Dealing with Depression in the Age of Grace
By: Scott Morton
There are many people who are struggling in their lives. They take a look at situations they have to deal with, not knowing how to handle them. They may, therefore, experience feelings of confusion and feelings of depression.
Many people in both the United States and Canada who at some point in their lives will have to deal with depression. They take a look at situations they have to deal with and don't know how to handle them. Later we will see that everyone has problems. Some, however, are able to handle these problems properly, whereas others are not as fortunate and may, therefore, have to struggle with depression, sometimes a long-term depression.
Before we begin to take a look at how to deal with depression, it is important to put some of this in perspective. According to an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 6.6 percent of people, which is about 14 million people in the United States, are dealing
with depression. In Canada it is estimated that 8 percent suffer from depression at some point in their lives.
There is also some evidence in scientific circles that faith, in particular prayer, helps when dealing with depression. In a study done by Duke University Medical Center, those who had a sense of religion in their lives had fewer symptoms of depression. Another study, done by Yale University School of Medicine, showed the same information related to faith and depression.
Since there are so many people who suffer from depression, it becomes important to develop an answer to this problem. Many people try all sorts of things, but they never stop to think about what the Bible says. This article will take a biblical approach to looking at depression and will come up with an answer from Gods Word as to what we must do to take care of issues before they turn into a depression.
What is Depression?
It is important to our discussion to identify exactly what depression is. This is necessary due to the fact that some of our readers may not have suffered depression in their lives, nor have encountered someone who did. We can only have a full answer for what to do to treat depression if we have a clear understanding of what it is.
Let us first take a look at what the American Psychiatric Association has to say about what would be called a major single depressive episode:
A. Five (or more) of the following symptoms have been present during the same two-week period representing a change from how they previously functioned. At least one of the symptoms is (1) a depressed mood or (2) loss of interest or pleasure.
1. Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day, as indicated by either subjective report (e.g., feeling sad or empty) or observation made by others (e.g., appears tearful).
2. Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day, nearly every day (as indicated by either subjective account or observation made by others).
3. Significant weight loss when not dieting or weight gain (e.g., a change of more than 5% of body weight in a month), or decrease or increase in appetite nearly every day.
4. Insomnia or hypersomnia nearly every day.
5. Psychomotor agitation or retardation nearly every day (observable by others, not merely subjective feelings of restlessness or being slowed down).
6. Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day.
7. Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt (which may be delusional) nearly every day (not merely self-reproach or guilt about being sick).
8. Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness, nearly every day (either by subjective account or as observed by others).
9. Recurrent thoughts of death (not just fear of dying), recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt, or a specific plan for committing suicide.
B. The symptoms cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
C. The symptoms are not due to the direct physiological effects of a substance (e.g., drugs or medication) or a general medical condition (e.g., hypothyroidism).
The one thing to remember is that these symptoms can carry on for a long period of time, such as months or even years. This would be termed a Major Depression.
In Canada, a list of similar symptoms is used to determine whether a person has depression. Major Depressive Disorder is characterized by one or more major depressive episodes (at least 2 weeks of depressed mood or loss of interest in usual activities accompanied by at least four additional symptoms of depression).
The following is a list of symptoms that would define a depressive episode: feeling worthless, helpless, or hopeless; loss of interest or pleasure (including hobbies or sexual desire); change in appetite; sleep disturbances; decreased energy or fatigue (without significant physical exertion); a sense of worthlessness or guilt; and poor concentration or difficulty making decisions.
It is clear from what we have seen that depression can be very debilitating to the person suffering from it. It can only be described as a long period of despondency that greatly affects the ability of an individual to carry on a normal and healthy life.
Depression affects many areas of the persons life and almost appears to create a continuous cycle of symptoms that cannot easily be broken. Persons suffering from depression start to feel badly about the symptoms they are experiencing, which only serves to heighten the depression. It is only through the Word of God that we can find the answers needed to prevent depression or to alleviate depression if the person has already started to suffer from it.
Depression truly results from how it is that we view ourselves. When a person takes her/his focus off what God has done for them and starts to look at what it is they themselves have done, problems will arise. Some individuals may simply be taught that they should feel good about themselves.
