Christian Devotional: Depression is a Fifth Column, So Be Happy

Christian Devotional: Depression is a Fifth Column, So Be Happy April 17, 2019

I recently came upon this entry in a devotional for women, by Anne Ortlund. I have rarely read anything this horrifying. It’s about coping with depression, see. And it’s bad. 

If any depression, any sadness, is longer than brief, it starts to become your very dangerous enemy.

Many people don’t realize what a threat sadness it – and any danger which is unrecognized as a danger is all the more dangerous. There is no stigma against sadness. There is no embarrassment, no alarm, no rushing to the Lord to eliminate it.

There is no stigma against sadness? I’m sorry, what?! I have news for you, Ortlund. No one wants to be sad. And certain, no one wants to have depression. It’s not something people choose. Or something people want to keep!

Also, note the lack of any mention of seeking therapy. Nope! Jesus eliminates depression. Easy peasy!

But God’s Word says,

The joy of the Lord is your strength. (Nehemiah 8:10)

And when a Christian is sad – whether he realizes it or not, his power is diminished and he’s vulnerable.

A country that has internal unrest is the least able to resist any threatening foreign power. And a believer with sadness inside is the least able to resist any attack of Satan.

What.

Does Ortlund have any idea how damaging her words are? Telling someone with depression (or struggling with grief) that their sadness is making them vulnerable to Satan, so they need to stop it, is a terrible idea.

Do you know how many evangelical Christians are afraid to seek treatment for depression because they believe that they, as Christians, are supposed to be feeling joy? Telling them that their depression is making them vulnerable to Satan is only going to increase their sense of wrongness and panic.

People don’t choose to have depression. 

Oh, but it gets worse.

Depression is a sinister “fifth column” at work within the Christian community.

Yes, you read that right.

Let’s keep going:

You watch a rejected congregation after a church split. As long as they’re sad, there will be little true worship, little evangelism; the people can’t focus away from themselves.

Uh oh. Where is this “people can’t focus away from themselves” bit going? The answer, of course, is nowhere good.

You watch an individual Christian who’s sad: He’s necessarily self-centered. As long as he’s sad he—or she—makes a poor marriage partner.

When we’re sad, we’re sick. We don’t function well. We don’t lift and encourage other believers, and we don’t appeal to unbelievers. Our spiritual strength and effectiveness are cut down.

Oh boy.

In other words, people with depression are selfish. That really is what Ortlund appears to be saying. That is not how this works. Ortlund also says Christians with depression (i.e. those who are sad) can’t lift up or encourage other believers—but if everyone is already up and happy, who exactly are they supposed to be lifting up?

Still, I think the statement that believers with depression (i.e. those who are sad) won’t “appeal to unbelievers” may be the most damaging statement in this entire devotional. It creates some serious guilt.

That’s really what this entire devotional is about—guilt, guilt, guilt. If you’re sad and depressed, you’re dragging other believers down, you’re open to Satan, you’re not appealing to unbelievers, you’re a fifth column. So stop it! Stop being sad already! How? Unclear. Just do it.

This is the closest we get to how:

No wonder the great George Mueller used to say, “It is my first business every morning to make sure that my heart is happy in God!”

ou cannot just decide not to have depression. You wouldn’t know that, though, from reading this devotional. Instead, this devotional suggests that believers are able to just decide to be happy, and that those that choose to go on being sad are doing the work of Satan.

Ortlund wrote this devotional in 1993 and published a second edition in 2001, but it appears to be still in print. Ortlund passed away in 2013; her son writes for the Gospel Coalition. While we can hope that evangelical devotionals written today take a healthier approach to depression, I am not especially optimistic.

Evangelicals badly need to develop more healthy approaches to mental health, because this ain’t it.

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