Down in the pit of depression, we struggle to see that far. We can’t feel the warmth of God’s love in that icy place. We have no assurance that God’s even there.
I get that low sometimes. I’ve believed and loved God for most of my life, and I write about Him all the time. But sometimes the silence at the other end of the line can push me into a place of doubt. I struggle with all the same 3 a.m. questions that you probably do. And while I don’t think depression is the cause of those doubts and questions, it certainly can make them louder.
When I find myself in that place, sooner or later I’ll be reminded of another pit—the one that a pair of English children (Eustace and Jill) and a strange, gangly creature called a Marshwiggle (Puddleglum by name) found themselves in during C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia book, The Silver Chair.
The Silver Chair is my favorite Narnia novel, perhaps because it so boldly deals with doubt and deception and unsexy sins like laziness. And toward the end of it, Jill, Eustace, and Puddleglum—on a mission to rescue Rilian, the crown prince of Narnia—find themselves deep, deep underground, in the kingdom of the beautiful, beguiling Emerald Witch. She tries to enchant them out of their quest, throwing strange incense in a fire and playing a lute ever-so-lovingly, telling them that the world above ground and everything in it (including the great lion Aslan, Lewis’ avatar of Christ) is just a dream, a childish imagining to be put aside for the dowdier-but-real world they’re now in.
It almost works until Puddleglum stands up, walks over to the fire and stamps it out with his bare webbed feet (leaving the room smelling, Lewis writes, much less like magic and incense and much more like burnt Marshwiggle). And then Puddleglum says (in part) this:
“Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things—trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. . . . We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play-world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.”2
And that’s where I land, even when I doubt. When I’m in my pit, when all that I honor and value and love can feel, in the moment, like make-believe, I still stand with Aslan.
As Lewis knew, Puddleglum has every reason to believe. Faith, after all, should never be blind faith: It needs to be informed by fact. But this isn’t an apologetics book (a book that, essentially, sets down some of those facts), so I won’t dwell on those here and let other, much smarter people than me talk about it elsewhere. Here, I will just say that for many of us, doubts are an inescapable, and some would say, essential3 part of our walk with God. In another book with, alas, fewer witches and marshwiggles, (Mere Christianity), Lewis writes:
Now Faith . . . is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable. This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods ‘where they get off,’ you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of digestion.4
Here’s the uncomfortable truth behind that statement: Faith is, in some respects, work. That’s why they call the stuff we do to deepen our faith spiritual disciplines. And you have to be disciplined to do them.
Now, some people may engage in those spiritual disciplines with a great deal of joy, just like some people enjoy running. Well, you know now how I feel about running. And yeah, that (ahem) enthusiasm carries over to my spiritual life sometimes. Honestly, I love thinking about God, learning about God, talking about God. But talking to God? Going to church? These are things I sometimes have to make myself do. Feel free to judge me, but I’d wager I’m not the only Christian out there who sometimes feels this way.
But I still do these things (at least most of the time) just like I run (most of the time), because I know they’re good for me. They keep me healthy, spiritually speaking. And good spiritual health is one of the best defenses for depression I know.
You have just read an excerpt from the book, Beauty In the Browns: Walking with Christ in the Darkness of Depression by Paul Asay. © Focus on the Family 2021. Used by permission of Focus on the Family (rights managed by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.) All rights reserved.