Absent, or Not Perceived? Depression, Mental Illness, and Other Things That Interfere With Our Perception of the Holy Spirit
By Ken K. Gourdin
In response to a query at Mormon Dialogue and Discussion whether the Holy Spirit should “cut through” whatever interferes with our ability to perceive his influence, I wrote the following:
It’s not an all-or-nothing proposition. And you could substitute any number of things for “depression” in the equation, e.g., “Shouldn’t the Holy Ghost cut through schizophrenia?” “Shouldn’t the Holy Ghost cut through obsessive-compulsive disorder?” Or “Shouldn’t the Holy Ghost cut through anxiety?” And why limit it to depression or to psychiatric diagnoses? There is a limitless number of things that might interfere with our perception of him. “Shouldn’t the Holy Ghost cut through [whatever-I-don’t-want-to-have-to-deal-with]?” Et cetera. As much as I might hate to admit it , “opposition in all things” (See 2 Nephi, Chapters 2 and 9) is simply a part of the plan. And, while people may equate Satan’s influence with the fact that we live in a fallen world, I think they are subtly distinct forces. The fact of the matter is, even if pretty much everything else in someone’s life is hunky-dory (How would it be? ) that person still faces difficulties of some sort simply as a result of the facts that we live in a fallen world and are separated from God.
And I don’t think it’s proper to say that depression is a “Holy Ghost repellant“: as Ted [another poster] points out, it’s not as though the Holy Ghost sez, “Uh-oh! Depression here! Sorry! Can’t stick around! Sucks to be you! ” as much as it is that depression interferes with our ability to perceive the Holy Ghost’s influence. (I, too, have experience with this: like Ted, I believe things would have been [and would be] much worse without that influence.) (Again, you may ask what the distinction is between the Holy Ghost being absent, on the one hand, and experiencing interference which negatively affects our perception of him, on the other hand: perhaps it’s a subtle one, but I think it’s significant.) And the Scripture you reference [Doctrine & Covenants 14:2] says that God’s word is “quick and powerful,” “sharper than a two-edged sword,” can “[divide] asunder joints and marrow.” I don’t really want to be sliced in two, thank you very much! I’m not sure what the context of the verse is, but I think that matters: Yeah, if all else fails God may break out His sword and saw the most wicked and recalcitrant among us in half, but it’s not as if that won’t affect even Him emotionally. Think of Enoch: “How is it that Thou canst weep?” he asked God. What does God say? “These are the workmanship of mine hands.” (See Moses 7:28 and verses following.) The Holy Ghost, on the other hand, is a still, small voice.
As much as I hate to invoke a cliche, remember the story Footprints in the Sand: it wasn’t that the Savior wasn’t there when the man only saw one set of footprints. Depression notwithstanding, I’m grateful for the influences of the Savior, the Atonement, and the Holy Ghost in my life, and, although I now “see through a glass darkly,” as Paul put it, I think that I, along with everyone else who strives to increase the influence of these things (and the perception of their influence) in my life, will be astounded at the degree to which these things exerted an influence in my life when I’m given the opportunity to look back on it in the Savior’s presence. (It will be little wonder that many of us will fall on our faces then, and, weeping, will worship Him.)