Depression isn’t a sin.
I think we have to regard that truth. Someone who is struggling with depression might also be sinning or be the victim of another person’s sin, but depression isn’t a sin. It is the outcome of sin. It is the result of another’s sin. In and of itself though, depression is not the problem. It is the response to the problem.
How does the Bible address depression?
We have so many biblical examples of how God met people amid their mental and emotional struggles. We don’t get the image that these people are sinful.
David, a man after God’s own heart, obviously struggled with depression. He often called out to God afraid, feeling alone, isolated and despairing of life? “Why so downcast, oh my soul? Put your hope in God! My savior and my God!” (Psalm 43)
Those are the emotions of depression, the weight that is sometimes difficult to put into words. Without the personal acknowledgment that God is our hope, that is where depression can lead to sin.
I was a fan of Anne of Green Gables, and in one of her more dramatic and extra moments she declares, “I’m in the depths of despair!” Out of that melodramatic statement, she asks, “Have you ever felt like that, Marilla?” Marilla, her adoptive mom and caregiver, replies, “No. No, I have not. To despair is to turn your back on God.” That sentiment is a misunderstanding of depression.
Depression isn’t to turn your back on God, but rather to be convinced that either God is mad at you and will not help you or that your problem is beyond His intervention. Depression is a desperate place that cannot see solutions and fears deeper darkness and isolation. To FEEL that way is not a sin, to follow that line of thought, to hurt yourself or others out of that fear, to seek escape and make substances or other people your source, THAT is sin.
The hardest thing to do when you are convinced that you are sinful is to reach out, be honest, and seek help. To teach that depression is a sin and that it is a choice against God is to reinforce that fear of vulnerability, which keeps the person hemmed in and the truth of God and the love of community shut out.
How did God engage with feelings of depression?
Let’s look at Elijah in 1 Kings 19. Here is a strong, resilient, powerful prophet of the Lord. Yet, because of the anger and power of one woman, he was hiding, afraid, and despairing of life! In that place, God met him with angels, who met him where he was and took care of him, telling him to get up and offering him food to eat. It says that he laid back down and they returned to take care of him a second time, and after that, the Lord appeared to Him, a revelation that encouraged him and gave him the confidence to walk out of that place and to remember that he was not alone and that the Lord was on his side.
God didn’t resist him. He wasn’t mad at him. He didn’t dismiss his feelings or emotions. Rather, He met with him. First, through His messengers, He provided and sustained him, and after a time, He provided assurance to help him through the struggle.
How did Jesus handle feelings of depression?
Let’s look at Jesus in Mark 14 and Luke 22. He was so overcome with the potential of the cross and was in such emotional agony that He despaired of life. Jesus, who was without sin, felt the weight of depression in His final hours. The fact that He was God didn’t prevent those emotions from filling the space between life and death. We can learn something from how He handled it. He didn’t do it on his own. Instead, He enlisted prayer support. He had someone to be accountable to in His emotional struggle. He didn’t turn His back on God, but rather He pressed in and accepted the Father’s will over His pain and agony.
When we refuse to align with the shame and choose to engage God and allow Him to engage us, personally and with those He supplies and sends, we can get through depression. That’s the plan. Those who go through are empowered to lead the way for others to get through.
If you or someone you love is struggling with depression, don’t excuse it, justify it, or think you can control it. Resist shame and allow God to step in and help you expose the feelings and thoughts that have led there. Each step can lead you into greater security and hope that your life is one of purpose and you are not alone.
For more practical resources on depression, visit our signs and symptoms page. To learn more about Mercy Multiplied’s free-of-charge biblically based residential counseling program, check out our website or give us a call at 615-831-6987.