Even the fight toward joy can be filled with despair when we look at our own deficiencies. In the last post about depression, we were challenged to replace anxiety with joy through anxiety-killing prayer and faith-filled thinking. As anyone who begins to implement these new habits quickly realizes, the struggle intensifies as we begin to fight. Our thinking is darker than we realized. Our heart is prone to wander further than we were aware. And our prayers are more distracted and irregular than we hoped. It is at this moment of realization that we must look not to our own weaknesses, but instead fix our eyes on the beautiful glories of Christ who loves us and died for us even while we were sinners (Rom 5:8).
2 Corinthians was one of the most helpful books for me in depression. In just the first five chapters, Paul discusses comfort, purpose, enduring hardship, and the ministry of reconciliation. All of these topics challenged me to think differently about my despair, but it was 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 that posed the greatest challenge to my darkened perspective. In this passage, the Lord taught me to look through my circumstances and focus on something far greater and further off. I pray he does the same for you…
Passage 2: 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
The Unseen Reasons for Joy
As we discussed in the last blog post, depression is often an accumulation of negative feelings including sadness, loneliness, worthlessness, and being inevitably stuck there. Indeed, whether your depression was instigated by a trial or seemingly out of the blue, it is very common to feel like it will never end. That never-ending feeling contributes to the cycle of accumulating negative feelings that fuels the depression and makes us “lose heart." Thankfully, God’s Word provides us with one more sure foothold out of this quicksand.
"So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal."
In this passage, we see that Paul (our fellow sufferer) acknowledges his visible, present suffering and describes it in two ways. First, he says his “outer self is wasting away." Those of us who have wandered into the darkness of depression certainly understand the description of "wasting away” with it’s deteriorating, fleeting, and imminent connotations. But it is his second description of his current affairs that leaves us a little confused. He says that the trial he faces is a "light, momentary affliction." Earlier he says that he “despaired of life itself” (1:8) and that he is carrying the death of Christ in his body (4:10). That doesn't sound very light or momentary! It sounds heavy and lifelong. But wait! This is where it gets really good.
Paul does not measure his potential for joy based on what is happening to him now or even what could happen throughout his whole lifetime. Instead, he compares his present affliction to two unseen realities that provide him with hope, strength, and comfort. First, he recognizes that although the outside is being depleted, his inner person is being renewed. As he refreshes himself in the realities of the gospel (1:20), his God-given mission (5:19-20), and the comfort of God (1:3-4), the unseen, inner person grows stronger, godlier, and deepens in faith regardless of the situation. He believes that the unseen renewal of his inner person is far more valuable than the seen deterioration of his physical being. Second, he compares the momentary affliction with his glorious, eternal reality that is coming because of Jesus Christ. He believes that his future outweighs the temporal suffering of the present so much that he says it cannot even be compared. The growth of his inner person and his future destination supply him with enough hope and comfort in the present suffering that he does not lose heart.
Let’s go one step deeper now. This passage not only indicates that what is to come is far, far better than what is happening now, but it also tells us that our present suffering is doing something for us that has an impact on our future enjoyment (joy!) of eternity. Paul tells us that the suffering we endure now as we wait patiently for God's comfort, provision, and eternal relief, prepares for us that eternal weight of glory. Beloved, there will be a particular sort of joy ready for you in eternity because of the suffering that you endure in this life. We don't always know the precise meaning of our pain right now, but we do know God - his goodness, love, patience, sovereignty, peace, kindness, and comfort. We can trust him to use this for his purpose in his timing, for our good and his glory.
Toward Vision Correction
Here is my challenge to you, beloved one. As you suffer, open your Bible (even if you don’t want to) and dwell on the richness found in the unseen realities of God’s work and promised eternity. This is where I would start:
- Cherish and foster the inner work that God is doing in you. Read Phil 2:12-13; Col 3:12-17; Heb 12:3-17; Jas 1:2-18.
- Remind yourself of the joy in your eternal future. (Spoiler: It isn’t a dreary church service, and it isn’t puffy, pink clouds) Read 1 Pet 1:3-9; Rev 21-22; Isa 25.
- Rejoice in the truth that God is worthy of your trust even in this suffering. Read Ps 34:8; Rom 5:8; 2 Pet 3:9; Rom 15:13; 2 Cor 1:3-4.
May we be women who look through our pain, our trials, and our despair to the unseen work and promise of God. May every moment of depression make us savor the sweet promise of eternity all the more. May we be patient in suffering as we trust in the unseen plan of God.
Kristen Ferguson is a member of Lakeshore City Church. As a wife, mom, and Director of Online Education for Gateway Seminary, she strives to make Christ's name known around the world.