Clinging to Faith Through Doubt and DepressionIf you believe that depression always has a spiritual cause and can only be treated by spiritual means, then you will not like this book. But you are probably one of the people who could best benefit from this book. Matt Rogers’ Losing God: Clinging to Faith Through Doubt and Depression (IVP, 2008) is a first-person testimony of a four-year journey through doubt and depression.

At the center of Matt’s depression is a personal struggle to the love the sovereign God described in Romans 9. He writes:

“Fear burned in me again as I stood in the bookstore. What little confidence I had awakened to that morning drained away, and all the questions came back. Am I hardened against Christ? Has God himself hardened me that he might show his wrath in me? Does this mean there is no hope for me, that God truly does not love me?” (44)

Matt questions at times, but ultimately upholds a strong view of God’s sovereignty. He maintains a healthy tension between human free will and God’s sovereign choice. And he quotes Tozer, appealing to mystery over certainty as to how these two work together.

But Matt’s story gives us a glimpse of what can happen when an overemphasis on God as the Just Judge leads to incessant introspection. Give a Puritan book to someone with a propensity toward depression, and you might unintentionally lead them to paralyzing introspection that robs them of joyful service. Too much self-examination can be dangerous (not to mention self-centered), and Matt’s story is a testimony to the fact that introspection can sometimes heighten depressive tendencies.

Losing God is a powerful story. Do not expect an abbreviated tale of superficial suffering and quick deliverance. In fact, three-fourths of the book go by without almost any sign of hope. Yet Losing God does deliver hope – and that hope is found within the context of the body of Christ.

Matt’s testimony is helpful because it shines light on both what is good and what is bad in much of evangelicalism today. Consider his portrayal of the church: 

“One Sunday was particularly bitter. My mind had been seething all morning, and the music minister was bouncing up and down and grinning from ear to ear at the song in his heart as he led the church through hymn after hymn. I stood mumbling the lyrics and thinking, If this guy gets any happier, he’s going to float out the back door.” (104)

Matt admits that at times he could hardly stand the “cheerful songs of Christian bliss that were salt in my open wounds” (75). This statement should lead us to ask some questions about the typical, upbeat worship music in most churches today.

Is there any room for lament? For questioning? For silence? Why is that so many songs out of God’s hymnbook (the Psalms) would seem out of place in our worship?

Yet despite the failings of the church, Matt ultimately finds mentoring, relationships, companionship, strength, and encouragement in the body of Christ. It is in the church that Matt finds deliverance. It is in the church that he finds the Jesus he truly loves. 

Losing God never turns to medicine as the primary answer for depression. Matt came out of his four-year period of darkness without medication, yet he believes there are more than just spiritual causes of depression. A vicious cycle takes place - spiritual causes can lead to a depressive state, and a depressive mental state can accentuate spiritual problems.

In the end, Matt recognizes that there are complex issues involved in depression. Simplistic answers and solutions do not fit every case. For those of us who have never struggled with severe doubt or depression, Matt’s book helps us understand those who do.

At the end of the book, Matt offers hope to those struggling with depression and doubt. He gives steps toward healing and encourages people to find community. What I love most about Losing God is that Matt’s story is not about someone who finds deliverance through willpower, medicine, or black-and-white theological answers. It’s the story of a man who finds grace within the family of God.

written by Trevin Wax. copyright © 2009 Kingdom People Blog.

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15 thoughts on “Losing God – A Book about Doubt & Depression”

  1. Robert White says:

    My only disappointment is that Matt didn’t take medications early in his depression. Given our understanding of the biological aspects of this disease, he probably would not have had to suffer for four years. He is right on in the importance of the loving community as a support for this often devastasing disorder. Dan Blazer, M.D ., an elder in the church and a professsor of psychiatry at Duke, has written about the value of the support group in the treatment of depression. It’s important that the church sees depression for what it is and reaches out with loving support and not guilt or rebuke or, worse, an unempathic superficiality.

  2. Eric Peterson says:

    I always like your book reviews. Thanks for your thoughtful reflection. When is your book out?

