GENERAL DEFINITION AND CAUSE
Define the United States of America. You could say that the USA is 50 states, that its government is of the people, by the people, for the people; you could talk about diversity, freedom, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Depression is like that. It is one enormous topic that we cannot fully cover in one small article. Depression is more than a passing feeling or sadness or malaise. It is lasting and impacts your body, thoughts, actions and relationships. What we are going to look at will benefit all of us whether we suffer from major depression or bouts of joylessness, sadness, anxiety or obsession. In fact the modern word depression literally means, “a low place.” All of us have experienced a low place in life, so what we will try to unpack is for all people.
The causes of depression are varied: It can be caused by your environment, past hurts and wounds. It is caused by biochemical imbalances, temperaments, genes, nutrition, spiritual attack, personal choices, general health, and the list goes on. There is no single cause of depression. It is part of that broad category called “the fall.” In Genesis, Adam and Eve disobeyed God, sin entered the world and messed everything up. This is not to say that depression is a result of direct personal sin. That could be a cause of depression for some of us, but the fact that the world is not as God originally intended it to be is the foundational cause of all pain, suffering and difficulty in life. I want to be very careful not to put simplistic answers on complex realities in our life, but let’s also realize that all truth ultimately resides in the author and sustainer of truth, God himself.
BIBLICAL AND HISTORICAL
Depression is not something new, developed by modern psychology, and it is supremely biblical.
The historical word for Depression is Melancholia and it literally means “black bile.” The ancient Greeks thought that melancholia came from the kidneys or the spleen producing sadness and irritability. Over 2,500 hundred years ago Hippocrates observed depression. Writing about one patient he says, “Stupor accompanies her continuously; loss of appetite, sleeplessness, loss of initiative, attacks of rage, discontent, expressions of melancholy affect.” Very modern sounding. Thousands of years after Hippocrates, President Abraham Lincoln writes about his struggle with depression, “I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on earth. Whether I shall ever be better, I cannot tell; I am awfully forebode I shall not.” Many great Christian leaders from the protestant reformer Martin Luther, to the great preacher Charles Spurgeon wrestled with depression. This is not a new struggle and we see this struggle in the Bible.
The Psalms are filled with struggle, times of deep depression written down by David and others. Psalm 42:1-11 and Psalm 43, in the Hebrew Bible, is connected as the psalmist laments his situation and the situation of the Jewish people. It is honest and so relevant for us today. As we read, the word “downcast” can also be translated as discouraged, to mourn, or to moan. Pay special attention to verse 3 that reveals the depth of his depression. His tears are his food. He cannot stop crying and in verse 4 he remembers a joyful past but it is not the experience of the moment.
NUTRITION, SLEEP, ACTIVITY, SPIRITUAL ATTACK
I want us to focus on two core biblical truths as we walk through depression. God has created the spiritual and the physical to be woven together. To think otherwise is a heresy called Gnosticism. It is what Paul was writing about in 1 Corinthians 6 when the church people had determined that what they do with their bodies does not impact their spirit. The clear biblical view is that we are whole created beings, physically, socially, communally, each impacting the other. So what you do with your body does impact your spirit. This is why physical activity, proper nutrition, and appropriate sleep is crucial for all people. And, when necessary, wisely prescribed medication is a tool to walk through depression.
There is, of course, the truth that Satan wants to paralyze us. He wants us to stay in that dark, depressed place. If the Joy of the Lord is our strength as Nehemiah proclaims in Nehemiah 8, then Satan wants to suck the joy out of us. As Paul writes in Ephesians:
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
We must be a people of prayer, invoking the very God who will stand against the spiritual attacks in our life. Paul goes on in this same chapter and writes:
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.
The saints are the believers in Jesus Christ. We must be prayer obsessed if we are to experience victory over the forces of darkness and their desire to suck every aspect of joy out of our lives. I want to bore down deep into just one way of overcoming depression (This is a crucial path, but it is not at the exclusion of mentors, accountability partners, and professional Christian counselors).
TALK TO YOURSELF
Back to Psalm 42. One of the things we see is that the author is talking to himself. I was always told that if you talk to yourself they will lock you up in a white room, but the truth is that talking to yourself is biblical and one of the foundational truths to experience victory over depression.
