Dealing With Depression Biblically
America's balladeer, Jim Croce, wrote a song entitled Working At The Car Wash Blues. The words to the song went, "Well I had just got out of the county prison, doin' 90 days for non-support. Tried to find me an executive position, but no matter how smooth I talked. They wouldn't listen to the fact that I was a genius, the man said we've got all we can use. Now I've got them steadily depressin', low-down, mind-messin', working at the car wash blues." While the song was fun to listen to, one must ask if the feelings expressed in the song are feelings that should be experienced by a Christian. Should there ever be in the life of a Christian, a time of being depressed? Before we answer that question, it necessary to make some definitions of terms. I contend that there is a difference between sorrow or discouragement and being depressed. By my definition, sorrow or discouragement is a natural and proper emotional response to the plight of self or others, or the sinful activity of self or others. Depression, on the other hand, by my definition, is the sinful response to the circumstances if living that results in isolation from relationships, cessation from productivity, and despair of life itself. In light of these definitions, I would say that it is perfectly normal for Christians to be discouraged or dismayed from time to time but it is not acceptable for Christians to be depressed.
There is however, one exception to the statement above. Depression can result from two different sources. Depression may have a physical cause or it may result from a spiritual cause, or a combination of both. Genuine physical causes of depression include tumors which affect the neurological functions of the body or glandular disorders that do the same. Hypothyroidism or hypoglycemia can be legitimate causes of depression. Likewise, reactions to certain medications or interactions of more than one medication may also cause depression. One of the most common physical causes of depression is simply a lack of sleep. Whenever these causes occur in the life of a Christian, there is an excusable reason for the Christian to be depressed.
However, not all "physical" causes of depression are genuinely physical. Most psychologists today believe that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance. If so, there is another physical cause for depression. The problem is there is no evidence, to my knowledge, that a chemical imbalance causes depression. It may very well be that depression causes a chemical imbalance. To the "scientific" community, this is the old question of which came first, the chicken or the egg. The person who believes the Bible has an answer- the chicken. But apart from Biblical revelation there is no answer for the question. Likewise, apart from biblical revelation, there is not answer as to whether a chemical imbalance causes depression or depression causes a chemical imbalance. I believe, though, that the Bible speaks to the issue.
If there is no recognizable physical cause for depression, such as what is stated above, then the only other cause for depression is a spiritual cause. Galatians 5:22 states that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace... The second fruit is that of joy, the exact opposite of depression. In other words, if joy is absent from the life of a Christian, then the Holy Spirit is not producing that which He would desire because of a spiritual problem in the Christian's life. There is no antidepressant medication that can cure that problem.
The sin that causes the child of God to be depressed comes in three varieties. The first is a wrong view of God faithlessness. By this I mean that we expect God to do something that He does not, or at least in a time that we expect God to do something. The second variety is a wrong view of self or pride. Here we believe that we are worthy of something from others which we do not receive or that we are not worthy of something that we received of others because we are better than that. A wrong view of life or sinful desires is the third variety of sin that leads to depression. Here, the child of God becomes involved in activities that are sinful which he or she believes will provide satisfaction or fulfillment. While the sinful activity might provide pleasures for a season, ultimately it cannot be satisfying, for it is sinful.
No matter what variety of sin is at fault, the pattern of sin is the same that leads to depression. When sin is committed, fellowship with God is broken. Psalm 66:18 states that if we regard iniquity in our hearts, God will not hear us. When fellowship with God is interrupted for a period of time, the Christian becomes anxious. The New American Standard translation of Psalm 38:13 states, "For I confess my iniquity, I am full of anxiety because of my sin." At this point one of two things may take place. Either the Christian will confess their sin and restore their fellowship with God, removing their anxiety, or they will deny the seriousness or even the existence of their guilt. Obviously the first way is the preferred. Proverbs 28:13 states that, "He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy." The other option leads to greater problems. David writes in Psalm 39:2, "I was dumb with silence, I held my peace, even from good; and my sorrow was stirred. The Hebrew word translated "stirred" means to be disturbed or troubled. It is the idea that something is wrong but there is an inability to correct the problem. According to Proverbs 15:13, this leads to despair, "A merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is broken." A broken spirit leads to depression. Proverbs 18:14 makes the point very clear. "The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity, but a wounded spirit, who can bear?
The most important question is how we deal with depression. What is the "cure" for the blues? The solution is really quite simple. First, there must be recognition of the true problem. If the problem is being caused physically, then a physical solution must be found. If you are not getting enough sleep, get some sleep! Check with a pharmacist if you a taking medication to see if there is some side effect of the medication that may cause depression and see if there is some alternative medication. If you are in fellowship with God, it may be necessary to have a regular physical examination. However if the problem is not physical in nature, but spiritual, then apply spiritual means to its solution.
Step two is repentance. If sin has caused an interruption of fellowship with your Savior, then confess the sin and restore fellowship. Step three follows on the second. In that depression causes a withdrawal from the normal activities of life, there must be a recommitment to fulfilling God's will. In other words, get back to doing what God would have you to be doing. That is all there is to solving depression.
