Why do some Christians feel worthless and useless? Why do they feel like a failure? Why are they disappointed in their lot in life? Why do they choose depression when they feel unsuccessful?
In the previous articles, I discussed two of the three causes of depression—unconfessed guilt and a wrong response to difficult circumstances. In this last column, we will examine the third cause.
Individuals will choose depression if they have unbiblical values or standards of success. The media is ubiquitous. Between social media, radio, television, and online streaming services, consumers are being bombarded with a value system. These platforms generally define success as being educated, beautiful, youthful, talented, wealthy, and well-liked. Hence, many people are subconsciously comparing themselves to this standard.
Here are some examples. A college student becomes, depressed because he has been rejected into medical school due to his grades. Another student becomes bulimic, because she does not think she is thin enough to be beautiful. A retired resident of a nursing home thinks she is worthless, because she is old and weak. A parent is grieved, because his son is not talented enough to play professional baseball. A construction worker is in despair, because he cannot provide a spacious house and new cars for his family. A woman is in dismay, because her colleagues at work have not accepted her as a part of the group.
In 1 John 2:15-16, God warns us to renounce the world’s standards for success. “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.” God admonishes us to flee from this value system. We should not love it, adopt it, or compare ourselves to it. The desires of the flesh, eyes, and pride of life will not bring success in God’s eyes. On the contrary, they will lead to the destruction of our souls. Ironically, many Christians choose depression, because they have not attained something which God deems toxic for their spiritual wellbeing.
If you have fallen into the world’s trap, how should you respond? First, seek God and communicate with Him by prayer. When David had depression in Psalm 42, he said, “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” Therefore, you should seek God by opening up His Word. God has revealed Himself and His will in the Bible. Crack open your copy and thirst for its quenching effect.
Second, you must believe in the facts and not in your feelings. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick.” We cannot trust our feelings, because they will blind us to the truth. We must believe the truth of the Scriptures. What does the Bible teach as the barometer of success? What should our goal be? 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” A person glorifies God by trusting Him, worshiping Him, and obeying Him. This is God’s definition of success.
Third, you must actively preach God’s truth to yourself instead of passively listening to your feelings. Once you know the truth, you must meditate upon it. Paul tells us that God has given a “way of escape” for every temptation (1 Cor. 10:13). When you are tempted to covet your neighbor’s success and feel like a failure, remind yourself of 1 Corinthians 10:31. Meditate on ways to glorify God. This activity is a part of the process of having your mind renewed into conformity with the Bible and not the world.
Fourth, you must believe that there is hope. Wayne Mack enumerates the four lies which rob us of transformation. Individuals believe that their experience is unique, God is not faithful to them, God will test them beyond their ability, and there is no hope. Romans 15:13 reveals God’s power to give hope to the depressed. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”
Fifth, you must have an eternal perspective and not a temporal one. Paul commands us “to set our minds on the things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” When a person becomes depressed, he has forgotten the eternal promises of God. If you are a Christian, you have everlasting hope. Revelation 21:4 says about the eternal state, “He [God] will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” By contemplating this future joy, one cannot stay depressed.
Friend, if you are depressed, there is always hope with God. There, however, is not hope outside of God. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn. 14:6). A man can only have peace with God and eternal hope for the present and the future in Him. If you are not a Christian, trust God and not yourself. Believe in His promise of salvation by faith in Jesus and through repentance of your sins. All other roads end in despair, but only through Jesus does the destination end in glorious, never-ending hope.
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.
This is the third installment in our series on depression. In the previous two articles, I looked at biblical examples of mild, moderate, and severe depression. Now, we will examine the first of three reasons why people get depressed.
The first cause of depression is unconfessed sin. What is sin? The Apostle John writes, “sin is lawlessness” (1 Jn 3:4). God has a perfect holy standard. It is summarized in The Ten Commandments. When we break one of the commandments—lying for example—then we are lawbreakers. We have sinned. When a person does not confess the sin, despite the guilt on their conscience, it can lead to more sinful responses which results in depression.
Here are two examples from the Bible. First, King David—the man after God’s own heart—committed a trifecta of sins. He had an affair with Bathsheba, had her husband killed in battle, and covered it up from the nation. For several months, David lived without confessing his evil deeds. God eventually used the prophet Nathan to expose David’s iniquity. The king wrote Psalm 32 in the aftermath. Verses 3 and 4 describe his depression: “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.” David felt the burden of his unconfessed sin. Instead of responding with repentance, he continued to have a hard heart and lived in a depressed state.
Our second example comes from the book of Jonah. God commanded Jonah to go preach a message of judgment to Nineveh. Jonah rebelled by fleeing on a ship in the opposite direction. God shook the ship with a storm, so the sailors threw Jonah overboard. God rescued him through the belly of a big fish. Jonah repented and preached a message of judgment if the people did not repent. The people responded with revival and begged for God’s mercy. How did Jonah respond? He became angry and asked God to kill him. Why? He did not want God to show mercy and forgiveness to the Assyrians. He, therefore, reacted to God’s free grace by choosing to become depressed.
What unconfessed sins do people commit today? A man commits adultery while on a business trip and does not tell his wife. A woman embezzles money from her employer. A young man becomes addicted to pornography. A young woman joins the sex industry to make more money. A middle-age, able-bodied man chooses to stay at home and not work and defaults on his child care payments. A family skips church Sunday after Sunday to worship Jr’s baseball career. Another family has thousands of dollars of credit card debt and car payments, because they worship material possessions and their peers’ approval. The recipe for unconfessed sin is never ending.
