Can Christians Be Depressed?

Show Notes:

Matt: J.D., some people feel like, because we have the Holy Spirit inside of us, we should never have some of these big, mental health struggles like depression or anxiety. The question is, can Christians be depressed? Or if someone is depressed, is that an indication that they’re not saved?

J.D.: Matt, that’s a heavy question. Let me start here: Lamentations 3:1-8, written by the prophet Jeremiah, one of the most well-known prophets in the Bible:

  • I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of his wrath; he has driven and brought me into darkness without any light; surely against me he turns his hand again and again the whole day long. He has made my flesh and my skin waste away; he has broken my bones; he has besieged and enveloped me with bitterness and tribulation; he has made me dwell in darkness like the dead of long ago … though I call and cry for help, he shuts out my prayer.

No light. No hope. That’s how Jeremiah felt, and maybe you can relate. The “he” that Jeremiah is talking about is God. Maybe you’ve also felt like God is not listening—or, even more, you wonder, “God, are you behind this terrible circumstance? At the very least, you’re not doing anything to stop it.”

Jeremiah goes on to say, “My soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, ‘My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord’ … My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me” (vs. 17–20).

As you read those verses, you may think, “Is this the Bible? Shouldn’t an editor have weeded this out? This is Jeremiah, after all—the prophet of God! Jeremiah, this is not you at your best. Why don’t you take a nap and a shower and take another swing at this tomorrow?”

See, it’s easy to think that what we need is more positive and encouraging psalms like David’s about the Lord being our Shepherd and still waters and cups running over and stuff like that. That’s what the people like. That’s what sells.

  • But God put the book of Lamentations in the Bible, even though it’s depressing and most people will never memorize it, because he wants those of you who suffer in the darkness to know that he knows how you feel. And, like Jeremiah, it’s OK for you to express those emotions to God.

One of our Summit church planters tells the story of when he first felt called to ministry, how he resigned from his job in Tennessee and moved his family to North Carolina to attend seminary, only to have everything fall apart. His marriage came within inches of destruction; he went into bankruptcy. Keep in mind, this is one of the smartest people I know, and yet it still got that bad. But the worst part, he said, was holding his newborn son as he died in their arms. He said, “I had no words. All I could ask God during that season was, ‘Why?’ I didn’t want to talk about God or preach the words of God. I only wanted to rage against God. All I’ve done is try to follow him, and this is how he treats me?”

Many believers have gone through dark chapters and thought the same things as Jeremiah, but they’ve suppressed those emotions, telling themselves, “Real Christians don’t ever feel like this.”

Matt, I’d say we agree on people like Jeremiah and Charles Spurgeon being Christians.

  • And yet the prophet Jeremiah said his soul was depressed within him.
  • Spurgeon told his congregation, “I have spent more days shut up in depression than probably anybody else here.” He was said by many to be the greatest preacher to ever live, and he frequently considered quitting the ministry because he was so depressed.
  • Alright Matt, you’re doing well so far. Last one: Martin Luther, one of the most famous church leaders and theologians of all time. Real Christian?
  • Well he went through times so dark that his wife would remove all the knives from their home. “For more than a week I was close to the gates of death and hell,” he wrote. “I trembled constantly. I could find no thoughts of Christ, only of desperation and blasphemy of God.”

So to anyone asking this question, to anyone struggling with depression – and especially the thought that your depression is somehow an indicator that you’re not really saved – can’t you see you are not alone in your thoughts? The greatest Christians in history were not those that God delivered from all pain and misery but those he delivered through their pain and misery. He is ready to walk with you through the darkness and do the same for you.

I also think it’s important to point out that depression operates along a continuum. On one end of the continuum is discouragement, which we all feel from time to time, and on other end is depression.

    • Between the two sides of that continuum are a lot of different factors that come together—spiritual factors, physical/biological factors, psychological factors or even social/emotional factors
  • Today we’ve been primarily talking about spiritual factors, but that doesn’t mean I think it’s the only contributor, or even always the primary contributor in depression. God made us a “psychosomatic unity,” which simply means it is impossible to separate, at least on earth, our souls and our bodies, and what happens in one inevitably affects the other. 
  • Very simple example: You ever realize how unspiritual you get when you haven’t gotten enough sleep, or when you are hungry? I told you a couple of weeks ago, I can get really impatient and rude with people when I’m hangry. Now, in one sense, you could call that a spiritual problem, right? Nothing should justify my being rude. But the truth is, my rudeness—which is a soul problem—is being triggered and exacerbated by my physical condition. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t pray for more patience, just that I should probably also take a nap and eat a Snickers bar. It’s like 1 of my professors used to say, “Sometimes the best thing that you can do for your spiritual life is get a good night sleep.”

(Now, to be clear, I’m not saying that what I experience when I’m hungry is the same as what you experience if you’re walking through depression or that it can be fixed as simply. I’m just making the point that there is a lot going on in any emotion, factors both spiritual and physical (and psychological and social!) 

There is a long list of things that can cause depression (i.e., a persistent down mood and/or the inability to enjoy normal pleasures): a significant loss, failure, lack of purpose, unrealistic expectations, temperament, glandular malfunctions, chemical imbalances, certain diseases, response to some medications, change in seasons, fatigue, isolation, sin or idolatry, unbelief, foolishness, legalism… (the list could continue).

To reduce the experience of anxiety or depression down to only one of these factors is simply irresponsible. That’s why, at our church, we not only preach on the spiritual aspects of anxiety and depression, but we also offer ministries that focus more holistically on these struggles. And we encourage people to incorporate medical care into their mental health plan.

We’d be remiss not to offer some resources if you’re struggling:

  • First of all, if you’re considering or have ever considered taking your own life, we’d plead with you to talk to someone about it. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255, available 24/7.
  • Second, I’d always recommend that you find a solid Christian counselor. If you’re not sure where to find one, call your local church (or if you don’t have one, A local, bible-believing church near you) and ask for recommendations.

We’re also going to link in the show notes to a list of resources put together by Brad Hambrick, who’s not only Summit’s Pastor of Counseling but is also a nationally-respected voice on Christian counseling.

Matt:  Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and be sure to check out YouTube and subscribe @J.D.Greear.


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