Part 2: Possible Causes for Emotional Difficulties experienced by Christians & Scriptural Responses.
Subsequent to the Fall of man and the entrance of sin into the world, life became more burdensome in many ways as physical suffering and adverse human emotions followed in its wake. Emotional suffering, unlike physical illness, is essentially a soul sickness that can occur for many reasons including a wide range of physical diseases, dysfunctions or deficiencies; injuries to the body or brain; pain, losses or grief and even physical/mental fatigue. Therefore, stress, anxiety and low moods are a very natural response within the context of a fallen world to loss, pain, disease and adverse circumstances.
Most, if not all Christians, suffer emotional difficulties to a greater or a lesser degree at some point within their lives but these can only occur with the Lord’s express permission; regardless of why God permits His children to suffer emotional afflictions, they, along with every other infirmity they experience, are ultimately for their good. (Romans 8:28). There are numerous reasons for the Lord permitting Christians to bear emotional afflictions but the following are just a few possible causes: -
Physical Disease, Deficiencies or Exhaustion: Illness and diseases have contributed to human suffering since the fall and diseases like dementia, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, epilepsy and hormone or blood deficiencies are renowned for having a negative effect on human emotions. Consequently, it is always wise to consult with a medical doctor for diagnostic testing to rule out underlying health issues as the causation of emotional difficulties.
Physical exhaustion can also have a devastating impact upon a Christians emotional well-being and it is incredibly easy to become overloaded to the point of being stressed, which can then lead to anxiety and even deep melancholy; very often Christians can experience emotional and physical burnout due to adverse circumstances, unbalanced lifestyles, work overload and even from undertaking legitimate activities within employment, in the home/family or even within the Lords work. As Christians we are commanded to glorify God in our bodies (1st Corinthians 5:15-20), therefore, if overloaded, a Christian must make a determined effort to slow down or stop activity to accommodate adequate rest and sleep in order to aid recovery. “And he said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat.” Mark 6:32.
“Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10, is a verse that is widely misused by proponents of mystical prayer to promote its requirement for the solitude and silence required to bring about an emptying of the mind from thoughts that are perceived as a hindrance to experiencing a mystical ‘divine presence’; a more accurate interpretation for this phrase in Psalm 46:10 is that God is commanding His people not to fret, worry or be anxious but rather, to settle themselves and gain knowledge of the Lord as revealed in His Word because this will restore a calm to their troubled souls. The commentator John Gill gives an analysis of Psalm 46:10 that should bring much comfort to Christians recovering from emotional turmoil: “they [God’s People] should not be fearful, nor fretful and impatient, or restless and tumultuous; but be quiet and easy, resigned to the will of God, and live in an assured expectation of the appearance of divine Providence in their layout. And "know"; own and acknowledge that he is God, a sovereign Being that does whatsoever he pleases; that he is unchangeable in his nature, purposes, promises, and covenant; that he is omnipotent, able to help them and deliver them at the last extremity; that he is omniscient, knows their persons, cases, and troubles, and how and where to hide them till the storm is over; that he is the all wise God, and does all things after the counsel of his own will, and makes all things work together for good to them; and that he is faithful to his word and promise, and will not suffer them to be over pressed and bore down with troubles. https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/gills-exposition-of-the-bible/psalms-46-10.html
The Christian may experience extreme tiredness during times of emotional turmoil and may not able to cope with prolonged periods of study but their ‘time apart’ will be most profitable if time is spent meditating upon the Word and in prayer, so perhaps shorter, more frequent times of devotion would be more manageable.
Whilst physical rest is a very important aid for recovery from anxiety and melancholy, there is often a tendency to avoid contact with others but continued attendance at the Lord’s house is vitally important for the beleaguered Christian as there is always great benefit to be gained from the ministry of God’s Word, the times of prayer, the Lord’s Supper and from fellowship with other Christians.
Christians are commanded to bear one another’s burdens and being able to confide in another Christian who can be trusted to keep a confidence and faithfully pray for their downcast brother or sister in Christ is a great blessing. However, care must be taken not to do this at the expense of being less dependent upon the Lord; divulging of every sordid detail of one’s difficulties or emotional problems should be strenuously avoided as this is unnecessary, unwise and could to do much harm to the hearer or to other people.
