This passage in Paul’s first letter to Timothy contrasts piety and a God-centered life with the impiety that comes from a self-centered life of wrong loving, putting things like money and conceited pride ahead of the love of God. As the letter points out, it isn’t money that’s bad but the love of it: the wrong love that makes an idol of money, that makes it a thing to be sought as a good-in-itself. The kind of love that puts materiality and self-importance at the center of a life. In short, the kind of love that sets up something or someone other than God as the central defining point of one’s life. What is it but worship to build your life around something that crowds God out?
As Luke puts it, “You cannot serve God and mammon” (Lk 16:13).
Sometimes, for some people, depression can become a sort of false God. It can become the center of your identity, the point around which your life is built. Ironically, depression can be something to hide behind, an all-encompassing space that allows you to avoid facing the troubles and difficulties of your life. If you’ve suffered from depression for a long time it can become comfortable, not because it isn’t painful but because you know what to expect.
There are many explanations about how and why this can happen, and to be clear we are talking about people who can still function while they’re depressed, not those who are completely overcome by it.
Depression, like any other uncomfortable state of being, can become familiar – and, so, comfortable – over time. You begin to inhabit it in the drive towards rest and inertia. From a Freudian psychoanalytic perspective, this tendency toward inertia is part of the death drive which can override the pleasure principle. People feel an urge to restore things to an earlier state, and an inclination toward death and decay can be manifested as stasis. When this urge is stronger than that of growth and life, a person becomes stuck in an unhealthy and unhappy pattern because they derive a sort-of comfort from it.
The point of psychoanalysis and other psychodynamic psychotherapies are that recognition of these patterns is the path toward freeing yourself from them. Rather than the inclination to blindly trust in feelings – I am depressed all the time, therefore I am meant to be depressed, my feelings don’t lie and there’s nothing I can do – analysis of the thoughts underlying them offers a chance for change and freedom.
It’s all well and good to understand why some people unconsciously get stuck in depression, and it’s obvious why getting unstuck would be good, personally, for them. But there is a real spiritual impact to being in a state where you choose depression over God, and that is what we, as Christians, need to begin to explore.
1 Timothy 6:10, using the example of the love of money, tells us that this unnatural all-consuming love turns us away from God and is the “root of all evils;” this turning away causes us pain. We are created to love God with all our hearts, minds, and souls, and choosing to love something else in His place leaves us empty and hurt, reinforcing the feelings we have turned to as the defining meaning of our lives. God wants us to love Him for ourselves, that we might be truly happy and right and fulfilled. We crave things other than God because of sin, but when we feed this craving by setting up false idols we hurt ourselves and mire ourselves deeper in pain by not living the true life to which we are called. God wants us to be whole, to do everything we can to help ourselves get better. God wants us to love God for us. And part of what that loving entails is the refusal to set up any false idols, including the idol of depression. As Christians, we have a moral responsibility to love God, to strive to define ourselves as lovers of God, to not build our lives around something that doesn't flow from Him as if that something else makes us who we are and supplies the meaning of our lives.
Are, then, people who are stuck in depression, either because they haven’t found a way out yet or because it is so all-consuming that it has nothing to do with comfortable discomfort, slaves to that illness? Does it own them? Is it their master? “You cannot serve God and mammon.”
The answer is resoundingly “no.” Depression can never truly own you: you are created by God and purchased at an incalculable price. God is your master, and though at times you may be a terrible servant who is devoted to something else, you truly belong only and always to God. Although sadness, darkness, and despair may feel like they own you, may determine who you feel and believe you are, what you can do and who you can become, although it may feel like the truest thing in the world, finally, at the root of things, it isn’t the truth. You belong to God, always and forever.