#17 Is Depression a Sin? (shortened)

(For the full version of this Bible study "lesson" - the really, really long version - click here.)

            Originally, I didn’t have this one in the Bible study.  But over the past few years (and more), I have really struggled with depression.  And on-line and in real life, I have found a lot of other people who are struggling with it, too, even Christians. 

            And the sad thing is, not only do they already feel guilty and alone . . . but then other Christians make them feel like “bad Christians” and like they should be ashamed of themselves for having depression or taking medication.  They condemn and judge the hurting person, instead of extending compassion and grace and help.  And that gets me mad!  Freakin’ boiling mad!!!  (Oh, it gets me so mad!)

            And so I decided to add this topic to the Bible study.  (It might sound a little choppy because it's several different posts put together in one.)  I wrote it for the hurting, depressed person who is ashamed of themselves for hurting, who is afraid to speak up about it for fear of being condemned, and who feels alone in their struggles and like there must be something wrong with them. 

            And I wrote it for those who have no compassion but only critical judgment for those who hurt.  I wrote it for those who lack the humility needed to connect to fellow, broken human beings.  And I wrote it for those who don’t realize how many hurting people there are out there and how many of those “happy people with huge smiles” are hiding incredibly shattered hearts.

            I wrote it so that we could start talking about this issue, so that we could grow in understanding and humility and compassion, and so that we could maybe learn to come alongside each other and help each other on our journey through life.  We’re all human, after all.  Aren’t we?

Is Depression a Sin?

            This issue came up recently when I was talking with some women from church.  Our pastor had read off a list of sins at church one day, and it included depression.  And one of the women asked the rest of us what we thought about that.  As someone who struggles with depressed feelings a lot, it got me really wondering if it’s right to call it “sin.”

            Of course, the word depression doesn’t appear in the Bible, so this issue requires some speculation, some outside-the-box thinking.  But my first reaction to this question was:  “Calling it a sin isn’t going to help anyone who is struggling with it.  You can’t just say, ‘You're sinning and you need to stop it,’ and expect that someone is going to be able to go, “Oh, you’re right.  I’ll stop being depressed now and start feeling joyful.’” 

            It doesn’t happen that way.  And it may actually be more harmful to talk like that.  In many ways, I think calling depression a sin is irresponsible.  It will only add to the pain and self-loathing someone feels instead of helping at all (which is exactly what happened to at least one person in our church after the pastor casually and callously listed "depression" as a sin).  It will make them want to clam up more and not tell anyone that they are hurting, causing them to feel more alone and to not reach out and get the help they need.   

            I’ll be honest.  When I was a happy, shiny, exuberant, young Christian, we talked about this kind of thing once.  And my thinking was that depression was a sin, of sorts.  Because you were not “having joy in the Lord” like a “good Christian” is supposed to.  And you were choosing to look at all the negatives about yourself and your life, instead of focusing on Christ’s love for you and on your trust in Him to carry you through life.  You were more focused on yourself than on God, making your pain and heartache an idol.  And that is sin.  A kind of pride, acting like your view of yourself has more weight than God’s view of you.

            I’m not saying that I now think that view is wrong.  There is a lot of biblical truth in it.  But as I have gotten older and struggled with more losses and heartache, I have come to realize that it’s not as simple as that.  It’s not a black-and-white issue.  And it is irresponsible, insensitive, and uncompassionate to simply say “depression is a sin,” as though it’s in the same realm as other sins people commit and can stop anytime, such as stealing, lying, cheating, having an affair, etc.  (And it doesn’t take into account hormonal or chemical imbalances, a history of family mental illness, different personalities, broken families and broken hearts, and what people might be doing to work through it.)

            Oftentimes, depression isn’t something you choose to do; it’s something that happens to you, even though you don’t want it and maybe did nothing to cause it.  And it takes a lot more than “stop sinning and be joyful” to work through it.

            To me, that is exactly the kind of “pat answer” or simplistic, judgmental Christian notion that I have been shedding over the years as God has broken me in many ways, as He has stripped me of my own cocky, confident wisdom and ideas of how everything “should be.”  It’s the kind of thing someone would say who has never struggled with real gut-wrenching depression but who is passing judgment on someone who has.  Or someone who has successfully gotten through it and is looking down smugly on those who are having a harder time getting through it.  It's focusing on a person's "behavior" but neglecting to care for their heart.  (In fact, maybe we could add “uncompassionate, simplistic judgmentalism” to that list of sins.  Because even though those words are not in the Bible, the idea is there, especially when you look at the Pharisees.)

            The way I see it (remember this is just my opinion and you don’t have to agree) is that we cannot simply say “depression is a sin.”  It needs to be explored and unpacked more.  What do we mean when we say “depression”?  What is the depressed person doing in response to the depression?  Are they fighting against it in godly ways or wallowing in it, clinging to it as part of their identity so they can have an excuse for why they are the way they are? 

            It’s not the “being heartbroken” part that is a sin; it’s the “what are you doing about the depression” part that makes all the difference.

            According to the Oxford American Dictionary, depression is a state of being really sad or hopeless feeling, oftentimes resulting in physical symptoms. 

