Lately I have suffered from another fairly significant, prolonged bout of depression. Unlike previous times, it hasn’t taken the form of a crippling bed-riddening total lack of motivation. I’ve been able to continue on “as normal” to the outside world pretty well. I doubt that many would even know how low I have been feeling (such is the social pressure to always respond to ‘how are you’ with ‘I’m fine’).
Anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot during this time about where the depression comes from, why it’s here, what I can do to mitigate it, and if I can even move beyond it altogether. Of course, my thoughts turned towards God and what he has to do with all of this. I’ve come away with two observations:
1) Prosperity gospel is attractive, but terrible for the soul
I watched a video this morning of a relatively famous american pastor at the climax of his sermon – accompanied, of course, by dramatic music, whooping, cheering, and the like – talking about how we mustn’t be held back by things which have happened to us in the past. Initially, I thought he was right. I still think the core of that message is obvious and right and good and true. However, the manner in which it came across – the context – troubled me.
I found myself wanting to live in this “victorious” lifestyle. I found myself wanting to have security in my finances, “blossoming” relationships, a “positive” mental attitude, and so on. But such desires are dangerous, for they disconnect us with Jesus as he is portrayed in the gospels. To me, it is clear that Jesus had many broken relationships (not through his fault), little by way of money and security, and a heck of a lot of bad stuff piled on top.
Jesus doesn’t call us into prosperity. He doesn’t promise material, financial or any other kind of blessing common in this world. He instead encourages us to store up “treasures in heaven”.
I experience this whenever I take part in something good and see good things happen. I don’t think that’s exclusive to my Christian faith – but that’s another blog post altogether (which is, incidentally, on its way), but I do recognise that it is good, and it usually involves sacrifice on my part before I experience it.
When you’re depressed, or at least, when I’m depressed, I find that my motivation disappears. I don’t have the “capacity” to sacrifice of myself. This means that I want easy answers, easy solutions. Instead of working on relationships I want them to fall into place. Instead of working hard and discovering what the Kingdom of God looks like, I decide what it looks like, recognise I haven’t got this fantasy ideal, and then end up feeling worse.
And that’s the crux of it – ambition. Depression rids me of ambition because my ambition is skewed. It doesn’t come from not having wealth, health, or perfect relationships. It comes from feeling as though I have fallen short of my own desires for myself. Instead of having the sustainable house and camper van, I live in a shared house and drive a Toyota Yaris. Instead of having a thriving business, I have a relatively successful one. Instead of having lots of friends I have a few friends who I see a couple of times a week. Yet none of these things are inherently terrible. They simply fall short of my own standards.
And to top it all off, one of those standards is to be free of depression. Catch 22, anyone?
1) Religious guilt
It’s not just my own standards that falling short of causes me to end up feeling depressed. I was having a drink recently with a friend and we were talking briefly about religious and middle class guilt.
It’s not something I thought I suffered from, particularly. Until I stopped and thought about it.
I have definitely reached a place where I no longer feel guilty about screwing up all the damn time. My sin doesn’t get me down in the way it used to. I used to think that was a giant leap forward from the religious guilt with which I have been conditioned from a young age. Now, I’m not so sure. Instead, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty any more.
The guilt is still there.
It’s amazing what theology can do to the mindset. In choosing to understand the cross not as a substitutionary atonement for my sin, I complicate my relationship with God immensely. Instead of being “free from sin”, I instead see myself as still burdened with the consequences of my actions.
Now, I don’t think it would be right to simply readjust my theology so that I fall in line with more “orthodox” thinking. That wouldn’t be being true to myself or to what I believe is (might be) true. I believe that Jesus’ death on a cross was God’s way of showing the world that there was no greater sacrifice to be made, there was nothing that could be done to make us right with God – because that’s not how it works. That’s not what we need to do.
Instead my understanding is that Jesus’ death enables me to be totally free from the need to do anything religious in order that I might instead do things the way God would have them done out of choice and freedom.
But this means doing things – which is in my view totally consistent with Jesus’ teachings and with further writings. He doesn’t imply an idle faith. He doesn’t imply it’s okay to sit back and relax and enjoy life because of grace. He doesn’t even imply that if one does that, one “gets away” with it. Quite the opposite. But we won’t go in to that here.
So back to the guilt – I feel guilty because I feel like I am falling short of a standard. Instead of the standard being the Law, the standard is love – a far higher standard. I recognise all of the ways in which I am unloving. To my family, my housemates, my neighbours, my colleagues, my clients, my friends, those who contribute to the things which I buy, and so on.
God is Love and I aspire to be like God, like Jesus – and to love those around me. Yet I fall short of this frequently and often. Yet instead of having God as my “judge” – as in the cross Jesus demonstrates God’s willingness to remove the guilt (or, if you want to believe the traditional view, removes the guilt in the very act of Jesus’ death) – I have as judge others and myself. Yet I find myself in a place where I am conscious of my every move, because God instead of judging my adherence to a code, says that he will only claim he knew me if my life is lived out in a particular posture – the posture of love.
What if I am falling short of that standard? It is far, far easier to come to terms with my own standards. I can begin to learn and accept that these standards are too high. But where does the religious guilt leave me? I want to be more loving, but I seem to fail endlessly. And there seems to be no answer to this right now…