There is a sticky question many Christians struggle with: Is depression a sin?
This particular question is posed to me by more people than perhaps any other when trying to understand what is going on emotionally with themselves or with someone close to them. The situation isn't helped by well-meaning Christians who don't understand depression saying things like: "You just need to have more faith," or "There must be sin in your life, or you wouldn't feel like this," or even "If you'd pray harder (read the Bible more, have a deeper walk with the Lord), you wouldn't have this problem." To someone who already feels guilty about everything, this just piles on even more guilt.
But are they right? Is depression a sin, or a picture of sin in our life? I answer that with an unequivocal no!
Depression can, in many instances, have a physical cause. So can alcoholism and several other things spoken against in the Bible. Follow me closely here: The tendency toward depression or alcoholism is not a sin; giving in to them, however, is a sin.
The alcoholic will probably get drunk when he drinks, so the Christian who is an alcoholic and wants to stay in God's will must make sure he never takes another drink. Likewise, the person who has a tendency toward depression isn't at fault if his or her emotions begin a downward spiral. However, how he/she responds to that downward spiral will determine if there is sin.
When I feel depression beginning to clamp its cold hands upon me, I do several things:
Above anything else, I make sure I'm still reading my Bible and praying. Depression often makes you want to do just the opposite, but:
- You have the power, in Christ, to do what God wills.
Say no to your emotions and yes to communion with God during these times.
I thank God for loving me and bringing me through the bout of depression. This is important. Both of these first two actions go against what I feel. My depression makes me want to stay away from everyone — including God. And it also makes me feel as if no one could really love me — including God. But in reading the Bible, praying to God, and thanking God for his love, I am saying that:
- God's Word, not my present emotional outlook, is my authority.
In thanking God for bringing me through the depression, I am also exercising my faith in God and in his Word, precisely at the moment I don't feel like doing it.
I try to keep from making any major decision. I've learned that life looks a great deal more bleak when I'm depressed. Therefore, any decision I make during this time is bound to be colored by a false sense of what's going on in my relationships, my business and my family.
Taking these steps actually may allow me to have greater faith than many who never experience depression. That's because:
- I thank God for taking care of me and loving me even when I can't feel it or see it.
If that's not a biblical definition of faith, then I don't know what is! For example, look at these verses from the Bible. If, when depressed, you can trust God to take care of you and bring you through your bout safely, then you're exercising faith. If you can believe he loves you even when you don't feel loved, that's faith. In fact, perhaps the person fighting depression who trusts in God has the greatest faith of all! "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for" (Hebrews 11:1-2). "We live by faith, not by sight" (2 Corinthians 5:7).
So your depression is not a sin in and of itself. But how you respond to that depression will determine if you sin.
Let's try an experiment. Perhaps, when you feel that horrible negative emotion coming on, you usually say something like: "Oh no, here it comes again. I'm in for a horrible time." Next time, however, say this instead: "Heavenly Father, here is an opportunity for me to show great faith and grow in you. May I be faithful to you during this time." It might not stop the depression, but it can surely transform what it does to your life! And it can help you remain true to God even in the midst of emotional storms.
Strength for Today: The Disease Has a Cure
Imagine a world of darkness. In this world your senses are limited to sound, smell, taste and touch. For most of your life, you have spent every day crouched against a rough, stone wall, surrounded by the sound of a milling crowd. You feel the warmth of the sun as it shines on your face, but you cannot see it. And then a shadow falls across you, bringing welcome coolness. A voice from nearby asks the question you have heard so many times: "Who sinned that this man was born blind? Was it his fault or his parents?"
Paraphrased, you hear, "What did this poor, wretched fool do to deserve a life of misery? Where did he go wrong? What did his parents do that he should suffer like this? What sin in his life has brought him to this life of abject hopelessness?" Perhaps you have had similar thoughts regarding depression. After all, aren't we meant to be happy and well-adjusted all the time? If we are unhappy, we must have done something wrong. In Jesus' day a common conception existed that all disease could be traced to sin. The Savior of the world knew this was not true — and he was getting ready to prove it.
The young man mentioned above, of course, is the blind man from John 9. The questioners were Jesus' disciples. Jesus Christ, with the divine knowledge of the Great Physician, spoke some of the most encouraging words of the Bible: "Neither this man nor his parents sinned…but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life" (John 9:3).
"What sin have I committed that has brought me depression?" Many people ask this question. Learn a lesson both from the Bible and from science. Let's paraphrase Christ's words and direct them toward you: "Neither you nor your family sinned, but this happened so that the power of God might be displayed in your life."
I can reassure you that depression is an illness. It is a disease with a physical basis. Depression is not due solely to spiritual problems. So get rid of the guilt trip and begin focusing on the cure!
We want to help you find the solution to your depression — the work of God that will illuminate your life and glorify our Creator.
Action Steps That Help
When you feel depression beginning to take hold of your life, try to do the following:
- Make sure you're still reading the Bible and praying. You have the power, in Christ, to do what God wills.
- Thank God for loving you and bringing you through the bout of depression. God's Word, not your present emotional outlook, is your authority.
- Try not to make a major decision while in a depressed frame of mind.
- Thank God for taking care of you and loving you even when you can't feel it or see it. This exercises your faith and strengthens you.
Here are a few additional thoughts to keep in mind for those struggling with depression:
- At times, depression can relate to emotions that have been ignored or pushed away for years. Be willing to face them through Christ's strength. As Matthew 5:4 says, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."
- Though not advisable in every situation, medication may provide needed physical help for people struggling with depression. Talk to a doctor about it.
- Reaching out for Christian counseling can provide support, help you address underlying causes of your depression, and help you develop a plan of action.