Truly, nothing greater can be said than what Paul states, that there is nothing in which he can glory but in the cross of Jesus Christ (Galatians 6:14). Paul in particular could have gloried in the flesh, but he states that he counts all fleshly accomplishments but dung (Philippians 3:4-8).
Depression in the Bible?
Generally people think there are no records in the Bible of anyone being depressed. The thought is: "if God is speaking directly to someone (like the prophets of the Old and New Testament), how could they be depressed?" However, many instances are recorded where certain individuals struggled when facing problems. In fact, some of the 'Bible heroes,' as they are often called, could be described as depressed based on what is recorded of them. We will take a look at a couple of examples of this in both the Old and New Testament.
The first person we will take a look at is Job. This is a very obvious example based on what we know of him, even from a basic understanding. We see that Job was blessed with many material possessions (Job 1:3-4) based on the fact that he was obedient to do what God told him to do. Things seemed to be going very well in Job's life until God allows Satan to test his faith (Job 1:8-12). This leads to a series of very serious losses in Job's life where he first loses his worldly possessions, then his sons and daughters (Job 1:13-19), followed by problems to do with his physical health (Job 2:7).
All these losses would be a lot for any person to have to endure, but the book of Job tell us that Job sinned not against God as a result of these very painful and trying circumstances (Job 1:22). However, there are other recorded passages where Job struggles very deeply. We note in Job 3:1-11, for instance, that Job begins to demonstrate self-pity. We also note the effect his deep struggles are having on his sleep:
When I lie down, I say, When shall I arise, and the night be gone? and I am full of tossings to and fro unto the dawning of the day.
Job felt deep anguish in his spirit (Job 7:11). It is clear from what we have seen that Job was dealing with depression based on the circumstances of his life. He went through many trials and is usually looked upon as a model of how people can get through very troubling circumstances. We see from Job's example that he maintained his faith throughout all of what happened to him (Job 42:1-6) and that he was blessed as a result of his continuing faith in God (Job 42:12-15).
The next person we will use as an example of how people in the Bible suffered from depression is Moses. This is a little harder to understand, as he was the chosen one through whom God would deliver the nation of Israel from captivity in Egypt. He also was God's chosen person through whom the Law (the Mosaic Covenant) was given to the nation of Israel. We see that Moses had a close relationship with the Lord and spoke with Him many times. It is, therefore, hard to see that Moses could have been depressed.
This account in Scripture is one example where we see negative thinking associated with someone who is depressed. Moses was dealing with the members of the nation of Israel in the wilderness (Numbers 11). They were complaining about their circumstances and were saying they were better off while in captivity in Egypt (where they were slaves!). [It is hard to imagine they could say things like that after all the miracles they had seen God perform on their behalf through Moses and Aaron, and how God was taking care of them.] We see in Numbers 11:11 how Moses responded as a result of all the complaints by the people of Israel:
And Moses said unto the LORD, Wherefore hast thou afflicted thy servant? and wherefore have I not found favour in thy sight, that thou layest the burden of all this people upon me?
We see here that Moses was very displeased by what had occurred and that he started to have some serious doubts about what he had been called to do. We also see
that he begins to talk about himself in a very disparaging way as though he did not having favour in the sight of God. From everything we know about Moses we know he did have favour with God, but Moses could not see this at times. This often happens to people who are dealing with depression.
The last person we will use as an example will be the Apostle Paul who is the apostle to the Gentiles (Romans 11:13). He was God's chosen vessel to whom was given all the information related to the Body of Christ in the Dispensation of the Grace of God (Galatians 1:11-12). There are many passages where we see the great things Paul accomplished during his entire ministry, it is therefore hard to picture this great man of God having problems dealing with certain situations and experiencing feelings of depression.
In 2 Corinthians we see Paul struggling emotionally when he is talking about Titus, a brother very dear to him. Paul had expected Titus to be there waiting for him when he returned to Troas (2 Corinthians 2:12). However, Titus was not there when he arrived. We read how Paul felt when this occurred:
2 Corinthians 2:13
I had no rest in my spirit, because I found not Titus my brother: but taking my leave of them, I went from thence into Macedonia.
