An Interview with Dr. George O. Wood (Hope for the Depressed)

Dr. George O. Wood

Dr. George O. Wood

An interview with Dr. George O. Wood, General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God

by Rose McCormick Brandon

Depression, a mood disorder that affects millions of North Americans is now the leading cause of disability, according to the World Health Organization. Depression varies from milder forms which may go undiagnosed for years, to severe cases that can lead to suicide. Christians aren’t immune from depression. To add to their sorrow, fellow believers often misunderstand this illness.

            Some views held by the Christian community often hurt rather than help the depressed. These views can make the church a confusing and often unsympathetic place for suffering Christians. One well-known American church leader, Dr. George O. Wood, writes and speaks with honesty about his battle with depression. In an interview, I asked for his thoughts on some of the philosophies depressed Christians face. His answers offer hope and compassion.

RMB:

Some Christians believe that when a person accepts Christ as Savior they are totally transformed in spirit and soul and therefore should never have emotional or mental problems and, if they do, it is somehow their own fault. What should be the church’s attitude toward the depressed?

Dr. Wood:

The church’s attitude should be one of caring, empathy, understanding, and providing as many resources as possible to assist the person suffering depression. The letters in the New Testament show us that transformation or growth in Christ takes time. Paul told the Galatians, “I am in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you (Galatians 4:19) Obviously, at that point they had been redeemed, but they were not where they needed to be in terms of theological or character development.

It’s unfortunate that people who go through depression are told “it’s your fault.” This only serves to deepen the depression because then the person is not only depressed, but now feels responsible for being depressed. My experience is that most people who are depressed have experienced loss – loss can come in a variety of ways from the death of a loved one, to divorce, to loss of employment, realization that something or someone desired is not going to happen, death of a dream, etc.

RMB:

People in depression often feel far from God. It adds to their misery if they also feel abandoned and misunderstood by the Christian community. How can churches reach out to the depressed?

Dr. Wood:

I think one of the best ways is to create a culture of honesty in the church. I have shared my own testimony of deep depression and persons have come to me afterward and said, “If you, as a spiritual leader, also experienced depression, then there’s hope for me.” When you are depressed, you have the feeling of isolation – and it helps to be in a community where transparency is encouraged. Even Jesus, in Gethsemane, said, “My soul is distressed and girded about with sorrow.” He didn’t say to himself, “I can’t let anyone else know what’s going on. I’ve got to tough it out and be strong because I’m the Son of God.” Oh no, He willingly showed His transparency and vulnerability.

RMB:

Christians trust the medical profession for most illnesses but often not for mental and emotional illnesses. Should a Christian seek medical advice for depression?

Dr. Wood:

Yes – especially if the depression is not lifting after a season of time or after competent counseling. Better to take a pill for depression than take your life. If we can take aspirins for headaches, surely we can take medication for depression.

RMB:

Do the depressed benefit most from a combination of medical treatment, cognitive therapy or counseling and prayer?

Dr. Wood:

I believe those do work together and are valuable in combination.

RMB:

Does it show a lack of faith to take anti-depressants?

Dr. Wood:

No more than it shows a lack of faith to take an aspirin or go through chemotherapy.

RMB:

One view point goes like this: “if you just had enough faith in God you wouldn’t need pills, therapists or counselors. You would have the joy of the Lord.” What affect does this teaching have on the depressed?

Dr. Wood:

That kind of counsel typically comes from someone who has never had the experience of depression and really doesn’t know what they’re talking about. My hope for the depressed is that they would turn a deaf ear to that kind of advice; if they don’t, it could only deepen their depression.

RMB:

All the viewpoints we’ve discussed take the simplified view that depression is a spiritual problem. You mention in your article, Crossing a Deep River, that depression has six major causes: physical, a sense of loss, depressive environment, poor self-concept, spiritual failure and spiritual warfare. Can you address the fact that we’re complicated beings and that depression can, but is not likely to be, a spiritual problem?

Dr. Wood:

I suspect in most cases it is not a spiritual problem. Loss is a heavy thing to bear. The only place I see depression being a spiritual problem is if the cause of depression is rooted in sinful behavior – the consequences of which have to be lived with. David experienced depression after his adultery with Bathsheba. Thank God for that kind of depression because it leads to repentance.

 RMB:

What advice would you offer to believers suffering from depression?

 Dr. Wood:

The best advice I could give is found in my article, “Crossing a Deep River.”   (find this article at http://www.georgeowood.com) I realize also that my own experience doesn’t necessarily yield universal truths for all, or application for all. But, it’s what helped me climb out of the deep valley.

RMB:

According to James 5:14,15 we should always pray for the sick. It could be that God will heal in an instant. Or, He may bless the sick with divine recovery, a slow and steady return to health which is usually the case with depression. A recovery is no less a miracle than instant healing. What are your thoughts on divine recovery?

Dr. Wood:

One of my friends had a very sinful pre-conversion past. When he was saved, he prayed for immediate deliverance from the wrong thoughts and attitudes that had dominated his life. When the deliverance didn’t come immediately, he felt the Lord say to him, “It took you awhile to get this way and it’s going to take you a while to learn another way.” We are often too impatient with people. Depression is like the ocean’s tide – it can roll in and it can roll out. It usually follows this pattern for awhile.

Some of my favorite Psalms are the ones of Ascent (120-134). I picture the pilgrim coming out of the Jordan Rift Valley beginning the ascent to Jerusalem (wholeness). One day (while I was suffering from depression), it dawned on me that in my own long climb out of the valley, I looked over the trail one day and realized I was far higher than I had been and that I had escaped from the depths of the valley. I wasn’t yet on top, but I wasn’t on the bottom either. I felt the joy of the pilgrim in Pilgrim’s Progress who, in crossing the river at its deepest point said, “My feet have touched the bottom and it is sound.”

RMB:

Thanks for your encouraging remarks Dr. Wood. They remind us that nothing, not even depression, can separate a person from God and His love (Romans 8:38,39). He is and always will be sympathetic to the brokenhearted.

 *******

This article first appeared in The Testimony (2012)

Rose McCormick Brandon, an award winning writer, is the author of He Loves Me Not, He Loves Me, One Good Word Makes All the Difference. Her articles, short stories and devotionals are published in many magazines and book compilations including Chicken Soup for the Soul. She also writes financial articles with husband Doug, an investment advisor. They have three adult children and two grandchildren.

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About rosemccormickbrandon

An award winning personal experience writer, Rose McCormick Brandon is a frequent contributor to faith magazines, devotionals and compilations, including Chicken Soup for the Soul. Rose is the author of Promises of Home: Stories of Canada's British Home Children (2014). One Good Word Makes all the Difference (2013), He Loves Me Not, He Loves Me (2012) and Vanished: What Happened to My Son. She's a frequent contributor to The Testimony, Today's Pentecostal Evangel and other faith magazines in Canada, U.S. and Australia. Rose also writes about Canadian history, specifically the era of Child Immigration from Britain. Read her stories of child immigrants at: http://littleimmigrants.wordpress.com
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2 Responses to An Interview with Dr. George O. Wood (Hope for the Depressed)

  1. Bonnie says:

    Thank you Rose for that article, it’s so true

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