In verses 5-6 he is asking himself a question about why he is so downcast. And then he challenges himself to put his hope in God and he even goes further making a statement of action that he will praise God. Finally he reminds himself that God is his savior and in the beginning of verse 6, his God. He then goes on to again admit that his soul is downcast and some translations say deeply downcast. He continues to talk to himself, remembering how faithful God was in the land of the Jordan (the source of Jordan is by Dan at the foot of Mt. Hermon), the heights of Hermon (a high mountain range northeast of Israel) and from Mount Mizar (probably a peak in the Mount Hermon range).
D. Martyn Loyd-Jones wrote one of the Christian Classics on what he calls Spiritual Depression over 40 years ago. He writes: “I suggest that the main trouble in this whole matter of spiritual depression in a sense is that we allow our self to talk to us instead of talking to our self.”
What Loyd-Jones is advocating and what the Psalmist is doing is what Paul calls renewing the mind.
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.
We have so many lies that have built up causing us to spiral downward into a joyless, depressive state. Renewing the mind, literally renovating the mind, is the process of removing the lies and replacing them with the truth.
Common Lies that drive us into depression:
I can do nothing right. I am a waste of air space. I can never be forgiven. God has forgotten me. I have no purpose in this life. I am a total failure. No one loves me. I can never change who I am. I have done too much damage already. I am only as good as the money I make and the status I achieve. I am only valuable if I look good. I have no gifts. I will always be the one picked last. I don’t measure up. There is no hope. I am defined by my kids or my spouse. There is not real life after this life. What matters is what I can touch, taste, purchase and sell. And there are many more lies that saturate so many of our lives. We must tell ourselves the truth as the Psalmist does. We must renew our mind. The Psalmist ends in verse 43:5 not with despair but with hope and resolve: “Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” There is hope, because there is a God. There is hope because God exists above your depression.
When we are trapped in depression we have often over generalized our struggle. We have obsessed over one aspect of our life. In depression (and anxiety) we have often exaggerated or minimized an occurrence. We must renew our mind. Start by:
BE HONEST WITH GOD
The Psalmist is honest about his questions regarding God in verse 9. This is how he feels and he expresses those feelings. Honestly express your feelings to God. He can handle it and he knows them anyway, so by not sharing them you are not hiding them from God. Often by not sharing them with God we are only hiding them from ourselves.
IDENTIFY THE AREA OF STRUGGLE:
Let’s say that you are depressed, or filled with anxiety and unhealthy worry over the state of the economy. Every time you hear the words furlough, COVID, recession or check your personal finances, you are driven deeper into depression. This could be a trust issue, value issue, or lack of understanding of God’s economy.
FIND A TRUTH IN SCRIPTURE:
Find a truth in the Bible that addresses that area. Perhaps you will turn to Jesus’ words:
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”
Find a location that energizes you. This could be outside, in your office, on your favorite chair, in a coffee shop. Remember, our physical is connected to the spiritual so find a place that relaxes you.
READ and RE-READ:
Read and re-read over and over again the verses. Think about what Jesus is saying. Identify the core truths in the text. Life is more than stuff. God takes care of birds and as a child of God will he not take care of me? I am valuable to God even more valuable than his animal kingdom. If I worry that won’t change the economy and it won’t add another day to my life.
CLOSE YOUR EYES AND MEDITATE
Close your eyes and picture Jesus saying these words to his disciples because he did say these words. As a Christ follower you are disciple of Jesus. See Jesus saying them to you because he is. Remember that the Bible is active. It is alive because it is God breathed. Jesus is speaking truth to you in this area. See Jesus speaking these words to you.
WRITE IT DOWN AND TAKE IT WITH YOU
Write down the verse and take it with you. When you begin to become depressed about this area don’t focus on the area but focus on Jesus and his truth. Pull it out and read it. This is biblical meditation, renewing the mind.
This is one biblical way to talk to yourself, to speak to yourself, instead of allowing yourself to speak to you. The great reformer Martin Luther struggled deeply with depression yet never allowed it to own him. His words are a challenge for us today “grit your teeth in the face of your thoughts, and for God’s sake be more obstinate, headstrong, and willful than the most stubborn peasant,” this must be your attitude as you fend off the dark valley of depression. As a follower of Christ your hope is in the one who has not forgotten you. He is the one who can overcome all the dark valleys of our life, so focus more on Christ and His work than anything else. Obsess over Jesus and his work in your life and this world. Think about Christ and all that is right and good that he created. Be consumed by Christ and the truth of his word. Live what Paul writes in Philippians:
And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.