Depression – a Biblical view

depressionEveryone has heard the term depression at some point in life. Kids as young as 7 know the term, but what do I mean by the term and what do others mean by the term? So let’s start with a definition.

Definition of Depression

Depression is a persistent mood that is characterized by intense feelings of inadequacy, sadness, hopelessness, pessimism, irritability, apprehension, and decreased interest in or ability to enjoy normal activity. This must be at least two weeks to be diagnosed as clinical depression.

It is important to note that all people at times feel all of these things. Some of us feel them for two weeks or more. Psychology wisely states they must have more than two of these and because of these it makes it difficult or impossible to function in order to be classified as depression.

I am not a psychologist. I don’t want to be a psychologist. I use these words so that we know what we talking about. I am a biblical counselor. I am not minimizing the effects that depression has on someone’s life, nor am I trivializing the cause in any.

Depression is a very serious things and can have devastating effects on a person’s life.

What does the Bible say about depression?

Bible_openFrom a biblical point of view depression is allowing emotions such as sadness, hopelessness, pessimism, irritability, apprehension to control you rather than inform you. We have elevated our feelings to be the most important part of our lives. They control what we think, say and do.

There are some issues that predispose us to despair. Guilt is a big one. Feelings of guilt for something we have done or think we have done sets a firm foundation to build despair on.

Guilt can be a very good thing if it leads to repentance. But left unchecked festers in our hearts. Strong feelings of guilt can lead us into depression.

Lack of purpose in life helps us along the way. Focusing on the hopelessness of a situation (Deuteronomy 1:28-29) helps us to further focus on the down side of things. This leads us one step closer to depression.

Brooding, envy (Psalms 73:2-5) and listening to our hopeless, pessimistic or critical thoughts fans the flames.

Inadequate sleep, financial problems and chronic health issues complete the picture.

We have pity on ourselves. First Kings 19 is a great example of Elijah and what self pity can do to us. We miss the big picture. Pity forces us to focus on the circumstances that are beyond our control. If we remain focused on what we cannot change we end up in depression.

What really causes depression biblically?

None of these in and of themselves causes us to become depressed. It’s what we do with it that leads us down the road to depression.

We all experience circumstances in life that can cause difficulties for us. These difficulties affect our thoughts and emotions. These can also affect our bodies as high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, insomnia, low immune system, sexual dysfunction, dizziness and anxiety.

Some say depression causes an imbalance in the neurotransmitters in our brains (serotonin). Whether this is a cause or a result is still up in the air. There are many medications that are prescribed that seem to have good results in balancing this out.

What leads us into depression is the things we think, feel and do to deal with the circumstances of life. It often begins with a sense of impatience with life. We focus on the injustice of the way things are (Psalm 55:2-8). We come to believe we are not in control of our situation. Therefore it’s not our fault.

This can lead to anger and resentment. We are angry at whoever is at fault and resent them for putting us in the situation we are in (Habakkuk 1:1-4). These people may be our parents, spouse or even our boss. We begin to feel sorry for ourselves. (1 Samuel 1:7-8)

We begin to brood (or fret as Psalm 37:8 calls it) or mull things over in our minds endlessly. Each time it gets worse and worse. We rehearse the way we remember it and add emphasis where there was none in the first place. We become bitter because of the unforgiveness in our hearts.

In this envious, angry and resentful place we feed depression until it overtakes our life. It is now our master and dictates every aspect of life. Depression prevents us from functioning normally at this point.

What is the solution to depression?

repentenceThe solution to depression begins with recognizing and confessing our guilt of any unconfessed sin (1 John 1:9). We all know what we believe is wrong, but often we do just that. Paul discusses this in detail in Romans 7.

Next we must commit to following Jesus (Luke 9:23-24). Jesus bore the guilt of all our sins and paid the debt that we owed with His life. He encourages us to follow him through the difficult times we face.

We need to look at ourselves biblically (Matthew 7:1-5). We tend to focus on what others have done and ignore what we have done. In most situations we share some of the burden of guilt. We must look at our part first. We can’t change what others do only what we do with what they do.

As we look at ourselves and see the part that we play in our depression we can see there is something that can be done. This leads to hope which combats the hopelessness of depression.

When we take our eyes off of other’s guilt we can then Love God and those others (Matthew 22:37-39). We must love God because He is God and provides for all our needs. Not our wants, but our needs. From this place we can then love others in their own dysfunctional ways.

We are all dysfunctional. We are all broken. As we focus more on us and less on others we can see them more clearly. This tends to empower us to make steps away from depression.

Now comes the hard part. We are commanded to forgive one another (Ephesians 4:32) in order to overcome depression. This is not a suggestion, but a command. Jesus also gives this as an example for us in the Lord’s prayer. The example is the forgiveness that God has for us.

The road out of depression gets even harder. In James 1:2 we are told to count it all joy. This is not happiness, but joy.

Our joy comes from the promise we have from God that we will spend eternity with Him in perfect bodies that have no desire to sin. We must be focused on eternity and not on the stuff of life.

Finally we must pray unceasingly (Philippians 4:6-7). We are promised that the peace of God will guard our hearts and minds. This doesn’t sound like depression does it?

All of this sounds good, but how do we do it. That’s where counseling comes in. A biblical counselor will hold up the mirror of scripture for you to see things clearly. Then they will show the way out and help you to practice the steps until they become a habit. This habit is now your way of life. It takes time but is much better than staying stuck in depression.

Books on depression

Depression: Looking Up from the Stubborn Darkness by Edward T. Welch

Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Its Cure by David Martyn Lloyd-Jones