Paul experienced no rest in his spirit. His immediate response was to avoid being around others who were there and leave. He goes to another area (Macedonia) and tries to rest there, but was not comforted until the coming of Titus (2 Corinthians 7:6). This is a passage we will come back to later in this article when we look at how to effectively deal with depression. There were many things with which Paul had to deal during his ministry, events that caused him some problems. In fact, we even see from 2 Corinthians 1:8 that he despaired of life at one time. Despairing of life is a clear symptom of depression, especially in extreme cases, as this leads to a suicidal mindset.
It is clear from what we have reviewed so far that some people we read about in the Bible showed symptoms of depression. There are many other such instances, but the main point is that depression can result from situations people sometimes have to deal with in their lives.
Why do we have to suffer?
The next logical question we could ask is: why do we have to suffer? We have established that some people in the Bible experienced very difficult circumstances, which caused them to suffer from depression. It is hard to understand that, because one would think that a person with whom God is personally communicating would have things go fairly easy in his life. In the Old Testament we see that God dealt with the nation of Israel directly through Moses, and that every time they did things Gods way, things went well; if they did not, they had to suffer the consequences as stated in Deuteronomy 28.
It is clear even from the beginning of the Scriptures that suffering would be a part of the lives of mankind. This came about as a result of the fall of man in Eden. Man had initially been created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26) and were therefore immune from problems of depression. We see the results of the problem of sin when we examine the judgment God handed down as a result of their breaking his command to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The first thing we see is that the woman (Eve) had her sorrow greatly multiplied (Genesis 3:16). It is clear that things were not going to be as easy for her as they were in the past. This is also true of Adam, as God proclaims a curse on the ground (Genesis 3:17). From this point onward, Adam (and all of mankind after him) was going to have to work very hard in order to grow food, which was not the case prior to their fall into sin. God also proclaimed that they would experience death (Genesis 3:19), which also was something they had not seen previous to their fall into sin. As a result of the sin of one man, death was pronounced upon all mankind that followed after him (Romans 5:12). We see in Romans 8:22 that the whole creation suffers as a result of sin. The path of all mankind that followed after Adam's fall into sin has not been an easy one.
God informs us, as members of the Body of Christ, that there will be suffering in our lives, but that suffering on behalf of Christ will result in our reigning with Him (2 Timothy 2:12). Paul also tells us that we will be glorified with Christ as a result of our suffering with Him (Romans 8:17). Longsuffering is one of the fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23. We know that it includes pain, unhappiness, etc., and that it may be protracted over a long period of time. From these passages we see that none of us will be spared from the problems of life. This goes against what many people teach, however, as they believe that God will deliver them from their problems and that they will not even have to experience any. Paul states in 2 Timothy 2:3 that we are to endure hardness (hardship) as a good soldier. This means that problems are not going to go away and that we will have to learn to deal with them.
It is clear that suffering is part of the Christian life. Some people have different levels of suffering based on their life circumstances, but it is hard to picture a person in the United States or Canada having to suffer the same things that a person in China, for instance, would have to suffer for the sake of Christ. The key point is that a person who accepts the gospel as it has been given through the Apostle Paul is going to suffer as a result of joining themselves to the Body of Christ.
In 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 we read of all the things Paul suffered: he was beaten, thrown in prison, shipwrecked, stoned, robbed, traveled often, in perils among many groups of people, hungry, thirsty, without clothing, and tired. This is a lot for any one person to experience. It would have been easy for Paul, or any other person, to decide to give up following Christ, but Paul kept going, no matter what, because he had been told that he would have to suffer on behalf of Christ (Acts 9:16). It is hard to imagine this, but he was actually given a ministry of suffering, which we are to use as a pattern in our lives (1 Timothy 1:16). Paul clearly understood that. There are three passages in 2 Corinthians alone (ch. 4:7-12; ch. 6:3-10; and ch. 11:23-28) where Paul lists all the sufferings he experienced. These are the things he is referring to when he says that we are to keep his ministry in mind (2 Timothy 3:10-12). Not only did Paul suffer, but it is also clear from everything that is written that he was able to deal with these circumstances in his life with only minimal episodes where he could be described as being depressed. This is why Paul points to the things he has done as an example for us to follow (Philippians 4:8-9).
