All Things Witness

Thoughts on the mission and power of Jesus Christ

Depression and the Atonement (part 2)

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In the first post on this topic I looked at examples of several good “righteous” people, who have suffered from Depression, including I believe the great Old Testament prophet Moses, as well as the Book of Mormon prophet Jacob.  In this post I’ll discuss another example from Moses’ life that I think helps us to understand how we can be supported Cloudsthrough such feelings ourselves, through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

(I should commence this post for those who may not have read the first, that if you are suffering from Depression you should seek competent medical help.  Very effective treatment is available in our day, and I believe the Lord would have us seek and use such help, in the same way we would do so if we received a physical injury.)

There is an interesting parallel I think between Enoch and Moses, for they both receive glorious visions.  In chapter 7 of the Book of Moses, we read of Enoch’s response to his vision as one of awe,

“…were it possible that man could number the particles of the earth, yea, millions of earths like this, it would not be a beginning to the number of thy creations; and thy curtains are stretched out still; and yet thou art there, and thy bosom is there; and also thou art just; thou art merciful and kind forever… and naught but peace, justice, and truth is the habitation of thy throne; and mercy shall go before thy face and have no end….” (Moses 7:30-31)

Enoch is exhilarated by the experience and marvels at the majesty and mercy of God.

Contrasting this response with that of Moses following his vision, his response is to say, “Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing.” (Moses 1:10)

Now, I know that the two visions are not comparable in many ways, and I may be drawing conclusions that aren’t warranted, but nonetheless I think in looking at Moses’ experience in this way we can draw some important lessons in how the Saviour supports us through Depression.  Enoch is effectively saying, “Wow, that’s amazing!”, while Moses is saying, “Now I feel really useless.”  It’s not that the vision caused Moses’ Depression – far from it.  Rather, the glorious vision he had received simply emphasised to himself how he was already feeling.

As we continue in chapter 1 of Moses, we find that Moses, while in his “I am nothing” mind-set, is confronted by Satan.  A darkness enters his world and tries to convince him that following Christ is not the way he should choose.  This is a really important lesson for those who have Depression – while there may be a host of reasons why you feel the way you do, Satan will absolutely do his best to compound those feelings.  He will do his best to get near you so that he can whisper lies and twisted truths because you’re vulnerable.  Which is another important message: when you’re clinically depressed, you are vulnerable.  When you’re in a depressed state you just might believe things which you would otherwise consider to be outrageous, and Satan will pounce.  This is what has happened to Moses.

What I find so instructive in the next few verses is that Moses makes three attempts to get rid of the evil that is surrounding him, but only makes matters worse for himself until the last attempt.  Each attempt is important and has great value in and of itself, but ultimately there is only one that is fully effective.

In his first attempt he remembers that although he may be feeling like nothing now, he had seen the glory of God, and had heard God tell him that he was his son; and not only that he was His son, but that he was, “…in the similitude of mine Only Begotten.”  Enoch isn’t told this during his vision; Abraham isn’t told it during his.  Why was Moses told so explicitly how precious He was in God’s sight when these other prophets weren’t?  I think it may just be because Enoch and Abraham didn’t need to hear that; while Moses would need to cling onto precisely such a message when Satan came during his darkest moments.  God knew Moses needed to hear that message for a future moment of peril, and so He made it clear just how much He loved him.  The Lord had prepared a way for Moses to hang on until deliverance came.

And so when Satan arrived on the scene telling lies and taking advantage of his feelings, Moses may have been feeling like “nothing”, but he remembered who God had told him he was, and he managed to cling on to that.  He remembered what the Lord had commanded him to do, and he was determined to stay true to that, no matter how he felt.  That is an important lesson for us.  When we are depressed we can still cling on to the beautiful lessons we used to believe, even if we don’t feel that way about ourselves now.  In that spirit of righteousness and obedience he commanded Satan to depart, “Depart hence, Satan.” (Moses 1:12-18)

Now we might think that in managing to righteously fight his feelings of nothingness he would be blessed with success in freeing himself from Satan’s presence, but in fact the result of this impressive obedience was that things deteriorated.  Satan got angry, commenced ranting, and Moses began to fear “exceedingly”, seeing, “the bitterness of hell”. 

The result of Moses faith and obedience wasn’t joy, as we often think it should be; it was seeing the bitterness of hell.  Those who have suffered from Depression will understand this.  Clinging on to the things we believe, and managing to continue to do what is right despite how you feel is incredibly important, but it doesn’t always bring the sought relief.  This can be very painful if you’re feeling like this and then go along to a Sunday School class where the lesson is about how you’ll feel joy if only you’ll keep the commandments.  Suddenly you may feel even more worthless, because you maybe can’t pinpoint the terrible sin you must have committed to be feeling this low, but if the teacher is right then there must be something truly awful you’re guilty of; or else there is the temptation to believe that there must be something inherently wrong with you.  “I’m not capable of being saved,” you may think.  It’s worth remembering – Moses was actually a pretty righteous person, and his efforts of faithful obedience here only brought seeing the “bitterness of hell”.

Moses isn’t the only Old Testament prophet to feel that way.  Elijah, one of the greatest of the Israelite prophets, decided his life should end, because he considered himself a failure – no better than his apostate “fathers”.  After raising the widow of Nain’s son from the dead, and after calling down fire from heaven in front of the priests of Baal, Elijah journeys into the wilderness, sits down under a tree, and, “…requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O Lord, take way my life; for I am not better than my fathers.” (1 Kings 18:4)

Now my natural reaction to that story is to say, “What!?  Elijah, what are you talking about?  You’re one of the greatest prophets Israel would ever have!  You’ve just raised a boy from the dead!  You’re giving your entire life to try and help Israel return to the Lord, sacrificing enormously to do so.  If anyone is righteous it is you! How can you possibly feel that you’re no better than those before your time who departed from the Lord’s way?”

