Biblical Reasons for Depression

by Cliff McManis

From a survey of the whole Bible it is possible to suggest several causes of depression. In a previous article, when we looked at authoritative secular sources about the definition of depression, these sources did not include a cause for depression. The closest they came was to call it a medical condition or a “mental illness.” There are actually many contributing factors to depression. Following are several illustrated in Scripture.

Unconfessed Sin
Sin is not the only cause for depression, but it can be a major factor in many cases. This reality is virtually ignored in secular psychology and psychiatry. Psalms 32 and 38 reveal the detrimental effects of unconfessed sin. When David tried to hide his sin from man and God he was smothered with anxiety, distress, and a lack of joy. In Psalm 51, he relays how his transgressions, sins, and evil behavior sapped him of his joy. Only after he fully repented and told the truth about his adultery did God restore his “joy and gladness” (v. 8).

Non-Christians harbor the worst unconfessed sin of all—suppressing the truth of God (Rom 1:18) and rejecting Jesus as Lord (John 3:18-20). Unbelievers will never have true joy or relief from ultimate depression in this life until they repent of their sins and embrace Christ as Savior and Lord. Unbelievers can’t know true joy apart from Christ, and, as a result, they live in darkness, meaninglessness, and under the constant wrath of God (Rom 1:18). John 3:36 is clear: “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” The word for “abides” here is menō, and in the present tense means the word gives the sense of “continues unabated.” In other words, unbelievers can’t shake the wrath of God pressing down on them because of their unbelief. Only salvation in Christ will provide the supernatural relief they need.

Ignorance About Sin
Many Christians are not fully aware of their sin and its attendant consequences. This can be a great cause of sorrow and depression in the life of a believer, particularly among newer believers, and especially those who get saved later in life. Christians are often not aware that sin permanently lives in the believer (Rom 7:21) and produces a daily spiritual civil war in the soul. The presence of this “war” can confuse many children of God. As believers they want to please God and forsake sin, yet sinful habits seem to continually hound them. As a result, believers may experience tremendous guilt and discouragement due to their residual sin. Read Romans 7:14-25 and see how frustrated the apostle Paul is with his own indwelling sin that he can’t shake while in this life. He gets disgusted with himself, crying out, “Who will set me free from the body of this death?” (Rom 7:24). Only resurrection in the future will remove the presence of sin.

Ignoring Guilt
Many people have depression because they don’t deal with guilt properly. All three secular health organizations referred to in the aforementioned article say that guilt is bad and needs to be eradicated. In other words, they argue that guilt is an illegitimate feeling that needs to be dismissed, justified, smothered, or ignored. They surmise that guilt is an unhealthy by-product of oppressive social norms foisted upon individuals, shackling natural inhibitions and liberties that should be expressed with full vent and no shame. In effect, they argue for no moral restraints. The Bible, on the other hand, says we should exercise self-control (2 Pet 1:6), deny ourselves (Luke 9:23), make war against our bodily passions (Col 3:5), put to death our lusts (Rom 6:13) and welcome guilt as a gift from God as a barometer of our conscience (2 Tim 1:3) and an internal signal that our thinking or behavior is out of sync with God’s Law or Spirit (Rom 7:22). This notion of subverting guilt at all costs comes from the atheist Sigmund Freud and should be rejected outright.

Wrong Thinking
Many people have unmet expectations. They are depressed about their marriage or depressed about their family. They may be depressed about their kids or depressed about their job. They might be depressed about their lot in life. This comes down to unmet expectations. People need to be realistic about life and think about reality from a biblical point of view. This world has been subjected to futility by God from the beginning after Adam and Eve sinned (Rom 8:18-26). As a result, we all live in a fallen world, among fallen people. This life is full of “groanings” (Rom 8:26) and troubles (Job 5:7). Heartache, trials and pain are normative for all humans (Jam 1:5)—no one is exempt or is subjected to anything uncommon that the rest of us don’t experience (1 Cor 10:13).

Heartache, trials and pain are normative for all humans (Jam 1:5)—no one is exempt or is subjected to anything uncommon that the rest of us don’t experience (1 Cor 10:13).