All throughout the Acts period as well we see the things Paul had to suffer. One example of this is in Acts 14:19-21 where Paul was stoned. It is important for us to notice that Paul kept preaching the Word and was not greatly discouraged by what transpired. There are things in our lives as well that could bring about suffering. In Galatians 6:8, we see that there is a principle of reaping and sowing, meaning that we can expect to suffer consequence when we do things that are wrong.
It is clear that God knows that the members of the Body of Christ will suffer during their daily lives. He states that we have been appointed to suffer afflictions (1 Thessalonians 3:3). It is something that will be part of the life of the believer, as it has been given unto us to suffer (Philippians 1:29). This is also clear from the following verse:
Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his bodys sake, which is the church:
The sufferings we are called to bear is Christ�s, and they are going to abound in us (2 Corinthians 1:5). This is a very large burden for us to bear, but it is what the members of the Body are called to do, we therefore will be able to bear it. The above verse also states that these afflictions are borne for the sake of the members of the Body of Christ, to help each other in our lives, which is something we will take a closer look at as we determine how it is that we are to effectively deal with depression in our lives. The important thing to remember is that Paul declared that we would always carry about the death of Christ, as this would allow the life of Christ to be manifested in us (2 Corinthians 4:10-11). We have been made partakers of the suffering of Christ in order for His glory to be shown through us and in us.
It is also clear from something that 2 Corinthians 1:5 states about what it is that happened to Christ. We read in the accounts in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John that Christ suffered for the things He said and for the things He did. This is going to happen to us too as we face the persecutions that this present evil world has waiting for us as members of the Body of Christ. We see an example of this in John 15:20, where Jesus expresses this same thought to His disciples.
Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 about how he and others were treated and reports on how they were troubled on every side, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken or cast down. What a glorious thing this is, something we should strive for when things do not go well in our lives.
There clearly is a purpose for our suffering and it is important for us to take a look at this and get a clear understanding of it. In Philippians 4:6-7 we see that our suffering should help us draw closer to God. This is the only way we, as members of the Body of Christ, can receive any comfort. Our suffering also allows us to be able to have compassion for others (2 Corinthians 1:4), as we are able to have an understanding of what people are dealing with in their situations.
Before we take a look at how to deal with depression and suffering, it is important to have a clear understanding of the various areas of our lives where we can experience suffering. We see from Philippians 4:11-12 that there can be suffering in areas of basic need, such as food. There can also be suffering in the physical condition or mental state of a person, something that Paul labels infirmities (2 Corinthians 12:10). Another very important thing related to suffering is that God will not allow a believer to bear burdens they are not able to handle (Galatians 6:5). This is particularly true to remember by those who are suffering from depression, as they often feel unable to handle what is going on and suffer more because of it. The following verse is something we all should keep in mind:
2 Timothy 1:8
Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God.
How to deal with depression
We have come to the point in this article where we need to address how it is that people need to deal with depression. It has already been stated that the comfort we will experience can only come from the Word of God. Paul looked to God for the answers and was therefore able to receive the comfort he needed (2 Timothy 4:16-17).
The first thing we have to understand is that the comfort from God can only be experienced by those who are members of the Body of Christ. In order to be saved, a person needs to believe the gospel that is laid out in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. It is only when a person believes this that they can start to receive the promises that God has laid out for us today.
Another thing we saw earlier in this article is that prayer can have a big influence on how a person deals with depression. Prayer should be a part of every Christians life, as this is the vehicle by which we communicate with God. In the Old Testament we see the example of Hannah, for instance, using prayer to deal with her struggles (1 Samuel 1:10). Paul clearly lays out what we are to pray for:
Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God  And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
It is clear that we are to pray for all things. Despite what some people say, when Paul says in every thing, he means every thing we experience in our lives. We are to talk to God about all the details of our lives, everything with which we have to deal. It is important to realize, however, that there are some qualifications related to prayer. Paul states in Romans 8:26 that we know not what we should pray for. This does not mean that we are not to pray to God, but it means that the Holy Spirit makes intercession for us, communicating what it is we mean by the prayers we offer up. The key is that we are not to trust in ourselves in relation to prayer, but that we need to trust in God (2 Corinthians 1:9).
