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Core Christianity: Tough Questions Answered

Depression and the Promises of God

by Diana Gruver posted January 11, 2021

I grew up out in “the country.” We could still see neighbors’ houses, but we were largely surrounded by cornfields, cow pastures, and the neighborhood sheep across the street. At night, it was dark, the sky untouched by the lights of street lamps. 

I was sometimes conscripted to pull the garbage can to the end of our long driveway. I can remember feeling fearful of what might lie in the darkness. There could be anything lurking in its shadows. Inspired by the book series I was reading at the time, I would whisper to myself, “When I am afraid, I will trust in thee” (Ps. 56:3) the length of the driveway down, the length of the driveway back. It steadied my breathing. It kept pace with my footfalls. It quieted the darkness. 

As I got older, the darkness I feared became more complex. Eventually, it had a name. Depression. It too made me afraid. It too had monsters lurking in the shadows. 

I can remember a particular night in college when the darkness was palpable. My roommate was gone, and thickness of the lies in my head and the sorrow in my heart were almost more than I could bear. I was scared. Scared by myself. Scared of the forces at work in my mind. Like a child in a thunderstorm, I jumped into bed and pulled the blankets over my head and began repeating out loud, challenging the darkness: “We are pressed, but not crushed” (2 Cor. 4:8). I drifted to sleep as my lips continued mouthing the words. In the dark, I needed a truth to whisper to myself. I needed a promise, a glimmer of light in which to stand. I needed a word of hope. 

Anchors of Hope in the Promises

Years later, I became acquainted with Charles Spurgeon, who, amidst his mammoth ministry and preaching efforts, also sometimes suffered from depression. He too found solace in the promises offered in the Bible, even while the darkness lingered. 

From him, I’ve learned to hold these promises close and repeat them often, even when they only come out in a shaky whisper. When depression darkens my hold on faith, I can cling to the promises of Scripture, even when I hardly have the strength to believe them. They are still true, even if they don’t engage my emotions as they once did, even when I can’t feel a thing. They don’t cure my depression or remove my pain, but they do keep me anchored when I can no longer find my way. 

The Promise of the Gospel

Spurgeon once wrote, “The more I suffer the more I cling to the gospel. It is true, and the fires only burn it into clearer certainty to my soul. I have lived on the gospel, and I can die on it.”[1]

I’ve had a similar experience. The seasons of pain and depression I’ve walked through have solidified my understanding of the gospel like nothing else has. Perhaps I’ve been more needy in those seasons, and my heart, cracked open with suffering, was more receptive to the balm of grace. I knew how much I needed help and hope–and in that need, I found a God who reached down and met me in my neediness and my pain. I met a God who not only offers salvation for my soul, but also promises to redeem, remake, and restore all of creation, forever eradicating pain and despair. This promise is a thread of hope when pain and despair are close companions. 

The Promise of God’s Character

When depression numbs my sense of God’s presence, making me wonder if he has left me alone, I can anchor myself in the picture of his character offered in the Bible. There, I am told he is a compassionate God who draws near to the brokenhearted (Ps. 34:18). I see his faithfulness to those who are suffering. I’m shown stories again and again of His desire and ability to use the weak, of his power to work when all hope seemed lost. In Scripture, I’m promised a God who will keep company with me in the dark, from whose presence I can never flee or be hidden (Ps. 139:7-12), from whose love I can never be separated (Rom. 8:35-39). 

The Promise of Redemption

In the midst of his suffering, Spurgeon found sustaining power in the promise that there would come a day when he would see his Savior face to face and all tears would be wiped away. The promise of an incorruptible, unfading inheritance (1 Peter 1:4) was a comfort and sure hope in the midst of life’s pain. 

He said, “Sorrow is our sowing, rejoicing shall be our reaping…. We may have to sow in the wet weather of sorrow; but we shall reap, and reap in the bright summer season of joy. Let us keep to the work of this present sowing time, and find strength in the promise which is here so positively given us. Here is one of the Lord’s shalls and wills; it is freely given both to workers, waiters, and weepers, and they may rest assured that it will not fail: ‘in due season they shall reap.’”[2]

In the context of my own story, that “reaping” may not be something I see in my lifetime–and it may not be something you see either. But the promise of redemption is another thread of hope to keep me tethered. The hope of the redemption and restoration of all things promises me that no matter how dark it might become, depression and suffering will not be the end of the story. Glory awaits. Healing awaits. There will come a day when there is no more sorrow, no more weeping, no more pain. And that promise gives me strength for today.

I remember, during the darkest season of my own depression, coming to the place where I had to stare down the promises of God. “If they aren’t true, then this suffering is meaningless,” I concluded. What a terrifying realization, what a feeling of powerlessness, to be free falling into the promises of God, with nothing left than to trust they were true and that, when I had no strength left, they were strong enough to hold me. Spurgeon might say this was the best place to be.

[1] Charles H. Spurgeon, Letters of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, ed. Iain H. Murray (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1992), 136. 

[2] Charles H. Spurgeon, Treasury of David, vol. VII, (Byron Center: Associated Publishers and Authors, 1970), 14.

Photo of Diana Gruver

Diana Gruver

Diana Gruver is the author of Companions in the Darkness: Seven Saints Who Struggled with Depression and Doubt. She serves as a writer and communications director for Vere Institute, and lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and daughter.

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