Depression is not imaginary. Well, not always. It’s not always simply physical either. You ask google what causes depression and you get all sorts of answers, but they mostly seem to indicate there is an answer.
Society’s Limited View on Depression
Society has an extremely limited view of the human person. Non-theists hearing that will shake their heads waiting to hear something about spiritual components of persons (they’d be right to expect it but still fall woefully short of the full picture); Christians hearing this will offer a resounding “no duh”.
But in this society, you’ll find non-theists denying any aspect to a human being that is non-physical. The most important problem facing the hungry and homeless is that they are hungry and homeless, full stop, look no further beyond that present state.
The Christian on Depression
The thing is that in this society most people, including Christians, have this messed up picture of what is a human being. So you’ll find (some) Christians concerned only with the well-being of the soul and not, say, the fact that this person is also hungry and homeless. Only with the joy of eternal life and not the needed joy to be found in a proper mental and emotional life.
What is so sad is that it takes a tough, heart-breaking event, to get us to look closely at things.
Depression and the Bible
The Bible, God’s Word, is exceedingly balanced on how it deals with what affects human beings. It’s not single-sided stating that the source of all problems are solely the physical situation of the person, but neither does it deny those aspects.
Human beings are complex; the source and cause of depression is complex. You might be able to put your finger down on the problem in one case, but not in another because the person is different and the source of the depression is different. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of causes of depression:
- Wickedness: David and his men got exceedingly depressed when they discovered that their homes were destroyed and their wives and daughters were booty of war (1 Samuel 30:3-4)
- Lack of Knowledge: The Psalmist writes requesting that the Lord answer his prayer for mercy before he collapses under the weight of his situation. (Psalm 143:7-8)
- Expectations: In the book of Jonah, we see Jonah depressed when he expected God’s provision and protection to continue to cover him while missing the point of his entire ministry. His expectation was one thing and God meant another.
- Anxiety: We see anxiety is a burden that causes depression (Proverbs 12:25) and sometimes
encouraging words can help a person like this; but so can actually removing the solutions to the problems for which we’re anxiousthe solution is encouraging words. And yet, at other times, the solution is giving the worry to God (1 Peter 5:7) ! (Daniel Corcoran pointed out that this wasn’t clear so I rephrased it and left the edited line in place.)
- Broken heart: sometimes the physical conditions are due to deep broken heartedness. You won’t be able to find this under a magnifying lens but the Bible highlights how high-spirits can carry a person through sickness but a broken spirit can take you out even when you’re healthy. (Prov 18:14; Psalm 38:6,8)
- Sickness: the book of Job is a long poem about God allowing Satan to attack a man but, unlike Paul, this attack is completely physical. He takes away Job’s kids. He takes away Job’s stuff. And finally, he takes away Job’s health. (Job 3:24-26). Here his friends are kind enough to just sit with him but eventually they spend the entire book finding fault with Job. At the end though, God challenges Job’s ideas.
- Persecution: In 1 Kings 19 we see the prophet Elijah in a deep depression because he’s being hunted by his enemies. The initial solution by the Lord was to actually give food, water, and more sleep (1 Kings 19:6).
- Sin: David can groan inside because of sinning. He says his bones wasted away while he kept deceit in his heart but it was lifted from him upon confessing to, with subsequent forgiveness by, the Lord.
- Spirits: Paul is given a thorn in his flesh which he describes as a messenger of Satan to torment him (2 Corinthians 12:7). He repeatedly asks the Lord to remove it and God refuses.
This isn’t a full list: note that I didn’t even list death (Prov 31:6). Indeed, it would be too easy to take any of these problems and read one of the solutions like a Band-Aid or pill—do this and your depression is gone—but again, humans are complex. You would think that Job’s solution would be to remove the sickness (or at the very least, remove the friends), but it wasn’t.
God’s solution was to overwhelm Job with Job’s shortsightedness, breaking him down, then (and only then) restoring him. In Paul’s case, God’s solution is to tell Paul “My grace is sufficient for you”. In Elijah’s case the answer is food, water and rest. In other cases it’s hoping for the right medicines or doctors (Jeremiah 8:22). Yet in other cases, the text is silent: the Psalmist cries out and we might not hear an answer.
The End of Depression
That’s hard. But it’s so human. And God understands all of that: he made us complex.
I can go on and point out how God is near the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:17-18) and that, even though the depression might not go away, God still is in charge and the Christian continues as a conqueror (without feeling that way 2 Corinthians 4:8-9, 16-18) but those points, though true, are beyond the scope of this blog post.
Depression is a real thing and people are complex. We are really affected in multiple ways that Christians should acknowledge and similarly be fully concerned about.
We also must understand that depression is not an indicator of the way things should be in this world but they are indicative of the way things won’t be in the coming age. The Lord, the one who conquered at history’s darkest point, will wipe away all tears from eyes and there will be no more suffering, sorrow, or death.