I had a great and stimulating conversation with my chiropractor today. That’s not unusual, it seems we normally do. Today however was greater than other times. I think it had to do with the topic. He’s not a church guy and has been clear on the fact that he’s not a Christian. However, he likes to discuss a wide range of subjects whenever I go in, topics such as politics, finances, family and even spirituality.
I’m praying that he will discover Jesus through all our ‘chats’. Today he asked me what my blog topic was about and so of course I told him it was about whether or not it is a sin to be depressed. He asked me if that’s a real question among Christians, and when I assured him that yes it was, he stopped what he was doing, looked at me for a moment, and then asked, “Isn’t that what faith is about”? He’s much closer to knowing Jesus than he knows.
So, is it a sin to be depressed? Does being depressed mean that somehow there is something wrong with our faith? Depression is somewhat of a charged issue among disciples of Jesus. Some flatly declare it to be a sin. The thinking is that depression reveals a lack of faith in God’s promises, or that God would never allow a Spirit filled – Spirit led believer to fall into a state of depression. Some will even say that it is God’s judgment on sinful behaviour, or the depressed individual has done something to invite spiritual oppression.
Some others will claim that that it’s just laziness, because – as the thinking goes – we know that God is good and loving and that we are secure in him, so what is there to be depressed about? We hear things like, “Stiff upper lip and get on with life.”or “Tough it out.”Not really helpful.
Then there are those who declare depression to be nothing more than a medical condition, a result of chemical imbalances in the brain. In other words, depression is really no more wrong than having the flu.
Several others (probably most Christians), aren’t really sure what this ugly beast of depression is. Faith seems somewhat related, but so do brain chemicals. Caught in all of this is the depressed Christian, left to feel guilty, defensive, confused, lost, or simply too depressed to even care what the church thinks. So, is it a sin to be depressed?
To begin to answer that question, I believe it is helpful and I’ll admit encouraging to know that there are many examples of biblical champions struggling with sadness, even to the point of depression. David wrote, “Record my misery; list my tears on your scroll – are they not in your record?” – Psalm 56:8.
David, a man after God’s own heart, did not gloss over his sadness; he expressed it to God. You’ll even find strong heroes of the faith such as Moses and Elijah, confess to God that they preferred to die rather than live in their current reality (Numbers 11:15; 1 Kings 19:3-5).
Interestingly, neither of these men were rebuked by God for their feelings; instead, they all were met with God’s love and provision. Even great church teachers and leaders of the past few centuries were known to suffer from depression, some for most of their lives. Men such as Charles Spurgeon and Martin Luther faced the dark depths of despair at various seasons of life and yet were used greatly by God to further the work of the church. It seems that the Bible isn’t shy about admitting that sadness and finding oneself in a deep funk is part of life, and it is not condemned.
I am not claiming that I am an expert in treating or diagnosing depression. In fact, I wish to emphasize that the purpose of this post today isn’t to definitively define anyone’s condition. I am not about to tell you if your’s or a loved one’s specific case is a result of something clinical, spiritual, physical or a combination of any of those. If you are struggling with depression, allow me encourage you to seek the council of a professional, a pastor who knows you or talk to a close friend. What I am attempting to do is biblically determine whether depression itself is a sin or not.
Truth is, the word depressed is a fairly loose term to begin with. It can refer to a diagnosable medical condition (clinical depression), but it can also refer to a temporary feeling of sadness or apathy or to a nebulous, lingering malaise.
For some people a chemical or hormonal imbalance triggers a depressed state. Having a medical condition is not a sin, however, what brings a person to that condition could berooted in sin. For instance, it is not wrong to have diabetes, but it is wrong to be a glutton (and the two are sometimes related).
Occasionally depression is situational, caused by adverse circumstances such as life changes, a spiritual crisis, etc. Our emotional response to those changes or crises can in turn trigger a chemical imbalance. Knowing that we humans are fearfully and wonderfully made, as the psalmist said in Psalm 139:14, it should come as no surprise then that our biology interacts with our emotions and vice-versa.
Once a person is depressed, the cycle of hormonal imbalance and negative emotions can be difficult to break. Whether the emotions cause the biology to change or the biology causes the emotions to change, the resulting symptoms are the same.
We live in a world of pain where tears of sadness are common. Even Jesus wept when his friend Lazarus died (John 11:35). I think it’s safe to say that there’s no need to always put on a happy face and pretend that things are okay when they are not.
But does that mean then that we are to submit to sadness or depression as the inevitable state? No, we don’t. Even when we’re sad or depressed, disciples are encouraged to see the greater reality of God’s plan. Yes, this world is fallen and often painful. It can be depressing. But God is far greater. He is at work, victoriously.
Moses and Elijah received God’s provision and experienced his refreshing care. Shortly after pouring out his sadness, David praised God. Jesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”– John 16:33
Taking heart does not mean pasting on a smile or ignoring the feeling of emptiness that depression brings. It does not mean neglecting to treat depression through counseling or medication. It does not mean ignoring the relational hurts or the misperceptions that have led to depression (Satan’s lies, if we believe them, will lead us to despair). It does not mean denying the fact that depression could be a lifelong struggle.
What taking heart does mean is bringing all our pain to God. It does mean continuing to trust in him. It does mean believing that what he says about himself and about us is true, even when we don’t feel like it is. It does mean getting the help we need, battling depression rather than giving in to it. We acknowledge the depravity of the world, but we also acknowledge the sufficiency of God.
If you are depressed there are some things you can do to alleviate your anxiety. Make sure that you are staying in the Word, even when you don’t feel like it. Emotions can lead us astray, but God’s Word stands firm and unchanging. Maintain strong faith in God and hold even more tightly to him when you undergo trials and temptations. 1 Corinthians 10:13 tells us that God will never allow temptations into our lives that are too much for us to handle. Do not hide away from people and forsake the fellowshipping with other believers. God knows we need community for encouragement and to be loved on.
Is depression a sin? No, it is not, however know that we are still accountable for the response to the affliction, including getting the professional help that is needed. It is not a sin to be depressed, but it is a sin – and not especially helpful in overcoming a depressed state – to give up on God when we are depressed. “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God” – Psalm 43:5.