For that matter, how do they face depression today, in countries or regions where there is no access to a doctor or medication? Thoughtfully. In Community. Scripturally.
Martin Luther, nemesis of some, champion of others, counseled many people in the early 1500s who suffered from depression and other afflictions, such as that of “Mrs. Kreuzbinder who he deemed insane. He described her as ‘accustomed to rage’ and sometimes angrily chasing her neighbor with a spear.”¹ The tutor of his children, Jerome Weller, suffered from depression, and Luther’s wife lived with constant anxiety.
He who wrote “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” offered advice that took into account environment, physical health, and the spiritual realm. The following paragraphs, condensed in some instances, are excerpted from Dr. Tony Headley’s article, “Luther on Depression.”
Thoughtfully: Dealing with Cognitive Distortions
“Luther evidently believed that there are times we should not trust our own thoughts. This is especially true during depression when we tend to distort reality. It’s during these times that we need to rely on the others. Christian persons who are not depressed represent a reality check for the depressed. Their words and thoughts pull us away from our distortions and back to reality.”
“Luther also emphasized the role of scripture in combating deadly thoughts. This makes sense since scripture presents the ultimate reality, an antidote to our distorted view of our circumstances. Scripture especially reminds us that God loves us, esteems us and is with us in the midst of our struggles. The very opposite of what Satan would have us believe; namely that we are unloved, worthless and abandoned.”
“… Luther saw some depressive thoughts as proceeding from Satan. How is the believer to deal with this problem?” Luther believed that at times a believer should dispute deadly thoughts and at other times “avoid disputation with the Devil. It seems Luther believed this was one method to avoid dwelling on the deadly thoughts from Satan.” It would seem from these examples that Luther did not have a hard and fast rule about when to combat depressive thoughts from the enemy.”
Scripturally: The Use of Spiritual Disciplines
Since Luther saw a spiritual component in depression and other mental illnesses, he always included spiritual advice in his counsel. Headley sums up Luther’s advice:
“• Remember Christ loves and esteems you First and foremost, Luther assured his ‘clients’ that Christ loved and esteemed them and was near to them. Christ not only cared but would help believers carry their burden. Believers must also trust in Christ’s atonement for sin as a buttress against Satan’s accusations.”
“• Make use of comforting scriptures and spiritual songs. Luther recommended the use of a variety of spiritual disciplines: He counseled prayer and the use of scripture passages. Depressed persons should read or have read to them comforting words from scripture. Luther also knew that music had a soothing quality. Therefore, he advised believers to make use of spiritual songs. They should sing and play songs unto the Lord until their sad thoughts vanished.”
“• Listen as God Speaks through others Luther emphasized God’s work through others. He saw that God used the words of others to strengthen and comfort struggling persons. Depressed persons need to listen to such words. To one severely depressed person, Luther advised: “…cease relying on and pursuing your own thoughts. Listen to other people who are not subject to this temptation. Give the closest attention to what we say, and let our words penetrate to your heart. Thus God will strengthen and comfort you by means of our words.”
In Community: Seek the Company of Others
“Besides bringing comforting words, believers play an additional role in the lives of the depressed. They provide company to pull the depressed away from solitude. For Luther, solitude fostered depression. … For him, community with believers served several purposes in combating depression.”
• An opportunity to receive a perspective on life different than their own.
• A necessary precaution against suicide….
• An opportunity for good, clean fun. …
“He likely knew that the depressed tended to give up pleasurable activities. Thus they lived their lives in more and more confining limits. In a sense, they sapped the life, vigor and fun out of their lives.”
“But Luther emphasized merriment for another reason. Luther saw that some Christians avoided pleasurable activities because they saw these as sinful. … Thus one should strive to be merry in two ways: First, one should rejoice inwardly in Christ. Second, one should take pleasure outwardly in God’s gifts and in the good things of life. It was their Christian scruples that posed a threat to defeating depression.”
Satan, scruples, scriptural lies – whatever leads us into torment – genetics, GMOs, gunshots heard day and night – no matter what causes us to tremble – Luther believed in one thing above all: A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing; Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing…
Note: As written in prior articles on this site, God uses many means to help us, including medication. See, “Am I ‘Not in Faith’ if I Take a Pill?” https://iholger.wordpress.com/2012/08/30/im-not-in-faith-if-i-take-a-pill/
References: ¹ “Luther on Depression” by Dr. Tony Headley, http://bachdevelopment.com/bach17h.html included on the website Body Anatomy and Church Health Development, by Rev. John Marshall Crowe, D.Min. http://bachdevelopment.com/index.html
Thanks to Allan for sharing the article in full at http://morethancoping.wordpress.com/2013/04/08/martin-luther-on-depression-3/