What Happened to me
I appeared to be moving along smoothly as a Christian. After 37 years in the classroom, I was still very much enjoying teaching. Being admitted to a psychiatric ward could not have been further from my mind. After an exhausting holiday to South America, my anxiety forced me to pace day and night with only a few hours of sleep. I lost a lot of weight. I also experienced uninvited slanderous and blasphemous thoughts, totally out of context.
I had a powerful vision of being thrown into hell which I could not get out of mind. On another occasion, I had a very strong thought of “Why don’t you just curse God and die”. I walked in a fierce lightning storm asking God to strike me down. Ultimately, intense suicidal thoughts compelled me to ask to be admitted to a psychiatric ward.
I earnestly pray that I may be able to comfort you with the comfort I myself have received from God (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
I am mindful that Bible verses like “Do not worry” and “God works all things for the good of those who believe” may seem impossible at the moment. As humans, we share many fundamental characteristics but on another level, we are all unique. Thankfully God has the whole picture and knows the best way to take each person through the valley of the shadow of death.
These are the things that helped restore my health and faith. When depressed, it is difficult to concentrate, so I suggest you take your time through each section.
11. Dealing with fear and condemnation, major weapons of the enemy
As a teacher of Mathematics and Science, I often relied on logic. So I was lured into thinking that I could combat the devil with a logical approach.
William Bridge corrected me in this regard when he wrote: “Some seek comfort in a way of reason, and think to reason out their temptation, and to reason in their comfort, but as one says well, ‘Dispute not with God lest you be confounded; dispute not with Satan lest you be deceived.’” 16
The enemy of our souls (the devil) uses condemnation as a major weapon against Christians. Revelation 12:10 tells us that the devil “accuses [Christians] before our God day and night”. If not handled properly, this condemnation can get a foothold and drag you down in a vicious spiral.
In stark contrast to the accuser’s condemnation, God convicts us of sin by the Holy Spirit which leads to Godly repentance and brings restoration, refreshing and healing. Ironically, they may both point to the same failing. One seeks to condemn; the other seeks to restore. How should we handle this challenge?
Approach 1: Take the good advice of Martin Luther
“So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is there I shall be also!” 17 (Martin Luther)
Approach 2: “The more you see your sins upon the back of Christ, the more peace you have.” 12 (William Bridge)
Approach 3: “The more you see the free and infinite love of God, the more will your heart be at rest and quiet within.” 13 (William Bridge)
Approach 4: When the devil condemns you, he spews out a mixture of truths, half-truths and lies. Respond as follows: “I don’t know if what you say is true or not but anyhow, “Go and talk to Jesus about it.” When under condemnation from the accuser, counter him with the truths of God’s word
Approach 5: Think of good things (Philippians 4:8)
Although not easy, it is possible to think of good things when condemning thoughts arrive. “Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord” (1 Timothy 1:2).
When the devil brings his condemnation, respond with: “Grace, mercy and peace to me from the Lord Jesus”. Don’t feel strange if you have to repeat these good words many times a day.
In the Bible, we are told hundreds of times to overcome fear. Obviously God thinks this is important. “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7).
It is not God but the devil that taunts us with this crippling fear.
Play the song Carolyn by Wes King
12. Realizing great men of God were depressed at times
One afternoon, between psychiatric ward visits, I walked in a fierce lightning storm hoping that God would strike me down. So it was encouraging to discover that Godly men in the Bible had similar experiences.
Job: “I wish he (God) would crush me. I wish he would reach out his hand and kill me” (Job 6:9).
Elijah: “(Elijah) prayed that he might die. ‘I have had enough, Lord,’ he said. ‘Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.’” (1 Kings 19:4).
Jonah: “But God said to Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?’ ‘It is,’ Jonah said. ‘And I’m so angry I wish I were dead’” (Jonah 4:9).
Jeremiah: “Cursed be the day I was born! … Why did I ever come out of the womb to see trouble and sorrow and to end my days in shame?” (Jeremiah 20:14, 18).
Moses: “(God) if this is how you are going to treat me, please go ahead and kill me” (Numbers 11:15).
These men of God had some very dark thoughts, even wishing to die. Nevertheless, they did not actually commit suicide. This encouraged me to go through hard times and not give up.
13. Preachers from the past whose words literally saved my life
These preachers include Bridge, Sibbes, Bunyan, Luther, Whitefield and Spurgeon. God literally used these men’s words to save my life!* These men understood the darkness and torment that I was going through as a Christian. They were not surprised by it. My problem was essentially a spiritual one and these men had the spiritual understanding and answers I needed.
