The Dark Night
With great interest I read Christianity Today's March 2009 cover package, "The Depression Epidemic." As a therapist who has worked for years with Christians struggling with depression, I find that this experience drives them to question the relevancy of their faith and, indeed, the mercy of their God. Well-meaning fellow believers often respond that the problem is insufficient faith, unacknowledged sin, or even that depression is itself a sin. As a result, many Christians only get worse by becoming depressed about being depressed.
The Bible puts the lie to these notions. God did not respond to his servants in Scripture as failures or embarrassments to his plan of redemption. Instead, he responded by tenderly confronting their mistaken beliefs, redirecting their strategies for dealing with difficulties, and revealing more of himself and the majesty of his grace.
By God's mercy, our struggles can become the occasion for growth rather than self-condemnation. It's proof that God never wastes an experience, even one arising from the travails of a fallen world.
Gary H. Lovejoy, Ph.D.
Happy Valley, Oregon
CT's cover story on depression gave short shrift to the spiritual warfare aspect of depression. Scripture clearly shows that demonic spirits can do their work via mental illness, including depression, thus rendering us ineffective for Christ. Certainly God works through health-care professionals and drugs, but we are seeing an overreliance on these instead of a faithful reliance on God and his power.
That being said, the therapeutic advice in these articles should be recommending only Christian counselors for those who need it. We should not acquiesce to placing our wounded souls in the hands of someone with a humanist worldview, which most mental health professionals subscribe to (author Dan Blazer, et al. excepted).
Nicholas Korns, M.D., M.P.H.
To what extent does the church actually contribute to the depression epidemic? Many churches present Christianity as a neat solution to the practical problems of life. Short sermons feature upbeat stories of how people turned their lives around through the application of Christian principles. Often what's implied is that being a Christian means reaching continuous heights of success in all areas of life—vocation, relationships, finances, and so on. As people in the pews begin to compare the fragmentation, incompleteness, and even failure of their own lives with this presentation, they may leave the church more depressed than when they arrived.
It's good for pastors to highlight answered prayers in their congregants' lives. It's also important to note that continuous success is not the best indicator of spiritual vitality, and it is not the norm for most Christians this side of heaven.
Regardless of one's views on medication or psychotherapy, community is an essential part of the answer. Painful as it may be for the depressed, there is no alternative to participating in the body of Christ. Relationships grounded in shared faith in Jesus Christ are God's chosen methods of mediating his grace. While this is absolutely vital for all of us, the effects of withdrawing from community are more immediate for the depressed person. In humility and service, the local church needs to put their arms around the depressed and hold them up in their weakness and brokenness.
The Powers That Be
Thanks much for "Long Live the Law" [March]—I appreciated being able to show colleagues an article from an evangelical magazine that advocates substantive due process. The common belief here is that Christians will trample civil rights in their effort to conform society to their vision of righteousness. You show that Christian voices have actually contributed to the legal system we cherish in the United States.
Chief of Staff for Councilmember
San Diego, California
David Neff's "Long Live the Law" makes excellent points about Calvin and law, but pushes too far in applying this to former Vice President Dick Cheney.
He writes that Cheney and the Office of Legal Counsel implied that the President is not bound by law. But this was an accusation made by critics, not an argument the administration itself made, and Neff's quotations do not suggest otherwise. The administration instead used a separation of powers argument that the Constitution gives the President powers that Congress cannot undercut.
Almost no one denies that this is true in a formal sense, otherwise, separation of powers would be meaningless. The argument is about the constitutional extent of those powers. One can argue—I would, at least—that the administration claimed too much for executive power vis-à-vis Congress. But this is the question, not whether the President is "above the law," a position I think no one has argued.
Senior Fellow, Hudson Institute
Remembering the Oppressed
Editor's Note: Several CT readers responded to Ziya Meral's piece "Standing with the Desolate" [March] with the question, "What can I do?" Here is Meral's response.
For the persecuted, the knowledge that someone cares for them is the most important thing. However, there is a lot more that a Western Christian can do. First, you can make sure that your church regularly updates its members on persecution news and makes it a central part of its spirituality through events and involvement with projects abroad. Second, there are numerous organizations in the West that focus on helping the persecuted through practical help, support, and advocacy. Your church or you can support, join, or partner with them. —Ziya Meral
As an avid reader of First Things, I was gratified to find Timothy George's loving eulogy of Richard John Neuhaus [March]. Like many others, I'm interested in the reasons why Neuhaus converted to Roman Catholicism. George suggests that Neuhaus "came to see that the 'moratorium on God' pushed by the secular Left would undermine, and eventually destroy, the American experiment in democracy." He goes on to say, "Neuhaus believed in a public church, not a partisan church."
I find a degree of contradiction in these observations. Isn't it precisely the belief that the political Left is going to ruin the country that has led many evangelical and Catholic churches to become predominantly partisan? The result of this thinking is to argue that only political conservatives can repopulate the naked public square. At a time when political power is shifting in this country, is it not reasonable to accede that issues of the gravest moral and legal importance can be addressed constructively by Christians of both the political Right and Left, and that churches can indeed be public while not partisan? Somehow, I think Father Neuhaus would not find this concept invalid.
Lone Tree, Colorado
Green Bible Bashing
Any publisher appreciates attention given to its projects, even if the attention is occasionally negative. While I found much of Telford Work's critical review of our Green Bible worthwhile ["Meager Harvest," February], a couple matters deserve some comment.
First, Work is overly hostile to the idea that Bible publishing is a business, dismissing The Green Bible as an "ideological fashion accessory" that "parodies itself." Why? Because it uses "soy-based inks, recycled paper, and a stylish, earthy cotton/linen cover" made using environmentally sustainable processes. All Bibles use packaging to appeal to readers; I don't see why our Bible becomes a parody when we try to match the packaging with the book's mission.
Second, while Work makes many good points about the confusion over why certain verses and not others are colored green, his conclusion is exactly wrong. He says it is because the Bible is merely "a vehicle for promoting conventional progressive environmentalism." Actually, it was the Christian scholars' fear of imposing an environmental agenda on God's revelation that caused the confusion. If we wanted to manipulate God's Word, the green passages would be much clearer.
Third, I am surprised CT would devote four pages to a negative review of a social-justice-oriented Bible when it stays silent about much more crassly commercial Bibles. Since most of these Bibles are from evangelical publishers while we are a general trade house, could it be that this, too, is a marketing consideration?
Editorial Director, HarperOne
San Francisco, California
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