Robin Williams died this week. According to news reports, he hung himself in a bedroom in his California home. His publicist said he was suffering from severe depression.
Already blogs and Facebook are clogged with tributes and commentaries. All of them attempt to answer the question that cannot be answered: Why?
In one form or another, depression has been a companion in my life through my adulthood. On a much smaller scale than Robin Williams, I know what it is like to walk on a stage and give yourself away. He made people laugh. I’ve tried to help people find Jesus. Comedians and preachers want to bring people hope. You open your soul and give.
There is a danger point no one tells you about in seminary – or, I assume, comedy school. The danger is you give not the excess, but the essential. You move from giving from your soul, to giving your soul. The line between the two is thin and faint. The crowd always cheers for you to give more, because they are not the guardian of their souls.
Jesus knew this too. That’s why he so often went away from the crowd. His friend John wrote that “Jesus did not trust himself to them, because he knew all people … (John 2:24).” Whether the crowd cheered or jeered, Jesus kept possession of His soul.
The best way of being like Jesus is to care for our souls like He cared for His. We give ourselves not to the crowd, or to the family, or to the boyfriend, but to the Father who offers perfect love and grace. We release ourselves from the need to perform and be acclaimed. We trust the Spirit even in the darkness.
Our Father in Heaven understands depression. It was not part of His design for the world, but it, like so many other forms of darkness, comes because this world is a broken, fallen, messed up place. The Bible speaks plainly of depression in Job, Psalms, Lamentations, and the Prophets. One of the prophets, Jeremiah, seemed to struggle with it.
Being depressed doesn’t mean you are far from God. It means a form of darkness has enveloped your soul. In that darkness, you need light and hope. If you are a follower of Jesus, you are light. You may need to talk with someone – a therapist or a pastor – to find the light you already are. Like a Christian diabetic, you may need the help of medication to control chemicals in your body that keep you from being the person God made you to be. Lewis Smedes said he found God’s daily grace in a pill of Prozac. This doesn’t mean your faith is weak. It means you aren’t perfect and you need grace.
In your struggle, and in mine, there is great grace. Caring for your soul means coming to the fountain of grace that is Jesus, and bathing there. And this is what church is to be: a place of grace, a place for you to care for your soul.
The approval of others – the cheers, the compliments, the acceptance – never provides the grace we need. Only Jesus.