Note: In my depressed state, even the Bible was very difficult for me to read because it dealt with death, sin, judgment and hell. These preachers also discuss these things so you may find them difficult to read at times. Because of the depth within these writings, take time to reflect as you read.
Here are some of the devices used by the devil. (See 2 Corinthians 2:11).
Play the song You Say by Lauren Daigle
Device 1: Injection of blasphemous and slanderous thoughts
My experience: Over a period of time, I had such hideous thoughts thinking of the of Jesus, that I stopped reading the Bible for a time. The devil injected blasphemous thoughts into my mind and I became fearful. This fear made me a target for more blasphemous thoughts and so I spiralled downwards into more fear.
“Satan, as he slanders Christ to us, so he slanders us to ourselves.” 1 (Richard Sibbes)
“There is [no device] … in which he [the devil] is more successful, or by which he grieves the children of God worse than … troubling you with blasphemous, profane, unbelieving thoughts; and sometimes to such a degree, that they are as tormenting as the rack.” 2 (George Whitefield)
“He [the devil] drives his unclean beasts [blasphemous thoughts] into your field [your mind] and then calls them [these thoughts] yours.” 3 (Charles Spurgeon)
“Satan … presents horrid, inhuman suggestions to [us], that he may scare [us] from the good ways of God … Now Satan, being a spirit, is able to present these blasphemies to [our] spirits …” 4 (William Bridge)
“Some again are haunted with hideous representations to their imaginations, and with vile and unworthy thoughts … of God, of Christ, of the Word, which, as busy flies, disquiet and molest their peace. These are cast in like wildfire by Satan, as may be discerned by the strangeness, the strength and violence, and the horribleness of them, even to corrupt nature. A pious soul is no more guilty of them than Benjamin was when Joseph’s cup was put into his sack. Among other helps recommended by godly writers, such as detestation of them and diversion from them to other things, let this be one, to complain to Christ against them, and to fly under the wings of his protection, and to desire him to take our part against his and our enemy. Shall every sin and blasphemy of man be forgiven, and not these blasphemous thoughts, which have the devil for their father, when Christ himself was molested in this way so that he might relieve all poor souls in this condition?” 5 (Richard Sibbes)
Device 2: Urging you to ‘Curse God and die’
My experience: After much sleep deprivation, I had a very strong and compelling thought of “Why don’t you just curse God and die?”.
“You that have felt [the devil’s] fiery darts, can subscribe to the truth of this, … how often he [the devil] has bid you, “curse God and die”. 6 (George Whitefield)
Many Christians I mentioned this to were surprised and bewildered. George Whitefield (acclaimed by many as the greatest Evangelist of all time) had a different idea when he said in this regard: “But marvel not, as though some strange thing happened to you; for this has been the common lot of all God’s children.” 7
Device 3: Threaten you with Bible verses
My experience: The devil used the following passage and others to frighten and condemn me; “You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting” (Daniel 5:27).
“If the devil cannot overcome you … he tries another method; he takes all the threatening passages out of God’s Word, and says they all apply to you.” 8 (Charles Spurgeon)
Device 4: The devil withdraws until an opportune time
My experience: At one point in time my eyes were opened, and I saw how many traps the devil had been setting for me over the years. If the devil left Jesus to come back at an opportune time, who was I to think that the devil would not do the same with me? (Luke 4:13)
“The devil has a … device, which is … dangerous … by not tempting us at all, or rather, by withdrawing himself for a while, in order to come upon us at an hour when we think not of it.” 9 (George Whitefield)
Device 5: Getting you to doubt God’s love
William Bridge describes the thoughts of a doubting Christian: “A gracious soul [a Christian] may say; “The devil is always following and tempting me to suspect the love of Christ.” 10 (William Bridge)
Device 6: Changing Bible verses from a blessing to condemnation
As a depressed Christian I would think to myself: “If a mercy or blessing be tendered to [me], this comes in judgment to me; it is a blessing indeed in itself, but I fear it is a judgment to me.” 11 (William Bridge)
Play the song Grace by which We Stand by Keith Green
14. The foolishness of visiting the devil’s domain for a ‘relaxing’ holiday
South America offers a poisonous mixture of paganism, witchcraft and Catholicism presented in the guise of tourist attractions. In Potosi, Bolivia a woman pressed towards our tourist group ranting, screaming and cursing us. Compounded by poor diet and travel fatigue, I was not spiritually strong at the time and this produced fear in me. The devil got a foothold!
