Today we were challenged to re-post from our blog’s archives. I originally wrote this post for a friend’s blog (I encourage you to check out Melody’s blog by clicking here), but I later posted it on mine as well.
At least once a month I meet a Christian who struggles with depression and feels guilty about it, because they are a Christian. So, what does the Bible have to say about living with depression? Can a Christian be depressed?
Many years ago, I began wrestling with this issue. My husband, a missionary, was struggling with depression and many of the pastors we knew and loved told him to just “snap out of it” or told him that if he had enough faith, then it would go away. I learned that Christians can and do get depressed. Just as becoming a Christian does not give instant physical health to a person, it also does not guarantee instant emotional health.
Many Christians suffer from chronic depression; they are ashamed of their depression and feel that there must be something wrong with them spiritually, or else they would be enjoying the “abundant life.” Regardless of the cause, there are times when God allows Christians to struggle in depression and the constant pain leaves many disillusioned. Paul’s thorn in the flesh is a good example of God allowing suffering in the life of a believer. We don’t know what Paul’s thorn was, but he pleaded with God to remove it and God refused. Was this due to a lack of faith on Paul’s part? I really doubt it because God used Paul in incredible ways; God used the thorn to keep Paul dependent on Him.
Why is it that so many Christians believe the Christian life should be not struggle free? Jesus warned in John 16:33, “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage: I have overcome the world.” People should not be surprised by life’s struggles but often when trials arise, men and women look for somewhere to place blame. Job’s friends continually told him that his hardships must be due to sin in his life. This was not the case; God wanted to prove that Job’s faithfulness in the midst of heartache.
The Scriptures are full of examples of godly men and women who struggled with hard times. They were not all suffering due to personal sin. In John 9, Jesus and His disciples saw a blind man. The disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind? Jesus answered, ‘It was neither that this man sinned nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” The man was born blind so that God could show others His greatness.
Christians are commanded to take up their cross daily and follow Him. Carrying a cross is hard work. For millions of people, that cross is depression. Sometimes depressed believers struggle to understand why God would allow the hopelessness of depression to overtake them in spite of their faith. Depression can be a spiritual blessing, although an unpleasant one to experience. Depression often forces people to cry out to God. Millions are pleading with God to take away their depression, and at times, God refuses (like with Paul’s thorn).
How can those who are depressed find hope to endure? According to Paul, “tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope: and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit.” God’s sovereignty and His Word offer hope to believers who are affected by depression.
All that said, does that mean if a person prays enough, reads the Bible enough and has enough faith that the depression will go away? First, we must discover the root cause of depression. Is it a medical or a spiritual condition? There are various opinions on this issue. Basically, I believe depression can be seen as three things: a symptom, a reaction and a disease. All types of depression need treatment, but the treatments vary according to the source of the depression.
The first category views depression as a symptom, more specifically a direct consequence of sin. The depression that Jonah experienced after God showed mercy to Ninevah is a prime example of this. God’s compassion “greatly displeased Jonah and he became angry.” Jonah was extremely selfish; he wallowed in self-pity which led him to despair to the point that he begged God to take his life.The answer to depression that is a result of sin is repentance.
The Psalmist said in 32:3-5 that when he kept silent, his bones wasted away and God’s hand was heavy upon him. When he acknowledged his sin to God, he found forgiveness and deliverance. If the depression is a symptom of sin, once that sin has been confessed, the depression will often lift. In such instances, the depression is a physical manifestation of a spiritual problem.
A second category of depression is reactive depression. Reactive depression occurs when a person’s life circumstances have caused a person tremendous loss, suffering or pain. Often the pain seems unbearable and the person may become depressed. Dealing with reactive depressions are often difficult because it involves changing one’s thinking while their circumstances remain the same. Counseling may be effective in helping people with reactive depression. Grief is an example of reactive depression. When a person experiences loss, he or she may experience a period of depression; this is a normal, but painful reaction to life circumstances.
The third category views depression as a disease. When the depression is not due to any specific events or circumstances, a person may have a depressive disorder and should consult a physician. Medication and/or counseling may be needed. The depression could be due to a chemical imbalance or it may be symptomatic of some other health issue. If the depression is long lasting, and you don’t know why you are so down, you should see a doctor (when possible, see a psychiatrist because they have a better understanding of psychiatric drugs).
How does someone who is depressed find light in the midst of the blackest darkness? Where is hope when life’s circumstances seem hopeless? There are numerous Biblical examples of men and women that struggled with times of despair. There are profound insights for modern believers who face depression that can be found by examining the responses of these men and women. By examining several Biblical portraits, depressed Christians can find hope to endure their own personal circumstances. The Scriptures are full of examples of godly men and women who struggled with bouts of depression. Moses, Elijah and Jeremiah all dealt with forms of reactive depression. Their recovery began when they recognized and submitted to God’s sovereignty. When they were reminded that God was in control, they became hopeful.
God is not unaware that at times His children face depression. The depression is not without purpose. While the sufferer may not understand the reason for his hardships, he can find peace in knowing that God is in control. While the sufferer may not understand the reason for his hardships, he can find peace in knowing that God is in control. While reading God’s Word and trusting in His sovereignty may not alleviate the symptoms of depression, it can offer tremendous hope. If you are a Christian and you struggle with depression, pray and ask God to show you which type of depression you have. If you still don’t know, see a doctor or a counselor for help.