Emotions, Depression, and Body/Soul (Borgman)

One major part of being human is having emotions and feelings. We all have emotions. From joy to anger to terror to elation, we experience a range of emotions each day. Although the words “emotion” or “emotions” aren’t found in biblical Hebrew or Greek, there are plenty of biblical words that convey emotion (e.g. despair, gloom, happy, hesitation, etc.).

It’s important to note that since we are “body and soul” creatures, emotions have to do with both. For example, biologically, when a person is super tired he might be more prone to anger than when he’s fully awake. Or when a person’s diet consists of way too much sugar and caffiene, it might lead to emotional highs and emotional crashes. At the same time, spiritually speaking, if a person refuses to admit sin and fault, it might cause him to be very grouchy. We also know from Scripture that refusal to submit to God can lead to emotional and mental unstability, as we see from the story of King Saul. Here are a few other examples by Brian Borgman of the “body and soul” relationship to emotions in the area of depression:

“The Bible distinguishes between the body and the soul (Matt. 10:28). It also affirms the interpenetration and interdependence between the body and the soul (e.g., Ps. 38:3). It should not surprise us that physical problems can lead to both depression and spiritual problems. Some physical sources of depression might include prolonged illness, childbirth, surgery, hormonal changes, changes in diet, and fatigue. Many other physical factors may also contribute to depression. The important point to remember as we proceed is that we are body-soul creatures.

There are also spiritual sources of depression. The most common spiritual source is the guilt caused by sin. …[In Psalm 32] the root cause of the psalmist’s depression is unconfessed sin. The results were physical depletion, guilt, and emotional heaviness.

…Depression can also occur because of the grief of losing a loved one, losing a job, or some major life change. Stress over children, marriage, and finances can also spin us out of control emotionally, landing us in depression. Behind much of this activity is the enemy of our souls, the Devil….

Borgman says more, of course, and even goes on to give help through depression with some good physical and spiritual advice. If you want to read more about depression and emotions in general from a biblical perspective, do check out Feelings and Faith by Brian Borgman. (The above quotes are found in chapter 12.)

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Sweet the Sound of Grace Divine (Cowper)

William Cowper Collection (6 vols.) William Cowper, a friend of John Newton and the author of many hymns (including “God Moves in A Mysterious Way”) suffered from bouts of depression and panic attacks from a young age.  Some historians say it ran in his family.  Things became so dark for him that he tried to take his own life several times.  When he was around 30 years old he was in a mental hospital because of an especially deep period of depression and despair.  Later in his life, Cowper said that during that time the devil would even attack him and accuse him in his dreams at night.

At some point during that stay in the mental hospital Cowper read Romans 3:25.  The verse softened his heart and made him remember gospel truths he had learned earlier in life.  He later wrote that during this time he was “overwhelmed with joy unspeakable.”  He eventually left the mental hospital and went on to live until he was around 70 years old.  He always did suffer bouts of depression, but the Lord graciously brought him through.

This, of course, is a very brief summary of Cowper’s life struggles and his faith.  But it’s enough to make one appreciate his excellent poem called “A Song of Mercy and Judgment.”  As you read it, note how he refers to his depression and also note the rhythmic repetition of grace:

Lord! I love the Habitation
Where the Savior’s Honor dwells,
At the Sound of thy Salvation
With Delight my Bosom swells.
Grace Divine how sweet the Sound,
Sweet the grace that I have found.

Me thro’ Waves of deep affliction
Dearest Savior! thou hast brought,
Fiery Deeps of sharp Conviction
Hard to bear and passing Thought.
Sweet the Sound of Grace Divine,
Sweet the grace which makes me thine

From the cheerful Beams of Morning
Sad I turn’d mine Eyes away:
And the Shades of Night returning
Fill’d my Soul with new Dismay.
Grace Divine how sweet the Sound,
Sweet the grace that I have found.

Food I loath’d nor ever tasted
But by Violence constrain’d,
Strength decay’d and Body wasted,
Spoke the Terrors I sustain’d.
Sweet the Sound of Grace Divine,
Sweet the grace which make me thine.

Bound and watch’d lest Life abhorring
I should my own Death procure,
For to me the Pit of Roaring
Seem’d more easy to endure.
Grace Divine how sweet the Sound,
Sweet the grace which I have found.

Fear of Thee with gloomy Sadness,
Overwhelm’d thy guilty Worm,
’Till reduced to moping Madness,
Reason sunk beneath the Storm.
Sweet the Sound of Grace Divine,
Sweet the grace which makes me thine.

