Depression seems as common as ice cream on a hot, sunny day. Yet many people don’t know if they are affected by it or not. Just taking a clinical look at depression in America, it is believed that 40 million people have depression, and that women are twice as likely to have it as men. Often, doctors give their patients pills to address the symptoms, only to mask a heart condition.
So, what is spiritual depression? Right up front I must tell you that trying to find a succinct and clear definition of it was very difficult; it was like nailing Jello to a wall. But let us process this and come to a working definition. In his booklet “Depression: The Way Up When You Are Down,” Edward T. Welch says that “depression is organic and hard to define.” Why? Because each situation, each dark valley of spiritual depression is unique to the person.
Welch goes on to give us some symptoms, however, that I think will help us grasp this. He describes depression as “feeling numb, yet your head hurts; empty, yet inside there are screams; fatigue, yet fears abound. Things that were once pleasures now hardly hold your attention. Your brain feels like it is in a fog. You feel weighted down.” Let me add, goals seem lost or too hard. You just want to make it through the day. Days feel fuzzy. You function, but you are not very productive. The list goes on and on. What is ironic about this whole thing is that even the medical profession is at a loss for a distinct definition. Thus, they describe it in a list of twenty or so symptoms; if you have five of them, you are considered depressed. Most people are likely to find five symptoms that apply to them in a list of twenty. Now let me throw these definitions at you: “Depression is a prolonged emotional tone dominating an individual’s outlook and mood. Normal moods of sadness, grief and elation are typically short-lived and part of everyday life, but these can progress into a depressed mental state” — Stephen Shober of the Berean Bible Society. R.C. Sproul, in the simplest of terms, calls spiritual depression a “joy thief; it is pressure on the soul.” And biblical counselor Zack Eswine defines spiritual depression as “ordinary sadness that is stuck or infected. A person caught in spiritual depression feels that God has left them and they are spiritually and emotionally alone.”
Now with those definitions swirling in our heads, let us ask what the Bible says about depression. If you were to search the Scriptures, you would find that there is no biblical warrant calling sadness or spiritual depression a sin. Nowhere. So how do we handle that? It must be said that one who has spiritual depression can use that condition to sin — but in and of itself, it is not sin. Let me give you some biblical evidence. The Bible points to sadness as demonstrating wisdom and something we are to help each other with. Ecclesiastes 3:4 says, “A time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.” Ecclesiastes 7:3–5 tells us, “Sorrow is better than laughter, for when a face is sad a heart may be happy. The mind of the wise is in the house of mourning, while the mind of fools is in the house of pleasure. It is better to listen to the rebuke of a wise man than for one to listen to the song of fools.” We have the book of Lamentations, in which the prophet is saddened over the state of Israel. Proverbs 25:20 says, “Like one who takes off a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar on soda, is he who sings songs to a troubled heart.”
Scripture commands us to weep with those who weep, to embrace their sadness and sorrow. Romans 12:15 tells us, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” We are to walk with them in their dark valleys; Galatians 6:2, “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.” Notice that this isn’t a time for you to cheer up someone who is sad, but to walk with them through their sadness.
So, if sadness is biblical and appropriate, how do we understand it — especially if it leads to a deeper sadness called spiritual depression? Here is the key: 2 Corinthians 1:5–6, “For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer.” Knowing that sadness is a part of our lives, we apply the truth in 2 Corinthians 4:16–18 where it says, “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
Spiritual depression is a deeper sadness. You are stuck in your sadness and infected by it. If you are depressed, you often make decisions based on what you think. In that depressed state, you will probably have dark thoughts, feel hopeless, be pessimistic, and be critical of others and yourself. Your reality is not true reality. Your thoughts are tainted and obscured. Beloved, that is a bad place to be. Spiritual depression is sadness stuck and infected in your heart.
So, what is our hope? What is our answer? The simple answer is Jesus. And you must remember, depression doesn’t have the last word; Jesus does. Let me remind you of the words of our God in 2 Corinthians 4:7–10, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.” Beloved, what great hope there is in these verses. They tell us that there are limits to our depression. We might experience it, but it is not permanent, nor is it fatal. Jesus is our hope!