I was shocked yesterday when I heard about Robin Williams’ suicide. Shocked because it was such a sad and senseless way for him to go. Shocked because he has touched my life by his amazing work. One of my all-time favorite movies is Dead Poets Society. Our family love watching Mrs. Doubtfire. I’ve enjoyed Robin Williams’ work since the early days of Mork and Mindy. Remember Na-Nu Na-Nu and Shazbot? He has given us so much joy in films like Good Morning Vietnam, Aladdin, Patch Adams and more. It’s tragic that a man who gave others joy in life found so little joy in his own. And he wasn’t alone. There are hundreds of “sad clowns” in the entertainment world: Alan Alda, Owen Wilson & Jim Carrey to name but three. Have a look at this list of famous people on Wikipedia who suffer from major depressive disorder…
There are many Bible characters that faced periods of depression too.
According to officials of the Marin County Sheriff’s Department Robin Williams is believed to have hanged himself with a belt in the bedroom of his home near San Francisco. He also had superficial cuts on his wrist and police found a pocketknife near him. His personal assistant found his body. His publicist confirmed that Williams had been battling severe depression.
The tragic passing of Robin Williams brings to the forefront an issue that millions of people struggle with each and every day. Depression is an illness that does not discriminate. It affects celebrities and regular people alike. And sometimes it has deadly consequences. I faced periods of deep depression in my own life in my teens and twenties. Thankfully it’s not something I struggle with much these days.
Last night on Social media I joined many others in expressing my sorrow at the passing of Robin Williams. I wrote, “So sad about Robin Williams taking his own life. This highlights again the very real need for people facing depression to reach out for help.” Several people responded to this statement including a Christian guy from South Africa. He wrote: “Well said Ps Rob…we have to realize that depression comes from the Devil…The word clearly says that the thief comes to steal, kill and destroy. Too many people are not focusing on the word, but rather the negative influence from the world (media, music). We as Christians should reach out in Love and let each person know that Life is a choice and they can at any moment choose that life. The devil has blinded people for too long.”
My response was: “That’s partly true. The verse you quote in context actually refers to false prophets not the devil. Depression needs a holistic approach that includes the Word of God and prayer. Good pastoral care is necessary and oftentimes good medical and psychological care. All of these are good gifts from God.”
The reasoning behind my response is that I sometimes find Christians too simplistic and narrow in their response to major life issues. Just read the Bible and pray and all will be okay! But not even the Bible teaches that is enough to overcome major life issues. For example, James teaches to “confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16). Life controlling issues, be they addictions or illnesses like depression, can rarely be overcome in solitude. Pastoral care, counseling and accountability are necessary.
Healing is a gift from God. Sometimes God heals instantly, sometimes gradually and sometimes though the avenue of good medical care. It is not a lack of faith for a Christian to see a doctor. God is not anti-doctors, nurses and specialists. In fact, He chose Dr. Luke, “the beloved physician” (Colossians 4:14) to write two of the Bible’s most important books – Luke and Acts. Paul advised Timothy to “use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.” He didn’t suggest he just read the Word and pray. In Isaiah 38:21 the prophet Isaiah (upon God’s directive) prescribed a poultice for King Hezekiah’s boil. Ezekiel 47:12 mentions the healing properties God has placed in plants. The Good Samaritan used oil and wine for medicinal purposes (Luke 10:34).
Medical experts and specialists can treat many conditions successfully, diagnose a condition so you can pray more specifically and confirm that healing or recovery have taken place. Of course medical science still has its limitations and it is sometimes when doctors can’t help that God steps in.
The second mistake my friend makes in his statement is inferring that depression is demonic in origin. It could be but it is dangerous to presume that this is the case every time. Matthew 4:23-24 talks about various categories of illness that Jesus healed: those who were ill with various diseases, suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures – sudden attacks of a particular disorder, and the paralyzed. Only one-in-five were demon-related disorders. Through prayer, good pastoral care, counseling and medical help the cause of depression can be found and an appropriate response put in place. Some people find healing while others learn to manage their condition with good support. Sadly there are others, like Robin Williams, whose life long struggle ends in tragedy.
If you’re struggling with depression – or any other life controlling condition – please reach out for help. Remember that suicide is permanent. Your problems can be a temporary problem.