What Does the Bible Say About Depression?
There is much sin that carries shame. Shame is only increased when we see ourselves struggling in an area that Christians are just not supposed to struggle with. What do you do when you can’t seem to overcome even though you know you are supposed to be an overcomer? What do you do if you struggle with depression when you know that Christians are supposed to have the joy of the Lord?
Before we go too far, it is important to note many Christians suffer from depression. You may think that I am only speaking of those Christians who don’t really go to church, pray, or read the Bible, but I’m not. Pastors suffer from depression. Pastor’s wives suffer from depression. You may go to church and look around at all the smiling faces and feel that you are the only one in your church suffering from depression, but it’s simply not true.
Who in the Bible Suffered from Depression?
We know that many strong, Godly characters in the Bible trekked their valley of sadness. From Hagar to David to Elijah, depression is seen in the lives of people who loved God and whom God showed favor. Martha’s depression led to anger. Job wept and cried aloud. Jonah was bitter in depression. Moses suffered deep depression for a long period of time.
One of the greatest tools of the enemy is to make us believe we are the only ones that feel the way we do; that we are the only ones who struggle as we do. But the Bible is clear that no temptation has seized us that is not common to man.
What is Depression?
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, depression is a “mood disorder that is marked by varying degrees of sadness, despair, and loneliness and that is typically accompanied by inactivity, guilt, loss of concentration, social withdrawal, sleep disturbances, and sometimes suicidal tendencies.” To use the word ‘disorder’ can be overwhelming. It can seem as if there is no hope and that is exactly what a person feels. Depression is negative emotions pressing down upon our spirit, weighing us down. We can’t find our joy, our smile, our laugh. And even if we appear to have joy and laughter, it is surface only. Deep down, the pain and despair ominously rule our hearts.
Depression is to be pressed down emotionally, mentally, and physically with the weight of issues and problems big enough to destroy our life while we are helpless to stop it. It is the outlook and estimate of a future that promises increasing hardship to the point of blinding a person from the present blessings. A depressed person is unable to enjoy the goodness of God they already have because of the shadow of what will soon be lost.
Depression is a mental posture toward life that challenges our faith. It is a perspective. I don’t mean to diminish depression one bit. I do intend to define it for what it is and now allow it to be more than it is. It is a powerful grip on the negative reality in the absence of faith that God can change things. It is the focus of our minds. It has a death grip on our attention strangling joy and peace to death.
Depression is not is a rival to God and His mighty power working in us to create an abundant life for us. Despite how deep it may exist and how powerful it runs through our veins; it is no match for the healing power of God.
What Are the Causes of Depression according to the Bible?
The Bible would teach us that depression is an issue of directional perspective. God’s plan for us is what we have not seen, and depression establishes itself in what is seen. We get depressed when we see the tragedies and coming nightmares that we feel we can’t avoid. We want to see God change the things in our life. We want Him to reach out and change our circumstances and bless our environment so that we can get out of the depression. We look to be blessed outwardly to inwardly. God’s ways are higher than our ways. He doesn’t bless from the outside in but from the inside out. Depression is the hopelessness that comes in the absence of God’s blessings. We look outwardly first and when things are not good all around us, we get depressed inwardly. God doesn’t work that way.
Ok, sometimes, He does bless us when we are down and depressed. He blesses us outwardly to support our inmost spirit. He does something good in our life to give us hope in our spirit. But if our relationship with God was dependent upon everything around us being good, or at least more good than bad, we would become like spoiled children who want what they want no matter what. We would be unable to praise God until He blesses us outwardly. We would take Him for granted and worship Him for His gifts.
Therefore, the Lord allows every human being to walk through their own blessing desert. Sometimes, He will make us experience a lack of outward blessing and see what we will do. When we stop praising and start griping, stop worship and start complaining, He is revealing our spoiled rotten hearts that only follow Him for what He will give to us. But true life abundant comes when we can praise Him in the dark hours of life.
Depression Presents an Atheistic Viewpoint
If depression had a voice, it would say, “God is not going to change anything. He is not really who He says He is. The God you read about in your Bible is not real. He’s made up. Nobody and nothing is going to make things any better so just get used to it.”
Depression creates a response in us that suggests there is no God. We act and respond to life as if there is no God who loves us, who can change things, who wants to change things, who even cares. But the truth is that God is alive and well. He is still the God who replaces the spirit of despair with a garment of praise.
Jesus presents Himself as the truth. The truth is not what we see or feel but what He says. Jesus said in this world, we will suffer through some magnificent pain, but we can still have hope because He has overcome and will help us to overcome as well. The Bible teaches us that He even uses the worst moments of our life to create change in us and around us necessary to bring us into greater blessings.
He’s either God or He’s not. If He is a liar, then He is not God. Depression is a fight in the arena of our faith. Can we believe God is still good when everything seems bad? Can we trust a God who seems to have abandoned us? Can we grasp any hope when it seems that all is lost? This is what faith is all about. It takes no faith to praise God covered in blessing. We only need faith in the absence of blessing. But it is the amount of faith we have that determines what blessings we can handle.
