Greater Than Our Hearts
If I had to choose which writer of the New Testament I thought most fully understood depression, I would say it was the apostle John. He’s just unique among the authors. He’s the poet and romantic of the group. Most writers refer to themselves by their name or with crazy words like I and me, but in his own gospel John refers to himself as "the disciple whom Jesus loved." I don’t think he was saying that as a slight against the other disciples, as though Jesus didn’t also love them. I think he gives himself that name because he knew it was his most important identity, and he wanted, maybe needed, to continually remind himself of that truth.
This gem of a verse comes from the first of his shorter letters which happens to be my favorite book of the Bible. If you’ve never read it, I highly recommend that you do. In it the disciple whom Jesus loved takes complicated realities and makes them simple and poetic, saying things like “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness,” and “no one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” I bring it up because I think some of us have a similar emotional and romantic personality that sees the world differently, which is so beautiful but can also make us more susceptible to depression. I don't mean that everyone who struggles with depression approaches the world this way, but many of us do and it's important to know your tendencies.
Personally, it took me a while to realize that I approach life more based on feelings and intuition rather than logic. Early in our marriage, my wife and I took an Enneagram test with about 50 other people. After we finished, the person running our test had us all sit at tables with people who had the same dominant trait as ours. He then proceeded to describe what each group's personality was like. When my table's turn arrived, he discussed how we were creative, emotional, and romantic, but could also tend to fixate on the negative things in life. He said that we always considered the big picture but were terrible with details, and he gave other various side notes about our personality. Throughout his explanation I kept turning around to give my wife, who was at the table behind me, an I'm-not-like-that look. She in turn continually gave me the that's-exactly-how-you-are head nod with the raised eyebrows.
I don’t think that John writes this verse if he doesn’t personally understand what it’s like to have his heart condemn him. This is different from feeling bad about something you did and needing to ask for forgiveness or make a situation right. In the 9th verse of this letter he encourages his readers to confess their sins to God and tells them that God will forgive them. Despite that incredible truth, sometimes our hearts still condemn us even after we’ve asked for forgiveness. It may condemn us for something we’ve done and sometimes for who we think we are. Sometimes our worth comes under attack and our heart condemns us for all of our perceived weaknesses.
Just the fact that the apostle John understood what it was like to have his heart condemn him is incredibly encouraging to me, but the awesome part of this passage is that "we know that God is greater than our hearts and he knows everything." I've already shared here that often times the whispers of my heart feel like they're from God, but we see here that the two are separate. If in your heart you feel like you're worthless, have no future, or things will never get better, that isn't God and it isn't true. It's just your heart, and God is greater than your heart. Also amazingly, the fact that He knows everything, even the worst things about us, doesn't make Him the condemner. It's clear throughout the Bible that God desires to change our hearts and eradicate evil, but, as we'll see in the discussion of the next verses, it's not through condemnation.