Do Real Christians Get Depressed?
- Stephanie Husk M.S.W.
- Updated Apr 11, 2013
What do Job, David, Elijah, Jeremiah, and the apostle Paul all have in common? Well, the Bible says that each of these men experienced some kind of sadness or sorrow…what we might call depression. Job suffered from physical pain and devastating loss. Jeremiah was crushed by the sufferings of his people. David mourned over his own sin and the distress of being hunted by a mad man. Elijah and Paul were exhausted from ministry and experienced loneliness.
All of these examples are godly individuals who were commended by God. Clearly, God our Father thought it fitting to give us many examples of human sadness. Furthermore, the Bible does not condemn this sadness. In fact, we are instructed to weep with those who weep.
Some Christian writers have even suggested that Jesus Christ—the Man of sorrows, well acquainted with grief—experienced depression as well. The Garden of Gethsemane portrays God’s Son in deep anguish and distress as He begs His Father for mercy and a way of escape from the horrific torture before Him.
Somehow, it still feels wrong to be sad as a Christian. After all, the Bible also says to be joyful in everything and to count it all joy when you experience trials. Does the power of the resurrected Messiah provide an escape from depression? Truly, death has lost its sting and our Lord came to proclaim freedom and release for the captives. He is our comfort, so why do we still feel sad? Shouldn’t we expect happiness in this life?
Perhaps Ecclesiastes offers a solution to the tension felt by nearly every Christian individual with whom I have spoken about depression. There is a time to weep and mourn as well as a time to laugh and dance.
There is plenty in this world that should make us unhappy—rampant sin, gross injustice, wicked cruelty, physical sickness, failed relationships, and lack of faith. Putting on a happy face in the midst of this kind of pain may be more like denial than faith.
Yet, isn’t it sometimes easier to pretend we are unaffected by this world than to embrace the sadness that is a natural response to what we see and witness and experience?
Let’s never forget that we are made in the image of the Almighty, emotions and all. Our emotions, therefore, can serve a holy purpose.
Our sadness is a reminder that pain and suffering are not what God intended for us. We were created for intimacy with our Creator and with one another. All of creation instinctively knows that something is wrong…and our emotions confirm it. As believers, we ought to acknowledge this even more than others. All of creation groans and longs for the return of our Savior.
Our depression doesn’t betray us. Instead, it reminds us that we too are longing for the promise made to our ancestors. That one day, the Lord will make all things right and new, and will rule with perfect judgment.
Another benefit of sadness is that it often motivates us to work for change in this world. When our hearts are touched by stories of poverty, human trafficking, and sin’s other enslavements, we can choose to direct our emotions toward Kingdom work. Information is helpful, but emotion motivates.
As a professional counselor, I am well aware of the kind of depression that does not seem motivated by circumstances or deep spiritual disappointment. People often talk about this depression as “clinical” or “physical” and thus void of any spiritual implications. I think this is a mistake.
After all, problems in our brain’s chemistry or in our body’s functions are ultimately a spiritual problem…since all of creation is affected by sin. However, this does not mean that the depression is necessarily a result of individual spiritual shortcomings. It also does not mean that a person shouldn’t seek out healthy relief wherever it may be found. Every good and perfect gift comes from above. Solutions to prolonged depression are no less spiritual if they come in the form of changed diet, exercise, cognitive counseling, or medication.
Regardless of the reasons for depression, we can learn much from embracing the experience. What’s more, we can ask God for insights that will move us closer to Him and into service toward others. However, if we stay stuck in our sadness for too long, we will miss out on joy. In a pop culture hit, Gotye sings, “You can get addicted to a certain kind of sadness.” The writer of Ecclesiastes 1is clear that the time for joy and dancing is also part of God’s design.
I have known believers who think that being too happy in this life is a bad sign. This is not true! As long as that happiness is not an attempt to deny the realities of a broken world, our joy is a necessary gift from Him. The joy of the Lord is our strength and His promises should create an exuberant hope in us.
So how long should mourning and weeping last? How do we recognize the signs of unhealthy or ungodly depression? When we find ourselves asking these questions, it’s time to diligently seek godly counsel through God’s Word, through others, and through carefully listening to the Holy Spirit.
I am struck by the picture of God’s people responding to the rebuilding of the sacred temple in Ezra 3 As the new foundation was laid, the people praised and sang and gave a great shout. But many of the older people wept aloud when they compared it with the former temple and all its glory. Ezra 3:13 says that no one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy and the sound of weeping. It seems to me that both sounds, mixed together in chorus to God, are pleasing to Him.
We are stuck in the in-between where we feel both the loss of our original purpose and the joy of our present redemption. Ultimately, this lies at the foundation of our depression regardless of how it manifests itself in this life. We do right to seek relief, but never at the cost of asking deeper questions and gaining greater insights from our Wonderful Counselor.
May God give us the wisdom to respond to all of our emotions in a Christ-honoring way, even when that emotion is sadness or depression.
Copyright © 2013 Stephanie Husk, Director of Counseling Services, Corban University.
Publication date: April 11, 2013