Depression and Willpower
In Greg’s book Escaping the Matrix, he and his co-author discuss the topic of depression. Having experienced first hand the effects of depression, we, the editors at ReKnew, recognize that this short post cannot address the complex realities associated with it. There are no easy answers. However, we wanted to offer this short excerpt in response to much of the judgment that has occurred by Christians against those who experience depression, the most obvious being some of the recent statements made about Robin Williams. If you’d like to dig into this topic further, we encourage you to pick up a copy of Escaping the Matrix.
[M]any of us not only lack the fullness of God’s joy, we experience persistent and sometimes extreme depression. Though we have in fact been placed in Christ and filled with God’s joy, something keeps us from experiencing it. What is this “something”?
In some cases, of course, depression may be primarily the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain. Though some misguided Christians have reservations about taking antidepressants, this is really no different from taking medications for any other part of the body. The brain is, after all, part of our physical body. …
The “something” that blocks the joy of the Lord in most of our lives, however, is not a chemical imbalance. It’s rather our bondage to the Matrix [this is the metaphor used in this book to refer to lies from the enemy that we have accepted as true]. The degree to which we have been conformed to the “pattern of this world” is the degree to which we will be prevented from being transformed by the joy of the Lord. For the Matrix is designed and empowered by the Architect [Satan] whose primary goal is to keep us in bondage to deceptive, debilitating, joy-killing lies.
People usually assume that external circumstances cause them to be depressed—or to have any other negative emotion for that matter. We often hear people say that this or that person or event “made me” depressed, angry, jealous, etc. This is only partially true, however. External events provide the occasion for our emotions, but our emotions are grounded in what we do in our brains in response to external events. More specifically, depression is grounded in the mental re-presentations we produce that provide the interpretation of external events. [A re-presentation is what we do in our minds as we interpret and internalize external events.]
This is why telling people they “ought to” be joyful is never very helpful. Emotions aren’t the kind of thing we can directly alter by willpower. What we can do is modify our bodily behavior by willpower. So, what often happens when people are told they “ought to” have joy, peace, or love is that they learn how to act joyful, peaceful, and loving when they’re actually not. This is especially the case when there are social rewards given for people who appear joyful, peaceful, or loving (e.g., they are deemed more spiritual). Consequently, the church is full of people trying to crank out a behavioral version of “the fruit of the Spirit” by their willpower. And often this results in people superficially concealing the relative absence of genuine “fruit” in their lives.
We cannot directly alter emotions with our willpower. But we can indirectly affect them by altering the internal re-presentations with which they are associated. Knowing what is true from God’s perspective, knowing the authority we have over our brains, and knowing something about how our brains install and modify re-presentations, we can escape emotional bondage within the Matrix.