How should a person respond? The depressed person must repent of his sin and seek forgiveness in Jesus Christ. After Nathan confronted the king, David confessed his sins. He wrote, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me” (Ps. 51:3). He acknowledged his sin before God. David had transgressed God’s law and had hurt Bathsheba, her husband, and the nation. He then believed the promises of God for forgiveness. He said, “Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Ps. 51:7). In Psalm 103:12, David taught about God’s abundant forgiveness, “As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.”
Final and complete forgiveness can only be found in Christ. Ephesians 1:7 says, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.” Only through confessing Christ as Savior and Lord can you find complete cleansing. Many people try to earn salvation through faith and religious deeds. However, this will lead to a greater burden and no salvation. Jesus died on the cross and said, “It is finished.” If you confess your sins to Him, you will have eternal life and be cleansed.
After being reconciled to God through the Son, a person must replace his sinful habits with godly ones. Ephesians 4:22-24 gives three action steps. First, put off the old self. If you are a habitual liar, then stop lying. Second, renew your mind according to God’s Word. Study what God has to say about liars, their punishment, and his hatred for it. Third, put on the new self. Replace the sinful habit of lying by telling the truth.
Friend, if you are depressed, there is still hope. Paul wrote in Romans 15:4, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” Hope is found in the Word of God. Changing your circumstances, a magic pill, or death will not bring relief. If you are still breathing, then you have hope today. It is found in Jesus Christ, the Word of God who became flesh, so that we who are sinners could have eternal, unfading hope.
Next week, we will examine the second cause of depression.
Last week’s article gave introductory comments on the issue of depression from a biblical perspective. It covered two of the three categories of depression—mild and moderate. In this edition, we will examine the third category which is severe depression.
What is it? Unlike the first two categories, severe depression is a consuming, ongoing habit. A person started out in mild or moderate depression, but he continued to spiral downward into the abyss of darkness. These individuals lack motivation, happiness, and a will to live. In the most desperate of circumstances, a person may even consider suicide. Usually a severely depressed person can be spotted in the crowd. He has poor posture and a gloomy disposition. His body language screams depression.
Does the Bible give any examples of severe depression? Yes, it does. King David experienced this condition in Psalms 32 and 38, but we will study a third instance in 1 Kings 19. In the previous chapter of 1 Kings, the Lord had granted the prophet Elijah victory over the prophets of Baal. On Mt. Carmel, the prophets had a duel. First, the prophets of Baal tried to sacrifice a bull on the altar. They kept calling upon their gods to strike the offering with fire, but nothing happened. Elijah, then, set up a burnt offering. He called for the prophets to douse the wood and the burnt offering four times with water. In 1 Kings 18:38, God responded to Elijah’s prayer, “Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust and licked up the water that was in the trench.” Afterwards the people killed all of the prophets of Baal.
Despite this great victory, Elijah’s mood quickly turned from joy to despair. Why? King Ahab’s wife, Jezebel, sent a messenger who threatened Elijah’s life for his role in the Mt. Carmel incident. Elijah responded with fear, self-pity, and depression. He cried out to God, “‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers’” (1 Kings 19:4). Elijah’s fear snowballed into hopelessness. He would rather die than live.
What was Elijah thinking? How did he come to this conclusion? Elijah spoke to the Lord. “‘For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.’” (1 Kings 19:10, 14). Twice Elijah explains his thoughts. Israel has forsaken God by worshiping false idols. Elijah has served the Lord, but to no avail. He sees his situation as hopeless. He is the only one in Israel who worships the true God; however, the king’s wife is trying to kill him. As a result, he has given up.
God’s response to Elijah reveals that his perception of his circumstances does not match reality. God said, “‘Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him’” (1 Kings 19:18). Elijah thought that he was the only true worshiper left in Israel. He, therefore, reacted by becoming depressed. Yet, God tells Elijah that He has 7,000 worshipers who have not bowed down to the false god Baal. Elijah is not alone. Instead, God had preserved a whole army of worshipers.
This narrative illustrates two common problems with a person who is severely depressed. First, he trusts his feelings over the truth of Scripture. Wayne Mack writes in his book, “Out of the Blues,” “Depressed people are often controlled by their feelings and tend to practice ‘emotional reasoning;’ that is, they consider their personal feelings to be accurate and valid above all else.”
What is wrong with trusting your feelings? Your feelings are not perfect and without error. In fact, the Bible says that our hearts are “desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:9). As finite fallen creatures, our feelings are tainted with sin and cannot be trusted. We must look to the Bible as the inerrant truth. When our feelings conflict with the Bible, we must obey the Bible and not our feelings. Elijah used his feelings as an excuse to not fulfill his responsibilities as a prophet. His response was not one of obedience but sin.
Second, Elijah did not trust in the sovereignty of God. He acted as if God was not in control. Wayne Mack posits, “Severely depressed people may say they believe in God’s control over their life and circumstances, but they do not really believe it.” Elijah’s fear and anxiety came from unbelief. He did not believe that God was in control of Ahab’s wife and could protect him from death. He also did not believe that martyrdom would be eternally good for him.
If you are a depressed Christian, you have great hope. Romans 8:28-29 says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good…to be conformed to the image of his Son.” As a believer, God makes all things work for your good. All includes every minute detail of your life. God is sovereign over your health, job, children, finances, and even the number of your days. He even controls the slow driver on Baltimore St going 25 mph.
Moreover, God has a purpose in it. He is using circumstances to mold you into the “image of his Son.” By the power of the Holy Spirit, God uses trials to bear righteous fruit. This is why death, sorrow, and pain are good for a believer. Christian, you must believe that God knows better how to run your life than you do.
If you are not a Christian, you do not have this hope. Yet, it is offered to you. If you repent of your sins and trust in Christ, you will have eternal life. You, too, can find peace “in the hope of the gospel” (Col. 1:23).
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.