Rick Warren, who is the pastor of one of the most influential megachurches in the U.S. and very likely the world lost his son to suicide last week. His son Matthew struggled with depression his entire life. I’ve struggled with it too and I empathize. I don’t intend to attack Rick Warren though I disagree with him on many issues. I’ve experienced the way that depression is often dealt with in evangelical communities. I believe the way it’s often dealt with can be problematic and even dangerous. I woke up this morning way before the sun and I saw that Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church here in Seattle had written something in the wake of this tragedy. Much of what Driscoll has written here horrifies me. I’m going to resist the temptation to binge on ad hominem attacks against Mark Driscoll. He wrote something that jumped out at me and I believe it’s unfortunately very illustrative of the view of depression and other mental health issues that many in the evangelical community have. He wrote about what he said to his daughter after he received the text message about the death of Matthew Warren,
I told her what had happened and told her that Satan hates pastors’ kids and is sometimes relentless in attacking them.
I don’t know what the hell I believe these days. I’m still figuring it out and there are people concerned I’ll finally figure it out while I’m roasting in Hell. I’ve got to wonder why the hell it’s necessary to look to the demonic when it comes to the reason someone is afflicted with depression. Depression is dark enough without having to bring in the prince of darkness. It’s terrifying enough without having to bring in the absolute embodiment of evil. Why is it necessary to mystify depression by turning it into some sort of epic spiritual battle? Why can’t it just be an illness? It is just an illness. It’s a painful illness. It’s cost me quite a bit in the way of blood and treasure. I’ve been removed from the evangelical community for quite some time as I try to determine what it is I believe though I have many friends and acquaintances who are still in it and will likely be in it for the rest of their lives. I know that something I certainly don’t miss about the church is the need to imbue my struggle with depression with some sort of great spiritual significance. It needed to be part of the grand salvation drama. I’m not sure that thinking about mental illnesses like depression in terms of spiritual warfare is a good idea at all.
It seems a bit of a medieval notion that depression is the result of demonic attack. I know that will sound like a bit of James Randi style skeptical scoffing to the evangelical faithful but can it honestly be said that such an idea really belongs in the 21st century? The Bible is many things but it most definitely is not a psychology or psychiatry textbook. You can speculate about the demonic. You can point to episodes in scripture that have to do with the demonic but the Bible is hardly a technical manual for the demonic. Even if the demonic does exist and has an impact on our earthly life, I have my doubts that anyone knows exactly how it operates. Since we don’t know, the responsible thing to has to be not to speculate and not to construct some sort of twisted Dungeons and Dragons style narrative to put people suffering from depression and other mental illnesses in the middle of. How can that possibly be helpful? How is that approach healthier than one that doesn’t invoke the demonic? Why not just let depression be depression? Why pump a problem like depression full of spiritual steroids? In my own experience, depression is much easier to deal with when it isn’t part of some grand salvation drama. That takes a lot of the pressure off. You can keep your demons.
I hope that this can bring about some sort of serious re-examination of how mental illness is dealt with in evangelical communities but I’m afraid demons are still going to be dancing through the heads of the faithful for quite some time.