Sunday, February 22, 2015

Book Review: Spurgeon's Sorrows

In his book Spurgeon's Sorrows: Realistic Hope for those who Suffer from Depression, Zack Eswine looks at the life of Charles Spurgeon and his struggle with depression.  Mr. Eswine writes his book "with prayerful hope that its few bits will likewise nourish you [the Christian struggling with depression] in His [Jesus'] carrying," (Kindle location 200).  He divides his book into three parts:  Trying to Understand Depression, Learning How to Help Those Who Suffer Depression, and Learning Helps to Daily Cope with Depression.

In Part One, Mr. Eswine states that sadness is not a bad or sinful emotion, but sometimes "multiplied sadnesses can also take a dark turn toward depression," (Kindle location 248).  As a sufferer of depression himself, the author notes that Christians who struggle from biological or circumstantial depression are more vulnerable to spiritual depression, which he defines as having "real or imagined desertions by God," (Kindle locations 500 & 534).

In Part Two, the author paints an accurate picture of what it's like to struggle with depression to give those who don't struggle a better understanding.  Mr. Eswine states the obvious, but highly needed advice that "trite sayings and quick fixes will not work," (Kindle location 709).

In Part Three, Mr. Eswine lists several aids in combating depression.  As a Christian sufferer of circumstantial depression, I am encouraged by the reminder that Jesus Himself was also a Man of sorrows.  Like the author, I find reading the Bible difficult to do at those low points, so I appreciate the recommendation of reading Clarke's Precious Promises to reflect on the promises of God.  The author also points to Scripture to look for case studies that sufferers can identify with, but rightly warns that one should not read himself into any Bible story (Kindle location 1266).

The topic of depression (whether it's biological, circumstantial, and/or spiritual) seems to be taboo in some Christian circles.  Mr. Eswine does an outstanding job of identifying depression and opening it up for discussion and for help in healing.  He doesn't shy away from looking at the ordinary helps available to sufferers including--but not limited to--medicine.  He also boldly comments on the reality of suicide for some sufferers.  While he affirms the desire of death and says that Christians are to choose life, he does not exhort the sufferer with thoughts of suicide to seek medical or pastoral help.  I think this oversight could potentially be harmful to the Christian suffering in silence.

Finally, I have a couple of points of observation.  First, Mr. Eswine assumes a Christian audience and does not present the Gospel in his book.  Depression affects many people (Christian and non-Christian), so I think he misses a golden opportunity to preach the Gospel to unbelievers who might read his book.  Secondly, the author refers to Charles Haddon Spurgeon as Charles throughout his book.  This familiar use gives the book an informal tone.  Initially, I had to remember who 'Charles' is because I am more acquainted with the name C.H. Spurgeon.  In addition, I found using his first name alone to be rather disrespectful to such a prominent Christian pastor.  We don't call Luther by his first name Martin, nor do we call Calvin by his first name John.  If the author had used a more formal address (C.H. Spurgeon, Charles Spurgeon, Mr. Spurgeon, and/or Pastor Spurgeon), quotes and ideas from this renowned pastor would have carried the authority and esteem they deserved.  Using Charles was too familiar; so in answer to the author's question of 'may I call him that?' (Kindle location 152), I would say, 'no.'

Overall, I thought this book was very well done on a topic that can be easily swept under the rug.  Mr. Eswine brings depression into the light and reminds us that "suffering can exist and God still be good," (Kindle location 1801).  I would highly recommend Spurgeon's Sorrows for all Christians because "[w]e then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves," (Rom. 15:1).

Full Disclosure:  I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.