However, the answer to our prayers may not always be what we feel it should be. Paul discusses an incident in his life in 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 where he is asking for a thorn in the flesh to be removed. There is much speculation as to what this actually is, but the answer Paul receives is very important. Paul is told that Gods grace is sufficient for him. There is no promise given that this thorn was going to be removed. The answer is that Paul would be given God's grace in his life in order to be able to effectively deal with the problem at hand. The reason why some people have a problem with prayer is because they feel that their prayers are not answered. The issue is that God is answering our prayer, it just may not be the answer that we would like to receive.
The only source of comfort a person can receive is from God (2 Corinthians 1:3). This is evident as, during the earthly ministry of Christ, we see that He promises that he will send a Comforter, who is the Holy Ghost, part of the Godhead. There is a process that occurs related to the comfort we receive in the following verse:
2 Corinthians 1:4
Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted by God.
The comfort we receive allows us to be able to provide comfort to anyone who is in distress. It does not matter what kind of distress they are in, or if we have ever experienced the same kind of distress this person is experiencing, because it is God who provides the way for us to be able to give the comfort needed to any member of the Body of Christ. It is also clear that Paul means that it is only through faith in Christ that this can happen, because he is clearly writing this epistle to the saints (believers), so it is only to those who believe the gospel that this comfort can be provided.
Another important thing we need to look at in connection with prayer is found in Romans 12:15. Paul is relating here that it is okay for us to express our feelings when providing comfort to another person. Often it is felt that a person has to be emotionally strong, that is, to not show any emotion at all when providing comfort. Paul does not say this; he says that a person may show emotion in connection with whatever the circumstances normally allow for.
We can see an example of this with the Apostle Paul. In 2 Corinthians 7:5-7, we see that Paul felt depressed; it even appears that he is unsure of what will improve his mood, but then we see that he is comforted by the coming of Titus. It took the coming of a specific believer to bring him into a better state of mind.
Part of the comfort a member of the Body of Christ needs is to have a change in their mindset. Paul records in Romans 12:2 that there needs to be a renewing of the mind. It also records in several places that we have the mind of Christ. Therefore, we can only change our mindset by being able to access the mind of Christ. The way through which we can have this mindset is through the study of the Bible the way God would have us do: by rightly dividing it (2 Timothy 2:15). This will allow us to think soberly (Romans 12:3).
For some people depression is due to the fact that they feel they do not have the material possessions they want. There are no promises that we, as members of the Body of Christ, are going to have physical or material blessings, instead, the blessings we are promised are heavenly (Ephesians 1:3). In 1 Timothy 6:7-8 Paul states that we should be content if we have food and clothing, which means nothing more than the basic necessities of life. Paul is not saying that we need to have many things, but that God will provide what we need according to His riches in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19).
I am sure that one of the protests against this method of dealing with depression will be is that there might be sins we have committed which we need to confess as laid out in 1 John 1:9. It is truly a glorious thing when we realize that the sin issue is taken care of by our identification with Christ. In short, there are no sins that we commit that will be charged to our account, or that will take us out of fellowship with God, because we always have access to the comfort that only God can provide.
How great it is to realize that the sufferings we experience now are not able to be compared to the glory we are going to experience.
For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
There is also the issue of how long these negative or painful circumstances in our lives are going to last. Many people are afraid that their depression may last for a long time. However, keep in mind what God says in Psalm 30:5: weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning. This is something to consider the next time circumstances seem to be getting to you, and you become afraid that this depression may last a long time. We are not assured that we no longer will have bad things happen to us, but we do have promises of deliverance:
2 Thessalonians 1:7-8
And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels,
Some people believe that this passage does not apply to us, but Paul wrote this epistle to the saints in the Body of Christ and speaks of a promise of deliverance. This deliverance is going to occur when Jesus Christ comes back for us, which is what is theologically referred to as "the Rapture." Philippians 1:6,10: " being confident ... that He has begun a good work in you ... " That good work continues to be performed in us and therefore we will be kept without offense until the "day of Jesus Christ." Deliverance will not be complete for the members of the Body of Christ until that day comes.
I pray this study has been beneficial to you. It is important to take a look at what we need to do in order to prevent or deal with problems of depression, learning to trust in God and His Word. If you know people who are struggling in their lives, please pass this on to them so that perhaps they might receive the comfort God would want them to have, for that is His desire.