Scripture tells us to be filled with joy and praise (Philippians 4:4, Romans 15:11), so God apparently intends for us to live joyful lives. The topic of whether or not Christians can be depressed has been a controversial one for some time, and many people are quick to form an opinion without digging for an actual Biblically sound answer. Depression within the church is often misunderstood, so I’ve decided to do Biblical research and clear the air as to whether or not Christians can be depressed.
Can Christians be depressed? Yes, Christians can be depressed. We live in a fallen, imperfect, and broken world where there is much affliction, oppression, and suffering. We can see many examples throughout scripture of men and women of God that put their hope in Him but also battled severely with depression. Being a Christian doesn’t exempt us from suffering, it simply gives us a hope in the midst of it.
Key Elements of the Christian with Depression
Here are a few elements worth noting of the Christian with depression.
Being Depressed Doesn’t Mean the Christian is Doing Something Wrong
As a Christian with diagnosed clinical depression, I’ve often found myself in the battle of feeling as if I’m doing something wrong or doing something to “deserve” the depression, but this is simply untrue. Depression (or any mental illness for that matter) is sickness of the brain. It’s a physical ailment which requires medical treatment just like any other illness.
We can clearly see this in the book of Job. He was a faithful man of God, but God brought him to Satan’s attention twice prior to his attack upon him. This fact tells us that God had a purpose in Job’s suffering and although the affliction was much, it was ordained by God for a far greater purpose than Job ever expected. But as you read the story of Job, you see that God sets limits on the evil that Satan can do, meaning that evil will only go as far as He allows—it is never out of His control.
Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?Job 2:10
No, the Depressed Christian Doesn’t “Just Need More Faith”
Depression isn’t always a spiritual issue. In fact, most times it’s not. The mindsets of “If only you had enough faith” “There must be sin in your life or you wouldn’t feel like this,” or “If you’d pray harder…” are dangerous to have. Having faith in God’s ability to heal is important and having personal faith can help ease depression, but to deny medical treatment to someone suffering from a mental illness is no different than denying someone medical treatment with a visible illness. It’s important to understand that just because we put our hope and faith in God doesn’t mean our problem will go away. Like cancer, diabetes, or other diseases, sometimes we’ll have it for the rest of our earthly life.
Rather than encouraging the depressed Christian to have more faith or pray more, encourage them to seek the help and find the support system that they need while also offering yourself as a friend.
Shame the Illness, Not the Struggling Christian
Many people are unknowingly or unintentionally quick to condemn the Christian with depression rather than condemning the mental illness itself. Romans 8:1 tells us that when we are in Christ, we are set free from condemnation from the Lord which means condemnation has no rightful place in our lives, whether it be from others or ourselves.
The Christian struggling with depression is already battling much ongoing shame—most times self inflicted. Encourage them to remember that in Christ, there is no shame in struggling and that their struggle is both completely normal and okay. I encourage you to see and treat the spirit of depression as the enemy, not the Christian battling with it.
Professional Help is Often Needed, and That’s Okay
Rather than prescribing a scripture removed from its context at the Christian struggling with depression, a better strategy is to encourage them to seek professional help—which is a gift given by God that we should take full advantage of. God is not limited God—He uses many factors to help heal us from an illness, and medical attention is often one of them. Whether it be counseling or medication or both, professional medical assistance is a wonderful tool to help a person cope with a mental illness.
Jesus in His life and ministry made it clear that healing, and seeking healing, is a good thing. In Matthew 9:12, He also acknowledged that the sick need a doctor. So remember: it’s okay to have Jesus and a therapist too.
What Helps to Alleviate Depression?
Living a joyful life is not easy for someone suffering from depression. There may not always be an easy fix, but it can be remedied through and alleviated through certain things. A few things to help alleviate depression are worship, thanksgiving, prayer, Bible study and application, support groups, community and fellowship among believers, confession, forgiveness, and professional help.
From my personal experience with depression, I often find myself the most depressed when I’m most absorbed in myself rather than in others or in Christ. We must make the conscious effort to not be absorbed in ourselves, but to turn our efforts outward. Feelings of depression can often be alleviated when those suffering from depression move the focus from themselves to others and Christ. I have also found that having a thankful heart, finding the small blessings, and celebrating the small victories even in the midst of the depression has alleviated it by much.
All discouragement and depression is related to the obscuring of our hope, and we need to get those clouds out of the way and fight like crazy to see clearly how precious Christ is.Desiring God
Biblical Examples of Depression
Though the Bible doesn’t explicitly use the word “depression” except in a few translations and verses, it’s often described as other similar words such as “downcast,” “mourning,” “despairing,” “troubled,” “miserable,” etc. Throughout scripture, there are multiple examples of men and women of faith who struggled with depression. Let’s take a look at a few.
In many of the Psalms, David writes of his loneliness, mourning, broken-heartedness over sin, and the guilt he struggled with because of it. In 2 Samuel, we also see his grief in the loss of his sons.
In Psalm 69, David is in a bad place. He has been sinking in the miry depths, the floodwaters are rising over his head, and he can no longer get a foodhold. He’s in trouble so he cries out for God’s help in the midst of it—so much so that he said “I am exhausted from crying for help; my throat is parched. My eyes are swollen with weeping, waiting for my God to help me” (vs 3).
