Leaving Egypt behind

(Photo: Jacek Plackiewicz)

The results of a survey published in the October edition of Psychological Medicine suggest that spiritual and religious beliefs do not "enhance psychological well-being".

With the cumbersome title 'Spiritual and religious beliefs as risk factors for the onset of major depression: an international cohort study', it concludes that religious people are more likely to suffer from depression than their atheist counterparts, with the risk in the UK being higher than elsewhere.

Statistics can be manipulated for the sake of a headline and I am not convinced of the findings, but all of us will know a brother or sister in Christ who struggles with depression. The Archbishop of Canterbury's daughter Katharine shared her experience of it earlier this year and on first becoming a Christian I was surprised to discover how common it is – but why? It is not what God wants for us. Jesus came so that we may live life "to the full" (John 10:10)

The answer may lie partly in the parallels with the timeless story of the Exodus. A compelling tale of oppression versus liberation, it offers a simple choice between a life of slavery under Pharaoh and a life of freedom through obedience to God – much the same as our choices today. The figurative Pharaoh may take many forms for us, from a toxic relationship to an addiction or depression itself. Our alternative is, of course, Christ.

Once the initial euphoria of their escape subsided the Hebrews rejected the relative hardships of the desert wilderness and yearned for the 'security' of their old lives. Their disillusion manifested itself in a grasshopper mentality revealed as Moses' spies returned wearily from their mission to survey the Promised Land. "We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them" (Numbers 13:33). The reaction from the Hebrews is unanimous – "we should choose a leader and go back to Egypt" (Numbers 14:4).

Egypt – with its promise of routine, security and an unchallenged life. The Hebrew people may have physically left Egypt but Egypt had not left them.

Does that sound familiar? We too can stumble through the sudden, unfamiliar terrain of a life lived through Christ. Without guidance and support from fellow Christians, we may wander in the wilderness for decades. In such circumstances, our former life of slavery - in our case a secular world of flexible morals, an obsession with profit and a disregard for the weak and vulnerable – may seem eerily attractive. Perhaps the alternative in today's society, is too easy, too dominant, too familiar.

Caught up in a grasshopper mentality we focus on perceived personal inadequacies and past mistakes, forgetting God's promises of redemption from past sins.

Depression thrives on confusion and uncertainty. Symptoms of our own personal Egypt - acrimony, bitterness, resentment and depression - will retain their grip if our minds are not transformed through the work of the Holy Spirit.

Christianity requires a boldness of spirit, breaking free of our shackles to make a stand. How can we make this effective leap of faith and leave our own personal Egypt behind?

There is only one way; by committing to Christ in body, mind and spirit and allowing the intellectual certainty to permeate the heart. Christianity is not a religion of isolation. We are called to fully participate in the work of the body of Christ – the Church. Nor is it a part-time option which we can pick up and put down at will. Christ wants all of us, every minute of every day – nothing less will suffice.

A closer relationship with God through Jesus with the Holy Spirit is the only way to fulfil God's purpose for our lives and leave our own personal Egypt firmly in the past.