Excessive Care: Care or anxiety is often the cause of deep melancholy and the Lord has commanded His people to be careful (anxious) for nothing but to cast all of their cares upon Him. It was part of the Saviour’s redemptive work to enable His people to cast their cares and burdens upon Him and in so doing be sustained by the Lord; Christians overcome by care insult the Lord’s great provision if they turn to Mindfulness and other unscriptural interventions because they are bypassing mercies purchased on their behalf by Christ at an enormous cost:
“Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you”. 1st Peter 5:7.
“Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7.
“But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19.
To increase humility and dependency upon the Lord: Charles Haddon Spurgeon, like the Apostle Paul and many others godly men, was academically very capable and this can be a particular danger for Christian’s, especially ministers as there is always a tendency to resort to human ingenuity rather than seeking the Lord and depending upon Him for His guidance and power; 1st Corinthians 8:8 states that “…knowledge puffeth up…” and many erroneous teachings have originated from within the puffed up, vain imaginations of men who possessed high academic ability, (eg Origen, Clement, Arius and more recently within our own province (N.I.), Professor J.E. Davey in the 20th Century, who introduced Rationalism into the Presbyterian Church of Ireland).
Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s frequent bouts of melancholy and physical maladies brought him to realise that without the Lord he could do nothing (John 15:5) yet, through Christ He could do all things! (Philippians 4:13). His personal weaknesses were made a blessing unto the often sickly CH Spurgeon and resulted in him being a great contender for the Faith and one of the most powerful preachers this nation has ever known. Likewise, the Apostle Paul, who was academically brilliant and additionally privileged to receive special revelations from the Lord, was physically afflicted with a thorn in the flesh; this weakened him so much that he had no alternative other than to be totally dependent on the Lord; but by God’s grace, he was enabled to glory and even take pleasure in those things that made him weak because these frailties enabled him to experience the mighty strengthening power of Christ in His life. "And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong." 2nd Corinthians 12:9-10.
Consideration of the blessed outcome due to the emotional sufferings of the Lord Jesus Christ and His children should not only discourage Christians from seeking to abolish their emotional afflictions, but should encourage them to realise that “Their strength is to sit still” Isaiah 20:7. and to place their hope upon the Lord because He will give a song in the night and will bring about the needed deliverance when His sovereign purpose for the suffering is fulfilled.
“Yet the Lord will command his lovingkindness in the day time, and in the night his song shall be with me, and my prayer unto the God of my life….. Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God." Psalm 40:8&11.
To correct disobedience: Emotional difficulties can be experienced by Christians when the Lord withdraws a sense of his peace and joy because His rod is being applied to correct the disobedience of His wayward child. (Hebrews 12:6). Soul malady is a difficult affliction for any Christian to bear but when it is sent as a chastisement it too can be accepted as a blessing with thankfulness because it is tangible evidence of a Fathers love who longs for his dear child to be restored and conformed more and more to the image of the Lord Jesus Christ.
“For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; and make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed.” Hebrews 12:6–13.
Self-examination should be a part of every Christian’s life as they are commanded to do this before coming to the Lord’s table, (1st Corinthians 11:28–30), but in times of adversity the Christian should make a special effort to find out if there is anything within their lives that is displeasing to Lord. Given the deceptive nature of the human heart (Jeremiah 17:9) and its tendency to overlook ‘the little foxes’, combined with its inability to detect sins of ignorance, the Christian should ask the Lord to search out the inner recesses of their hearts and thoughts when afflictions ensue. “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Psalm 139: 23-24. If sin is uncovered, it must be confessed and repented of and even if the adversity persists, the restored fellowship will be accompanied by such a peace and joy that any yoke will seem easy and any burden will feel light. (Matthew 11:29-30).
To increase faith and patience: Christians must suffer tribulations because the Lord has ordained them to be their lot in this life. “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33.
A Christian’s troubles are a means used of God for their growth in grace and to increase their patience. “But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.” 1st Peter 5:10.
“My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” James 1: 2-4.
