“He just needs to die.”
I swallowed hard and said, “What?” I really wasn’t sure I heard her correctly.
“He just needs to die. He’s heartbroken and he just needs to die.”
I don’t think I’ve ever been more appalled at a conversation in my life. I felt this incessant pleading of my heart to turn around and walk away from this conversation, but propriety demanded I stay, so I did. Leaning against a rail for support, I clung to it with my teeth tightly clamped and listened as this friend, this Christian woman, told me about her elderly father’s battle with depression. I might have understood if she had disclosed an unmanageable and constant pain in his body. I could understand that kind of suffering driving friends and family to this conclusion. How do you watch a loved one suffer physical torment without, at some point, determining that death would be a reprieve?
She wasn’t talking about physical pain. She said, “He is in great physical shape. He’s doing well in so many ways, actually. He’s just so broken-hearted.” Then she said it again. The one thing I couldn’t bear hearing her repeat. “He just needs to die.”
How did we get here, friends? How did we get here, church? Where we can look at the suffering of others and with callousness decide that death is just the inevitable conclusion to it all? Have we forgotten God? Have we forgotten the testimony of the scriptures, of men and women who also wrestled with depression in deep, dark places and been rescued?
I think of Paul, an elderly man in chains, writing to the church in Corinthians, “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself” (2 Cor. 2:8). Even in the company of his companions, Paul experienced such severe depression of spirit that he felt, and rationalized, death as the answer. “Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead” (2:9). Paul and his companions had a tremendous prayer life, evident in all the letters he wrote, and they recognized that God was the one they should turn to in this time.
I don’t understand why we Christians filter our lives through the world’s sieve, looking for answers. We rationalize as the world does, and we forget just how powerful our God is in our suffering, and the suffering of our loved ones. We forget that scriptures says that we are destined for such suffering, but also encourages us to press through them and promises that we will be victorious. Paul continues telling his story, “He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many” (2:10-11).
I have felt the sting of abandonment in sorrowful times. I know it’s because it’s hard for others to bear the burden of my pain. I have had friends turn their backs on me because the depression outlasted their ability to help me keep my arms up. Like Moses in Exodus 17:8-15, who had been called to an intense battle. The Lord allowed Israel to prevail and conquer the enemy as long as Moses sat on the hill with the rod raised above his head. But when his arms began to give out and he lowered the rod, the enemy quickly gained the upper hand. What did his friends do? They stood beside him and held up his arms. No doubt, their arms also hurt as the day wore on, but they did not abandon him in his pain. They stood next to him.
I’m afraid we’re there, church, at the place Jesus described in Matthew 24:12, “because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold.” The increase of wickedness is not just the hatred of God in the world, or the rampant murder and strife. It’s also the love of self to the degree that we abandon each other in our own selfish pursuits. Life would be easier if we were only looking out for number one, but it certainly isn’t the will of God. Paul’s daily death led him to abandon all comfort to be the hands and feet of Christ in this life. Jesus’s example led him up Calvary for people who hated him. Can we not tarry with our depressed loved ones?!
If you reread Paul’s exhortation in 2 Corinthians (just scroll back up and reread it), he said that their hope was set upon God, as his friends prayed for them in their struggles. He intimates that their deliverance hinged on – was granted in response to – the prayers of his friends. This isn’t the only place Paul talks about being downcast. Over and over in scripture, he testifies to being renewed and reinvigorated at the coming of his friends, such as Titus and Timothy.
I write this as a gently rebuke because I think this is something many professing Christians are guilty of. There are many hurting people who are just trying to keep their head above water. Who spend so much of their day just trying not to be overcome by life’s billows. Who feel abandoned by those they trusted to have their back. It’s hard to reach out to people when you’re hurting. But instead of bearing the responsibility of reaching out when our friend’s ghost on us, we take it personal and get offended. That’s Satan, folks, putting lies in your head to divide and conquer Christians, one by one. “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24).
Perhaps you are the one who often battles depression alone. Remember, when we are weak, God is strong. “The LORD will grant that the enemies who rise up against you will be defeated before you. They will come at you from one direction but flee from you in seven” (Deut. 28:7). Paul shares in 2 Timothy 4:17 that when he was abandoned by everyone, the Lord stood with him and gave him strength. Similarly, King David once felt everyone around him rising up against him and instead of giving in to despair, the Bible says he encouraged himself in the Lord. Don’t be defeated in your depression. Jesus is our Saviour, our Counselor, and our great Friend. We are never alone. He is our hope.