Dirty Words (or, how we sterilize Jesus and the Gospel)

Depression. Anxiety. Suffering.


What are the first things that come to mind when you hear those words? 

It’s no secret that I was raised in church, my Dad being an associate pastor for much of my childhood, and I knew a lot about the Bible. I could tell you what it said about any issue, well, almost any issue. You see, in my formative years, I knew a few things about my faith but firmly rooted myself in the notion that I knew everything. I was that kid.

And I was wrong.

1.) I knew that God was good.

2.) I knew that Jesus loved me.

3.) I knew that Jesus wanted me to be happy.

I knew that the first two were true, and by extension, the third is true. And if people weren’t happy, well, obviously they were lacking in understanding the first two. Because duh. Because Jesus. Because good Christians don’t get sad. Good Christians don’t get depressed. And good Christians certainly don’t take medication for it. So if words like depression or anxiety flew across my radar, I chalked it up to a blatant misunderstanding of who God is.

Because for me in those days, the Gospel was wholly contingent on happiness, on how I’m getting along, on how much faith I had and the sincere belief that if something was wrong in my relationship with God or in my life, it must be my fault.

I believed that lie until I was old enough to comprehend that my Dad, a pastor, suffered through the very things I decried as faithlessness.

The echoes of Job’s friends had been my theology, the cries of Jesus’ disciples asking whose sin caused the man to be born blind had been my theme song. I was the Pharisee, antagonizing the son of God with my disbelief because I believed that I could be justified in myself, because my goodness depends on me.

Let me be clear: Depression, mental illness, or a general suffering is not sinful. It is not selfish. It is not evil.

Countless people I know and love have suffered with crippling mental illness. I myself, though I don’t know what living with a chemical imbalance feels like, have seen grief and pain and felt the sting of an emptiness in losing someone I loved. Until you have walked through the darkness with someone who can’t explain the gnawing depression inside of them, until you have stood by them at their most dire moments, do not assume to know what it’s like for them. And if you have walked with someone through their sickness, you know better than to assume anything.

In the church, we don’t have an excellent track record with ministering to people who are depressed. We’ve made words like “anxiety” and “mental illness” into bad words, symptoms of our lack of trust in a God who is good, who loves us, who wants us to be happy.

I no longer believe those criteria are the proper formula for ultimate joy. Ultimate joy rests in Christ and his work on the cross. And feelings are fleeting, joy is a constant understanding of those truths without having to moralize every little thing that happens in our lives.

So I won’t judge a fellow Christian who is suffering with depression, won’t tell them to just be happy, won’t tell them that if they are hurting, they aren’t trusting God enough. Because I believe that God is greater than your depression (that he is good), I can trust him to one day help you find resolution, and find peace. Because I believe that the love of Christ is stronger and better than anything this world can offer (that he loves you), I can trust that he is with you in the middle of your struggle. And because I believe that God wants you to know the difference between finite happiness and everlasting joy, I can trust that no matter what you’re feeling, Jesus is better and I will sit with you in your pain and cry with you and pray with you and suffer with you. 

Back to John 9, when Jesus’ disciples asked him about the man who was born blind:

“As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi,who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.  As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

 After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes.  “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam”. So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.”-John 9:1-7

It was a popular idea in that day that suffering came because of someone’s sin. Jesus cleverly debunks this myth and shows his power over stigmas by saying “This happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” and proceeds to upset the status quo even further and rub his dirty spit on the mans eyes. After rinsing them in the pool of Siloam, he was healed.

No, I do not believe that depression cannot be healed. But when we moralize chemical imbalances it’s no better than moralizing blindness or a broken limb. I read somewhere before that when someone gets a cast, people flock to sign it, and when people say they are depressed, people run away.

This stigma is everywhere, but it bothers me the most that it exists in the church. We claim love and mercy and grace, yet many of us cannot be sensitive to hurting people because we have sterilized the Gospel. But I serve a Jesus who holds you in your pain. I serve a Jesus who breaks protocol and in the sight of a sterilized, sanitized congregation and rubs muddy spit on your broken heart.

A Christ who doesn’t care where you’ve been, only where you are.

A Savior who saves us from our darkness and loves us in the midst of it.

A God who commands us to mourn with the mourners and rejoice with the rejoicers.

A Lord who tells us, time and time again, to come as we are and be made whole.


5 thoughts on “Dirty Words (or, how we sterilize Jesus and the Gospel)”

  1. OH, this post absolutely brought tears to my eyes. May I say, this post was an answer to my prayers! I really, really needed to hear this, and I want you to know that this post really helped me. My mother is clinically depresses, so sometimes life gets really challenging. I have always been afraid of depression, and when I felt it, I felt like I was sinning. I felt like I was the reason for my mother’s depression, since I can’t handle it very well. But this post helped me more than I can say. Do you have any good suggestions about facing the day, especially when it seems impossible scary? Depression is a very scary thing.

    Thank you so much for this post. it really lifted my heart. God bless you, a million times.

    (Sarah)- Anna P.

    1. Hi Sarah!

      Thanks for your comments. I’m glad God spoke to you through this post. I don’t consider myself the authority on anything relating to depression, but in walking with people who have dealt with depression and a lot of other mental illnesses I have learned a few things about continuing to press on. A couple thought: I really believe that God made us for community. And for those suffering with depressive thoughts (or even just sadness that might not be clinical) it’s really easy to just hide from other people and run from relationships with other people. But as a Christian, I know that I am not living up to the standard God has for me if I don’t let other people in my life. Healthy community is super important. Surrounding ourselves with other Christians who know us, all the good and bad, and love us in spite of that? That’s something we can’t keep going without.

      I also believe that staying in scripture, even when you don’t want to, is very important. I find that in my own life, when I am sad or lonely or frustrated, my natural tendency is not to want to read the Bible, but then I miss what God wants to speak. Staying in the word and in prayer is vital.

      And don’t kick yourself for being down. Pray for God to help you. Also seek counseling with someone who is qualified to help.

      About two years ago, one of my best friends had a hiking accident and passed away. I was absolutely crushed and spent a whole summer (and then some) feeling this overwhelming void that nothing could fill. I cried out to God and heard nothing. I felt nothing, and it was so difficult for me. During that time, I read a book called “Glorious Ruin: How Suffering Sets You Free.” by Tullian Tchividjian and it brought me so much life. It helped me trust God again and gave me a peace and set me on my way back from my grief. Not to say I still don’t grieve or get sad, but it helped me to understand my suffering and gave me the right attitude. I couldn’t recommend this book enough!

      That’s just the tip of the iceberg, but I would encourage you to seek Christ and pray for guidance, and be sure that I’ll be praying for you, too.


      1. Hey Stephan,

        Thank you so much for getting back to me. I really appreciate your thoughts…they are very true and extremely helpful.

        You are right about community, and staying in the word. I try and read my bible every night now, and when I do it really, really helps. Plus, it helps me feel closer to God, which is a really special feeling.

        Thank you for the book recommendation. I am totally going to look it up! I really can’t tell you how much I appreciate your prayers. I will pray for you also, and rest assured that I will keep reading your blog! you may have loads of other questions from me as well. 🙂

        You are a brother in Christ,


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