The Christian and Depression

I have never experienced depression, especially not of the clinical variety. Since I have not been through it, and do not fully understand it, I am going to attempt to approach the topic of depression primarily from a theological standpoint.

Someone recently told me that clinical depression is no different from diabetes. It is a sickness. While diabetes is a sickness of the pancreas, depression is a sickness of the mind. And while I completely agree that the brain can malfunction, and that chemicals, hormones, etc., in the brain can dramatically impact our mood and behavior, I am not ready to agree that depression or other mental state “issues” are exactly the same as other biological malfunctions/defects/injuries.

The mind appears to be where the physical and spiritual aspects of our being connect. Undeniably, the wiring of our physical bodies can impact our souls. How exactly our body, soul, and spirit function together in terms of our moods and emotions, the Bible is not entirely clear. But, depression cannot be exactly the same as diabetes, a broken arm, or heart disease because depression is a mood/state the Bible instructs us to overcome. Granted, we are not promised complete healing until we arrive in God’s presence in Heaven. And, granted, God often allows Christians to struggle with issues in order to teach them and spiritually mature them. But, to say that a follower of Jesus Christ can be “helpless” against depression, I can’t go there. God has not left us without weapons, nor has He abandoned us to struggle alone.

A Christian is supposed to be filled with joy (Romans 15:13). Joy is something the Holy Spirit produces in the life of a follower of Jesus Christ (Galatians 5:22; 1 Thessalonians 1:6). Joy is not about effervescent happiness or lightness of mood. Many people I know who struggle with depression also demonstrate joy in their lives. They are intentional about gratitude and focusing on uplifting things (Philippians 4:8). They are battling their depression not only with medication and counseling, but with the power of God. To say a Christian is “helpless” against depression is to say that a mental state is greater than the power of God. It is to accept defeat. Christians have been equipped to fight depression, just as they have been equipped to fight against other tendencies which also seem to sometimes have a biological root, such as anger or lust.

Am I saying that Christians battling depression should go off their meds? Absolutely not. Am I saying that Christians fighting against clinical depression are sinning or somehow being “lesser” Christians or just don’t have enough faith? Nope. Am I saying that the war against depression can always be absolutely and permanently won? No. What I am saying is this — a Christian and depression should be at war. It should be a battle. There should be no surrendering to something that the Bible instructs us to, by the power of the Holy Spirit, overcome.

There are many spiritual issues that, if left unaddressed, can pull a person into depression. For instance: Do you have unbiblical beliefs about yourself and/or your relationship with God? Are there things in your life that have damaged you that you have not fully dealt with? Are you harboring unforgiveness and bitterness in your life? Are there things you did in your past for which you feel guilty? All these things can contribute to a Christian feeling depressed. Deal with them, biblically. Seek solid biblically based counsel. Ask God to transform your mind (Romans 12:2) and help you to think biblically about the things that have happened and are happening in your life.

Now, I am not saying that fighting depression spiritually will necessarily free you from depression. But, it can’t hurt. And, if the potential spiritual causes of depression are dealt with, you will be more empowered to deal with any biological causes that exist. And vice versa. What I am saying is that, for a Christian, the spiritual aspect of depression must be part of the formula for how depression is dealt with.

This is such a difficult issue because, undeniably, depression can have either a spiritual cause or a biological cause, or a combination of both. From what I can tell, even the psychological community is divided about the biological causes and “cures” for depression. It is usually very difficult to diagnose the root cause. And, clearly, it can be a very difficult battle to win.

If you are a Christian who is struggling with depression, my advice for you is this — fight it! Examine yourself to see if there are any unbiblical and ungodly beliefs that may be causing it. Understand who you are in Christ and allow the power of the Holy Spirit to transform and renew your mind. Seek counsel from other Christians. And, do not neglect the possibility of a biological/clinical cause/role in the depression. If there is genuinely something biologically wrong with you that is causing the depression, there is absolutely nothing wrong with trying some of the medical helps that have been developed.

Fight it! Fight it spiritually. Fight it medically. Fight it prayerfully. Fight it biblically.

S. Michael Houdmann

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The Christian and Depression