What to Say to the Depressed, Doubting, Skeptical, Confused, Angry

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Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

If you care about people and risk talking to the depressed, the doubting, the skeptical, the confused, and the angry, you will soon run into a person who says to your counsel: I’ve tried that. Whatever you say, they will minimize it and say it doesn’t work. Do not be surprised at this response. This is what it means to be depressed, doubting, skeptical, confused, angry. It means that whatever they hear sounds useless.

So I want to offer some suggestions for what you say in a conversation that is about to be cut off like that.

1. Don't be offended.

First, resist the temptation to be offended. Don’t pout or take your ball and go home. That’s what you may feel like. They wanted to talk, and here they are throwing my suggestions back in my face with a dismissive attitude. Don’t leave. Not yet. “Love suffers long” (1 Corinthians 13:4, NKJV).

2. Listen.

Second, listen to their responses. Part of your power is not only what you say, but how they feel about the way you listen. If your truth produces empathetic ears, it will feel more compelling. This listening will be a witness. In 2 Timothy 2:24–26, Paul describes the kind of engagement that may set people free from sin and error. One feature is “patiently enduring evil.”

3. End with hope.

Third, when you have spoken all the experiential counsel you can think of, and they seem to have demeaned it all, don’t let them have the last word of despair. You leave the last word of hope. I suggest that you do it something like this. Say . . .

I know that you don’t feel very helped by what I have said. I think I understand some of what that’s like. I don’t mean to be offering a quick fix, as though your problems or doubts can be turned around that easily. But I have more hope than you do that God’s truth is powerful and will have its good effect in due time. May I share one more thing before you go?

I simply want to make sure you hear the best news in the world. Jesus said he spoke so that we would have peace (John 16:33). And Paul said that faith comes by hearing the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). You don’t feel this right now. But God says peace and faith come from hearing.

In other words, moving from not seeing and feeling the reality of Christ to seeing and feeling the reality of Christ happens through hearing news about Christ. Something happens. At one moment, you are not seeing him as beautiful and satisfying and compelling. Then in the next moment, you are.

In the moments leading up to this experience, listening to God’s word seems empty and futile. That doesn’t put me off. If you doubt what I am saying, you are the very person who needs to hear what I am saying.

So let me tell you this spectacular news. This comes from Colossians 2:13–15.

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

Paul is talking about what God offers to everyone and what those who believe in Jesus experience. There are five mind-blowing things here:

1) God makes you spiritually alive.

2) God forgives all your sins.

3) He does this because he canceled the record of debts that stood against you. You owed God what you could never pay because of all your sins. And he cancelled the debt.

4) How could he do that? He set it aside by nailing it to the cross. But the nails that went into the cross didn’t go through parchment. They went through Jesus’ hands and feet. That’s the heart of everything I have to say to you. Christ became our substitute and bore our debt.

5) When that happened, the devil was disarmed. Why? Because the weapon of accusation was taken out of his hand. He always waved that record of debt in our face and God’s court. But now that’s canceled. The devil is disarmed. He can huff and puff, but he cannot damn you.

I leave you with this news. I will pray that the obstacles to peace-filled faith in your mind will be overcome by these truths. Jesus said, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” Meditate on these verses. May the Lord give you light.