            Is it a sin to be excessively sad for any stretch of time? 

            Let’s say you were abused as a child, sent into foster care, never knew a warm, loving home, and never had anyone make you feel like you mattered or were worth something.  And then, as you got older, you would see everyone else getting together with their families for the holidays and having a good, loving time.  And it made you feel excessively sad for awhile.  It made you depressed regularly throughout the year.  Would it be wise and right for anyone to say, “It’s a sin to let yourself get sad like that.  Count your blessings, pal, and have joy in the Lord” (as they go back to their loving family, leaving you alone again)?  (And for the record, this isn't based on my life.)

            I don’t think it’s the sadness that is the sin.  We will all feel sad.  We will all struggle with negative feelings about ourselves.  Some a lot more than others, especially if you did not have the warm, loving families and upbringing that other people had.  But sadness is a feeling.  And feelings are neither sinful or not sinful; they just “are.” 

            “In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”  (Ephesians 4:26-27)  

            It’s not feeling angry that is a sin; it’s what you do with the anger that makes it sin or not.  And I think it’s the same with sadness, with depression.

            I think when people call depression a sin, what they mean (what they should mean) is that to hopelessly wallow in depression is a sin, to give yourself over to it is a sin, to embrace it is a sin.

            But there is a difference between struggling with depression and settling into depression. 

            While there are short times that I might settle into depression, for the most part I struggle with depression.    

            Settling into depression is wallowing in it without taking any godly steps to fight it.  It’s making depression your heart’s home.  It’s choosing to put down your spiritual weapons and to agree with Satan about all the negative things about yourself and your life.  It’s agreeing with him about all the ways God has been unfair to you and with the idea that God couldn’t really love you, care about you, handle your problems or make anything good out of your pain.  It’s choosing to let go of your faith in God because life is just too hard and discouraging and you don’t think you can trust Him anymore.  It’s trading in hope for hopelessness.  

            And if sin is “missing God’s mark” then, yes, this is sin.  It’s missing the mark, what God wants for your life and your faith.  If we choose to let go of God and to cling to our feelings instead, then we are living in sin.  

            But, as I see it, struggling with depression is not a sin.  Struggling with depression is choosing to battle against it, even if the battle is long and hard.  Even if it’s a daily uphill climb, full of setbacks and obstacles. 

            Quite honestly, isn’t that just life anyway? 

Saul vs. Job vs. Job’s Friends

            Let’s look for a moment at some people from the Bible.

            In 1 Samuel 18 and up, we read how King Saul gives himself over to negative thoughts and feelings.  To jealousy and fears.  He broods over them.  He nurses these feelings until they consume him.  He had everything he could want, but he took his focus off of God and put it on his feelings, on all that was bothering him about his life, about David.  And losing his focus eventually led to his demise.  That was an unhealthy way to deal with his feelings.  It was destructive and it was sin.

            But then there was Job, who was a righteous man.  He did nothing to deserve the tragedies that God allowed Satan to bring into his life.  He lost everything, but he eventually found a more pure faith.  And it had to do with how he responded to the pain. 

            Let’s look at what Job did in response to the horrible circumstances God allowed into his life. 

            First, even in his extreme anguish, he humbly threw himself before God’s “God-ness.”

            “”Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.  The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”  (Job 1:21)

            “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”  (Job 2:10)

            Despite the incredible loss and pain, he threw himself at God.  

            And then for a short time, he sits there with his friends in silence.  Job wallows for a little while, unable to pick himself up, to make himself “happy.”  There is a sense of “I can’t go on yet.  I need to sit here and process this.”  Sounds a little bit like depression.  

            But I don’t think we can accuse Job of sinning here.  Life has knocked him down hard, taken the wind out of him, and he needs to process, to let it all sink in, to sort it out, to come to grips with what has happened and how it has affected him.  He is stunned.  And all he can do in his stunned state is sit there in the ashes and scratch at his wounds with broken pottery, reevaluating what he knows of God and of life and of himself.  I’m sure he had a lot to think about.

            In his despair, Job sat there in complete silence for days.

            But what did his friends do, in their efforts to help?  They go into all these pat-answers of how Job went wrong and what he should do and how God operates.  They act like they have it all figured out and that if Job can just see it their way and do it their way then things would be better.  Their wise, godly, loving support basically includes pearls-of-wisdom (paraphrased) such as these:

            1.  Who are you to be so discouraged about what God is doing in your life!?!  (Hmm, sounds a bit like, “You are sinning by letting yourself be so depressed.  Be joyful because God is in control.”)

            2.  You must be living in hidden sin, and so you got what you deserved because God wouldn’t do this to a righteous man.

            3.  Your kids got what they deserved!

            4.  You have no idea what you are talking about.

            5.  You are putting your faith in the wrong thing, not in God, and this is what happens to people who put their faith in the wrong thing.

            6.  God is using this to teach you a lesson, to mold you and make you a better person.  So you should accept it as a blessing.

            7.  If you would just listen to this wise, godly advice that God personally revealed to us, you would get back into God’s good graces and everything would be better again.

