I’ve been doing some thinking about how we deal with suffering/depression as Christians, whether in ourselves or others.
I’m starting to suspect that most of the time we do it inadequately because we neglect either truth-telling or genuine, incarnational love. I know ‘speaking the truth in love’ (Eph 4:15) is a Biblical cliche, but I think it is a helpful framework for thinking about things (and it’s a cliche for a reason – who was it who said that truisms are just truths that are so familiar that we fail to grasp the weight of them?).
I’m sure we all tend to one extreme or the other at different points and with different people. My personal strategy when I’m unhappy myself tends to be truth focused. I tell myself all the reasons why it’s irrational that I’m feeling rubbish, but I don’t talk to other Christians about it (my attempts at self-comfort fail at the love bit) because I think that I shouldn’t need to: the gospel should be enough to sort me out – Jesus should be enough to sort me out. I should only need truth. Often, though, I still feel rubbish at the end of my self-talk. I desperately want someone else to speak truth to me and to be with me in it all, yet I’m trapped by the belief that for ‘good’ Christians ‘me-and-God’ should be enough.
Thing is, I’m starting to be more convinced that that isn’t how God designed us to work. The Biblical picture of dealing with suffering is much more relational: we are to ‘bear one another’s burdens and so fulfil the law of Christ’ Gal 6:2. In 2 Cor 1 Paul describes a ‘cascade’ of comfort from God to Paul and his companions, and on to others: 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. Paul and his companions are God’s means of comforting the other Christians, and likewise God often uses us to comfort others, or others to comfort us.
There is also a participative aspect to caring for each other: we don’t just need ‘other people’. We need other people to enter, to some extent, into our sufferings and walk with us in them. Jesus is the perfect example of that type of love. He came, as the One who had, in eternity, been forever loved by the Father (John 17), in a state of perfect joy and blessedness with Him. Yet He came to our world of pain and misery and ‘dwelt among us‘ (John 1:14) and became a ‘Man of sorrows and acquainted with suffering’ (Isaiah 53:3) for us. God came and entered into our sufferings and so we’re called to do the same for each other.
We need to ‘be Jesus’ for each other, and have others ‘be Jesus’ for us, too. The need for something more than just truth – the need for each other, for truth to be spoken in love and from outside ourselves – seems to be a fundamental one. On that basis, then, our comfort must to be relational, or ‘incarnational’, just as much as it has to be truth-proclaiming.