A Soul Cast Down: Help for the Depressed
Recently, our church held a funeral for a loved one of some of our members. It was a time of grief, pain and other overwhelming emotions. I can only imagine what the family will go through in the days, weeks, and months ahead. Intense feelings and emotions, at times, may seem unbearable. It will feel like they are being crushed under the mighty weight of their circumstances. Many who read this, if not all, can relate to this situation. So, when such heavy circumstances occur, what do believers do? When the loved ones, church members, or family members of believers go through these kinds of trials, what do believers do to help them?
As I write this article, I am flooded with emotions for the family for whom the church held the service for. I am also reminded of the emotions connected to the loss of a loved one. I have experienced loss in several different ways. I served in combat and have lost friends to the hands of the enemy. I have also lost friends to suicide. I have buried family members, and I have had failed relationships that resulted in losing that person from my life. I know that there are other types of losses experienced by believers that I have not mentioned that the reader may have experienced. Depression can be a tricky emotion for believers to navigate in their walks with the Lord. It is an emotion that can be debilitating, causing the person who is suffering from depression to feel weak, exposed, and uncomfortably vulnerable. Some believers may even have the understanding that it is sinful to experience depression. This article aims to give a biblical understanding of depression, how to walk through depression when it comes, as well as how to walk with someone when they are experiencing depression.
A Definition of Depression
A better understanding of depression will come from having a practical definition that we can understand. The Bible may not use the word depression/depressed, but it does mention sadness, being downcast, despair and hopelessness. When those feelings become amplified, they can lead to depression. It is safe to say that sadness is a good catch-all term and a shared human experience. Still, when sadness increases in intensity and hope decreases, depression often arises. Therefore, we can understand depression to be feelings of sadness or grief that intensify, causing a person to isolate, lose sleep, experience feelings of hopelessness, loss of interest, gloominess, melancholy, despair, suffering and debilitation or an inability/unwillingness to function. We have many examples in Scripture of people experiencing these types of emotions.
Is Being Depressed A Sin?
We see in Scripture that Jesus was deeply saddened by the death of His friend Lazarus to the point of tears (John 11:33, 35). David was deeply saddened over his sins (Psalm 6, 51); he was full of sorrow over waiting for deliverance from the Lord (Psalm 13); and the Psalmist in Psalm 42 is oppressed by enemies (vv.3,10), depressed of soul (v.5), and egressed from his home nation (vv.4, 6). Many other people in Scripture have experienced situations that would cause them to be depressed. Paul “despaired even of life (2 Corinthians 3:8).” The meaning of the word despaired is to be utterly at a loss, be utterly destitute of measure or resources, to renounce all hope.
So, what is the answer to the question of whether being depressed is a sin? The short answer is no. We see in Scripture that it is something that happens to humans. We see Jesus experience sorrow over sin and the death of His friend. However, we don’t see Jesus, in the midst of His sadness, deviate from the ultimate purpose of the Father to which He had been called. We are created in the image of God, so as image bearers we will experience emotions, just as God the Father and His Son do. Depression becomes sinful when the person experiencing depression makes sinful choices based on the emotions they are feeling. For example, if downcast persons choose to isolate themselves and neglect their families because of an overwhelming sadness, then they are showing unbelief in the God who can get them through the trial. That’s the real lesson from David, Paul, and others in Scripture. They experienced sadness but pressed into God and believed in His promises. They saw the grace and mercy in their lives in the trials, sadness, and losses suffered.
What To Do if You’re Depressed
In English, there is a powerful word; it is a small word, just two letters in length. What is this word? The word is “do.” Why would I mention such a small and seemingly insignificant word to offer counsel to those who are struggling with depression? As a Biblical Counselor, I counsel many believers who are suffering from depression. One of the most common symptoms mentioned is a lack of desire to do anything. This results in the person becoming disconnected, passive and apathetic. Those are sinful reactions to depression. You may be wondering, “What can I possibly do?” If you are asking that, then I am glad you are. Because the answer is, you can do something about your depression. Please don’t hear me say that you can get rid of the circumstances surrounding the emotion of depression or even turn off the feelings associated with the circumstances. What I am saying is that you can do something with the Lord, you can go to Him, you can trust Him, and you can cry out to Him. Here are four helpful steps you can take if you are suffering from depression.
1) Depend on God for your source of help.
This step is the foundation for all of the following steps. Without a dependence on God, there will be no success in overcoming depression. To depend on God, you have to know God. One of my favorite places to go in Scripture to help me understand who God is and what His attributes are is Exodus 34:6-7. Here, we see a God who is “merciful,” meaning He is full of compassion. We also know He is “gracious,” which in Hebrew means He is coming to us as inferiors in kindness, showing us mercy and favor. How could believers not want to depend on God to help with their overwhelming sadness when they read these words? All the Biblical characters listed above knew God and depended only on Him to come through for them. They were in tough times, and they persevered through it with the help of God. They could not have done it by themselves. Amid their sufferings, they were able to hold on to their belief in God. This belief came from Scripture; they held on to and believed in who God said He was, in what God said He would do, and in who they were as His children. In Psalm 42, the Psalmist starts with a statement of dependence upon God (vs.1-2) for what he needs during this challenging time that has him so downcast. Let it be God whom you seek in the most challenging seasons of life; once you have this step in action, you can move on to the next step.
2) Decide to exercise your faith.
