A couple of months ago my fellow blogger Pr. Bryan Lowe over at Broken Believers posted a book review of “When the Darkness Will Not Lift” by John Piper. I commented on his post that it looked like a great book and that I should add it to my already long reading list. His reply was, “Not getting it is NOT an option.” I heeded his directive and bought it that same day from Amazon.com. I am so glad I did because he was right. Not reading this book is not an option for anyone who has struggled with depression or knows someone who has or is.
Piper’s short work (only 79 pages) was written as a single chapter in a larger book, but then was also published separately. I may have to get the larger book, but for now I want to share with you a snippet of the wisdom I found in this book.
First and foremost, Piper recognizes that he cannot possibly plumb the depths of his subject – fighting for joy in Christ when depression will not go away – and that the causes and cures of depression are as varied as the people who suffer with it. His work is a starting point, and a good one at that.
What I liked best about this book is that in the Introduction Piper lays a groundwork in the Christian faith that I believe is easily forgotten in the mind of someone with depression (and is often not understood by Christians generally). He explains the difference between justification and sanctification, cautioning that the two not be confused or combined because keeping them separate is the foundation of “fighting for joy like a justified sinner.” (Piper, pg. 14).
He explains justification in this way:
The biblical truth of justification says that my rescue from sin and God’s wrath is first a legal rescue, and only then a moral one. First, I am legally absolved of guilt and credited with a righteousness that I don’t have. That is, I am declared righteous in the courtroom of heaven, where God sits as judge, and where I, without justification, would stand condemned by his law. That’s what the word “justify” means: not make just, but declare just. (Piper, pg.14-15).
Justification happens the moment we believe Jesus died for our sins and trust in Him as our Lord and Savior. Nothing we do thereafter changes our legal status in heaven.
Sanctification, on the other hand, takes much longer, sometimes a lifetime. It is the process by which the Holy Spirit, dwelling in the heart of the believer, slowly but surely changes who we are to be more like Christ. We often “lament,” Piper says, that the change occurs so slowly and we have failed in being perfect once again.
Piper further explains the difference between justification and sanctification:
Both justification and sanctification are gifts from God. Both are bought by the blood of Christ. They are inseparable, but different. Both are by faith alone. Justification is by faith alone because only faith receives the declaration that we, the ungodly, are counted righteous. Sanctification is by faith alone because only faith receives the power to bear the fruit of love. (Piper, pg. 18).
In the first chapter proper, Piper clearly stresses that depression can often have a medical cause. Sometimes other chronic illness or pain can lead to depression. The body, mind, and soul are all interconnected. He states that those who fight for joy but for whom the darkness does not lift can nonetheless truly be Christians. This is an important chapter to read for Christians who are unfamiliar with depression and might be tempted to tell a depressed person that if they truly had faith they could snap out of their depression. Often it is just not that easy.
If all you did was read the introduction to Piper’s book, you would be blessed. If you read on through chapter 1, you’d be doubly blessed. But he goes on to share so much more with so few words. In the interest of space, I won’t go into depth on any of the points in the rest of the book. Piper shares some tips to help someone struggling with spiritual or physical depression to fight for the joy of Christ, and they are all relevant at one time or another in the life of both Christians and non-Christians. He relates his points with some great stories, too.
After reading this book, I agree wholeheartedly with Pr. Lowe: “Not getting it is not an option.” It’s only $7.99 on Amazon.com and well worth the money and the time it takes to read it.