In La Paz, Bolivia we visited the Witches’ Market which contained dried llama fetuses used under houses as a sacred offering to the Inca fertility goddess Pachamama. Our group visited the Devil’s Mine in Potosi where the miners give offerings to a grotesque statue of the devil (Tio) for supposed protection. (I chose not to go into this mine.) Our local Peruvian guide suggested we experience a hallucinogenic drug (Ayahuasca) with a local witch doctor. I thought; “No way would I do this!”
On several mornings in South America, I had problems breathing at the high altitude. I felt so bad I said to my wife: “today, I am going to die”. I think having asthma as a child made this an especially fearful experience.
It now seems utter foolishness to me to have paid thousands of dollars to visit such evil places, all in the name of ‘having a good time’. There is this dangerous idea that all the beliefs of other countries are neutral and therefore we should ‘respect’ them. However, the Bible tells us we are to hate evil (Romans 12:9). Avoid and shun harmful beliefs, like burning incense to idols, worshipping mother earth, treating Jesus as just a prophet or the practice of witchcraft (practiced by witch doctors, shamans, kadaicha men, sorcerers, witches, spirit mediums etc.) They are not worthy of our respect. We are called to love the person but hate the evil beliefs.
We need to heed the timeless warnings in the Bible. Modern psychology has little to no recognition of the dangerous spiritual side to depression and suicidal thoughts as the devil brings all the forces of hell against us. Spiritual problems have spiritual solutions!
My observations on sleep deprivation from travel
Governments have utilized sleep deprivation as a form of torture. Some ‘holidays’, especially very long ones in unfamiliar countries over many time zones, could be classed as a form of sleep deprivation. This can lead to problems, one being depression. As you get older, problems can be more amplified. Of course, if someone had told me this before I travelled to South America, I would have confidently replied; “Surely this would not happen to me as I am an experienced traveller.” True, I had coped with all my other trips but I didn’t cope with this one!
Play the song When You Hear the Praises Start by Keith Green
15. The ‘dark night of the soul’ experiences of Martin Luther
I was encouraged to discover that what I had been experiencing had also happened to Luther.
Luther experienced terror when he feared that God had turned his back on him once and for all, abandoning him to suffer the pains of hell. Feeling alone in the universe, Luther doubted his own faith, his own mission, and the goodness of God. Luther’s prayers met a wall of indifferent silence. He experienced crying spells and profuse sweating. He was convinced that he would die soon and go straight to hell. “I trembled in all my members. Christ was wholly lost. I was shaken by desperation.” His faith was as if it had never been. He despised himself. 14
16. The book of Job – essential for me to understand suffering
I would ask myself; “Why would God allow me to face such suffering?” Then I would think of righteous Job. I am only a small fraction of the man Job was. God allowed Job to be become severely depressed, to have many hours of sleeplessness, to wish to die (suicidal thoughts), to think God had become his enemy and to be terrified by dreams and visions.
“When I think my bed will comfort me and my couch will ease my complaint, even then you frighten me with dreams and terrify me with visions, so that I prefer strangling and death, rather than this body of mine. I despise my life; I would not live forever. Let me alone; my days have no meaning” (Job 7:13-16).
If God saw fit to allow an upright man like Job to suffer these things, including losing his health, who was I to question God?
* Always check everything against the Word of God.
1 Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed, The Banner of Truth Trust; p. 64
2 Sermon by George Whitefield, Satan’s Devices.
3 Sermon by Charles Spurgeon, The Comer’s Conflict with Satan.
4 William Bridge, A Lifting Up for the Downcast, The Banner of Truth, p. 161.
5 The Bruised Reed, p. 46.
10 A Lifting Up for the Downcast, p. 129,
11 A Lifting Up for the Downcast, The Banner of Truth, p. 129.
12 A Lifting Up for the Downcast, p. 21.
13 William Bridge, A Lifting Up for the Downcast, The Banner of Truth, p. 23.
14 Taken from the website: Grateful to the Dead
16 A Lifting Up for the Downcast, The Banner of Truth, p. 40.
17 Martin Luther, in Theodore G. Tappert, editor, Luther: Letters of Spiritual Counsel (Philadelphia, 1955), pages 86-87.