            8.  You need to be rebuked for the things you cry out against our mysterious, holy God.  Who do you think you are!?! 

            9.  What has happened to you to make you so angry, to make you say such things about God!?!  (Umm . . . DUH!)

            10.  You need to set aside this anger and extol His work, praise Him, for He is magnificent and far beyond our understanding.

            11.  Basically, Job . . . you are doing it all wrong!

            They seem to have such godly-sounding advice for people who have never gone through that kind of pain before. Great friends, huh!  

            I mean, it really did sound wise and godly.  There was a lot of truth in it.  And they were defending God’s character and actions against Job, who (in their judgment) was saying things that no wise, good Christian should say.  And this only further confirmed for them the idea that Job was in sin and being punished, which gave them more ammunition against him and made them “more righteous” by comparison. 

            But Job doesn’t buy all that nonsense.  He knows he did nothing to deserve what happened.  And he still has too much wrestling to do with himself, his faith, and his God to just spring back up again and get on with life right now.  It’s not time to get up off the ground yet.  He is still processing.  It takes time.  Yet I can just hear his friends saying, “You are in sin.  Just get up and be joyful.” 

            It might look like Job is wallowing just like Saul was, giving himself over to depression.  But unlike Saul who turned from God, who let go of God and grabbed onto his negative feelings instead, Job turns to God.  

            Job is struggling with faith issues and negative views of himself and of God.  But what makes all the difference here is that Job brings them to God.  He lays it all out before God in prayer.  He holds nothing back, even if it sounds ugly and harsh and self-righteous and untrusting.  He cries out to God in transparency, giving vent to thoughts and feelings (paraphrased) such as these: 

            1.  Cursed be the day I was born!

            2.  Cursed be my life!

            3.  I long to die!

            4.  I have no strength left to hope.

            5.  God Himself has taken aim at me with poisonous arrows.

            6.  I don’t think God is listening to my cries and pleas.  In fact, I think He would just multiply my wounds for no reason.

            7.  I did nothing to deserve this!

            While Job’s friends were busy teaching Job a lesson and defending God with righteous-sounding arguments, Job was doing this: “I loathe my very life; therefore I will give free reign to my complaint and speak out in the bitterness of my soul.”  (Job 10:1)  Job was not concerned with sounding like a “nice, good Christian.”  He was pouring out his heart honestly.  But the thing is, he was not just talking to his friends about his bitterness.  He was talking to God about it.

            His friends were busy talking about God, but Job was talking to God!  

            1.  Even when I am resting, You terrify me with visions and dreams.

            2.  What is man that You think of him, examine him, and test him?

            3.  Why won’t You look away from me and leave me alone for a moment?

            4.  What have I done to You?  Why am I Your target?

            5.  You shaped me and made me.  Why would You now destroy me?

            6.  Why didn’t You just let me die at birth?

            7.  Hear my cries, Lord, and answer me!  Why do You hide from me and consider me Your enemy?

            All throughout Job’s replies to his friends, he speaks to God, too.  And he doesn’t polish it up.  He is in intense pain, and he speaks out of his intense pain.  He doesn’t try to talk himself out of it.  He doesn’t say, “Well, it’s a sin to be angry, depressed, and to lash out at God, so I better stop it and just accept what has happened and be happy.” 

            No, he gives full vent to his fears, doubts, thoughts, feelings, and pain.  Sometimes, you have to go through this.  There is no way out sometimes – no way to acceptance - but through crying out honestly to God!

            To be fair, there was a lot of truth and wisdom in what his friends said.  It sounded like inspirational sermons you might hear at church. 

            But the problem was . . . they had no idea what they were talking about in this particular situation.  They had all these fancy, godly-sounding arguments, and they thought they were speaking up for God.  But they had no idea what they were talking about.  

            They did not stop to consider Job’s particular circumstances.  They simply applied their pat-answers and blanket-statements and smug judgments to a situation they didn’t truly understand.  In their pious, self-inflated ignorance, they passed judgment on what Job was going through and how he was going through it.  And in comparison, Job looked like he was less godly, less righteous-sounding. 

            Surely a good Christian wouldn’t talk like that.  A good Christian would humbly and compliantly submit to what God allows into his life, accepting it in thankfulness and finding “joy in the Lord” because He is God and we are not.  A good Christian would not let themselves get so depressed and upset and angry at God!    


God’s Response

            But let’s look at what God says, after the friends have defended Him and given all their wise advice, and after Job has wallowed in his pain for awhile and poured out all his bitterness to the Lord. 

            The first thing God does, in Job 38, is put Job in his place.  He reminds him that He is God and that Job is not, that He has created all things and holds all things in His hands and that there is no way that a simple human could compare to Him. 

            Yet I happen to think that even as God is saying this, it’s not in anger at Job.  I think that while God has to correct Job and put him in his place, there is a sense of admiration and tenderness for Job.  Because Job was willing to pour himself out honestly before the Lord - whereas the friends simply spoke about God in haughty, “we know better” ways. 

            And what does God say about the difference between bitterly-honest Job and his pious, lofty, God-defending friends?