Job could not be swayed from his resolute faith in the Lord despite great pressure from his wife to curse God and die (Job 2:9); Although deprived of a palpable sense of the Lord’s presence during his sufferings and tortured by the cruel accusations courtesy of his miserable comforters, Job did not waver; this was because His faith in God was not dependent on favourable circumstances or upon his feelings but on knowing and believing that God was providentially permitting his afflictions for his good and whether he lived or died, he would be changed for the better as a consequence of his tribulations and trials. “Behold, I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him: On the left hand, where he doth work, but I cannot behold him: he hideth himself on the right hand, that I cannot see him: But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” Job 23:8-10.
To be made a partaker of Christ’s sufferings: The Lord Jesus Christ suffered incomprehensible physical pain and emotional turmoil and He has ordained that His children should be partakers in His sufferings; this should to be viewed as a great privilege and cause for the Christian to rejoice when faced with trials. “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.” 1st Peter 4:12-13.
When enduring trials of any kind, a Christian should ponder much upon Christ’s suffering on their behalf as this will not only provide great comfort but it will make their sufferings seem minuscule in comparison to what Christ endured on their behalf. Samuel Rutherford aptly describes the scale of a Christian’s sufferings compared to those endured by Christ on behalf of His people: "Ye would not go to heaven but with company, and ye may perceive that the way of those who went before you was through blood, suffering, and many afflictions; nay, Christ the Captain, went in over the threshold of paradise, bleeding to death….Christ hath borne the whole complete cross, and his saints bear but chips; as the Apostle saith, ‘the remnants or leavings of the cross’". 'The Loveliness of Christ', p.82; The Banner of Truth Trust.
Christ was a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3) throughout all of His earthly sojourn but His experience of emotional melancholy during His sufferings on the cross, is simply unfathomable. Christ’s emotional sufferings provide Scriptural evidence that depression is not like a physical illness but is in fact an affliction pertaining to the soul; Christ could not have been afflicted with a physical disease as this would have defiled Him as the spotless Lamb of God and rendered His suffering on behalf of sinners ineffective; even more ludicrously, a diseased body or soul would have resulted in Christ ceasing to be God! How sad it is therefore, to hear professing Christians or Ministers of the Gospel confidently asserting that depression is just like a physical illness or injury and then, in the very same breath, say that Christ experienced depression!
To gain a Christian’s attention: The Lord may use emotional maladies to slow down a Christian’s pace of life so that He is afforded their full attention; the malady may be used to call the Christian into full time service for the Lord or to bring about a change of direction within some area of their lives, possibly in respect of relationships, employment etc.
“I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye.” Psalm 32:8.
“In all thy ways acknowledge Him and He will direct thy paths.” Proverbs 3:6.
For the help of others: The Lord at times permits His children to suffer emotional and physical afflictions because this is God’s way of equipping them to provide comfort to others within the Body of Christ who are going through similar trials. “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.” 2nd Corinthians 1:3-4.
Although it is impossible to know exactly what another person is going through during their times of fiery trial because we all differ in so many ways and only the Lord knows everything about a person; nevertheless, knowing what it feels like to endure similar afflictions makes it easier to obey God’s command for Christians to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2); this can be done by praying for the afflicted Christian or by offering practical help and kindness and in doing so the law of love is displayed.
“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” John 13:34-35.
“A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” Proverbs 17:17.
Cause unknown: In many cases the causation of a Christians emotional problems may never be revealed unto them. Charles Haddon Spurgeon was greatly afflicted by what he called ‘causeless depression’ although, given that he had several chronic and painful diseases, it is highly possible these were the source of his low moods. CH Spurgeon was enabled by God’s grace to accept and deal with his low moods, openly acknowledging God’s sovereign appointment for every trial. “It would be a very sharp and trying experience for me to think that I have an affliction which God never sent me, that the bitter cup was never filled by his hand, that my trials were never measured out by him, nor sent to me by his arrangement of their weight and quantity” https://christianhistoryinstitute.org/magazine/article/anguish-and-agonies-of-charles-spurgeon
Regardless of why a Christian experiences emotional difficulties or any other afflictions, the best response for them is to humbly accept them as sent by a loving Father and believing His promises that He is working all things together for their good, even though it may not feel good at the time. “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.” 1st Peter 4:12-13.
Part 3. Mindfulness: A Dangerous Deceit of the Devil