Saturday, November 07, 2009

Depressive Realism – Undone By Truth

Isaiah was brought into the presence of the Lord. He issued his first prophecy against himself: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the a King, the Lord of hosts!” (Is. 6:5 ESV)

The King James translates it “Woe is me! For I am undone…”

So what kind of awful revelation is this that someone would be “lost” or “undone”? In Revelation 1:17, John describes himself as falling at his feet as though dead. God tells Moses in Exodus 33:20 that no man can see him and live.

Surely a true vision of the Almighty is a great revelation of him, an infusion of the knowledge of truth so tremendous that one is overcome with one’s own guilt, even to the point of death. There’s a reason God feeds truth to us slowly through the process of sanctification.

I recently heard of an interesting psychological proposition called Depressive Realism (DR). It’s contested, but research so far suggests that mildly depressed individuals have a higher sense of reality than optimistic people. The scope of the research is limited by equating the cynicism of depression with pessimism, or by ignoring pessimism altogether. I’m going to explain the research thus far by refining this understanding.

This fallen world is difficult. It’s dirty, hard and deadly. But we have the industrial intellect to make it more comfortable. We don’t have to dig with our hands. We don’t have to walk for miles to get where we need to. We have machines. At the end of the day, we’re not sleeping on a hard mat on the floor. We can kick back in out recliner and watch TV for a while. We don’t need to cook all day every day just to survive. We have instant food. Pop a pizza in the oven or a meal in the microwave oven. Then we can climb up on a mountain of foam and air and snuggle under thick covers to keep warm from our cold air conditioner.

But the fallen world is spiritually difficult. While we have medications to make the pain go away, we must still face reality. And the reality is that people are sinners. This means that everyone has a nature that works to keep us estranged from our Creator. Not only that but this nature works to keep us estranged from each other. We are even internally estranged from ourselves bearing psychological conflicts that we hardly understand.

But we have coping mechanisms that help us to not be completely undone. Pessimism is the act of weighing the negative heavily so that expectations are unreasonably low. This has the effect of making the world make sense and relieving internal conflicts. Expecting that other people are not to be trusted serves to justify treating them with friendly contempt. The fact that nothing anyone can do will please the pessimist allows the pessimist to blame others unreasonably. This is generally detrimental to the other person, but the pessimist doesn’t care. They happily go on their way having stirred up the trouble they figured was there to begin with.

The optimist, on the other hand, unreasonably expects great things of the world. They work hard to bring about healing and reconciliation that they would expect to see. They dive into constructive activities expecting great things and are pleased to have positive results that they can point to. They tend to ignore and avoid people and things they don’t understand because these things challenge their optimism. They like to deal with little pains that can be helped, but run from the big pains for which there appears to be no solution.

But reality is full of great pains. There is always the potential for great things to happen, but this is to be tempered with the fact that nothing in this world is perfect. No one loves perfectly. Nothing good happens without a struggle. There may be positive benefits from great difficulties, but we may not ever know what they are. In this way, the one who pursues a true understanding of the world may over time become depressed. We have a need for human contact. We have a need to feel useful. However, human contact is imperfect, and often exceptionally so. For most of us, the world wouldn’t notice if we were never here. We’re not important. We really don’t have much control over our lives.

Those who realize things like this can become mildly depressed. Unless tempered with positive experiences of quality fellowship, mild depression can yield a distortion of reality that becomes more severe over time. This distortion of reality is a falsely-weighted set of observations where the few positive experiences are all but ignored and the bulk of negative experiences are dwelt upon. Thus is the downward spiral of depressive conditioning.

So optimism, pessimism and severe depression all involve a denial of reality and true reality tends toward mild depression. Optimism and pessimism are otherwise healthy coping mechanisms while severe depression is the result of a lack of these coping mechanisms where good experiences are not normative.

We need, at the onset of any activity, some sense that the activity will likely turn out well either because we believe factors are positive or because we believe that things can turn out okay in spite of the belief that factors are negative. It doesn’t help to have the correct observation that whether factors are positive or factors are negative, we have little to no control over factors and therefore little to no control over the outcome. We are unimportant and people could care less because they are otherwise deluded.

In my previous post, I asked where the line was between initiative and presumptuousness. To some degree, initiative requires irrational presumption that is either optimistic or pessimistic. Depressive realism cannot yield initiative for there is no opportunity for which we know the outcome aside from what God has specifically revealed to us.

In this vein Isaiah, Paul, Moses, David, Mary and Joseph, Peter, John and many others took their cues from specific revelation. The problem is that we don't seem to have these revelations these days. So does that mean that we shouldn't do anything? Of course not. We have a clear command to disciple the nations. The specifics will be taken care of according to the gifts and faith that God has provided. I know plenty of people who "feel led" to do something or "step out in faith" and their works are greatly used. I also know plenty of people who"feel led" to do something or "step out in faith" and fall flat on their face in failure. However, all things work together for good, no matter what delusions God afflicts us with.

It may be that science will determine that depressive realism is a false proposition. But I doubt it.

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Blogger said...

I found your post interesting, especdially the part that depressed individuals may have a greater sense of reality.

Although we do not have prophetic revelations as often as the first century Church, we have what they did not have - the complete Bible, widely distributed and easily available. Moreover, it is possible to prove through fulfilled prophecy that the Bible is inspired by God (I did), and bible prophecy tells us what is ahead.

As I point out in my blog, there is a great interest in prophecy these days, but what most TV programs, movies, and books seem to leave out is that the disasters that are prophecied are coming as corrective punishment from God for our sins to bring us to repentence for our long-term good.

Sun Nov 08, 12:25:00 AM GMT-5  

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