"For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them." This is the rebuke Jesus gave to his disciples, James and John, after a Samaritan village refused to welcome Jesus. The Samaritans were already "stigmatized" by the Jews and when they evaded a gesture of kindness, James and John were offended and had asked Jesus if they should "command fire to come down from heaven and consume them." An interesting story in Luke 9 (see v. 55).
"Jesus is the savior of men, not the destroyer of sinners."
Did you know that people with depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders usually struggle more with God being against them, than for them? They go into strong self-judgment, ongoing "scrupulosity" (constant guilt). It's important to note that well-meaning Christians with depression, anxiety, and other challenging symptoms have a part of their brain (prefrontal cortex) that is not functioning correctly, causing an inability to regulate and have positive moods and thoughts. This emotional disconnect puts their brain in constant threat mode of trying to figure out what's wrong with them! "What's wrong with me? ... Lord, what did I do wrong?" This leaves them victim to ongoing spiritual distress, guilt, judgment, shame ... "never being good enough for God." Thus, if they come from a strong background about being "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" ... you can see why they struggle with this ongoing distress. This "Angry God" perspective fuels depression and anxiety ... leading them more into "learned helplessness."
"The Cross was NOT to change and appease an angry God, rather the cross was His act of LOVE to transform us into new life ... Not motivated by anger, but by God's kind and loving will." (Ephesians 1:5)
If you are experiencing depression, anxiety, or any sort of mental health condition, or trying to support someone along their journey here are a couple things to keep in mind!
1. It's okay!
In other words, this experience is absolutely valid. Life can hurt sometimes and it's okay that it's painful ... pain is normal and God is not afraid of it. You don't have to focus on a piece of Scripture or a promise ("Do not be anxious about anything ..." (Philippians 4:6) or "Just trust in the Lord and He will come through for you") to try to make yourself more obedient and force yourself to make the pain go away (quick-fix). This approach reinforces the concept that "spiritual behavior / works = God's peace or breakthrough." It will reinforce "learned helplessness."
Instead, validate your story ... what happened that led to this place? Even if you're not doing anything wrong and something is not right, God cares and understands the pain, right where you are! If you're supporting someone, validate their challenge, their experience, and try to empathize by thinking about how you would feel in their shoes.
From a physiological view, it begins to activate the brain and body to work down the overall physical stress level. It's okay that life hurts and that we react to pain. Validation helps to defuse the internal defense and leads to comfort.
2. Love always communicates safety.
If you do want to understand God's truth, try focusing on scriptures or principles that reinforce His love and comfort ... that will always lead to safety! I often enjoy getting to share that even in the pain, "You are enough!" "For God loved the world (us) so much ..." and Jesus gave himself up for us to fulfill and satisfy His deep love for us! It's not trying to focus on one more decision to have "more of Him," rather it's knowing He has already made His decision about us and that decision includes giving us "all of Him." That means, no matter the depression, anxiety, or other challenges He is always present (John 3:16; Romans 8:37-38).
Remember, God is safe, not a distant and angry God always waiting to "discipline" us into righteousness. Depression or anxiety is not God's punitive anger (no matter their mistakes). You'd be surprised how much this renewed perspective brings relief.
"God doesn't see sinners who deserve wrath, God sees His suffering children who need a Savior ... and He fulfilled His love for us."
Look at Psalm 102:19 and you will see a loving God who desires to rescue and set free those who are doomed to death, not punish them. This shifts the focus away from a wrath we deserve to a loving God who sees we're worth everything to Him ... even offering up His own life for us!
If you had the harsh view of God as part of your personal journey or tried to help someone bypassing validation and safety ... it's totally okay! I did too for a long time and I gave myself room to grow and be changed ... you can too!
God is not intimidated by all this. It may be confusing to us, but whatever the journey or experience, He is always communicating a safe and comforting fellowship ... whether or not we can feel it or see it!
Co/Founder & CEO of The Grace Alliance