            I think it’s interesting to note that God spends a lot of time talking to Job, correcting him, reminding him of who He really is.  But He barely speaks to the friends.  Here they thought they were so righteous and knew God so well and were protecting God’s character from Job’s outcries, yet God barely bothers to respond to them. 

            And even then, the only thing He really has to say to them is in Job 42 when God turns to Eliphaz and says, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.”   And He doesn’t just say it once; He says it twice.  And then God asks Job to pray for them so that He does not deal with them according to their folly.

            Although the friends had all sorts of godly-sounding, God-defending arguments meant to shame Job into becoming a more “proper” Christian, they did not speak rightly of God.  It’s not that there was no truth in what they said; it’s that they were not applying the right truth in the right places.  They were using truth to shame and judge Job, instead of having compassion on him and considering his particular circumstances. 

            And on top of that, their one main message – that Job must be getting what he deserved because God would not allow such trials into a righteous person’s life – was not correct.  In this main argument, they were not speaking rightly of God, for God did indeed allow incredible loss and pain into a righteous man’s life.  (And I think that’s why Job spent so much time wallowing and processing.  His views of God and life and faith and himself were shattered, and he needed time to sort it all out, to assimilate this new information about God, the fact that He would allow such pain into an innocent man’s life.)

            While Job sought to figure this all out and to examine his view of God and life and faith, his friends simply kept defending their preconceived assumption that God doesn’t do this kind of thing to righteous people. 

            And why couldn’t they concede the point that Job was righteous and yet still experienced these losses? 

            I think it’s because if it could happen to Job, it could happen to them.  And they would much rather believe that as long as they behaved properly, these things would never happen to them. 

            In their minds, God was like a formula for success.  And as long as they followed the formula, things would always go well for them.  They simply couldn’t accept the idea that God is more wildly mysterious and uncontrollable than they think He is, that He cannot be manipulated, that He does “unreasonable” things sometimes. 

            I’m also going to speculate that all their fancy arguments to defend God and accuse Job were meant to earn God’s good graces.  Like the scared kids on the playground who join the bully’s side . . . as long as they show their allegiance to the “bully,” He won’t come after them.  They were probably terrified to see what happened to Job.  And it probably shook their view of God, too, and made them feel vulnerable.  And so they had to keep accusing Job of wrong-doing because they did not want to believe that this kind of thing could happen to godly people. 

            Isn’t this something all of us deal with?  Isn’t this often what’s behind our faith struggles and depression and fears?  We want to think that our obedience and godly living will earn us the easy, pain-free life.  We want some kind of control over how our life turns out, like we can keep heartache away as long as we behave properly.  We have expectations of God and how He works and how He rewards us.  And heartaches and tragedies blow our expectations and assumptions out of the water.  It shakes us to the core.  Because not only do we have to face the pain, but now we have to reevaluate how we see God and life and faith and ourselves.    

            But as we do this, as we wallow in the dust and scrape at our wounds and process what’s happened and evaluate what it’s teaching us, our simplistic “pat answers” and faulty expectations and childish assumptions are replaced with a clearer, more accurate view of Him.  And as we see Him more clearly, our faith grows.  A faith not based on misconceptions but on hard – and sometimes painful and confusing – truths.

            Job was willing to let his assumptions and misconceptions be changed.  He was willing to begin seeing God for who He really is – a God who does not have to do things the way we think He should and who does not have to answer to us, but a God that can be trusted anyway.

            But the friends were not willing to have their simple view of God-as-a-formula changed.  It would make them feel vulnerable and not-in-control.  And as God said, they did not speak rightly of Him. 

            As much as we might hate it, God is not a formula.  And bad things do happen to godly people.  Job had to process this, to get through the confusion and pain and anger, to get to the point of seeing God for the wild, mysterious God that He is. 

            And maybe that is exactly the point of the trials sometimes: to humble us, to get us to understand God better, to purify our faith, and (as we see in the interaction between God and Satan in the very beginning of Job) to force us to decide if we will believe in Him and cling to Him no matter what comes our way (as Job did) or if we will cling instead to our misconceptions, assumptions, and expectations of Him (as Job’s friends did). 

            As Job shows us, sometimes there is a time to vent to God, to wrestle with Him over our fears and doubts and pains, to struggle with our expectations, misconceptions, and assumptions.  Instead of worrying about the “proper” way to respond, Job basically called God out, saying, “Let’s get in the ring, God.  You and me.  Gloves off!  Bring it!” 

            Did you ever see Forest Gump?  It’s been a long time since I have, but there’s this part where Lieutenant Dan rails at God from the boat, fists waving in the air, shouting all sorts of angry things at Him.  And I don’t remember exactly what he said.  I just remember that it was with an attitude of “I’m angry with You.  Let’s get it all out in the open now!  We’re getting in the ring, gloves off!  Bring it on, God!  It’s You and me!  Let’s do this!” 

            And I used to think, How horrible and disrespecting toward God.  God must hate that!  Lieutenant Dan would earn himself some serious punishment with that kind of displeasing, impolite outburst.

