Depression is a loaded word carrying a variety of definitions. Many people—incorrectly—use the term “depression” interchangeably with fleeting sadness. An example of “depression” being incorrectly applied would be, “I was super depressed that we lost the game this week! I guess there’s always next week.”
For depression to be deemed a clinical condition, feelings of sadness and hopelessness—among other symptoms—must persist for a minimum of two weeks before filling the definition of “depression” set by the American Psychiatric Association. Sometimes, regardless of the reasons, depression can also be accompanied by self-harm and suicidal ideation.
As Christians, we are often reminded by our communities to “rejoice in the Lord” (Philippians 4:4). Even in times of hardship, the Bible talks about being joyful (James 1:2-4). But how does that “joy” look to the sufferer of depression? Is being depressed a sinful act of being disobedient to commandments of joy? Here is where a lot of confusion comes in for the Christian sufferer of depression who is desperately trying to find a biblical way of coping.
One of the beautiful things about the Bible is that it’s not a mechanical rulebook, yelling at us when we've messed up or kicking us when we’re down (or depressed). It is a collection of stories. Stories that speak of people living and growing then failing and recovering. The stories of the Bible are stories of redemption and grace.
1 Thessalonians 5:14 says, “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.” The Apostle Paul is addressing multiple types of believers and multiple ways to love them and help them grow in their faith. Paul acknowledges the fainthearted with kindness. While he goes on to remind us to embrace joy, he treats all emotional struggles with a balm of patience and compassion. Paul realizes that the pursuit of joy may present different obstacles for different people.
We won't find the term “clinical depression” in the Bible, but there are many examples of people who suffered from symptoms that match today’s modern definition of clinical depression. Both Moses (Numbers 11:15) and Elijah (1 Kings 19:3–5), two of our "heroes" of the faith, cried out to God that they would rather die than live. God did not rebuke them for their feelings; rather, He offered His deep love and supernatural provision. Many believers throughout church history have suffered from depression, such as Martin Luther and Charles Spurgeon.
Some of the people we read about in the Bible and in more recent church history recovered from their depression while others did not. Some had suffered from depression brought upon by traumatic circumstances, others by spiritual oppression, and yet others may have had chemical imbalances in the brain that had yet been discovered. Depression has no "blanket" cause or effect, nor are there any guarantees about "getting better."
The Bible doesn’t condemn mental health issues, but it does hold us accountable to taking care of ourselves. While the context of Paul’s reminder that our bodies “are a temple” is referring to fleeing sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 16:19-20), it’s a vivid reminder of our responsibility to care for the body God gave us. But as often is the case with a depression sufferer, sometimes we simply can’t take care of ourselves—not by ourselves anyway.
Regardless of the cause of depression, there is help available. While God doesn’t promise to heal us of our struggles with depression, He does promise not to leave us (Hebrews 13:5) and that He will strengthen us (Philippians 4:13).
Additionally, just like having an unknown ailment diagnosed or having a broken leg set, skilled doctors are there to provide wisdom and diagnosis. If you find yourself suffering from depression or any other mental health ailment, there is no shame in seeking medical help. Sometimes, like being given antibiotics or vitamins, one suffering from depression might need medication to help the brain heal or supplement a chemical they’re not making correctly. It's OK to need spiritual and mental health doctors, counselors, and psychologists.
There is nothing sinful about being sad or depressed or worn down by the world (Romans 8:20-22; Genesis 3:14-19). We all get upset and frustrated about life from time to time. There is nothing sinful about being born with or developing a chemical imbalance in your brain. There is nothing sinful about some of your body parts—like your brain—not functioning as they were intended to.
If you believe you or a loved one is struggling with depression, please seek help right away. Talk to God. Talk to them. Talk to their parents, especially if they have mentioned suicide. Seek counseling and the wisdom of doctors. There is always hope (John 10:10).
No matter the struggles we are dealing with, whether they are spiritual, physical, emotional, or any combination, we’re reminded in Philippians 4:6, “...in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Biblically, we are reminded, repeatedly, that God is listening, and that He is always willing to give us exactly what we need.
Clinical depression is defined as feelings of sadness and hopelessness—among other symptoms—that persist for a minimum of two weeks (American Psychiatric Association). We won't find the term “clinical depression” in the Bible, but there are many examples of people who suffered from symptoms of today’s modern definition. God did not rebuke them for their feelings; rather, He offered His deep love and supernatural provision. He can do the same for you (Philippians 4:6). The Bible doesn’t condemn mental health issues, but it does hold us responsible for responding to our symptoms in a godly manner—that is, seeking help, wisdom, and medical attention if necessary.
September is an aspiring novelist, book
hoarder collector and movie watcher. She has an incredibly tolerant cat named Scout, an assortment of plants that seek global domination, and a distinct lack of awareness for where she is at any given moment.