is: Where does this caricature come from? Many causes can be identified. I summarize them by grouping them into two clusters. In the first place there is an inaccurate presentation of the facts by the preacher. The gospel is a bal­anced whole with different emphases which must be brought into relationship with one another.

Those who speak of sin and guilt should not do so without simultaneously pointing to redemption. Those who speak of spiritual imbalance must at the same time speak about the Holy Spirit who renews us. Those who call for sanctification can only do so responsi­bly by first speaking about justification as an act of God. Justification is not earned through sanctification but is presented to us as a gift, so that those who are justified know them­selves to be called and obligated to sanctifica­tion.

Predestination can only be preached as election in Christ. Everyone who is chosen acquires a personal relationship with Christ. Without Christ it is not Biblical and therefore not evangelical to speak of predestination. Threatening with eternal judgment implies a denial of the gospel. Those who reject the gospel in unbelief and disobedience, person­ally ensure that the door remains shut.

I have presented a somewhat stark picture in order to show how one-sided the above de­scription really is. It implies a diminution of the fullness of the proclamation of the gospel. This destroys its balance, which is character­istic of depression. A depressed person has no perspective and no access to the total picture. His life falls apart. He is unable to pick up the pieces. He is controlled by the pieces rather than being in control of them.

Speaking with two words🔗

The Biblical message can only be interpreted by using two words at a time, so to speak. I mention a number of complementary com­binations: God and man; sin and grace; guilt and forgiveness; judgment and exoneration; justification and sanctification; inadequacy and renewal; sorrow and joy; Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Depression ensues when the gospel of two words is reduced to a single word. In this case the preacher desecrates the Word of God as well as the human soul. He violates the Word inside the human heart.

Sometimes a preacher can throw extra light on one of a pair of words; i.e. he takes a close-up in order to highlight a detail. However, he is not permitted to do this at the expense of the total picture. Those who ignore the interconnections focus on a single truth and illuminate it in isolation. This derails not only the preaching but also individual experience.

Then the sermon becomes marked by the same depression that is induced in the hearer, namely the loss of the overall perspective. An isolated fragment can indeed be derived from the gospel. But as an isolated fragment it no longer forms part of the total picture. It is (literally) an imagination produced by the preacher through an isolated fragment of the gospel. The same thing is true of a finger. It belongs to a hand and the hand belongs to a body. This is how a finger performs its tasks. We tend to underestimate the advantage that a finger offers to us. It is precisely when a finger fails to function that we become aware of its importance.

Interrelationship and balance🔗

When a finger is cut off from the body, it can still be held in one's hand. But it is bound to die. It is only of use and functional as part of the hand and thereby of the entire body. There are sermons that resemble such an amputated finger. Those who listen to them dearly see the features of the finger. There is no room for misunderstanding. But just as the amputated finger dies, so this sermon leads to death – i.e. depression.

It is a matter of evangelical balance, i.e. inner connections. Calvin and Bucer fought, for example, to identify and preserve the connec­tion between the work of Christ and that of the Holy Spirit. This resulted in a spiritually healthy theology and wholesome preaching.

This balance is easily disturbed. Notice how Paul points to the necessity of maturing love in order to gain understanding, practise sensitivity, and discern essentials – also from the perspective of the hearer (Philippians 1:9; Ephesians 4:13-16). One can interpret the fragmentation of the Reformed tradition as the consequence of imbalances. We need one another to achieve and maintain this balance, i.e. to be theologian, preacher, pastor and catechist 'with two words'!

Within the Reformed tradition there is frag­mentation (see above) in various directions. I list a few of these: a one-sided focus on the preaching of sin and misery; jubilation in Christ without pointing out how through the Holy Spirit one enters into communion with Him; an emphasis on judgment without a clear proclamation of the promises of the gospel; fostering a Christian walk of life while ignoring its foundation of justification. This can lead to exaggerated activism that cannot fail to lead to depression.

In other words, I do not focus on a single di­rection, as though only in 'Old Reformed' cir­cles (for example) the preaching would tend to cause depression. I do not doubt that this is actually the case. But other directions need to be considered as well. The activism referred to above, but also shallowness with respect to the reality of sin and forgiveness, can lead to depression. When guilt is not truly felt and forgiveness not really experienced as a liber­ating act of God, certain issues remain unre­solved. These weigh down the human soul. This is a potential cause of depression. My conclusion is that the gospel of Jesus Christ as rediscovered, confessed and preached by the Reformation is not a cause of depression. I do ascribe this cause – in part but not solely – to a distortion of the gospel. This distortion is recognizable by undue one-sidedness.

This type of depression does indeed have to do with the gospel, but not with the gospel in its pure, Reformational form, but in a form distorted, twisted and damaged by people.

Antidepressant effect of faith: Believing with joy!🔗

I consider it a privilege that in this essay I may also focus on the antidepressant effect of faith, under the subtitle of: Believing with joy. The first part of this paper focused on the negative side of our topic. We now address the positive side. This goes beyond merely denying that the Christian faith causes de­pression. We now look at the antidepressant effect of faith.