            But as I’ve gotten older and learned more about God and learned to be more transparent with Him and let Him into the sealed-off parts of my heart, I now realize, Lieutenant Dan is doing it right!  That’s what pleases God more than quietly shrinking away from Him, hiding the hurt parts of our heart in order to be “pleasing” to Him, nursing our wounds in private.  He’d rather have us rail at Him in all honesty than pull back in a false form of trust and humility.  He wants us to wrestle with Him if wrestling is what will create a deeper relationship and stronger faith, to give it our all, to cling to the very end, to passionately throw ourselves at Him and not let go until He blesses us.

            I think wrestling with God is something we will all have to do at some point in our lives.  In the trials and heartaches and unanswered prayers and unfulfilled dreams and shattered hopes and the failures and doubts and fears and questions. 

            And it’s okay to wrestle with Him.  To grab on and say, “I won’t let go until You bless me, either with an answer or with wisdom or with peace and joy in You alone.”  He’d rather us grab on and cling to Him, even when we are angry or in pain, than have us turn from Him and grab on to something else. 

            We will wrestle with Him for different reasons throughout our lives.  I definitely have.  But if we cling long enough, we will be blessed.  We will be blessed either with the answer we want ... or with the grace and peace that comes from Him to accept the answer we don’t want.  And sometimes the greatest blessing that comes from wrestling with Him is just having been near Him, having been in His presence, letting Him walk with us through our hard time and yet learning to find our joy in Him and not our circumstances. 

            Among others things, wrestling with Him helps us . . . 

            - learn that He is God and we are not, and to be okay with that.

            - put down burdens that we were never meant to carry.

            - learn to need Him.  Not just want Him, but really, desperately need Him.

            - understand what it means to “walk by faith, not by sight.”

            - learn to recognize and listen to that “still, small voice” of the Holy Spirit.

            - let go of the control we desperately cling to and to cling to Him instead, in trust and reliance.

            - root out self-sufficiency, pride, expectations, misconceptions, demonic footholds, selfishness, laziness, lukewarm-ness, weak areas, ungodliness, hidden sins, etc.

            - learn to rest in Him and to wait on Him and to be faithful, no matter what.

            - become more honest and transparent with Him and with ourselves.

            - uncover any lies we might be living or believing.

            - learn to accept God’s forgiveness and to forgive others.

            - learn to see Him as He really is and ourselves as we really are.

            - open our eyes to other people’s hurts and needs.

            - prioritize our lives and goals as He wants us to.

            - live with eternity in mind.

            - get back on the path He wants us on.

            - learn humility and obedience and to seek righteousness.

            - trust His love, and learn to love others and let ourselves be loved.

            - learn genuine thankfulness and contentment.

            - learn to praise Him in the pain, to find our joy in Him, and to learn that His grace is sufficient.

            - learn to rely on God’s Word and prayer and Jesus’s name.

            - make peace with the life we have and the things we don’t understand and the unclear future.

            - grow through the trials, instead of just whining about them.

            - learn to hold things loosely so that we can allow Him to do whatever He wants with what we have.

            - lighten up and not take things so seriously.

            - learn what grace really is and how much we need it and how to extend it to others.  (I have never really understood and loved the word “grace” so much, not until I broke so bad.  And now, I want to share it with others, too.) 

            Job poured himself out honestly to the Lord.  Job wrestled with God.  And even though Job said things that were harsh-sounding and not very “godly,” God still says that Job spoke rightly of Him. 

            And it’s not that everything Job said was true, because God took time to correct Job’s misconceptions.  It’s that Job got real with God!  He didn’t stuff his feelings and put on a polished, Christian, “joy in the Lord” smile.  He didn’t let his misconceptions cloud his view of God.  He chose to let his view of God be corrected.  And he brought the broken parts of his heart to God, instead of just talking about God like his friends did.  Job drew near to God!  And so God drew near to Job!  Even though it meant that first God had to set Job straight.

            It’s not the pain and heartache that is sin.  It’s what you do with it. 

            Like King Saul, do you turn away from God and grab onto the pain, letting it shape your life and your self-views? Like Job’s friends, do you throw around “truth” as a way to judge how other people are doing in their walks with the Lord or cling to your misconceptions because accepting the truth would be too scary? 

            Or like Job, do you turn to God and bring Him all the pain and ache that is in your heart, choosing to draw near to Him even when you have doubts and fears?  Do you let God purify your faith by correcting your misconceptions, faulty assumptions, and off-base expectations? 

            King Saul settled.  Job’s friends scolded and shamed.  But Job struggled.

            And struggling is not sinful.  It’s part of the process, of trying to work through the pain in your heart, your negative self-views, your doubts and fears about God.  In fact, it is healthy.  If you do not work through these things, they become stumbling blocks in your heart and faith, walls in your relationship with others, with yourself, and with God.

            Maybe sometimes, depression is not much more than “adjustment disorder.”  It’s the struggle to learn to adjust to your life instead of expecting life to adjust to you.  It’s the struggle to learn to trust God when things go wrong instead of demanding your way. 

            [And some of us will never be able to get to a point of being "super happy" all the time.  And I don’t necessarily think that should be our goal.  Because, like it was with Job, some kinds of pain change us forever.  And we will face reminders all throughout our lives of things we lost, ways we hurt, people we ache for, unmet longings, broken dreams, etc.  