We are all emotional beings and naturally go through the full gamut of emotional experiences. Feeling sad, anxious or depressed once in a while should not be eschewed or avoided at all costs, or always drowned out with foreign meds or toxins to hide in the false, temporary, numbing world of escape. It is actually healthy to go through the full range of emotional experience, including deep sadness. In the Old Testament, God actually had designated extended periods of mourning for His people when it was appropriate. Thirty days of mourning were recognized by the Israelites when Moses died (Deut 34:8). Joseph and the Egyptians mourned for seventy-seven days when Jacob died as “they lamented there with a very great and sorrowful lamentation” (Gen 50:3-10). Depression and sadness are actually appropriate feelings to experience in light of the hardships of this life as we wait for the glories of heaven, when finally all sorrows and mourning and depression will be wiped away (Rev 21:4; 2 Cor 4:17).

Human Weakness
You can be depressed simply as a result of human weakness and frailty. The constitution of our present fallen bodies and minds make us all vulnerable to times of sadness, anxiety and depression. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul says our present bodies are weak and frail (vv. 42-48). And some people are weaker in constitution and in personality than others. Some people are simply more prone to depression than others. In 1 Thessalonians 5, Paul reminds believers to “encourage the fainthearted, help the weak” (v. 14). Here he is referring to some people who struggle in this area of physical and emotional weakness. Peter reminds husbands that their wives are the “weaker” vessels (1 Pet 3:7), meaning women are emotionally more vulnerable and need to be protected accordingly. This is consistent with yearly statistics that continue to say that women attempt suicide more frequently than men and struggle with depression more than men, even though more men are successful at actually killing themselves. So, knowing your own temperament and your weaknesses can be a big help in combatting depression in your own life.

Demonic Oppression
Satan is a real personal being—and utterly wicked just as the Bible depicts (1 Pet 5:8). He is called “the accuser of the brethren” (Rev 12:10) because he ceaselessly harasses the children of God. Satan’s assaults were a great cause of sorrow and depression in the life of Job (Job 1-2). Demonic spirits terrorized King Saul, greatly affecting his emotional state (1 Sam 16:14). In the New Testament, Satan and his demons indwelt and possessed people, causing serious oppression in their lives (Matt 8:22). In our current day, secular medical professionals completely ignore the reality of demons and the effect they can have on people, including depression; and some in the Christian charismatic world go to the opposite extreme, blaming demons for every problem in life, including post-nasal drip. The balance is somewhere in between—demonic oppression is real, causes depression, and is a real threat in the life of unbelievers (John 8:44; Eph 2:1-2).

Fear and a Lack of Faith
Hopelessness is at the root of depression; but so is fear. Fear is an illegitimate frame of mind about the future and demonstrates a lack of faith in God’s desire or ability to act according to His promises. To fear is to not trust God.

Hopelessness is at the root of depression; but so is fear.

Fear also sends the emotions into a tailspin. From Genesis (15:1) to Revelation (2:10), God commands His children not to fear, but rather to trust and rest in Him. God promises to provide supernatural internal peace to those who trust in Him rather than live in fear: “I sought the Lord, and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fears” (Psalm 34:4). Three times in Matthew 6 Jesus commanded His disciples, “Do not worry!” These are imperatives, not suggestions. We worry when we lack faith, so we need supernatural faith to overcome worry. Supernatural faith comes from only one place—the Scriptures: “Faith comes by hearing a word about Christ” (Rom 10:17). Do you want to guard against depression that many times is a result of fear and a lack of faith? Then consume God’s Word as found in Scripture so He can strengthen you from the inside out with the power of His Spirit. There is no better solution.

So, who will you believe? The secular, humanistic, Freudian professionals who say you are nothing more than an animal, a result of millions of years of chance evolution made of mere matter and having no eternal purpose for your existence, who can numb emotional dysfunction by merely taking a mind-altering pill? Or will you believe in God who said in His Word that you were made in His image, and are therefore a complex, sacred person, who is fallen and lives in a fallen world and is subject to depression due to sin, ignorance, human frailty, wrong thinking, demon oppression, fear, and a lack of faith—but who has been given the remedy in knowing Jesus Christ, Lord of the universe through salvation? It really is a clear choice.

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