Preaching to Depressed People

The following was posted on a website I frequent, referring to Matthew 16:26, in which Jesus says, “For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?”:

A teenage boy attempted suicide last week. Another [man], 47, suffering schizophrenia, did commit suicide. What will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? All of the success of the world cannot give peace to the soul. But if we focus on following Jesus, all earthly glory becomes meaningless, and the reason to live is found. He who loses his life for Him, finds it.

I had to respond….

“I would be very, very hesitant to draw parallels between this passage and the tragedy of suicide to which you point. Those who see no point in life, or who are worn down by the agony of existence, or who struggle (as I have for years) with depression or mental illness, know in their bones that success does not give peace in their souls. We already understand this.

Telling or implying to those who choose, or attempt, or even consider suicide, that they have the world in their pocket, and that they are forfeiting it all by choosing or attempting or considering suicide, is not addressing their concerns or feelings. In fact, it is ignoring what they are experiencing, and trying to impose a different reality on them. You might as well be speaking Martian; it communicates nothing helpful.

Also, inferring that paying more attention to Jesus will make the crap fade in significance and make everything somehow better is quite frankly cruel. They WANT purpose and meaning for their lives. They WANT there to be a point to it all. They WANT a reason to live. People with these struggles are probably the most persistent people in the WORLD in asking, seeking and knocking; but the answers they receive are not sufficient; the so-called purpose they find is inadequate to their reality; the door never quite opens in a way that really allows entry into the peace they crave.

For far too long, the Church has clung to easy answers, and ignored the complexity that is life. Our dismissal of the pain of those who struggle with mental illness, and our insistence that they just don’t believe enough, has caused untold damage to untold numbers of hurting people.

I do not mean to be dismissive of well-meant concern, nor of the pain that your family has felt, nor of the attempt to make sense of it all. But when easy answers are offered without regard for the complexity of the reality which is being faced, or when others are told to do something which will make the TELLER feel better, I think we need to be ready to hear, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.'”

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