  3. Weston says:

    Josh Bales has a song on iTunes called “I need You” and it is phenomenal. It addresses the need for songs of reflection and mourning, but still has uplifting truth in it. It is modeled after the Psalms. Give it a listen.

  4. Hey Trevin, Thanks for sharing. But I’m not sure I’ll read the book. Let me explain.

    Before I was introduced to Christ, while not clinically diagnosed, I was a major depressive and chronic suicide threat. In Nov. of 1996 my aunt introduced me to Christ…at least I thought.

    A major burden was lifted off of my shoulders [striving for my father’s approval], but I still had an enormous uphill battle. I still battled depression, doubt and suicide.

    Deal was I wasn’t a real Christian.

    It wasn’t until Nov. of 2007 that a crisis in my marriage exposed me to my fraud and I actually repented and trusted Christ. Over the following months I shed a boatload of negative emotions as I grew in Christ.

    Granted, I hardly have two years under my belt as a real Christian, but I struggle with the idea that a Christian can suffer severe depression. Now, I have serious doubts, feel very sad at times and occasionally slip into thoughts of suicide.

    And I’ve never sat in a jail cell or endured serious persecution, so I’m really exposing my naivety here. Bear with me. I want to learn.

    But part of my growth as a Christian is I realized how important community with other believers was. Pre-conversion I sought isolation b/c the thought of hanging with believers made my skin crawl. I was indifferent to the lost. In a word, I was self-absorbed.

    As you know, conversion sucks all that out of you.

    So, I’d rather not read a book that sounds on the surface like a spot of self-pity…and then here are the steps. Where’s the Gospel in all this? I don’t know. Just thinking out loud here. What do you think?

  5. Trevin Wax says:

    Demian,

    That’s just it. Matt believed in the gospel – robustly. You might say that his belief in the gospel is what kept him connected to a community of believers and through which he finally found deliverance.

    Do not think that the book is full of self-pity. Matt tries to explain his thought processes so that those of us who have never struggled with depression can step into his shoes for a few brief moments. To feel a little bit of what he felt. To think a little of what he thought.

    I recommend the book for its unflinching look at depression and deliverance.

  6. Thanks for the reply, Trevin, and the clarity. By the way, ever read Andrew Solomon’s “The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression”? Possibly the best book on depression I read. He explores his own depression while tracing the history of depression, even into Iceland. Provocative. Not Christian, though.

  7. Dan Martin says:

    Demian,

    I rejoice for you, but don’t be too quick to conclude that a true Christian can’t suffer depression. I friends who believe far more completely than I can with all my doubts, who also have bipolar disorder. Two of them have been in a suicidal state, and one actually attempted suicide. There’s an awful lot of voodoo in the mental health community IMHO, and you are absolutely right that if Christ lifts us out of ourselves, we’ll be too busy with others to get depressed about ourselves.

    But I think at least some mental illness is due to the fallen world in which we live, not just the fallenness of the individual. I’d hate for you to beat yourself–or anyone else–up just because you’re not totally “victorious.”

    And hey, Trevin’s right, the bubbly froth that passes for worship these days depresses ME, and I have no history of mental illness!

  8. Thanks Dan. You’re right. There are real cases of sickness. I’m not trying to discount that. Four years ago I would have said you must be victorious–even if you are bi-polar. A fallen world makes that very difficult. I appreciate your thoughts.

  9. Emily says:

    Thanks for the book recommendation, Trevin–I’m sold!

  10. brance says:

    My wife and sister-in-law both went to VA Tech and were part of that community Matt knew there. My wife worked with him at a Christian radio station, hosting a show together, during some of the time he was suffering from this depression.

    Matt clung tenaciously to the Gospel the entire time. He was most definitely a Christian even while struggling with some serious depression.

    Thanks for the review Trevin. Hopefully Matt’s story can help others who struggle to find victory through the Gospel and Christ centered community with other believers. And as you said, it can help those of us who have never struggled with depression in this way to get a taste of what it must be like, which will help us better shepherd those under our care who suffer in this way.

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Trevin Wax


​Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources, husband to Corina, father to Timothy, Julia, and David. You can follow him on Twitter. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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