            But God-willing, it will become like an old, healed scar.  It might be a little tender when it's poked or bumped, but we can get on with living a full life without it hurting so much and getting in the way everyday.  And sometimes, that has to be good enough.  If you can’t have the life you want, live the life you’ve got, letting God’s love, help, grace, and mercy carry you through.  Is there really any other way?  (And remember that someday - when God makes all things right again - we will get the life we were meant to have.)]   

            It’s easy to turn away from God and to lose yourself in your bitterness when things don’t go your way, like Saul.  And like Job’s friends, it’s easy to judge, scold, and point fingers at how someone else is doing on their spiritual journey. 

            But it’s hard – so hard – to get real with God like Job did.  To take off the “happy” mask, put away the “good Christian” etiquette, ignore the criticism and judgments, and to get into the ring with God and lay it all out there honestly.  But sometimes, it’s the only way to adjust, to maintain and to mature your faith in the midst of pain you wish you didn’t have. 

            Do you know the beautiful thing about the Psalms?  (I never much liked the Psalms until I faced depression.)  Over and over again, the authors honestly pour out their pain and doubts and fears.  But after they do this, they remember God’s character and promises.  They feel the pain and heartache and despair, but then they remind themselves of God's love and faithfulness, even in the midst of incredible pain.

            “Why are you downcast, O my soul?  Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”  (Psalm 42:5-6)

            “I am worn out from groaning; all night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears.  My eyes grow weak with sorrow; they fail because of all my foes.  Away from me, all you who do evil, for the Lord has heard my weeping.”  (Psalm 6:6-8)

             “Hear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy. . . . Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I call to you all day long.  Bring joy to your servant, for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.  You are forgiving and good, O Lord, abounding in love to all who call on you.  Hear my prayer, O Lord; listen to my cry for mercy.”  (Psalm 86:1-6) 

            “How long, O Lord?  Will you forget me forever?  How long will you hide your face from me?  How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? . . . But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.  I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me.”  (Psalm 13: 1-2, 5-6)     

            Does singing God’s praises – does having joy in the Lord – mean that we have to deny our pain, buck up and “be happy”?  

            No.  All throughout the Psalms the pain comes first.  Wrestling with the hard stuff comes first.  But the authors don’t get stuck there.  They let that pain propel them into God’s arms.  They basically preach God’s truth to themselves, reminding themselves of who God is and what He has done. 

            Even Paul, who learned to sing hymns while in chains in prison, found himself despairing at least once.  Yet he did not give himself over to it completely.  He let that despair drive him closer to God, to help him learn to rely on God more and not on things in this life or world.            

            “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered . . . We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we even despaired of life.  Indeed, in our hearts, we felt the sentence of death.  But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.”  (2 Corinthians 1:8-9) 

            Depression is either a temporary stop on the road to true joy in the Lord ... or it’s just a stop, a tar pit of hopelessness that you can’t get out of.  And the direction you are facing – toward God or away from God – will determine if you are headed to joy or to hopelessness.

Are you . . .?

            Are you ignoring the pain inside, running from it or stuffing it down so you don’t have to face it?  You can’t overcome what you won’t face.

            Are you nursing your wounds in private, keeping your real thoughts and feelings hidden from God so that you don’t “offend” Him or so that you don’t look less-Christianly to others?  He can’t heal what you won’t be honest with Him about. 

            Are you trying to work through your pain yourself, in your own power, wisdom, and strength?  He can’t fix the broken things you refuse to give Him.

            Are you clinging to your misconceptions, assumptions, and expectations about God, refusing to let them be challenged and corrected?  If so, you have a shaky, unstable faith, based on half-truths and things you wish were true.

            Are you clinging to negative emotions, letting them rule you, using them as an excuse to be irresponsible, to be stuck, to disengage from life and from others, to not praise Him, to not do your daily job to the best of your ability, or as an excuse for why you are the way you are?  You know, the “it’s just who I am” excuse?

            Are you engaging in destructive behaviors when you are depressed: drinking, drugs, loss of self-control, harmful daydreaming, berating yourself over and over again, comparing your life to other people’s lives?

            Or. . .

            Are you willing to do the hard work of facing the pain and heartache, working through it with God’s help, and letting God heal it?  Are you bringing Him all the doubts, fears, thoughts, and feelings inside of you?

            Are you clinging to Him, scouring His Word for what He really says about you and your life and Himself, letting His truth replace the lies and heal the wounds and letting Him purify your faith by correcting your faulty views?? 

            Even in your sadness, are you still engaging in life and with others, getting up every day and being faithfully obedient, doing your best to do your best for His glory in the jobs He placed in your path today? 

            Are you looking for the blessings, finding things to praise Him for?  You won’t find the blessings if you are intent on looking for all the negative things.

            Are you careful to not engage in destructive or harmful things when you are depressed?  To protect your heart and mind from Satan’s fiery arrows?  Do you recognize spiritual attacks as spiritual attacks, and treat them as such?   

           In your depression and sadness and heartache, are you griping against Him about all that is wrong, like the Israelites in the desert?  Or are you talking to Him about all that is wrong and all your hurts, like Job and Jesus and the authors of the Psalms?   