How can we best describe the antidepres­sant effect of faith? In the first place we have preaching and pastorate care. In the second place there is communal and personal Scrip­ture reading.

The gospel in word combinations🔗

I summarize the gospel repeatedly in comple­mentary pairs of words as mentioned in the section entitled Speaking with two words:

  • grace for the guilty;
  • God retrieving (brining home) runaway children;
  • new strength for the weak;
  • joy for the sorrowful;
  • security for people who have gambled away their certainty;
  • a future for people without hope;
  • vitality and growth for those who have cut themselves off from their living root, i.e. God
  • reliance on God for those who have run aground in terms of confidence in every direction;
  • eternal life beyond death for those for whom death is the only prospect;
  • light for those who wander around in darkness;
  • spiritual food for those who have the sense that no one nourishes them;
  • a vital and life-sustaining word for those who have run aground in every sense;
  • healing for those who are inwardly sick;
  • restoration for wounds that have bled and have left behind deep scars (traumata)
  • having personal contact with the Father, the Son and the Holy spirit through personal faith; reality and simultaneously a gift for people who have always considered such contact permanently impossible.

All these descriptions are indications of the great mystery that in Jesus Christ God ex­tends His grace to people. This is of crucial importance to us. The above sequence is of course somewhat arbitrary. The images are rather varied. The key is the desirability that God enter into our lives, that we come to know Him, and that we may live with Him, through Him and out of Him.

Being antidepressant ultimately implies of­fering healing. This means being healthy in faith and therefore in a position to cope with life, i.e. being able to look beyond difficulties in the sure confidence of being able to handle them. We do not need to succumb to them but may conquer them with God's help.

Forgiveness of sin and guilt – experienced🔗

The core of Biblical preaching is forgiveness of sins through the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is expressed in a single sentence. Sometimes this is said too glibly. The gospel can only liberate (and dispel depression) when its content is truly experienced. With this I mean that our burden of sin is indeed removed from us through God's forgiveness. Then we really get rid of our guilt. Being freed from guilt must be a conscious experi­ence. Then becomes real to us what is said in Psalm 103:12:

As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgres­sions from us.

Psalm 32:1 also describes the reality of the forgiveness of sin (verses 1 and 2). See also the prayer for forgiveness in the context of confession of guilt in Psalm 51. These psalms describe guilt and liberation from guilt as reality.

It is absolutely incorrect to interpret the Bibli­cal focus on sin and guilt as a potential cause of depression. The Bible talks about guilt in the context of forgiveness. In John 3:17, 18 our Lord Jesus put it as follows:

 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned; but he that believeth not is con­demned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

The gospel has a positive tone. It is a joyful proclamation that liberates. It is true that there are also somber perspectives in the gos­pel. Think of Sinai and Golgotha. These are part of the overall picture. They are also real in our own experience. However, they neither dominate nor triumph. The declaration of liberation predominates.

Sin must be treated seriously, including our guilt before God and the way in which we are liberated. Conversion and faith character­ize those who follow the path of liberation. Preaching must address this route. It is not merely a matter of listing facts – guilt on our side and forgiveness on God's side. The key is how we appropriate God's blessings. In his preaching the pastor must be proactive and transparent. This pastoral approach must not detract from the need for proclamation in preaching. Pastorate and proclamation must go hand in hand.

The gospel is not antidepressant if it remains a mere exchange of words; if verbal abuse is practised. No, the content of the words must be accepted, digested and experienced. A per­son must be touched by it existentially. Only then can the gospel have an antidepressant effect. This is not only true with respect to the topic discussed here, but also with respect all of the topics listed above.

In this way I cover two areas: (1) the evan­gelic content, the evangelic setting of preach­ing and pastoral care; (2) speaking with two words: law and gospel. The latter implies that preaching as well as pastoral care must be a real struggle to communicate the proclama­tion of liberation, i.e. the sermon must actu­ally touch people's lives. This aspect is best illustrated by what we do for children, i.e. we teach them to eat, to walk, to ride a bicycle, etc. Nothing happens without effort. The same is true for sharing in the Christian faith. You need to acquire it. This is what people need a pastor for, i.e. someone who gives them instructions and acts as an example. The liberating force of the gospel not only depends on the content of the proclamation, but also on the way in which – with an evan­gelical balance – this proclamation is lovingly communicated on a personal level. I realize that this latter sentence may engender ques­tions if not resistance. Yet I retain it for the contemplation of pastors. There are essays by Professors Kamphuis and Trimp that illus­trate this theme superbly and underline what I have covered in this subsection.

Inability to do any good – renewal🔗

What has been said with respect to forgive­ness also applies to other areas. I shall cover them briefly.