As Next Sunday says, David never left God and God certainly never left him, but he struggled. David experienced the grief of losing his best friend Jonathan, his baby with Bathsheba, and his older son Absalom. He probably experienced the stress of being the king of God’s “chosen people” and the spiritual pressure of being called “a man after God’s own heart.” His desperate state in this psalm may have come from having been a warrior his whole life—David fought everything from lions as a young boy to corrupt kings hunting him through the hills to other nations’ armies trying to destroy him and his people. David may have just struggled in life like all of us do, but it’s likely that during the most difficult times of his life, David was also depressed.
Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.Psalm 42:11
God came to Moses in a desert in a burning bush and told him to get the children of Israel and bring them out of Egypt. He tried to tell God that he wasn’t the one for the job and thought that God was mistaken, but God insisted and Moses obeyed. He returned to Egypt and won he support of his people and confronted Pharaoh on their behalf. He did everything to the best of his ability, but it all went horribly wrong. Because of this, he was full of feelings of futility because he thought that God let him down and failed him and his people. He was worn out and weary and cried out in hopelessness. But in reality, Moses’ whole ministry would have never came into being if he had not cried out to God from his earlier depression.
If this is how you are going to treat me, please go ahead and kill me—if I have found favor in your eyes—and do not let me face my own ruin.Numbers 11:15
Job is one of the most popular Biblical figures who faced much affliction and oppression. It’s a story of much suffering, grief, and loss, but is also a story of much hope of redemption for staying faithful to God in the face of adversity.
Job became depressed after suffering many personal losses. Over the time of one day, he is given four reports, each informing him that his sheep, servants, and ten children have all died due to thieving intruders or natural disasters. In response to this, he rips his clothes and shaves his head in sorrow, yet he still praises God in the midst of it.
After these losses, he was afflicted physically with painful boils from head to toe. The Bible tells us that due to the intensity of his suffering, Job cursed the day of his birth. “Why did I not die at birth, come forth from the womb and expire?” (Job 3:11). In the midst of this loss and affliction, Job is in a battle that he doesn’t understand but even still, he believes that there is a “witness” or “Redeemer” in heaven who will testify for his integrity (16:19, 19:25).
Eventually, the suffering becomes too much for Job and he turns bitter, anxious, and scared. God commands Job to be brave and he remained faithful to Him which pleased Him, so He completely restores Job’s health and gives him twice as much property as before, new children, and a remarkably long life.
I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth.Job 19:25
Elijah was discouraged, weary, and afraid. After great spiritual victories over his enemy, the prophets of Baal, he feared and ran for his life, far away from the threats of Jezebel who wanted to kill him. And there in the desert, he sat down and prayed, defeated and worn and said “I have had enough, Lord. Take my life, I am not better than my ancestors” (1 Kings 19:4). He hid under a tree and slept and had to be encouraged by an angel twice to eat and drink to provide nourishment for himself.
Up until then, Elijah was the epitome of a mighty and courageous man of God. He ran away when Israel needed his leadership the most, possibly missing the chance for national repentance and turned suicidal. Elijah, a prophet and a Biblical hero was seriously depressed showing us that even the most courageous Christian can battle with depression.
Jeremiah was known as the weeping prophet. He suffered from constant rejection by the people he reached out to. Jeremiah was attacked by his own brothers, beaten up by a priest and a false prophet, imprisoned by the King, threatened with death, thrown into a cistern by government officials, and opposed by a false prophet simply for following God ferociously. But even in the midst of all this, he finds his hope in God alone. After all of this happens to him, he writes in Lamentations 3:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him. The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.3:22-26
Jeremiah was a believer in the great faithfulness in a God who gives new mercies every morning. And yet, if ever a man had grounds for discouragement, it was Jeremiah.
We can see in these Biblical examples that depression isn’t a result of lack of faith in God, but due to living in a world full of hardships, adversity, and suffering. But Christians even in the midst of their depression are able to hold fast to the hope that the disappointments of this life are temporary and will someday cease to exist when Jesus comes back and makes all things right forever.
Jesus promises us in Revelation 21:4 that there is coming a day where He will wipe every tear from our eyes and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things will pass away. What a beautiful hope that we can cling to even in the midst of the most hopeless circumstances.
When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.Psalm 34:17-18
If You’re a Christian Struggling with Depression…
If you’re a Christian struggling with depression, please never forget that you are not alone. Psalm 16:11 gives us the sweet promise that in His presence there is fullness of joy. His presence is always with you, meaning you always have access to not partial joy, but fullness of joy.
Be comforted in the fact that Jesus shares His victory with us so that we never have to walk in defeat. 1 John 5:4 tells us that “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world (and everything in it). And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except for the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”
The godly may trip seven times, but they will get up again.Proverbs 24:16
Resources to Help With Depression
Everyday Health provides a wonderful list of resources that can help you manage depression. They have everything from organizations that educate and offer help, to financial help managing the cost of therapy and medication, to coping, advocacy, and support for people suffering from depression, and so much more. You can find it here.
We also recently wrote a blog on meditations on depression from the Bible which includes Bible verses that reveal depression, meditating on Bible verses to overcome depression, and how God heals depression. You can find that blog post here.
I find myself frequently depressed—perhaps more so than any other person here. And I find no better cure for that depression than to trust in the Lord with all my heart, and seek to realize afresh the power of the peace—speaking blood of Jesus, and His infinite love in dying upon the cross to put away all my transgressions.Charles Spurgeon