            The answers to these questions will help you know if you are in sin or not!  If you are handling depression in an unhealthy way or in a healthy way!

What I've Learned On My Journey

            If there’s one thing I’ve learned over these past depressing years of mine, it’s that faith is messy sometimes.  Faith hurts sometimes.  And the trials and heartaches challenge us to answer these two questions: “Do I really believe in God?  And why do I believe?” 

            I have asked myself this before, when things got really bad and yet He still seemed silent.  And the answer I have come to is “Yes, I believe in God.  But I don’t believe in Him because I think it will fix every problem or because it’s fun or because it gives me an emotional high.  I believe in Him because He is real.  Because He is good and faithful, even when life is messy and it hurts and prayers don’t work.” 

            I think our faith becomes more real and strong as we face the hard times and trials.  It’s easy to “have faith” when life is going like we want it to.  But that’s not really faith, now is it?  It’s gratitude that life is good.  It’s happiness because we are getting what we want.  And many times, it’s idolatry in disguise. 

            But when the trials come, we have to struggle with our views of God and ourselves and life and faith.  And we gradually, painfully move from a naïve, untested, “gimme” faith in a version of God that we created in our minds ... to a genuine, hard-won faith in God as He is - a God who is mysterious, who can’t be manipulated by us, who is far above us, who has His own plans and timing, and who is sovereign over all, knowing when to say “Yes” and when to say “No.”  

            Through the trials, we learn who we really are and we learn to have faith in Him for the God that He really is.  And that is a faith that helps us cling through the hard times.

            If we can’t say “Blessed be Your name” during the hardest trials then we don’t really mean it during the easier times either.  If we can’t follow Him when the road gets rough then we’re not really following Him to begin with.  

            And if I may remind you of one more reason to have faith:  This life is not all there is.  There is a spiritual world out there.  There is an eternity out there.  The best is yet to come.  The trials of this short life will pale in comparison to the glory of the next life, eternal life in heaven.

            There are only two options: Life with God or life without God.  And I’d take a painful life with God before I’d take an easy life without God. 

            I trust that someday He will work all this mess into something beautiful, that He will right all wrongs and wipe all tears away.  But until then, I can’t expect life to be easy and fun.  I can’t expect God to do everything my way, fulfilling my dreams and wants and desires.  But I can expect Him to carry me through, to guide me on the right path (even if it hurts), and to make it all right in the end. 

            I don’t have to know what to do.  I don’t have to make things happen.  I don’t have to have all the answers or know what the future holds.  I just need to hold onto Him and let Him hold onto me.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  God is good.  And because God is good, life is good.  Even when it’s not.  I’m gonna be okay.         

Joy in the Lord

            There will be pain to work through in life.  There will be heartaches to face, brokenness to deal with, disappointments to learn to live with.  There will be times we have to learn to be okay with not being okay.  And there will be a time to wrestle with our fears, doubts, shattered heart, shattered faith, and with ourselves and our God. 

            But this is a part of life, of the faith journey.  It happens to everyone at some point, to force us to decide what we will base our joy on, where we will find our hope, why we have faith in God and why we trust Him, and to decide if we will keep our faith in Him, no matter what.

            You can only know true joy when you have known true pain.  You can only know true joy when you have reached the bottom and found that God is there waiting for you, that He is faithful, even in the dark times.  You can only know true joy in Him when you have been stripped of the things that bring temporary joy and fulfillment, when you have had to grab His hand in faith and say, “Things are really bad right now, but I still trust You and believe in You.”

            And this kind of joy is not a happy-go-lucky, la-di-da, I-can’t-stop-smiling kind of joy.  (That’s happiness!)  It is a joy that reaches deeper than that, that settles deep into the most broken parts of your heart, applying God’s healing and truth and love to the hurting wounds.  And oftentimes, it takes pain to get there. 

            This joy is not about skipping and humming all through your day; it’s about learning to carry on through the hard times in His strength and in His peace.  It’s learning to praise Him even when you hurt and to say “It is well with my soul” even when it’s not well in your day, in your life, or in your emotions. 

            It’s a joy that can find contentment in the worst of circumstances.  Not because you are “happy” but because God is there and He is at work and He will make something good out of all the messes.  It is a joy that comes after wrestling with yourself, with faith, and with God.  And like Jacob who wrestled all night with God, it is a joy that leaves you with a limp.  It’s a broken, bittersweet hallelujah!

            And I guess, I’d rather have that kind of deep, battle-tested, fire-purified joy than a naïve, la-di-da kind that makes me feel happy but that hasn’t stood the test of time and trials. 

            Because it's by persevering through the painful trials - by turning to Him instead of away from Him - that we can rise above the messes of life and say (and really mean), "I trust You, Lord.  No matter what.  Though You slay me, I will trust You still.  Blessed be Your name!  Your will be done!"  And it is then that our faith becomes unshakable and our joy in the Lord becomes genuine and complete.

