Things I have been asked: Is depression the eighth deadly sin?
Today’s question: Is depression the eighth deadly sin?
You are a Christian; you know your identity, destiny, and sacredness… yet you are suffering depression. Does this make you a terrible sinner who has thrown the victory of Jesus, the hope of God’s kingdom, the joy of being cherished… back into the face of God?
Let’s explore the question, but first – a reality check:
Life is a wounding business. This can be particularly so for Christians, both because they are targeted by persecution, and because they particularly grieve at the suffering and injustice of this life, (which they see in stark contrast to the kingdom of God that is to come). Christians know themselves to be aliens in a foreign land, a people who don’t belong in this world (1 Peter 2:11).
What then, can we say?
Throwing ‘proof texts’ from the Bible at a depressed Christian may simply add to the sense of depression. This is not to say that scriptural ‘truths’ are not useful. They are. It is just that the ‘gold’ they contain needs to be given at the right time and be ‘framed’ by the right manner if they are to be truly appreciated. This is the truth that is taught by Proverbs 25:11 “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver”.
There are different types of depression and not all depression is bad. In fact, we were designed to live with depression – the depression brought on by grief, disappointments and unrequited hope (Proverbs 13:12). This normal sort of depression is called ‘exogenous depression’. It is the depression that can come as a reaction to the adverse things that happen in life, such as losing a loved one, losing a limb, or losing a job.
What is not normal is ‘endogenous depression’ (or clinical depression). This is when the brain hardwires itself to be permanently depressed, usually as the result of sustained stress. High achieving leaders can be prone to this. They can live life in the fast lane for so long that they get addicted to adrenaline. The trouble is, they burn out their adrenaline receptors so they have to do increasingly risky things, even acting in out-of-character and some times morally wrong ways to get any sense that they are alive.
Do godly people suffer depression? You bet!
Depression can express itself as an inability to see joy or be motivated by anything. It can be a hell of blackness and despair where no hope reaches you. Food loses its flavour, humour is irritating, you can’t sleep, and you are unable to feel the love of those closest to you. You break out in anxiety at the thought of putting out the rubbish bin, and you can sometimes feel as if you are having a heart attack. If this is the case, get help fast. If you don’t take a few weeks off when the symptoms are mild, you will end up having to take months off. And if you don’t take months off when the symptoms are severe, you may end up taking years off… if you return to work at all.
Do godly people suffer depression? You bet! Some of Christianity’s greatest theological luminaries suffered from depression e.g. Martin Luther, Søren Kierkegaard, and Charles Spurgeon. Even Elijah the great Old Testament prophet suffered from it. Despite his experience of God providing an endless stream of oil to fill the jars collected by a widow; and despite being used by God to raise a child from the dead; and despite miraculously defeating the priests of Baal on Mt Carmel… he ran away to the desert and asked God to take his life (1 Kings 19:4). His depression made him irrational and gave him the conviction that he was the only godly person left in the land.
It is interesting to note how God responded to Elijah’s depression. God fed him, rested him and brought in an apprentice who would eventually replace him.
Is depression a deadly sin? No. Nothing is ever so broken that it can’t be managed or mended in God’s economy. Many, like the Danish theologian, Søren Kierkegaard, have offered their suffering to God as a sacrifice, and have honoured God by remaining faithful despite their depression. However, please do all you can to be free of it, i.e. by employing prayer, pills and pillows. Make sure the burden you carry is no heavier than it needs to be.
Finally, here are some verses to soothe the soul:
Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you (1 Peter 5:7).
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God (Philippians 4:6).
Dr Nick Hawkes is a scientist, pastor, apologist, writer and broadcaster. He also describes himself as an absent-minded, slightly obsessive man who is pathetically weak due to cancer and chemo, who has experienced, and needs to experience, the grace of God each day.
Nick has written a book Soar above the Storm in which he draws on his experience of cancer to encourage anyone walking through a storm in life to find rest and hope in God. It offers a 40-day retreat to be refreshed and strengthened and find deep peace in God. Order it at Koorong.
He blogs and records podcasts at nickhawkes.net
Nick told his life story to Eternity https://www.eternitynews.com.au/good-news/deadly-storms-heroin-addicts-cancer-and-my-faith/