In our response to suffering people, we need to understand that there is a complex matrix of things at work and make room for every kind of support, patience, diagnosis and healing practices. We should pray for them. We need to patiently comfort and grieve. We should make sure they get medical treatment and suitable counselling when they are ready.
You cannot talk a person out of a chemical imbalance. In our desire to rescue, we sometimes try to do just that.
For people of faith, a vitally important question is this: ‘Where is God when I cannot feel him and my mind is in a very dark or confused place?’
Why do those who suffer with depression in particular lose their capacity to pray, read Scripture, find hope in God and the comfort of fellowship? All of these are essentially spiritual activities to encourage us, but seem out of reach to the depressed individual. This certainly points to an oppressive darkness that has a spiritual component.
Let’s go back to Jesus’ self-description as the Great Shepherd.
What good is this picture to a person who is too weak to pray and hope? They may not see themselves as being in the fold or anywhere in proximity to this good shepherd.
It is important not to overly sentimentalize the image given here. This is not a portrait of a kindly man holding cuddly lambs. “Good” (Gk. kalos) can just as well be translated “noble.” The shepherd’s job was severe, tiring, and hazardous.[i]
Sometimes we need to see Jesus in a fiercer light. When the sufferer feels like the lost sheep, they need the shepherd who knows of their anguish and danger. In the broken place, there is no apparent way to get back and no energy to save themselves.
The one suffering alone may not identify with the good shepherd back watching over the healthy ones. But, the lost one needs the good shepherd who enters the wilderness searching in dark, treacherous places for them.
Jesus shows us that God is more compelled to work with the one who is suffering than the one who thinks they are healthy and safe from all harm. In the matters of the mind, the one suffering faces great peril.
Know that the darkened state of the soul is not the intended permanent state of your mind. The tough shepherd can still find you and bring you back across the rocky miles to the safe place.