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Depression: India’s Formidable Foe, a Pastor’s Painful Struggle

More By John Rakshith Prabhakar

With one in every twenty Indians struggling with depression, India is one of the most depressed countries in the world. Depression is an uninvited guest, stubbornly intruding into so many lives. Though I knew this, I found myself surprised by the dark cloud of despair when it descended upon my soul.

My cultural upbringing told me I just needed to “deal with it” and move on. After all, men should not be controlled by feelings. The Christian tradition I grew up in told me my suffering was all demonic. Mercifully, my biblical convictions quietly whispered that the fall of man has made suffering a complex reality, in which depression is a prominent figure.

What Depression Feels Like

After hours of tossing and turning, I finally fall asleep. I jolt awake the next morning after a shallow night’s rest. Everything is dark—like my eyes have developed a tint of black during the night. I wonder, “Am I losing my eyesight?” 

I try to get up but I feel tied to the bed. I call for my wife. Sensing the pain in my call, she comes to me, concerned. As someone who has struggled with clinical depression herself, she unhesitatingly and empathetically helps me out of bed.

At this moment I realise I am unable to stand upright. It seems I have swallowed a boulder during the night and it physically weighs me down. With a hunched back, I limp to the sofa and lie down. Physically, I feel like I have run a marathon. Internally, it feels like my heart is buried in the darkest cave known to man.

Life felt distant and muffled, like hearing people chat and laugh poolside while you are sinking to the bottom.

This depressive episode did not come out of a vacuum. It was one of many days I remember vividly struggling with the worst forms of depression. In hindsight, not only did I suffer in the darkness within me but my pain was intensified by the fact that I could not bring myself to enjoy the life others seemed to readily appreciate.

I could not partake in the carefree levity and fun that Bengaluru, the “pub capital” of India promotes daily. I had the desire to enjoy life but not the energy. Life felt distant and muffled, like hearing people chat and laugh poolside while you are sinking to the bottom.

There seemed to be no relief from the tangible darkness I experienced. My mind swirled with questions, often progressively: “Am I a weakling? Am I just being afflicted by demons? Or am I possessed by them? If the Holy Spirit and evil spirits cannot co-dwell believers, does this mean I have lost my salvation? If I have lost my salvation, then surely I never had it, right? How could a child of God possibly feel the depths of darkness I am feeling?”

To make matters worse, I did not have the spiritual, physical, or emotional bandwidth to actually engage with and answer these questions. My faintest reasonings simply led me to the verdict: “Something is desperately wrong with me!”

As a pastor, I was embarrassed by my inability to answer these seemingly basic questions. I contemplated leaving the vocational ministry in my first year of ordained ministry. After all, if I cannot handle my own struggles, how could I minister to my fellow sufferers?

What Truth Sounds Like

God’s original creation beamed with unadulterated beauty. However, today’s world is an alloy of beauty and brokenness, light and darkness, life and death. India’s “garden city” Bengaluru is also the “suicide capital of India.” It has been predicted India itself will soon become the suicide capital of the world, as reported in Zee News.

The friend of sinners is also a faithful pastor of limitless sympathy for sufferers of depression.

In God’s common grace, an increasing number of educational institutions and counselling centres seek to address this growing crisis. Clinical depression can be helpfully addressed by their services. 

Yet the Bible presents the whole story of the reasons behind our depression and hope for us in our fallen world. God’s redemptive story mercifully makes sense of the depression that afflicts us.

Soon after our first father Adam plunged humanity and this world into darkness, God shockingly promised Satan, the prince of darkness, that he will redeem humanity from his tyranny and sin’s death grip. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15).

In time, in fulfilment of this promise, Jesus took on the likeness of sinful flesh and was born into our broken world. For grieving sinners, he made grief his friend. For sorrowing sinners, he became the man of sorrows (Isa. 53:5). For those who feel crushed with despair and sin, “it pleased the Lord” to crush his own dear son (Isa. 53:10).

The creator of the brightest lights descended into our darkness and voluntarily became the victim of cosmic proportions of dark injustice. This Jesus did so that slaves of sin under the prince of darkness’s sway might become children of the Father of lights through him.

What Hope Looks Like

The hope for sinners and sufferers of depression is in the God who has tasted our misery. There is only one lasting hope for those afflicted with the sorrows of darkness. Our depressed hearts must trust in Jesus, not only to reconcile us to God—removing the unending night that separates us from him—but also to one day receive from him, a body and soul incapable of suffering any form of darkness.

There are still days when despondency strikes my heart, and even the bright light of the Bengaluru sun cannot quell my soul’s darkness. Yet my hope is not in my spiritual or physical depression being taken away from me altogether on this side of eternity. 

Although this would be a welcome blessing, I am becoming increasingly accustomed to my weakness because in it, I hear the voice of Christ, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. . .” (2 Cor. 12:9). The friend of sinners is also a faithful pastor of limitless sympathy for sufferers of depression (Heb. 4:15).

So I trust the Spirit of Christ who strengthened my Saviour in his trials, on my behalf, to strengthen and use sinning and suffering people like me, to serve his other sinning and suffering people.

Through the ministry of my wife, friends, and our celebration of Christ in the means of grace as a church community, the Spirit supplies necessary truths to my heart when questions of doubt arise out of my depression.

Since my Saviour has carried my sin and sorrow with beads of blood-sweat dripping down his head, I am guaranteed an eternity at his side. I know I will experience the full power of his resurrection through an embodied soul made able to fully bask in his resplendent glory.

Indeed it is true, “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18).

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