Then what Soul distressing Noises
Seem’d to reach me from below,
Visionary Scenes and Voices,
Flames of Hell and Screams of Woe!
Grace Divine how sweet the Sound,
Sweet the grace which I have found.

But at length a Word of Healing
Sweeter than an Angel’s Note,
From the Savior’s Lips distilling
Chas’d Despair and chang’d my Lot.
Sweet the Sound of Grace Divine,
Sweet the grace which makes me thine.

’Twas a Word well-timed and suited
To the Need of such an Hour,
Sweet to One like me polluted,
Spoke in Love and seal’d with Pow’r.
Grace Divine how sweet the Sound,
Sweet the grace which I have found.

I, he said, have seen thee grieving,
Lov’d thee as I pass’d thee by,
Be not faithless but Believing,
Look, and Live, and never Die.
Sweet the Sound of Grace Divine,
Sweet the grace which makes me thine.

Take the Bloody Seal I give thee,
Deep impress’d upon thy Soul,
God, thy God, will now receive thee,
Faith hath sav’d thee, thou art Whole.
Grace Divine, how sweet the Sound,
Sweet the grace which I have found.

All at once my Chains were broken,
From my Feet my Fetters fell,
And that Word in Pity spoken,
Snatch’d me from the gates of Hell.
Grace Divine, how sweet the Sound,
Sweet the grace which I have found.

Since that Hour in Hope of Glory,
With thy Foll’wers I am found,
And relate the wondrous Story
To thy list’ning Saints around.
Sweet the Sound of Grace Divine,
Sweet the grace which makes me thine.

(The above information about Cowper is found in A Portrait of William Cowper by Louis B. Risk.)

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Christian Warfare and Depression (Welch)

 Satan and his wicked army often attack Christians and try to get us to believe lies.  Sometimes we believe the lies and our lives go downhill in various ways.  We stumble into sin, we hurt someone, we go through a period of depression, and the list goes on.  What do we do when Satan attacks us with lies and his other strategies?  Ed Welch gives some good direction on this topic:

…What happens in our lives when we simply say to Jesus, ‘Yes, I trust you,’ is that we also trust in his power to stand firm against Satan’s attacks.

  1. Remember you have an enemy.  Follow the lead of wise people who begin each day by actually saying, ‘Today, I must be alert that I have an enemy.’  Realize that you are walking where rebels are known to be in the area.  Their lives are devoted to your destruction.

  2. Assume that warfare rages.  Don’t even bother looking for signs of warfare.  Just assume that you are in the thick of it.  …Are you listening to wise counsel and Scripture? …Listening is a mark of humility, and Satan can’t successfully fight against it.

  3. Don’t think that your case is unique.  This popular lie questions God’s care: all sufferers are tempted to believe that their suffering is unique.  This lie immediately renders all counsel irrelevant because no one understands and no advice applies.  The result is that the aloneness you already experience is now an established fact, and you are given ever more permission to despair.

  4. Know Christ.  Satan’s energies zero in on one point: the truth about Jesus.  If you are growing in an accurate knowledge of Jesus Christ, you are winning the battle.

  5. Humble yourself before the Lord.  Humility is different from feeling low.  It is lowering ourselves before God, and accepting his sovereign will.  Humility says, ‘God owes me nothing.’  ‘He is not my servant; I am his.’  ‘God is God, and he has the right to do anything he wants.’

There is quite a bit more to Welch’s discussion, especially as he relates it to depression in the Christian life.  I’ve summarized these points quite a bit, so I recommend reading the entire section for excellent biblical direction in fighting Satan’s attacks, especially when going through a period of depression.

Here’s where you can find it: Ed Welch, Depression: A Stubborn Darkness (Greensboro: New Growth Press, 2004) p. 68-71.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Taking Care of Yourself (Murray)

 In our fast-paced digital world where everyone is always on the move, it happens quite often that we end up not taking good care of ourselves.  We are in a hurry, so we eat convenient foods that are unhealthy, foods that are not good fuel for our bodies and brains.  We don’t have time to exercise or get outside much, so we put on extra weight and lose mobility and flexibility.  We stay up late staring at a screen, so we get less than 7 hours of sleep most nights.  We spend too much time on our phones and social media, so we kill our attention spans and hamstring our mental capabilities.  We have so much to do that we rarely take serious downtime to relax and reflect.  Sometimes all of these things weigh us down to the point of anxiety attacks or depression. At minimum, these things seriously sap us as humans – as Christians – and keep us from having a fuller life.