As mentioned above, the word do is a powerful word. As believers, we must decide to exercise our faith (Phil 2:12). How can we do this? It starts with keeping our head (what we know, believe, and remember to be true) and our heart (what we seek after, desire, and have our affections set on) connected and focused on the same mission. Sometimes, believers can know what’s right or true and then act differently based on their desires. In James 1:22-25 we are commanded to be “doers of the word, and not hearers only.” This requires us to keep our heads and hearts connected. In the book of Haggai, the people are rebuilding the temple; they are devastated over the loss of the previous temple and are depressed because they believe the new temple will not be what the old one was and, therefore, won’t be as meaningful. In Haggai 2:4, the Lord tells the people three times to be strong, and then He follows those commands with the command to work (do). All of those commands are followed with a promise that God will be with them. Brothers and sisters, be strong and work, knowing God will be with you. Believing in the sovereignty of God is not permission to live a careless life of “let go and let God.” That is not a Biblical approach to exercising our faith. We still have a responsibility to make wise choices and to trust in the fact that “[we] can do all things through Christ” (Phil 4:13).
3) Dismiss the idea that being vulnerable is shameful.
Next, if you are struggling with depression, it’s okay; you’re not broken or a sinful heathen. You’re in the midst of a trial. You don’t have to be strong and “fake it until you make it.” I promise you that you won’t make it. We have emotions that are to be felt and handled in light of Scripture. I would commend to you the book of Lamentations and the Psalms of lament (Individual Psalms of lament include: 3, 6, 13, 22, 42, 60, 61, 64.) I am trying to tell you to cry out to God, confess to Him that what is happening is too heavy for you, and ask Him for help. Lamenting is a biblical way to cry out to our God. What is a lament? I believe it to be a three-step process:
- Recognize the suffering.
- Confess your inability to overcome the situation you are in (including all the emotions associated with the situation).
- Trust and hope in the faithful God you are crying out to, knowing He is sovereign and nothing is too big for Him to handle.
4) Determine to be grateful despite the circumstances.
Notice that the last step of the lament process is to trust and hope in God. He is faithful, and He is near. When we do those things, it leads us into the final step of dealing with depression, having an attitude of gratitude. Our gratefulness to and for the Lord should not depend on our circumstances or feelings. If that is how we base our gratefulness to God, then we are guilty of being selfish and prideful. In multiple places in Scripture, we see trials are testing our faith and producing something great in us (see Psalm 119:71; Rom 5:3-5, 8:31-39; James 1:2-4). When we are grateful in the trials of life, we give God the glory He deserves because we recognize that we have hope in Him and His ability to bring us through the trial. God has given us much despite the hardships we encounter in life, and it is up to us to express gratitude to Him for those things.
How to Walk with A Fellow Saint in Depression
I want to end this article with four practical ways believers can minister to other believers suffering from depression.
1) Be a Diligent listener.
Proverbs 18:13 – “He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.” This verse reminds believers that listening entirely to what is said before we answer a matter is better. What does this mean practically? It tells us there is a big difference between listening to respond and listening to understand. Listening allows us to think through the issue and give wise counsel. Don’t allow your pride or lack of understanding of an issue to drive you to say something awkward and accidentally hurtful. We can’t just hear a buzzword and throw a Bible verse out there to cure it.
2) Be a Discerning friend.
Proverbs 15:14 says, “The heart of him that hath understanding seeketh knowledge: but the mouth of fools feedeth on foolishness.” Remember to seek wisdom, and use that wisdom to make wise decisions in helping those to whom you are ministering. Discernment is the gold standard of wisdom; it shows that you can think through an issue and make decisions that glorify God, magnify Christ, and edify your neighbor.
3) Don’t forget to Delegate when necessary.
No one can do ministry alone; that’s why the New Testament gives us fifty-nine “one another” commands. One of those commands is in Galatians 6:2: “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” The law of Christ is to love God and love others (Matt 22:34-40). When ministering to someone suffering from depression, you may not be able to carry that burden alone. You may need to enlist some outside help. To do this, ensure that the person you minister to is agreeable to others helping.
4) Direct them to the cross.
Lastly and most importantly, point them to Jesus Christ. He is a loving Savior waiting to help those who need it. Matthew 11:28-30 beautifully reveals the gracious heart of Christ. It says He is “meek and lowly in heart.” His heart is for us, we need not be afraid. He is a “merciful and faithful high priest…..able to succor them" (Heb 2:17,18). Hebrews 4:14-16 reminds us that we have a high priest who can sympathize with us in our trials, and because He is such a great high priest we can “come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in the time of need.”
Depression is a hard thing to navigate through. It will often weigh down immensely on the person it is affecting. The good news for believers is we have a Savior who “liveth to make intercession for them [believers] (Heb 7:25).” I hope this article provides some counsel for the souls of those afflicted with depression or for those who are walking with a brother or sister afflicted with depression.
-Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy by Mark Vroegop
-When Pain is Real, and God is Silent by Ligon Duncan
-Be Still, My Soul Edited by Nancy Guthrie
-The Path of Life: Blessedness in Seasons of Lament by J. Stephen Yuille
-Gentle and Lowly by Dane Ortlund
Robert Cale is a retired Gunnery Sergeant, USMC, Afghanistan war veteran, and a Biblical counselor. He is a member at Ripley Primitive Baptist Church, Ripley, MS