My depression is a thing that exists. Therefore, God is using it to conform me more to the image of Christ, to conform believers around me more to the image of Christ, to potentially bring other elect members of the kingdom to the point of faith so that they become more like Jesus, and in some mad way to do something or other for people I have never met but who in God’s infinite and intricately weaved tapestry of history and circumstance, are somehow affected for their good too and they will become more like Jesus through it.
Somebody asked me yesterday whether I thought my getting depression was part of God’s plan. I thought that was a really interesting question and thought I would share my view on that here. If you can’t be bothered to read past this sentence, the short answer is, yes I do.
Here is the thing, I believe God is ultimately sovereign. He is sovereign over all things. There is not a single thing, in the whole of creation, that does not happen without God’s permission to do so. The Bible is unequivocal about God’s total and complete sovereignty.
If that is true, then simply the fact that I have depression means that it is, in some way, part of God’s plan. If God is sovereign over all things (and he is), then there isn’t anything that happens that is not part of his plan. Even his decision not to act, not to intervene, is a sovereign decision. If God chooses not to stop something that he could otherwise stop, he must be allowing it for his greater purposes. If God is sovereign over all things, there is nothing that happens that he could not stop and nothing that doesn’t happen that he could have chosen to make happen. Everything that does happen, happens because God either actively causes it or sovereignly permits it. It is as the Bible says, he is the one who ‘works all things according to the counsel of his will’.
The issue is, when it comes to stuff like depression, the inevitable question is: do you think God is happy that you’re ill? The short answer is, no. I don’t think God is any happier at the thought of me being ill than he is at the thought of people sinning. This inevitably leads to a follow up question, then why doesn’t he stop it?
The answer is that God orders his priorities. The Bible tells us, for example, that God does not wish for any to perish, but longs for all people to be saved. At the same time, we know that not everyone is saved. How do we account for this? Philosophers, at this point, like to posit the principle of sufficient reason. God wants all people to be saved, but he has a sufficient reason to allow them not to be. Depending on your particular theological bent, you will offer different answers as to what that sufficient reason is. But it is no different to us saying I would like to save £200 every month, but I would also like to buy a load of stuff too. One of those priorities tends to trump the other, meaning that though I would like both, I order my priorities, which is why my bank account is less full than I might otherwise like it to be. Similarly, God orders his priorities such that, though he may want all to be saved, he has higher priorities that mean all are not in actuality saved.
So, where does that leave us when it comes to my depression? It is certainly something that happened in actuality, so I consider it part of God’s plan. Does God want me to have depression? I don’t think he is pleased at the thought of me being sick. Nevertheless, that it has happened tells me he has some greater purpose in allowing it to happen. But, let’s be honest, we all want to know what that greater purpose is.
As a Reformed believer, I think God orders all things so that he will receive maximal glory. So, God’s highest priority is his own glory. What this means is that God has setup the world so that the world as it is – out of every possible world he might have created – brings him the greatest glory.
I cannot explain how each and every thing works ultimately to the praise and glory of God. I can have a guess at how some things – even some pretty heinous things – might ultimately work to his glory. But I am ultimately only guessing. I can highlight how some objectively terrible things definitely work to his glory because the Bible expressly tells us so. The cross of Jesus Christ – which was a gross injustice of the highest order and severe suffering of the very worst kind – was the very means by which God glorified himself most. It was his means of salvation for his people, the means of glorifying Christ, the means of becoming both just and justifier. Through something so heinous, God was ultimately glorified. But I must admit I can’t explain how every terrible thing that ever happens works to God’s glory that way. I trust what God’s word says, that such things will brings him more glory in the end than if it hadn’t happened at all, and I can have my guesses about what some of that might be, but that is all they are likely to be.