If I only praise God when things are good, then I will respond to God not with love, but with a demand to do what I want. In this case, I am God and God becomes my servant. There is no salvation in this mindset. To ensure that I have faith in Him as God, I must live in dependence on Him, leaning on Him as the giver of every good and perfect thing. Dependence however is born out of lack. Without seasons lacking in goodness, I will diminish God to my personal slave. But in hard times, I am forced with the decision to really believe or truly doubt. The moment I choose to keep responding to God as if He really is God is the moment my faith increases. I choose to believe what He says more than what I see.
Depression is overcome when I understand that blessings do not flow into me from my environment but out of me from my faith. Depression requires a change of mindset.
Is Depression a Sin?
Depression is the sadness evolving from patterns of thought which do not reflect the existence of God as we know Him through Scripture. We usually define sin as a willful violation of the known will of God. Depression is sinful in that it is keeping you from rejoicing always as the Lord has commanded, but it is different in that we don’t choose to be depressed. The word for this in Scripture, which is often translated into the word ‘sin,’ is ‘iniquity.’ Often in the King James Version, this word is used. David, in Psalm 51 said, “Wash away all my iniquity.” Iniquity is unchosen sinful thoughts that lead to unchosen behavior. So we are doing what God has commanded us not to do, but it is not a choice. In fact, we would give anything to have the power to stop doing what we are doing.
Depression is the emotional state developed because of spiritual cognitive distortions. Cognitive distortions are habitual patterns of thinking that are not accurate with a negative outlook. But often, depression is caused by things that are very true and very real. When I say depression is a spiritually cognitive distortion, I am referring to a blindness to the unseen reality of things. Let me give you an example.
In Scripture, the prophet Elijah kept receiving word from the Lord that he relayed to Israel’s king that allowed them to know exactly where the enemy was going to attack. Every attack was thwarted. The opposing king was so angry when he found out that Elijah was messing everything up that he took a huge army to Elijah’s home to kill him. Elijah’s assistant walked out of the door to see their home surrounded by this army and he was scared out of his mind. But then watch what happened:
2 Kings 6:15-17
15 When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?” the servant asked.
16 “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”
17 And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, LORD, so that he may see.” Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (NIV)
As Christians, we are taught there is an unseen reality as God works above our circumstances. We can’t see this realm, but we have faith it is there. To think that all is lost is to ignore the unseen reality of God’s chariots of fire coming to our rescue.
Depression nevertheless is something we want to confess to the Lord. Confession is simply the acknowledgment that we are struggling and need the Lord to help us. It is our commitment to get better, to change our thought patterns, to increase our faith. And when we make this commitment, the Lord honors our faith and gives us the strength we need to have faith in the unseen reality of God even when all we can see with our human vision is darkness and trouble.
The Bible says God covers Himself in darkness, but it also says He is the Light. So, which is it? The answer is that it is both. God understands like a good father that raising a good son or daughter requires both reward and discipline. Discipline is found in the dark times of life, but God is still in the dark. He is still working for our good. It is just that at that moment what we need to move our us toward a more blessed existence is a little bit (or a lot) of darkness. But don’t think for a minute that God has abandoned you.
How Do I Overcome Depression?
Depression is what occurs because of spiritual cognitive distortions, or a lack of faith that God will do what He has promised. Increased faith, however, does not turn to joy. Increased faith must first bring us to a place of peace. We must trust that the Lord has us in His hand and find peace knowing that even if He allows some hard times, He will not leave us there. He will lead us all the way through the valley of the shadow of death into the green pastures and still waters (Psalm 23).
The path to peace first begins with an understanding that what we feel may not reflect the true status of the moment because we are blind to the unseen reality of God. What we may feel can cause us to believe that what we see is all there is, but the fact is that there is more to our situation than what is visible, there is more than what we know or understand. God is everywhere all the time.
The path to overcoming depression must first come to a place of peace. So how do we find peace?
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (NIV)
It may seem empty to say rejoice in the Lord when it seems the problem is the inability to rejoice. But we are not commanded to feel joyful here, but to rejoice. There is a difference. To rejoice is to go back in your mind and find some things that God has done in your life. If you are having a hard time finding anything good, keep looking. Ask someone else to help you. Don’t make a list of good and bad at the same time. That’s not rejoicing. To rejoice, force yourself to be thankful for what good things God has done. Maybe the only thing you can come up with is that He gave you life now and died on the cross so you can enjoy Heaven later. If that’s all you got, it’s still big. Don’t let how you feel keep you from saying the words. Keep saying them. Learn to give thanks for every good thing you see.
Be gentle. If you want to overcome depression, you cannot allow how you feel to dictate how you act around other people. Often, depression will make us withdrawn, snarky, or just in a bad mood. Gentleness means to be mild in manner, appropriate in response, and fair-minded. Depression can cause negative behavior towards someone who doesn’t deserve it. You are just in a bad mood. Well, again, force yourself to not be this way even if you feel it.
