How Scripture can help with cases of depression and mental distress

I’m continuing a series of articles picking up on Mark Pickett’s call following the publication of The Pastor with a thorn in his side for further reflection and analysis concerning pastors and Christians experiencing depression. In this article I want to talk a bit more about how Scripture can be helpful to those suffering from depression.

First of all, Scripture can have a therapeutic and comforting affect. This is something described by many people during periods of suffering, distress, heartache, loneliness and grief. In times of trouble, many believers find comfort particularly in the Psalms. There are two reasons for this. First of all, we often find that the Psalms as prayers to God from fellow sufferers give voice to our own experience of trouble and distress. At the same point us to God’s nature, he is great and sovereign, he is also compassionate and merciful. This is the God who is both able and willing to help and to save.

Secondly, Scripture provides what we might refer to as “scaffolding” to support and protect us during crucial but difficult conversations and experiences.  Counselling often involves being confronted with difficult truths about what we are like, our own weaknesses, what we have said and done that has been hurtful both to ourselves and to others and what has been said and done to us that has been harmful.  These truths are likely to overwhelm us  except for what the Gospel tells us. God’s Word tells me that I am loved by him, kept safe in his hands and justified by faith so that I have the status and identity of one who is right with God. Nothing that might come up in conversation or in my own reflection and prayer is going to rob me of those truths. I am safe in Christ.

Thirdly, Scripture is a diagnostic tool. Now, often when we describe emotional health issues, we describe symptoms. Diagnosis takes us to the cause. As we’ve observed in previous articles and podcasts, sometimes the cause of depression can be sin both where we have sinned bringing harm to ourselves and where others have sinned against us. In those cases, it is the Holy Spirit who does the work of diagnosis through the conviction of sin and his tool for doing this is Scripture. The Holy Spirit does not work separately from God’s Word. Scripture then shines a light on our livers and circumstances showing us the world as it is meant to be both in terms of creation and redemption and the world as it is. It enables us to name the things that are wrong for what they are. Whilst this is primarily useful for spiritual depression, because this is God’s World, God’s Word also does bring wisdom to bear on other aspects of life and so I believe it can also be helpful in highlighting where medical factors are at work in depression.

Fourthly, Scripture helps with the cure. It does this by pointing us to the Gospel, the only sure remedy for spiritual depression. Just as Scripture points to where things are wrong, because it describes the world as it should be as well as how it is, it helps to set out the goals for recovery. We’ve talked before about how important it is to replace lies with truth, lies about God. The world and us and so Scripture is crucial if we are to tell ourselves the truth, a crucial element of a number of talk therapies including Transactional Analysis and especially Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

So the Bible has an important role to play in recovery from depression and emotional distress.

“Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path.”[1]


[1] Psalm 119:105.

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