For many, Christmas is the best of times, but for some, it is the worse of times. The holiday dinner table can be a reminder of loss. It may be the first Christmas without a grandparent, spouse, parent, or child. This event death has changed the jovial traditions into a piercing hot rod iron of pain. Another family must deal with the anguish and grief from a divorce. The kids must be shuttled to different gatherings while the ex-spouses are filled with loneliness. Meanwhile, some families struggle to buy gifts for the little ones. The expectations for a joyful Christmas can suddenly smash into a million pieces of despair. Consequently, a person responds to his circumstances by becoming depressed.
Depression has many synonyms: the blues, being down, poor mental health, or sadness. Generally, depression can be spotted on a person. His affect is lifeless. He has problems sleeping at night, finding motivation to work, and seeing the purpose to life. Weight gain or loss may be a sign of eating too much or too little. He may feel sad and anxious all the time. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 out of 6 adults experience depression at some point in their lives, and 16 million are diagnosed as depressed each year.
Due to the pervasiveness of depression, we will spend the month of December analyzing it from a biblical perspective. As we examine the subject, I will base my discussion on two presuppositions. First, man is composed of a body and a soul. James 2:26 says, “as the body apart from the spirit is dead.” James teaches that man is more than material matter. He also has a spirit with desires and thoughts. Hence, if we are going to treat depression, a person must have their body and soul examined. Dr. Bob Smith—a medical doctor and biblical counselor—estimates that only 10 to 20 percent of cases of depression are caused by a physical issue. The most common, of course, is postpartum depression. Just as we go to a medical doctor and not a pastor for a broken arm, depression caused by documented physical ailments should be treated medically. Unfortunately, in many treatment options, professionals are treating depressed individuals as if they are composed of a body alone. Their philosophy assumes a materialistic worldview which does not account for God.
Second, our study will assume that there is only one God. He has revealed Himself in the Bible. The triune God created man (Gen. 1:26-27). He, therefore, knows what man needs in order to be spiritually healthy and has given us perfect instructions for living holy lives. Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” Hence, God’s Word is true and trustworthy since God is true and trustworthy. It is sufficient for our lives, because it equips us “for every good work.”
If the Bible is our all-sufficient guide, does it give examples of depression? The answer is yes. In Wayne Mack’s book, “Out of the Blues,” he gives three categories of depression based upon the Bible. First, a person may have mild depression. He becomes discouraged or disappointed with circumstances. Ecclesiastes 3:4 says there is “a time to weep, and a time to laugh.” Second, a person may experience moderate depression due to wrongly submitting to feelings that are a result of guilt, grief, or wrong thinking. In Psalm 73, Asaph became overwhelmed with grief, because he lost sight of God’s promises. He saw the wicked enjoying life without facing judgment. He writes, “my feet had almost slipped…for I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked” (Ps. 73:2-3). Asaph thought that his commitment to God was in vain. Hence, he chose to be filled with despair. He later overcame his depression by contemplating the promises of God. He “went into the sanctuary of God” and “discerned their end” (Ps. 73:17). By remembering God’s promise—that the wicked will be condemned to hell and believers will have eternal life—Asaph went from sulking to rejoicing in the Lord. What changed? His mind meditated on the promises of God, and he believed them. We will cover the third category, severe depression, next week.
If you are experiencing depression, I want to encourage you with hope. It may feel like it will never end. You may wonder why you should continue to live. You probably have gone to see different counselors, but it has not helped. I have good news for you. The sovereign Lord of the universe who knit you together in your mother’s womb has the answers. This same God empowered Paul to rejoice despite facing sleepless nights, hunger, poverty, and thirty-nine lashes on five separate occasions. Even though he faced great hardship, he could say, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Cor. 4:8-9).
If you are a Christian, the same Holy Spirit who empowered Paul to continue without despair is in you. Through God’s Word, you can be changed. If you are not a believer, Jesus offers transformation to all who confess their sins against God and put their trust in Him as Savior and Lord. You, too, can have your mourning be turned to joy through the power of the gospel.
Brandon was born and raised near Springfield, IL. He graduated from Illinois College in 2007 with a B.A. in History and from Moody Theological Seminary in 2010 with a Master of Divinity. He is a PhD student in Historical Theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City and an ACBC certified Biblical counselor. In April 2016 Brandon accepted the call to pastor at Faith Baptist. He loves history and reading and has a heart for street preaching and evangelism.