When you live with the darkness of depression, it’s easy to turn to the Bible and despair. It’s easy to read passages like this one and say to yourself: If God has power over everything, why hasn’t He made me better yet? Do I not believe? Have I not prayed? Why has the Lord not cast this darkness from me as the disciples cast out demons in His name? Does not God have power over this darkness?
There are many facile answers to these questions. We can say that depression, and other mental illnesses, are not demonic so this is not a useful model. That’s true. Though depression remains to a large extent unknown and mysterious, we can be pretty confident in saying that a person isn’t depressed because they’re possessed by the devil. But this doesn’t take away the question of why God doesn’t cure the faithful.
We can say that, as with the disciples’ instructions to shake the dust from their feet where they are unwelcome and to heal the sick where they are (Lk 10:8-11), that faithful Christians who aren’t healed simply don’t have enough faith. But this ignores the truth that many Christians suffer from depression while believing in and worshipping God. Though it is of course impossible for anyone but God to see into a person’s heart, we can’t simply dismiss those who are suffering as victims of a lack of belief.
We can say that God simply hasn’t cured people because it isn’t part of His plan, as it is true in this passage: the disciples are sent only to a few towns that Jesus intends to visit, but not all over every town in Palestine (Lk 10:1). Now, finally, we are getting somewhere nearer the crux of things. It is all about God’s plan, isn’t it? God cured me of my depression, God didn’t cure me of my depression: who’s to know why one way or the other, except to refer to God’s mysterious and unknowable ways?
This both is and isn’t an answer. And like so much of what it means to keep the faith from within the darkness, it is less than satisfying even when it is the truth. It’s probably the reason people hate theodicy. How can you reconcile the fact that God allows suffering with the real feeling that you don’t want Him to, and it would at least be nice to have a solid, case-by-case explanation?
Why does God not make the darkness go away? Why doesn’t God cure everyone’s cancer, set everyone’s broken limbs, end hunger, end grief? Why, for me personally, will God not take this burden from me though I know it is possible were He to wish it?
Luke 10:1-20 tells us about the sending of the seventy, the preaching and healing they are called by Jesus to do. It tells us that the kingdom of heaven is near (v 9). It tells us that the seventy healed, that they had power over the demons, and that they condemned and abandoned those who did not express faith in Jesus.
This passage gives us a glimpse into Jesus’ ministry and the ongoing work of God for and in the Kingdom, a kingdom both here and not-yet, near and impossibly far, a world both God’s and apart from God. It cannot be said that the seventy are curing people and casting out demons for people’s own sakes. It is for the glory of God and the work of the kingdom as that work is embodied in the ministry of being sent out.
As Jesus says, “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest” (Lk 10:2). Everyone is the harvest, but the labourers are few: though the power of the kingdom is manifested to those who already believe, the passage is more clearly directed at those whom God wishes to send out. It is about the power of God for the labourers, that in the name of the Lord they can cast out demons, and not about those who have been delivered. The power of the kingdom is first and foremost to call and send disciples. The work of curing others and casting out demons in Jesus’ name convicts them of God’s power, but says nothing about fixing everything that is wrong with their lives or eliminating their suffering and hardship by one iota. They are sent with no money, no extra clothes, and no supplies for the journey; they are sent to be rejected, to experience hunger and loneliness and the despair of having failed. The seventy experience the power of God and the nearness of the kingdom not in a release from suffering but in plunging into it for the sake of God’s work.
God’s power on earth points to the greater reality of what has already been accomplished: “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Lk 10:18). Power over demons and the gift of healing draw their strength from these cosmic truths working themselves out in a creation that is being renewed. But we still live in a broken, fallen world, and for all of God’s power manifested among us we are not free from suffering and are not meant to be. Though we are meant to ask and ask again and again for God’s help and healing, as Paul did when stricken with a thorn in his side, more often than not God’s inscrutable purposes are not for the removal of our suffering but that we continue the work to which we are called. Our suffering is transformed through God’s grace into the outworking of God’s kingdom when we, as labourers, go out in the midst of this darkness to proclaim the kingdom in Jesus’ name.