Depression's challenge to theologies of suffering and salvation
This dissertation investigates God’s salvific response to contemporary experiences of depression. The inquiry affords both constructive and critical insights for Christian theologies of suffering and salvation. Constructively, it offers a theological interpretation of depression and an account of salvation in relation to it. I argue that depression is an instantiation of bodily difference with unique difficulties and limitations to which God responds with the life-giving possibilities of survival and situational flourishing. These possibilities are a heuristic for an eschatological vision of salvation. The glorified body is characterized by an expansion of possibilities amid the persistence of some creaturely limitations, including many that constitute depression. Critically, my proposal about depression and salvation challenges the prevailing treatment of suffering and soteriology in political and liberation theologies. I argue that an “infralapsarian logic” shapes the predominant vision of salvation in these movements. I adopt the framework of infralapsarian logic from Edwin Chr. van Driel, who uses it to denote theologies that are primarily governed by the principle of sin. This is largely because negative suffering—that is, suffering that results from sin and evil—has been the primary object of concern in recent theologies. My argument about salvation in the context of depression illuminates the anthropological and theo-logical shortcomings of infralapsarian logic, and it reveals the need for alternative accounts of God’s salvific response to suffering. To this end, I advocate for the retrieval and development of soteriologies shaped by “supralapsarian logic,” and I point to my constructive account of depression and salvation as one example of this way of thinking about salvation. Chapter 1 introduces readers to Christian soteriology, my methodology, and a project overview. Chapter 2 examines suffering and salvation in the early work of Johann Baptist Metz, Gustavo Gutiérrez, James Cone, and Rosemary Radford Ruether. This analysis illuminates the infralapsarian logic shaping their influential liberation soteriologies. Chapter 3 explores critiques of liberation soteriology that have arisen from within political and liberation theologies in recent decades—namely, from feminist theology, theologies of disability, black and womanist theologies, theologies of trauma, Latin American feminist theology, and theologies engaged with postmodern conceptions of power. Together, chapters 2 and 3 present the recent landscape of theological discourse on suffering and salvation. Chapter 4 is a cross-disciplinary survey of depression that presents the affordances of narrative and phenomenological accounts of this condition. Based on these accounts of depression, chapter 5 develops a theological interpretation of depression as a particular instantiation of bodily difference—not a form of suffering that results from sin or evil. Chapter 6 offers an account of God’s saving work in relation to depression. I argue that salvation in this context is not primarily liberation from suffering but rather survival and an expansion of possibility that enables an improved quality of life amid depression. Together, chapters 5 and 6 illuminate the inadequacy of infralapsarian logic for envisioning salvation in relation to depression. I conclude the dissertation with chapter 7, where I argue for the development of soteriologies that reflect a supralapsarian logic. I close the project by naming the implications of this argument for further theological reflection on depression, in particular, and suffering and salvation, more broadly.