Some may say that the solution to such a complex problem as depression cannot be as simple as what I have suggested. Well, a few case studies from Scripture will verify the simplicity of the solution. The first is a study of Elijah. His case study is found in 1 Kings 19. Elijah's depression was caused by a wrong view of God. It is interesting to note that his depression followed a great spiritual victory where the power of God had been greatly demonstrated. It is not unusual that depression can follow triumph. Elijah had defeated the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. Following the all-day contest, he ran a marathon back to King Ahab's palace. There he stood before Queen Jezebel who vowed to have his life before the next morning. In fear, Elijah headed quickly off to the wilderness, separating himself from all, and desiring to die. Listen to his complaint before God. "It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers."(v. 4) "I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, throne down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away."(v.10) At this point God confronts Elijah about his conception of the person of God. As Elijah stands upon a mount, he experiences a great wind, an earthquake, and a fire, but the Lord was not to be found in any of these. Afterward there was a still small voice where the presence and power of God was found. It is at this point that the Lord recommissions Elijah to the work that he was originally called to. While it does not specifically say in the text that Elijah repented of his false concept of God, it is certainly indicated by the fact that Elijah went and did as the Lord commanded.
Elijah was depressed because he feared that his life was in danger and God was incapable of protecting him and that the ministry which God had called him to was a ministry that no man could accomplish. When life is viewed on a totally horizontal perspective, everything is practically impossible. The limitations of humanity become enlarged or even exaggerated. But the problem is not the limitations of man, but the absence of the presence of God. We often look for God to work in large, miraculous ways, a great fire, or earthquake type of experience. But most times God works in the almost unnoticeable, the still small voices. The progress being made seems so insignificant at times, that we wonder if God is really there at all and therefore we become depressed. But no matter how great the opposition to the task for which we have been called of God, God is present and He empowers every believer with all that is necessary to accomplish all that is required. The Lord Jesus put it this way in Matthew 19:26, "...with men this is impossible: but with God all things are possible." We therefor conclude that we need not be depressed because God is greater than any and all of my problems.
Our second case study is that of Job. Job became depressed because he had a wrong view of himself. His story of recovery from depression is found in Job 38-42. Job had suffered greatly, he lost his children, he lost his health, he had lost the respect of his wife and friends. His friends had accused him of committing some sin that had brought the judgment of God but Job knew that their allegations were false. Job's problem was that because he had not committed any specific act of sin that rendered him worthy of such judgment, he felt that he therefore was "better' than what he was receiving. Bad things, in Job's eyes, are not supposed to happen to good people, and he was GOOD! In his counseling session with God, God asks a number of questions of Job as to how good he really is. At the heart of these questions, and also the heart of Job's complaint is the idea that, "If I were God, I would do things this way..." It is, although we would never admit it, the idea that we are smarter and better than God. God's ways do not seem to be working, we deserve better, and since we are not getting it, it's right to be depressed. Through the questioning of the counseling session, Job realizes the magnificence of God and the insignificance of man and repents (42:6).
The Bible tells us that Job got on with his life and lived 140 years after his depression. What is most interesting is that he died being full of days. That expression not only indicates that he had lived a long time, but that his days were also of great quality. He was no longer depressed. The Apostle Paul tells us that all things work together for good in romans 8:28. When we realize that God is bringing his plan for the ages to fruition and that even the "bad" things in life will eventuate in good, we have the ability to get through the tough times and not be depressed. I need not be depressed because God is working all things for my good.
Our third case study is that of King David. David's depression was caused by a wrong view of life. David believed that satisfying the flesh could bring joy, it only brought depression. The case study is found in 2 Samuel 11-12. David should have been with his troops in battle, but for some reason he tarried in Jerusalem. Whenever the child of God is not doing what they should be doing, be sure that temptation is there to cause you to stumble. And sure enough, it was! Seeing Bathsheba, David's lust was kindled and he fell into further sin. After an unsuccessful attempt at covering the sin, David was visited by his friend Nathan, the prophet. With the words, "thou art the man," David finally came to terms with his sin and repented (12:13). In his confession found in Psalm 32:3-4, Psalm 38:2-6 and Psalm 51:1-12, we find some interesting details. First we find the physical characteristics of depression described in Psalm 32and 38. The cure was not medication but confession. But in Psalm 51 we find that with the confession of the sin and his restoration to fellowship with God, the joy of his salvation is returned, the depression is gone.
There is no reason for the child of God to be depressed for God is willing and able to forgive all our sins, so says 1 John 1:9. And once those sins are confessed, your joy will return too. Jesus Christ died for your sins on Calvary's cross. It was there that sin's consequences were paid in full. You need not nor cannot add anything to what Jesus did by dying for you. All you need do is simply believe on him as your Savior. If Jesus is not your Savior, you have every right to be depressed, you are headed for an eternity in hell. But Jesus came that we might have life and life more abundantly. Trust Him today and change your eternal destination and consequently your present disposition from depression to joy.