No sin is necessarily connected with sorrow of heart, for Jesus Christ our Lord once said, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death.” There was no sin in Him, and consequently none in His deep depression.
The idea that depression in Christians is somehow fundamentally sinful is simultaneously disheartening and unbiblical. The common conflation of biblical joy with emotional happiness is most often to blame for this faulty exegesis. There are simply too many years of teaching (and therefore, believing) that the commandment to be joyful [Phil 4:4] is a no-excuses verse telling us that merriment and jubilation ought to guide us in all circumstances. To this end, we hear things like:
*If you’re depressed, then you aren’t really trusting God.
*Depression is a sign of anxiety, and the bible says we should never be anxious. That’s a sin.
*How could you not be happy when you know that Jesus already sacrificed himself on your behalf, and you’re spending eternity in heaven!?
*Your faith is weak. We were never designed to experience depression, and with the Holy Spirit, you have been freed from any current depression if you only believe.
And my personal favorite:
*You need to let go and let God. Your depression shows that you are trying to control everything instead of letting God handle it.
Now, to be sure, depression may be a result of any of these or numerous other things. I may be struggling with trusting and believing God’s great promises. I may be forgetting the real sacrifice made on my behalf, and for which I ought to be eternally grateful. I may have weak faith and be actively sinning through an anxious and fear-ridden mind. And I may be doggedly holding onto the things in my life with a vise-grip rather than openly allowing the Lord to do with them as he sees best.
But I may not.
I read a fantastic book several years ago called, Christians Get Depressed, Too. I cannot recommend it highly enough for both those who struggle with depression and their loved ones trying to help and support them. One of the best analogies for recognizing how we, as people called to embody love, must respond to depressed people lies within its pages. The author uses a person suffering from a broken leg to show the ridiculousness of how Christian culture can often “handle” (read: shame) those with depression. It reads like this – When someone arrives at the ER with a broken leg, we do not immediately press them with all our inquiries regarding the hows and whys of the situation. First, we set the bone with care and mercy. Then we console and soothe the patient during the initial stages of shock or pain. Only after the bone is healing and the patient is no longer suffering do we engage in a conversation where the circumstances that created the break are considered and judgements passed on whether the patient was responsible or not. But can you imagine how this scenario might play out if we handled it the same way as we so often handle those suffering from depression?
Ahhhh!! My leg!!
Sir, how did you break your leg?
Ahhhh! I fell!
Sir, did you fall because you were being careless?
It hurts so much!
Or did you fall because of someone else’s carelessness?
You can see the bone!
Do you feel like you could have made a better choice in the moments leading up to the fall?
I’m going to be sick! This hurts so much!!!
Sir, on a scale of 1 to 100, how much responsibility do you feel you have, and how much do you feel is genuinely an accident?
Can’t you just fix my leg!? *passes out from pain*
We need to revive him. Quickly! I need to find out exactly what happened on that ladder, because if he fell as a result of his own negligence, then he deserves these consequences.
And that is often how so many conversations go between well-meaning believers and those suffering with depression.
Excuse me, I’m really struggling with a sense of hopelessness. I’m not sure what’s going on with me, but I don’t ever seem to want to get out of bed. Food has lost its taste, and I’m constantly fighting the desire to just shut my door and never speak to anyone again.
Sir, what is the unrepentant sin that you have hidden in your life?
Well, I’m struggling to believe God is big enough to handle this dark pit.
That’s because you have a small view of God and don’t really understand from what, exactly, he saved you. Do you regularly deal with this much ingratitude towards Jesus?
Uh, well, right now I’m feeling pretty distant and low. I guess I keep wondering why I feel so lonely. Doesn’t the bible say Jesus will never leave me? But I feel like no one understands me. That I’m alone in this.
Obviously, you’re not alone and the fact that you feel that way shows how little you are praying and reading the bible. If you were spending more time memorizing scripture, you would never question God’s heart towards you.
I guess I’m feeling so depressed because I’m failing.
Oh, Jesus can forgive any sin! Just confess it to him and you’ll feel better. The peace that surpasses understanding will flood through you and this will be gone.
But I already did that and I don’t feel better.
Perhaps there is something deeper for which you need to repent?
And so the cycle starts again…
The great irony in this theology is how it directly contradicts with so many other verses where we are commanded to: mourn with those who mourn [Rom 12:15] – something that goes beyond the condescending, “Go in peace, keep warm and well fed.;” pour ourselves out like a drink offering for others [Phil 1:17], which is, I’m sure, not always a pleasurable experience even when it is a worthwhile one; and share in the very great sufferings of Christ [2 Cor 1:5, Phil 3:10, 1 Pet 4:13, Rom 8:17], which includes his sacrifice on behalf of those who are hurting and lost.
…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us [Rom 5:8].
If we are to be truly Christ-like, then we must meet people in their brokenness.