Hope for the Despairing Heart
The gospel saved me.
“That’s elementary,” you might be thinking. Yes, the gospel, the truths of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection, appropriated by faith, have saved me for all eternity. But that’s not the salvation about which I am thinking.
The gospel saved me from my pit of despair.
I have battled depression on and off since adolescence. It began the year my grandmother died, I switched schools, and close friendships were lost. There was a brief respite during college and graduate school. Then after the birth of each of my two children, the despair sucked me into a darkness I had never known before. It terrified me. The thoughts and feelings that consumed me were paralyzing. I had fallen into a deep pit and couldn’t find a way out.
What Jesus Has Done
As a trained counselor, I tried all the things I knew to do to manage it. Though they brought me some temporary help, it wasn’t enough to give me the hope I longed for and needed most. So one day, I met with my pastor to seek his help.
I recounted for him everything I had done to climb out of the pit. They were all good things, helpful things. He heard me list the coping skills I had used, my strategies to change my life’s circumstances, and all the external solutions I had tried. “But I haven’t heard you tell me how you are trusting in what Christ already did for you,” he responded.
I must have had a blank look on my face because he said it again.
In my mind, I wondered, “What does this have to do with my depression? I came here to find out what I should do to make my life better.”
We went on to talk about what it means that Jesus lived a perfect life for me, died for me, and rose from the grave for me. And here’s the truth, while I didn’t leave the office that day completely cured and transformed, I did leave with a new seed of hope. As the months went on, that hope grew and grew. Its roots dug deep in my heart and over time started to bear fruit.
While this conversation with my pastor may not seem earth shattering, and though what we discussed was not some amazing new concept, the conversation reminded me of a truth I had forgotten. It reminded me that my hope and joy are not found in what I can do but in what Jesus has already done.
Out of all the things I have done to manage my depression over the years, it is the gospel of what Jesus has already done for me that has given me lasting hope. Because the insidious thing about depression and despair is the way they strip away hope. The future is dark and bleak. The silence and isolation is deafening. There seems to be no end in sight.
But the gospel gives hope.
The Gospel of Hope
Jesus told the disciples, “In this world you will have sorrow, but take heart I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). This life is not trouble free. Jesus did not sugarcoat what it means to follow him. Life will be hard. But our hope lies in what Christ has done: he overcame sin and death.
The gospel of Jesus Christ tells us that Jesus was a man of sorrows. He was not unfamiliar with the pain and suffering of this life. He knew temptation, sorrow, fear, illness, and death. He experienced rejection, loss, poverty, loneliness, and abuse. There is not one tear we have shed that he does not understand. Jesus took on all our sin, shame, and sorrow at the cross. He bore the weight of our guilt and punishment. He suffered the torment of separation from God that was rightfully ours.
But because he was sinless, the grave could not hold him. When he rose from the grave he conquered sin and death. Through faith in his complete work of redemption, we have the hope of eternal life forever in a place where there will be no more sorrow and tears.
There’s more. Not only do we have the hope of forever, but we have hope right now. Because of what Jesus accomplished for us, we have been adopted into the family of God. He is our Father. We are co-heirs with Christ. All of God’s promises are for us.
Everything We Need
This means that when life is hard, we have free and complete access to the throne of grace. We can come to him and know that he hears us, that he cares, and that he will help us. As a beloved child, we can trust that he will provide for us. We can rest in assurance that his love for us is not dependent on what we do but on what Jesus has already done. And with that is the promise:
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38–39)
We also have the promise that Jesus will finish what he started in us. He will not leave us unchanged. He will use every pain, every sorrow, and every tear in our lives for our good and his glory. We are not on our own in this, he promises to be our strength in weakness and will give us everything we need to live for him.
Depression may come and visit me again. As Jesus said, we will have sorrow in this life. But I know in whom I hope. When despair weighs heavy on my heart, I need to “take heart” and remember that Jesus “has overcome the world.” And because he overcame the world and conquered sin and death, I know he can resurrect hope in a heart filled with despair.
More on fighting despair:
God Is with You in Depression (interview with Randy Alcorn)
Spiritual Depression in the Psalms (sermon by John Piper)
What to Say to the Depressed, Doubting, Skeptical, Confused, Angry (article by John Piper)