            “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”  (James 1:2-4) 

            “. . . but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”  (Romans 5:3-5) 

Some Posts about Dealing with Depression or Anxiety

            1.  Help For Anxiety , Depression, and Suicidal Thoughts

            2.  War Rooms, Praying Scripture, and Spiritual Warfare

            3.  It Is Written ...

            4.  80+ Bible Verses For Spiritual Warfare

            5.  Getting Through The "Broken" Times

            6.  To All Who Are Ashamed or Hurting ... (song links)

            7.  My "When Anxiety Strikes" Playlist (song links)

            8.  26 Tips for Dealing with Depression/Anxiety (long version)

            9.  26 Tips for Dealing with Depression/Anxiety (short version)

            Don’t let anyone tell you that “depression is a sin.”  That is a blanket statement that isn’t always accurate and that doesn’t help anyway.  (However, it is sin if sin or rebellion against God is what led to your depression, if you sin while depressed, or if you have turned from God and embraced your feelings or Satan’s lies instead.) 

            Some of us will always struggle with depression and sadness and heartache, with pain that we didn’t cause but that we have to deal with.  But that doesn’t mean you are sinning.  It means you are human and you hurt.  And God knows this!  It’s not a surprise to Him that we are human! 

            Settling into depression involves turning away from God and the help He offers, but struggling with depression as a Christian means turning toward Him, running to Him with your hurts, asking His help, waiting before Him in humility, engaging in the spiritual battle that is all around us, getting to know Him as He really is, and finding joy in Him instead of in what this life offers.  And you can hardly call that “sin”!

            “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles.  The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”  (Psalm 34:17-18)

            “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him, . . .”  (Job 13:15)

            “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”  (James 4:10)

            “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”  (James 4:8)

            “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”  (Romans 15:13)

            “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”  (Eph. 3:17-19)

            “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things.”  (Philippians 4:8)

            “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”  (Colossians 3:2) 


3.  How do people tend to view and respond to those in depression?  How do Christians?  How might this affect the person who is struggling?  (And what other struggles could we include while we discuss depression?  Anxiety?  Low self-esteem?  Bitterness?  Etc.?)

4.  Why do some people resist admitting that they struggle or are depressed?  Why might some people be unable to be compassionate towards others who hurt? 

6.  Do you think depression is a sin?  (Remember, it’s okay to disagree with me.)  Does it show lack of faith?  Thanklessness?  Discontentment?  (Or maybe a better question would be “When is depression sin and when is it not sin?”) 

8.  What is the opposite of depression?  Happiness?  Joy?  (How do you define “joy”?)  Do you have to be happy about the pain and trials in order to be considered a faithful “good Christian” who is “not depressed”?

12.  What does the Bible say about depression and struggles like it?  Examples?  Instructions?  Advice?

14.  Does God cause everything that happens, for our own good, or are there other reasons for pain and suffering (such as our own sinfulness, other people’s sins, Satan’s interference, etc.)?  What role does God, His sovereignty, Satan, sin, mankind, etc. play in this world when it comes to suffering?  How might our view of this affect our faith?  Can you think of examples from the Bible or from life?

15.  What do you think I mean when I say “pat answers” and “simplistic, judgmental Christian notions”?  Why do you think I am so bothered by these?  Should I be?  (What do you think I am trying to say when I put "good Christian" in quotes?)

16.  Can you think of other “pat answers” or “simplistic, judgmental notions” that you have heard before?  What kind of advice and criticism is not helpful when people are hurting or struggling?  (Can you think of examples of things we say that might hurt more than help?)  Have you had any experience with this?  And if so, how did it affect you, your faith, and your relationships? 

22.  Do you think that our ideas of what “should be” might affect our faith, life, relationships, view of self, and view of God?  How?

25.  In the lesson, I said that “There is no way out sometimes – no way to acceptance – but through crying out honestly to God.”  What do you think about this? 
            What do you think about my thoughts about Lieutenant Dan, about how I think it’s okay to “get in the ring with God, gloves off, and wrestle”? 
            Do you agree that it’s okay to be real with God about all the ugliness inside, even our fears and doubts and negative thoughts about Him, our life, and ourselves?  Or is it improper?  Will it make Him angry?  How do you feel/think about God's response to Job when he cried out honestly?  (If you think it’s too improper for a Christian to do this, then how should we handle the ugliness and brokenness inside?)

26.  But if it’s okay to show God the “ugly” stuff and to be real with Him and to wrestle with Him, why might we have such a hard time doing this? 

34.  How might denying our pain or our struggles stunt our spiritual growth?  Why and when might admitting to depression and other struggles help us and make us feel better?

35.  Do we (especially Christians) tend to focus on people’s outsides more than their insides?  On the bad words they say more than their broken hearts?  On their bad habits more than their personhood?  On their bodies more than their souls?  Etc.?  Why do we do this?  What effect does it have?

45.  Define “healing” when it comes to depression?  What might it look like?  What can we expect?  Does it mean we will never feel the pain again, or does it mean that we will be able to bear up under the pain and use it productively?  Examples? 

48.  What do you think we mean when we say that there is “grace for each day” and that “God’s mercies are new every morning”?  (What is “grace” and how to we get it and give it, in practical ways?)  What did Jesus mean when He said “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matt 5:4)?

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