In his book, Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering, Timothy Keller quotes from John White’s book, The Masks of Melancholy, in which the author recalls a time in his life when he was seriously depressed, and he says that during that time,
“what saved my soul 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, and slowly I began to sense the ground under my feet growing steadily firmer. I knew without any doubt that healing was springing from my struggle to grasp the meaning of the passage.
If sufferers have any ability to concentrate, they should do solid inductive Bible study rather than devotional reading, because in most depressed people devotional reading is stopped altogether or degenerated into something unhealthy and unhelpful.”
White knew that when you are despondent, an effort to read the Bible devotionally (looking for inspiration and uplift) is not the answer. Instead, he counsels that you should read the Bible for content. Get the truth out of the text. Remind yourself of who God is and who you are in Christ, and what He has done for you.
Keller then suggests that the Psalms are particularly helpful, because, not only are they filled with teachings about God, but they are prayers which cover the entire range of human experience. They show us people processing their condition before God. They are praying about their situation instead of merely thinking about it. We see Psalmists praying their tears, their doubts, their fears, their griefs, as well as their hopelessness – as well as their joys and blessings.
One of the things we learn from the Psalms is the practice of “defying ourselves” instead of simply listening to and submitting to our own thoughts. Keller asks, “Have you realized that so much of the unhappiness in your life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?”
In Psalms 42 and 43, the Psalmist shows us how he uses this important strategy when he is discouraged: he defies himself and reminds himself who God is, what God has done, and what God has pledged himself to do. You may say to yourself, “It’s hopeless.” Defy yourself and answer back, “Well, that depends on what you were hoping in. Was that the right thing to put so much hope in?”
The Psalmist is defying himself, defying the devil and defying the whole world, by sending himself to God and determining to “praise Him still because He is my God.”
Read the Bible for content rather than inspiration. Fill your mind with the truth about God, and defy yourself when necessary.
7 thoughts on “How to Read the Bible When You’re Struggling or Depressed”
i think everyone has an opinion about depression, but nobody knows how to help. They like to pretend they understand.
This is written by someone who was seriously depressed about how he got through his depression and read the Bible during that time.
Who Timothy Keller?
Did you read it? He’s quoting someone else. And, btw – TK did have cancer.
I read your post. Having cancer and getting depressed for that time is different than being depressed your whole life.
Reading the Bible is a pointless endeavor. Whether you read for inspiration, uplifting in any aspect, or for content. When you read for things like peace, joy, contentment, uplifting, etc, you are disappointed because God (Holy Spirit) doesn’t convey these things. You never get any kind of response or experience. Just mind numbing silence, and absence. Reading for content only serves to point out that what God promised is not what happens. Bible truths proved false by God’s own actions, or lack there of. Neither of these methods for reading the Bible work for those of us who suffer from Manic Depressive Bipolar Disorder. I need God to become interactive in my spiritual journey. I need to actually feel God’s presence. I need to hear from God. I need more from/of God than silence, absence, broken promises, and unanswered prayers. I need a God that I can talk “with” not just “to”. Reading the Bible is useless without any input from God (Holy Spirit).
God bless you, through the Holy Spirit, in Jesus holy name, Amen.
Hi Kenneth, It sounds like you’ve got some real struggles. Your assumptions about the Bible seem to pit reading of Scripture against the work of the Holy Spirit. If the Bible is, as it claims to be, the inspired Word of God, then we can be confident that the Spirit is at work through the Word of God as we read it, hear it, etc. Blessings to you, Pastor Nick