How would you respond if a doctor diagnosed you with cancer? Or your boss tells you that you are laid off? Or you receive a phone call informing you of a loved one’s death? Or your spouse files for divorce? Or you get into a car accident and become a paraplegic? Or the girl you like dismisses your advances? Or you are passed over to attain a promotion at work?
A second cause of depression—besides unconfessed guilt—is responding poorly to a difficult circumstance. When a person faces hardship, he has a choice. Either respond by obeying God or sin through doubt, self-pity, and anger. Wayne Mack clarifies the situation, “Depression is caused by a person’s response to an event in their life, not the event itself.” Circumstances do not force a person to become depressed. Instead, a person reacts to the circumstances by actively choosing to be depressed.
Let’s look at two Biblical examples. In Numbers 11, Moses faced a rebellion. The Israelites complained about their circumstances. God had delivered them from Egypt. Now they were in the desert in preparation to go into the Promised Land. Yet, they showed their ungrateful hearts by whining over their lack of meat. How did Moses respond to this situation? He became burdened and depressed. He said in verse 14, “I am not able to carry all this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me.” He proceeded to ask God to kill him if his circumstances did not change.
Jeremiah, the prophet, illustrates our second example. After being beaten up by Pashhur the priest and put in the stocks, he felt defeated. He accused God of deceiving him (Jer. 20:7-8) by commanding him to preach the Word among people who mocked him. Jeremiah, therefore, cursed his birth and its announcement. He wished that God would have killed him in the womb in order to avoid the present humiliation (Jer. 20:17).
Why did Moses and Jeremiah choose depression? First, they disobeyed God’s command to “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice” (Phil. 4:4). Rejoicing does not mean the absence of sadness and sorrow in our lives. But it means to have a thankful attitude which praises God even in difficulty. Second, both men believed a lie. They acted as if this world should be without trials. Nevertheless, 1 Peter 1:6 says, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials.” All people will face trials, but in Christ we can rejoice during them. Third, the prophets believed that their happiness was based upon their circumstances. Paul, however, writes, “For I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Phil. 4:11). Through Christ, a person can face adversities and choose to respond in obedience to God and not by becoming depressed.
Some of you may be thinking, “Why would a person choose depression when it is so depressing?” Pride is the answer. When a person responds to a cancer diagnosis, loss of job, or rejection with self-pity, it is the fruit of pride not humility. Subtly the person thinks that he is entitled to better circumstances. God has given him a raw deal. He can only be happy if his situation changes. Philippians 2:3 and Colossians 3:12 teach the opposite. Christians are commanded to put off pride and put on humility—seeing ourselves as God sees us.
Let’s use cancer as an example. A person who is obedient to God will think in this way after receiving the diagnosis. “This is hard to hear. I am tempted to be afraid, anxious, and depressed, but by God’s grace I will choose to obey Him. I will meditate on His truth. What do I deserve? As a sinner, I deserve nothing. God does not owe me one day on earth, let alone 55 years. I deserve His wrath for my sins. I have earned damnation in hell. Despite my rebellion, God gave me mercy through Jesus Christ’s death on the cross. I have eternal life in Him. I can, therefore, rejoice in the forgiveness of sins. I can look forward to heaven if I die. I can entrust my family to my sovereign Lord. I can glorify God through this trial by rejoicing in His goodness to me.”
Ultimately, devastating circumstances reveal whom we worship. If you worship self, money, comfort, your family, or health, then you may react to the removal of one of these things by becoming depressed. On the contrary, if you “walk through the valley of the shadow of death” and rejoice in the Lord, it will reveal your faith in Jesus Christ.
For example, Job was a man who lost everything—money, livestock, and his children. Upon hearing the excruciating news, he worshiped God. “And he said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord’” (Job 1:21).
Only the eternal promises of God, salvation, forgiveness, reconciliation, resurrection, and dwelling with the Lord, can bring enduring hope amid trials. Friend, if you are facing hardships, do not choose depression. Instead, believe in the hope found in Jesus Christ. Humble yourself before God, admit your sin, and trust in the One who died in agony on the cross in order to give everlasting hope to sinners.
Next week, we will cover the third cause of depression.
Pastor Brandon was born and raised near Springfield, IL. He graduated from Illinois College in 2007 with a B.A. in History, from Moody Theological Seminary in 2010 with a Master of Divinity, and a PhD in Historical Theology in 2021 from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City. He is also an ACBC certified Biblical counselor. He is married to Karise with whom they raise Ian, Elizabeth, and Patrick. He is interested in history, especially Charles Spurgeon, and has a heart for street preaching and evangelism.