Depression and the Christian

by David W. Horn

Nearly everyone has had some sort of experience with depression

at some time in their lives. Depression is a common mental health

problem that occurs in different people for different reasons and to

different degrees.

Among Christians and non-Christians alike, depression remains

one of the most misunderstood emotional problems. As a minimum,

depression is considered a destructive emotion. On the far other

end of the scale, many uninformed Christians consider the onset of

depression as symptomatic of a demonic condition. The fact is that

depression is neither of these things. Depression is a biochemical

imbalance in the brain that can be caused by emotion and external

stimuli, or it can be endogeneous, that is, it can manifest itself

for no apparent reason at all.

Symptoms of depression are as varied as the persons that it

strikes. Generally, there is a "blue" feeling or a feeling of

futility. Depression can manifest itself in such physical symtoms

as headaches, muscle or body aches, weakness, malaise or lack of

"pep," digestive trouble, a decrease in appetite, a lack of interest

in sex, and a general withdrawal from persons or things that the

patient heretofor had found interesting or diverting. Depression may

also cause any number of other physical symptoms that will fully

baffle the patient and the family physician because these symptoms

will persist despite a lack of evidence pointing to any clear organic


For the sake of simplicity, we will limit our discussion of

depression to two basic types. The first type is referred to as a

"reactive" depression. A reactive depression is precisely what the

term implies. It is a depressed state brought on by a reaction to a

particular emotional stimulus. Reactive depressions result from a

variety of life events such as the death of a loved one, a divorce,

or the trauma of a child leaving home for the first time. These

emotional events cause certain changes in brain chemistry which

result in the depressed feeling and the accompanying symptoms.

Reactive depressions may last anywhere from a few days to several

weeks; but in most cases the patient recovers fully and resumes a

normal life. For those that warrant treatment, reactive depressions

can usually be dealt with through counseling or some other form of

psychological intervention. Only the more severe reactive

depressions generally require medication.

The second type of depression that we will discuss is known as

an "endogeous" depression. An endogeneous depression is a more

long-lasting, more serious form of depression. An endogeneous

depression can be triggered by a reactive depression or it may occur

for no apparent reason at all.

Endogeneous depressions can be the results of life-long

difficulties with life events that manifest themselves suddenly into

a depressive episode, or they can simply be caused by an organic

brain dysfunction, often genetic in origin, which results in a

chemical imbalance. They may also be caused by automobile accidents

or some other form of physical trauma. Endogeneous depressions, as

the term implies, are "buried" deep within the subconscious, and

usually require both counseling and medical treatment--the

prescription of a number of drugs to combat the effects of the

depression. Endogeneous depressions can be very severe and can last

anywhere from several weeks to several years. Furthermore, there are

other dangers from such long-term depressions. Research has shown

that the immune levels of depressed people are often well below

acceptable levels and chronically depressed people are often struck

by a variety of debilitating illnesses, including many forms of heart

disease and cancer. Those with severe forms of depression may

medicate themselves with alcohol or drugs or may commit suicide in

order to escape their conditions.

Depression may be experienced by any of us in any number of

ways. It may simply manifest itself as a mild "downer," or it may be

blacker than the deepest abyss. Depression is not something that we

can avoid forever. Either we will experience it ourselves or we may

be called upon to assist someone who suffers from it. Chances are

that both will occur to you sometime in your lifetime. The purpose

of this article is to provide you with some understanding of the

mechanics of depression and how it may be dealt with. In most cases

depression is an emminently treatable condition; and "forwarned is



There has been a dramatic increase in the incidence of diagnosed

depressions within the last generation. A number of Christians also

suffer from this malady; and often the well-meaning members of the

Church are of little or no help. This is because there are many

misconceptions among Christians as to what depression really is and

what the causes are. The fact that certain segments of conservative

Christianity have been trying to paint psychology in general and

depression in particular as evil hasn't helped; and the depressed

Christian finds that he has few alternatives. In this section, I

would like to discuss some of the misconceptions that many in the

Church have about depression.

Many Christians believe that depression is not a state that can

be suffered by the faithful, Christ-following Christian. A number of

television preachers have declared to a gullible audience that to be

depressed is to be in sin, and Christians are not supposed to be in

sin. The advice, generally, is to "Pray, and it will go away." Many

influential Christian writers parrot this sort of advice, often

denigrating psychology professionals along the way. A client of mine

said that she once called a famous Christian preacher's "counseling

line," and was told that her depression was brought on by a vengeful

God who was punishing her. The telephone counselor told her that her

depression was the result of unconfessed sin; and all this person

needed to do was to confess this sin and the depression would go

away. Failure to do so properly would indicate lack of "faith in

God" and that, if the depression continued, it would be indicative of

the sin of "lack of faith."