But you don’t think rationally when you’re depressed.  Moses didn’t; Elijah didn’t.  Moses saw the bitterness of hell when we faithfully obeyed; Elijah wanted to die because he just didn’t feel good enough.  Normal rules of righteousness = happiness don’t apply when you’re depressed.  And if they didn’t apply to these great prophets, then there is a lesson for us here I think.  In the LDS Church we believe that it was Elijah with Moses who appeared to Jesus Christ on the mount of transfiguration as told in the New Testament.  These two, possibly the greatest prophets of the entire Old Testament history – certainly two of the most important if they were chosen to visit Christ during His mortal ministry – both appear to have suffered from Depression.

Going back to Moses’ story…. Moses’ response to seeing the bitterness of hell is not to wither in the face of such fear, however.  His second attempt to free himself of the darkness that seeks to destroy him is to pray, “calling upon God, he received strength, and he commanded, saying: Depart from me, Satan.” (Moses 1:19-20)

So this second time he received strength.  Though Satan remained, he now had strength.  Prayer is powerful, and it wasn’t Moses’ righteousness that gave him strength; it was prayer.  So the second lesson is that whatever happens, no matter how dark life is, don’t give up on prayer.  It is a source of strength, even if we may not notice that strength had been given to us until months or years later.

Even this was not sufficient however to make the darkness leave.  This time Satan began to tremble and the earth shook, but he still did not depart.

Finally, again Moses received strength, and this final third time he calls upon God, this time saying, In the name of the Only Begotten, depart hence, Satan.” (Moses 1:21)  And finally the evil darkness left.

For Moses, faith and obedience wasn’t enough – in fact things only got worse; not even prayer was enough, although it gave him strength.  It was only when he called upon power from Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, that Satan departed.  Similarly, we can’t overcome our own darknesses without our Saviour.

In the Book of Mormon Nephi similarly described himself as “wretched”.  “I am encompassed about,” he said, “And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth….” (2 Nephi 4:17-19).  He survived his trials because he knew, “…in whom I have trusted.  My God hath been my support….my soul will rejoice in thee, my God and the rock of my salvation.” (2 Nephi 4:19-20, 30)

Nephi’s writings don’t indicate that he felt as much sorrow as his brother Jacob, or perhaps Moses, but the solution was the same – the Rock of Our Salvation, our Saviour and Redeemer, Jesus Christ.

I speculate of course, but it seems to me that Jacob and Moses were never able to shake off feelings of sorrow during their lives; the “joy of the gospel” perhaps meant something else to them.  I love these words from Elder Dallin H Oaks,

“Sometimes a ‘healing’ cures our illness or lifts our burden.  But sometimes we are ‘healed’ by being given strength or understanding or patience to bear the burdens placed upon us…. The Atonement… gives us the strength to endure ‘pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind,’ because our Saviour also took upon Him ‘the pains and the sicknesses of his people’…. If your faith and prayers and the power of the priesthood do not heal you from an affliction, the power of the Atonement will surely give you the strength to bear the burden.” (He Heals the Heavy Laden, October 2006 LDS General Conference)

And then these words from Elder Holland,

“…hold fast to the perfecting promises of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Believe in miracles. I have seen so many of them come when every other indication would say that hope was lost. Hope is never lost. If those miracles do not come soon or fully or seemingly at all, remember the Savior’s own anguished example: if the bitter cup does not pass, drink it and be strong, trusting in happier days ahead.” (Like a Broken Vessel, October 2013 LDS General Conference)

One of my favourite passages of scripture is the 17th and 18th chapters of Third Nephi.  There the Saviour calls for the multitude to bring all those who were afflicted in any manner to him to be healed. “And they did all, both they who had been healed, and they who were whole, bow down at his feet, and did worship him.” (3 Nephi 17:10).  I often ponder on how each of these individuals had already spent personal time with the Saviour as they felt the wounds in his hands and in his feet.  The Saviour could have healed them each then, but He chose not to.  Their healing came at a later time.  They had retained their afflictions and their infirmities despite being worthy to stand in the Lord’s presence.  Yet the time did come when they were made whole.

And so it is with us.  Some – perhaps even most – can follow the principles of the gospel and find great joy and happiness in this life; for others perhaps the blessings of exercising faith and effort to live the gospel will be a strength to bear our burdens.  Ultimately, however, the promise is for all, “Men are, that they might have joy.”  Hang on, rely on the Saviour, and one day you will have joy.

And this because our Father in Heaven loved us enough to send a Saviour, and our Saviour loved us enough to suffer for us,

“Of greatest assurance in God’s plan is that a Savior was promised, a Redeemer, who through our faith in Him would lift us triumphantly over those tests and trials, even though the cost to do so would be unfathomable for both the Father who sent Him and the Son who came. It is only an appreciation of this divine love that will make our own lesser suffering first bearable, then understandable, and finally redemptive.” (Jeffrey R Holland, Like a Broken Vessel, October 2013 LDS General Conference)

Depression is indescribable in the pain it causes.  I don’t know why some have to suffer from it, but I do know that power to endure can come from the Atonement of Christ.  And through Christ, eventually joy will come.  Christ bore all of our burdens, all of our pains, all of our suffering.  He will yoke himself with those who suffer from Depression too; and eventually joy will come.  Enduring is both possible – and worth it – because of the Atonement of Christ.

 “For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.  Instead of thorns shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree: and it shall be to the Lord for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.” (Isaiah 55:12-13)

“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” (Rev 21:4)

Author: JeffC

I'm a 50-something bloke who lives in the northern hills of England. I write fiction (mostly fantasy), blog about religion and work in book publishing after a career in healthcare.

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