The inability to do any good never fails to cast a shadow over an otherwise bright presenta­tion of the gospel. This shadow is not intro­duced to diminish the light. It is a reflection of the reality of our existence. Life is like this. It is a characteristic of our world. We all suffer the consequences of sin. The gospel offers a change from this dark reality. Its light enters into our darkness. We cannot ignore the dark­ness or reinterpret it as light. The elimination of this shadow still lies in the future. Ignor­ing this shadow today does no justice to the ongoing struggle between good and evil, or to the power of the light that penetrates and drives away the darkness.

It is for this reason that in addition to men­tioning guilt we must also address its root cause, namely our iniquitous inability to do any good. Romans 7 and Philippians 3:12-14 are Scripture passages in which we encounter this struggle as an existential necessity. The fact that the Bible spells out this struggle and describes the sins committed by God's chil­dren (even after they have put their faith in Him – think of David and Peter) has a twofold purpose, namely to do justice to reality and to serve the truth. Liberation can never proceed in denial, but only by speaking the truth. Bondage is marked by lying and deception which deny the truth with respect to reality.

Furthermore, reality must be changed through forgiveness and renewal. These cannot be discussed without clearly stating what needs to be forgiven and renewed, and what the outcome is! Here also it is the case that spelling out the inability to do any good in preaching is not a cause of depression. Of course, it is an issue how it is presented. A non-evangelical treatment will have negative results and thus exercise a depressing influ­ence.

The promise of the Holy Spirit counteracts the inability to do any good. Regeneration and in­ner renewal are evangelical medicines against depression that results form our inability to do any good. Many Christians lose all cour­age in their fight against sin because they fail to follow the right approach. They start out believing that they are on their own. Instead, the battle may be waged on the premise of the forgiveness. Christ's victory is credited to our account. This is how we can take on the fight! Whether we shall indeed cross the finish line does not depend on us. Christ takes us there. Paul presses on with confidence (Philip­pians 3:14). God owns all the resources that we need and makes them available to us. We therefore live by faith – in deep dependence on Him.

Predestination experienced as gospel🔗

Predestination is sometimes referred to as the heart of the gospel. Here also the evangeli­cal emphasis is crucial. It is possible to dis­cuss predestination according to the human interpretation presented above. It reflects a complete misunderstanding of grace. It depicts predestination as an element in a logical system that omits the heart of God's fatherly love. Grace implies that redemption and salvation are God's gifts. Predestination underscores and confesses the radical nature of grace. It goes back to eternity. This makes it ground for certainty. It is also centered on Christ, i.e. it is always a matter of guilt. Christ came to save sinners.

God's sovereignty and human responsibility cannot be combined in a two-dimensional perspective. God exists in more than three dimensions. For this reason God's sovereign act of predestination and our responsibility need not be mutually exclusive. Those who find rest in God's grace find extra encourage­ment in the promise that God will never aban­don the work of His hands. Predestination is the expression of God's fatherly love and the security that is found in Him for all eternity.

This perspective can also be distorted through non-evangelical preaching. Predestination is then reduced to a caricature of grace, to a logical system in which the miracle of God's love is ignored.

Predestination does not offer a license to sin. It does offer us God's faithfulness when we have fallen into sin. Predestination implies that we may abandon all anxiety about hav­ing to fight the war against sin on our own. Our salvation is secure in God's eternal decree which is permeated with Christ's work of redemption.

Experience is part of the picture🔗

It is important to take the right perspective. God has given us the gospel as the proclama­tion of liberation, also from depression. A pastor must be a believer himself, familiar with temptation and liberation. He cannot be an instrument for liberation from depression without personally being in communion with Christ and the Father!

Depression and faith form a theme in which we may not let the former dominate the latter. It is the other way around. True faith dispels depression. In this essay we have particularly focused on two elements. Many a reader may perhaps not have expected this, or may even have considered it totally impossible.

On the one hand we do have the evangeli­cal perspective of the basic message, i.e. an evangelical proclamation of sin and grace. The importance of the one may not be exag­gerated or ignored at the expense of the other. On the other hand preachers need to guide their hearers in applying this good news to their personal lives. People need to personally experience this liberation in their lives. Have we paid sufficient attention to this within our own circles? Have we not unduly excluded the perspective of personal experience, prac­tice and perception from our preaching and pastoral care?

In publications on homiletics in recent years I have advocated a legitimate, Biblical focus on pneumatology (= the doctrine of the Holy Spirit) in preaching. I did this by employing a goal-oriented approach to preaching. Within this approach there is also scope to address depression in our sermons, including causa­tion and healing. In this sense this theme is closely related to a purely Reformational ap­proach to preaching and pastoral care.

I also refer to Biblical realism as a remedy against irresponsible Christian optimism as well as pessimism that destroys lives. Chapter 8 of Paul's epistle to the Romans depicts faith as rejoicing in the certainty of victory over temptation and struggle. This joy is filled with healing power over depression. It is indeed evangelical medicine against depression.

Add new comment

(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.
(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.