It may seem like I am asking you to be fake at this point, but that’s not it. I am asking you to obey God instead of your own emotions. Who is your God? Are you God or is He God? Your behavior will answer that question.
The next step is prayer. Prayer is a conversation with God. The Holy Spirit is our comforter, but we encounter the Holy Spirit when we go to God even if we are just telling Him how we feel. When Elijah told God that he felt alone and abandoned by God, God responded by letting him take a nap, then sending an angel with a hot meal. I am not promising you steak and potatoes, but what I am saying is that God will meet you in prayer and His goal is to comfort you in your pain. Cry out to Him and let Him meet you in prayer.
We are supposed to pray with thanksgiving. So after, you have confessed your sadness, your negativity, your depression, remember the good things God has done and let those memories remind you that God has brought you through hard times before. Remember that there are lessons necessary for future blessings that can only be learned in the dark so give thanks even for the darkness. Give God thanks for trying to teach you something that will benefit you later and even benefits your children and their children. Give thanks. If you pray, this is good, but you must move in your prayer to a place of giving thanks. Again, it is not what you feel, but what you do. You may feel depressed but give thanks anyway.
God’s promise in Philippians for those who practice this behavior is to release supernatural power from Heaven to bring a type of peace that should not be present according to the visible situation. It is a peace based on the unseen reality. It is a peace based on the faith that God will keep His promises. God will remove the spirit of despair and dress you in a transcendent gown of peace even though nothing you can see or know has changed. But your faith has increased, and your vision has shifted.
Should A Christian Take Medication for Depression?
Many Christians, pastors, and teachers are against medication. I am not. I believe the Biblical approach to overcoming depression requires us to be able to think clearly. We must be able to take captive our thoughts and force them in obedience to the truth of God taking into account the unseen reality of work God is doing on our behalf. Gaining control of our thoughts can be difficult when the emotions run too hot. There is a place when the emotional struggle of depression prohibits a person from having the ability to take captive their thoughts and focus on God’s truth. When it gets to this point, I believe it is a place for medication. Never take depression medication or any other medication without consulting your physician. You may need an appointment with a Christian psychiatrist to get a prescription.
It is true that many people are over-medicated. However, a Christian psychiatrist will help you to find the balance you need. But the medication must also work together with Christian counseling. Medication without counseling will not end well. To overcome behavior, we need to learn the psychology of the behavior and find interventions to curb and finally stop the behavior. When combined with regular Christian counseling, along with the pattern given to us from Scripture I have already shared, the medication will more than likely be a temporary help to think clearly so you can comprehend the principles being taught in counseling.
How to Take Captive Your Thoughts?
If you have been in church or listened to any sermons at all, you know how you should think, but actually forcing your mind away from traumatic and overwhelming thoughts combined with powerful emotions can be daunting. I want to walk you through the principle of taking captive your thoughts. First, I want you to see where this principle comes from:
2 Corinthians 10:3-5
For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (NIV)
Depression is a battle. It is a battle of the mind. We are fighting for the peace Christ has given to us. He has given us this gift, but like a purse snatcher, the enemy comes in and tries to steal what God has given. We have to fight to get it back. This passage of Scripture says we have been given the weapon to demolish strongholds. What is a stronghold? If you were in my office and trying to leave and I reached out and grabbed your shirt so you couldn’t leave, that is a stronghold. An emotional, mental, or spiritual stronghold is something that is keeping us from where we want to be in our spirit. It keeps us from the gifts God has given. But we have a divine weapon.
This Scripture says that we demolish arguments and pretensions. In other words, our divine weapon is our ability to take captive our thoughts and refuse to allow anything that sets itself up against the truth of God to remain in our mind. But how do we do this? Let’s take a look at this passage from the book of James:
3 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4 Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. 5 Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. (NIV)
Talking, using our words forces our minds to move in a different direction. Like the rudder of a ship, your words will move your heart, mind, and soul. When you are experiencing the hopelessness of depression, go through the process we discussed from Philippians above, but do it out loud. Use your words. Move your tongue.
When we speak, it forces our minds to focus. When we don’t speak, our mind is able to entertain many thoughts at once. Often Christians just keep telling themselves to stop thinking about the negativity in their life. But this is not enough. You must also consider the unseen reality of God and His promises and verbally remind yourself of the truth according to Scripture and the promises of God.
When we use our tongue, it forces the thoughts from one side of our brain to the other side which is not as emotional. The tongue literally forces us to move to the other side of our brain in our thoughts. This side of the brain is more analytical and not emotional which also gives us a greater ability to ponder the promises of God and apply them to our situation.
Depression is not easy. Don’t get frustrated if you begin to do these things and you continue to struggle. Remember the Bible says not to despise a small beginning and God finishes what He starts. So hang in there. Be consistent. It will be difficult at first and seem like nothing is happening. But the Word of God does not return void. If you follow these Biblical principles, you will come out of it and the Lord will help you before you know it.