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
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
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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