Friday, September 08, 2006

Romans and depression

N.T. Wright tells an instructive story at the beginning of a lecture given at Wycliffe College in Toronto. A minister friend in England, before he sought ordination, was working in a rough area of London. The experience was trying, and he became very depressed. The warden of the hostel where he stayed told him he should read the letter to the Romans every day for a month. As in a chapter or half-chapter a day? No, the warden said. Read the whole letter, every day, after work. He did, and he says it changed his life and transformed his views of all sorts of things.

The Christian psychiatrist John White tells a similar story, about himself, in The Masks of Melancholy.
Years ago, when I was seriously depressed, the thing that saved my own sanity was a dry-as-dust grappling with Hosea's prophecy. I spent weeks, morning by morning, making meticulous notes, checking historical allusions in the text. Slowly I began to sense the ground under my feet growing steadily firmer. I knew without any doubt that healing was constantly springing from my struggle to grasp the meaning of the prophecy. (202-03)
The Gideon Bibles you find in hotel rooms usually have an index of passages to read when you're fearful, guilty, doubtful, or otherwise beset. It's a perfectly legitimate approach to fear, guilt, doubt, and the rest. But there's something to be said for what Wright's friend and White did, immersing themselves in a couple of whole books of Scripture. I suspect it "worked" in part precisely because Romans and Hosea didn't address their depression head-on, at least not in any obvious way. Repeated exposure to the letter and the prophecy kept drawing their minds away from themselves and pushing them toward other concerns.

Maybe there are times when we don't need another comforting passage to read or another Christian book on suffering; we need something that will open our minds to the big picture, and a work such as Romans does nothing if not present a big picture. Ditto a stretch of Scripture such as Isaiah 40-66. Ditto the Gospel of John. Ditto (if you want something much shorter) the letter to the Ephesians.

4 Comments:

Blogger Ruth Rachel Vendsel said...

I will file this good advise under "counseling tools" - thank you for the insight!

I am so glad you have started a blog; I know it will be good reading. So good to see you this week, brother!

8:05 PM  
Anonymous Aaron Scott said...

Could you imagine reading an entire book of the Bible during a Sunday Morning Serive? Hmmmm....

2:07 PM  
Blogger Luke Le Duc said...

Speaking of depression, where are you and when will you come back? Will we even see you again?

5:50 PM  
Anonymous Eric Pyle said...

Charlie Dennison has a sermon along these lines on Hannah's prayer in 1 Sam 2. The prayer is anti-theraputic. We would expect a prayer focused specifically upon her personal experience of answered prayer; instead she's wholly swollowed up in declaring God's mighty works and covenant keeping character.

10:28 PM  

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