In the appendix of his classic book, The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis includes this note from physician R. Havard: “Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say ‘My tooth is aching’ than to say ‘My heart is broken.’”
Let’s close by claiming three promises God makes to every suffering person today.
One: You and every person you know is someone of inestimable worth.
Depression and life crises can cause us to feel that our lives are not worth living. The opposite is true. Every person on earth is someone for whom Jesus died (Romans 5:8).
In 1941, C. S. Lewis preached his famous “Weight of Glory” sermon in St. Mary’s Chapel at Oxford University. In it, he stated, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat” (his emphasis).
Lewis adds: “Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.”5
So are you.
Two: God loves you and wants to help.
When Elijah despaired of his life and prayed, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life” (1 Kings 19:4 ESV), God provided the physical, spiritual, and emotional sustenance he needed to go on.
When Jeremiah said, “Cursed be the day I was born!” (Jeremiah 20:14), God sustained his prophet.
Scripture promises: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). Paul, who faced almost indescribable challenges (2 Corinthians 11:23–28), could proclaim, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).
Jesus knows your pain. He has faced everything we face (Hebrews 4:15). He cried from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Now he is ready to help you.
However, let me repeat that one of the most important ways the Great Physician heals is through human physicians. That’s why you need to reach out to professional counselors as soon as possible. God will use them as he ministers his grace to you.
Three: You can “dwell on the heights” with God.
Paul testified that he could “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). He could do this because he lived in the power of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18).
God wants to be “the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge” (Isaiah 33:6). The person who walks with him “will dwell on the heights” (v. 16).
You can “dwell on the heights” with your Father. This is the promise, and the invitation, of God.
Will you accept it today?
Three practical steps in the pandemic
The coronavirus pandemic and the economic recession it is causing are unprecedented in living memory. But I am convinced that God redeems all he allows. So, let’s close by focusing on three ways we can follow the example of Jesus in redeeming these difficult days for the sake of our spiritual and mental health.
One: Social distancing can be reframed as an opportunity for spiritual growth.
Jesus prayed alone at the beginning of his day (Mark 1:35) and at its end (Matthew 14:23). He agonized in solitary prayer before his arrest and crucifixion (Matthew 26:36–46). Times of isolation became opportunities for worship as he sought the strength of his Father.
Praying, fasting, reading Scripture, and meditating on the word and works of God are gifts we give ourselves in solitude. And they position us to experience the joy and peace of the Lord (Philippians 4:6–7).
When last did you make significant time to be with your Father for no reason except to be with your Father? When next will you?
Two: Gratitude in hard times can lead to great joy.
According to research reported by the Harvard Medical School, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. My purpose here is not to encourage naivete: the crises of our day are producing unprecedented suffering for millions of people.
But the One who came to save all of mankind faced challenges we cannot begin to imagine. And yet he lived a life of worship and praise: he gave thanks for his food ( John 6:11; Mark 14:22–23);
he praised his Father for revealing his will (Luke 10:21); he thanked him for hearing his prayer ( John 11:41).
If we choose to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18), we will seek reasons for gratitude amid our challenges. For example, we can thank our Father for his presence in our pain (Matthew 28:20). We can thank him for healthcare heroes fighting this pandemic, researchers who are working to end it, and workers who are supplying essential services.
These days are especially difficult for our churches as they are forced into strange routines. Many are struggling financially. But God is still good and his grace is still powerful.
Would you identify and thank God for a specific gift of his grace right now?
If you do, you will testify that “the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).
Three: Our physical health directly affects our mental health.
The Risk Index for Depression shows that an individual is more likely to become depressed if their diet is poor and they do not exercise. According to the Sleep Foundation, sleep is especially important during a time of crisis as it empowers our immune system, heightens brain function, enhances mood, and improves mental health.
Jesus modeled such self-care throughout his life:
He rested beside a Samaritan well ( John 4:6).
He slept in a boat even during a storm (Mark 4:38).
He ate with Matthew and his friends (Matthew 9:11) and with his disciples (Luke 22:14–15).
During a season of intense activity, he led his disciples to “come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while” (Mark 6:31).
Paul similarly prayed: “May your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23).
Will you make Paul’s prayer your personal intercession today?
NOTE: If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please get help immediately. Ask your pastor to recommend a Christian counselor in your area. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) or go to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s website at suicidepreventionlifeline.org. Take every threat of suicide seriously.
If you enjoyed this blog, click here to read Dr. Jim Denison’s full white paper: What does the Bible say about suicide: a cultural analysis and biblical response.