What is wrong with such generalizations and the advice that

follows? First of all, they oversimplify the causes of depression

and offer very little in the way of advice regarding constructive

treatment. They presume that there is only one type of depression

and only one way to treat it. However, depression is not just a

sadness or a "blue feeling," it is a unique psychological condition;

and all depressions are not the same. Furthermore, proponents of

these simplistic ideas ignore the weight of the scientific research

into depression and the myriad effective treatments that exist to

combat it. Finally, they mistakenly assume that if one cannot see

the cause of the problem--in other words, if there is no evidence of

organic disorder--the problem must be spiritual. They "spiritualize"

any problem that is not understood or cannot be readily seen.

Not only does this sort of position within the Church abound

with scientific flaws, it has Biblical flaws as well. Depression

occurs countless times in Scripture and these depressions are not

always the results of sin. In the "Gospel According to St. Luke," we

read of Jesus' experience prior to his arrest. While the disciples

slept nearby, Jesus knelt to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane:

...and He knelt down and began to pray, saying, "Father, if

Thou are willing, remove this cup from Me"...And being in

agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became

like drops of blood...(Luke 22:42, 44)

Being fully God, Jesus understood the importance of his

impending arrest and execution; but being fully man as well, he was

clearly very depressed at the prospect. In fact, according to St.

Luke, Jesus' depression was so intense that his agonized prayer

resulted in the bursting of the small blood vessels in his forehead

and the mixing of the blood from them with the sweat from his sweat

glands. This rather uncommon medical phenomenon is known as


Another example of depression in the life of Christ occurs in the

eleventh chapter of "The Gospel According to St. John." At the

resurrection of Lazarus, Jesus discovers only limited faith. This

discovery is underscored by the shortest passage in the English

Bible: Jesus wept (John 11:35).

Is depression always the result of sin? One would be hard

pressed to find any conservatve Christian who would claim that

Christ, himself, was guilty of "unconfessed sin."

Another erroneous idea perpetuated by many in the Church is that

depression is God's punishment for sin, but this argument has

theological flaws as well. In the Bible we are told that if we

reject the vicarious sacrifice of Christ we will be judged in our

sins (John 12:48) and punished. If God enforced his punishment now,

what would be the point of repentance? This would allow for a cycle

of repentance and punishment and this concept is not Biblical.

Though God has, can, and does rebuke his children (Rev. 3:19), he

does not punish them in this life through depression or anything

else. Though depression can be aggravated by our turning our backs

on God, it is not caused by God's turning his back on us and

punishing us.

Some folks in the Church believe that depression is caused or

perpetuated by a lack of faith. The implication of such a hypothesis

is that depressed Christians are, in some way, spiritual failures.

It is true that many depressions are caused or aggravated by our

inability to deal with God's standards for our lives or our inability

to adjust to conditions in which God has placed us; but the fact is

that most depressions have little or nothing to do with these things.

* * * * * * * * * * *

This article has been written to provide the Christian with some

basic information about depression, the types of depression, and the

many misconceptions about depression that permeate the conservative

Christian church today. It is not intended to replace the good

counsel of a qualified pastor or a Christian psychologist or


Although many in the church accept the biochemical and/or

genetic nature of many depressions, they also tend to feel that the

cure is within God's purview alone. This is not so. It was never

God's intention that he, alone, should cure all our illnesses and

sufferings. We are told to "Bear on another's burdens, and thus

fulfill the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2)." Obviously God never intended

that he, alone, should directly provide all of the cures. He moves

in any number of ways, and his tools are many. The Christian

counselor is but one of them.

If you or someone that you love suffers from depression, see

your pastor and get a referral to a good Christian psychologist.

Above all, pray about any decision you make, and you can be sure that

God will provide good guidance.

A word of caution: Simply because someone claims to be a

"Christian psychologist" does not mean that he is either "Christian"

or a qualified therapist. Insure that you check the qualifications

of your therapist before beginning therapy. Don't be afraid to

question the credentials of your therapist. An honest psychologist

will have no problem verifying his credentials with you. A serious

problem in "Christian" psychology or counseling is that a number of

well-meaning laypeople have obtained "credentials" through

institutions which are not fully accredited nor are these

institutions fully qualified to grant such credentials. Especially

suspicious should be those "credentials" obtained from institutions

which "see no need" to seek any form of accreditation. A number of

these institutions exist.

* * * * * * * * * * *

As the author of this piece, I am solely responsible for its

contents. This article may be transmitted electronically as long as

it remains intact and unedited. No part of this article may be used,

in whole or in part, within the context of any other article, sermon,

or other work, without my written permission.

This article is provided as a courtesy by the Electronic Library

Exchange BBS, Denver, CO. Phone: 303-935-6323. Any questions

regarding this article may be directed to me there.

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