David and Shona Murray talk about all these things in their excellent book, Refresh.  In fact, one reason they wrote this book is because Shona did experience panic attacks and depression.  Through her experience, she learned the hard way about a more balanced and biblical lifestyle.  I appreciate how the authors note that we are complex creatures, so fatigue, depression, anxiety, panic attacks and the like aren’t always simply a result of personal sin.  There are various other factors that sometimes intertwine.  Shona says that “one of the biggest breakthroughs on the way to healing comes when we take that holistic approach to causes and cures” (p. 49).

This book isn’t a moralistic guide to better living.  Instead, it’s a Christian approach to life that emphasizes the fact that since we belong to Christ – body and soul – we need to manage our lives for his glory.  We have to take care of the body which Christ bought by his death, the body which is a temple of the Holy Spirit, the body in which Paul calls us to glorify God (1 Cor. 6:18-19).  I appreciate how Murray shoots for a good balance in these areas, not calling us to extremes, but thoughtful moderation.  Balance is the key!

If your life is a whirlwind and you really feel cruddy quite often, I’d recommend this book.  Or, if you would like some wise Christian direction for a balanced lifestyle, you’d appreciate this book.  As I said in an earlier post, although it is sort of aimed at women, men can for sure benefit from it as well.  I implemented some of the suggestions in the book, and it has helped my concentration and studies already.  I’m sure it’ll be a blessing to you as well.

David and Shona Murray, Refresh (Wheaton: Crossway, 2017).

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

 

Good That I Was Afflicted? (Newton)

Sometimes during a hard and heavy trial there doesn’t seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel.  Just when you think the trial may be going away like a storm passing, just when you think the sun might finally be coming out, another dark cloud blows in and the trial is back – sometimes with a vengeance.  That’s when you think, “What’s it all worth?”  That’s when you don’t want to get out of bed in the morning.  That’s when tears come at random during the day.  That’s when you can sort of understand why people might want to just give up and die.

God’s promises speak to this.  Although they don’t take the storm of trial away, they do provide shelter during the storm of trial.  God’s promises don’t always immediately show us the light at the end of the tunnel, but they do give us a firm reminder that there is a Light at the end of it!  God’s promises give us reason to get up and go on with life by his grace and strength.  John Newton talked about this well in a letter he wrote to a Christian friend facing a hard trial.  These words are for all Christians facing affliction:

“Many are the trials and exercises we must expect to meet within our progress; but this one consideration outweighs them all: the Lord is on our side.  And if he be for us, none can be against us to harm us.  In all these things we shall be more than conquerors through him that loved us. Afflictions, though not in themselves joyous, but grievious, yet, when sanctified, are among our choice mercies.  In due time they shall yield the peaceful fruits of righteousness, and even at present they shall surely be attended with seasonable and sufficient supports.”

“One great desire of the believer is to understand the great word of God more and more; and one principal means by which we advance in this knowledge is the improvement we are enabled to make of our daily trials.  The promises are generally made to an afflicted state, and we could not taste their sweetness, nor experience their truth, if we were not sometimes brought into the circumstances to which they relate.  It is said, ‘I will be with them in trouble’; but how could we know what a mercy is contained in these words unless trouble was sometimes our lot?  It is said to be the believer’s privilege to glory in tribulation.  But we never could know that this is possible unless we had tribulation to glory in.”

“However, this is a matter of joy and glory indeed, to find peace and comfort within when things are disagreeable and troublesome without.  Then we are enabled to set our seal that God is true, then we learn how happy it is to have a refuge that cannot be taken from us, a support that is able to bear all the weight we can lay upon it, a spring of joy that cannot be stopped by any outward events.”

“A great part of the little we know of our God – his faithfulness, compassion, his readiness to hear and answer our prayers, his wisdom in delivering and providing when all our contrivances fail, and his goodness in overruling everything to our soul’s good – I say, much of what we know of these things we learned in our trials, and have therefore reason to say, ‘It was good for us to be afflicted’ (Ps. 119:71).”

And, as the Lord has brought us safe through thus far, we have good ground to trust him to the end.  We know not what is before us.  Perhaps we may meet greater difficulties by and by than we have ever yet seen.  But if we keep in mind who has delivered us from the lion and the bear, we may face the Philistine also without terror.  God will be with us, and strengthen us with strength in our souls.  It is our wisdom to keep close to him, that, when the evil day comes, we may have confidence before him in all our troubles.”

John Newton, Works Volume 6, p. 35-6.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI