Any discussion about depression needs to consider the topic of suicide at some level. Those who commit suicide typically were diagnosed with depression prior to their death, so the two are inextricably linked. Even godly believers got so depressed at times that they no longer wanted to live in light of life’s seemingly unbearable trials—believers like Job, Elijah and Jonah. Depression that leads to suicide is a major problem today in our country.
Suicide is a very controversial topic in the Christian community. Maybe you have been in one of those heated debates with fellow Christians at one time or another as one Bible-believer was adamant that suicide was the worst sin ever—the “unforgivable sin.” They allege that anyone who commits suicide either loses their salvation or they showed by their selfish act that they were never saved in the first place. And then there are those who argue that suicide is a forgivable sin and in fact real Christians can commit that sin and still go to heaven.
It is true that suicide is one of the most self-centered acts one can commit, since Scripture says, “you are not your own…you have been bought with a price” (1 Cor 6:19-20). And God said emphatically, “Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine”(Ezek 18:4). No person has the right to end their own life. But at the same time, Samson, who is commended for being a man of faith (Heb 11:32), committed suicide. And godly men, David and Moses, were both guilty of murder—yet they were forgiven and “gained approval” from God (Heb 11:39; cf. 11:24, 32). So the suicide debate will continue.
But for our purposes here in discussing depression, let’s look at a few statistical updates from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. This group reports that there is one suicide every thirteen minutes, and over 100 per day in America. In 2016, there were over 40,000 suicides reported. It is the second leading cause of death between people ages 15-34. White males account for 70% of all suicides and the highest rate overall by age is among adults between 45 and 55.
The world says depression that leads to suicide is a “mental illness,” whatever that means. The Bible gives a more complete assessment of severe depression and suicide, which is based on a thorough biblical anthropology. Humans are persons made in God’s image (Gen 9:6). Because of this, every human is highly complex, constituted to reflect God’s communicable attributes—so every human is a rational, emotional, volitional, physical, social, moral, religious and spiritual being. This is in utter contrast to what the world says about the human makeup. People are not just a higher form of animal or the mere by-product of chance, having evolved from primordial slime millions of years ago.
Depression is not just some short-circuitry problem in the evolutionary process or only the result of chemicals being out of balance in our physiology. Depression is directly related to one’s thought life (Prov 23:7), which directly impacts the emotions. Depression is also directly related to one’s relationship with the Creator, for it is God who has brought every human being into existence, and made every human soul accountable to Him. The Holy Spirit declared this reality through the apostle Paul: “He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things…in Him we live and move and exist” (Acts 17:25, 28).
A person trying to live this life in utter indifference to the Creator is like a fish trying to live out of water. There is an onset of fear, anxiety, hopelessness, panic, insecurity, and depression anytime humans try to live life independent of the God who made them. And the longer people push God aside, the bigger their problems become.
A person trying to live life without the God of the Bible, or without submitting to Christ the Lord, is a person who has no real hope, and hopelessness is at the heart of depression. Indeed, depression is the opposite of hope. Hope comes with knowing God. Proverbs says plainly, “The hope of the righteous is gladness” (10:28). The Bible is clear that the only real hope for the human soul is Christ, and the converse is true—those without Christ have no hope. Ephesians 2:12 says it this way: “remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”
Judas is the prime example in the Bible and in human history of someone who experienced severe depression then committed suicide as a result of defying his Creator and rejecting Jesus the Savior. Judas betrayed Jesus to the Jewish leadership for thirty pieces of silver, after which he “went away and hanged himself” (Matt 27:5). His suicide was not a result of chemical imbalances in the brain, nor a result of a glitch in the evolutionary process, nor a result of bad parenting he received, nor a result of low self-esteem, nor a result of poor socialization. Judas’ depression and suicide was the result of being a tormented soul. His suicide was the result of a long-term spiritual struggle deep within his soul wherein he chose to seek his own selfish desires, to go against his God-given conscience, and to reject unparalleled special revelation as he sought to find counterfeit fulfillment apart from Christ. In the immediate aftermath of his betrayal of Christ he was overwhelmed with his own guilt (Matt 27:3). Suicide is never the beginning of something—it’s always the end result of a long journey away from God.
Depression and suicide became a national conversation when Academy Award winning actor Robin Williams committed suicide by hanging himself in his son’s bedroom on August 11th, 2014. It turns out Williams had been struggling with severe depression for years and was on at least two antidepressants. Here was somebody who had everything that the world had to offer: success, fame, notoriety, wealth, influence, security—everything you could possibly want.
Ironically, he was the “world’s greatest comedian” who made people laugh and feel happy, and passed himself off always as someone who could laugh at everything in life. On the surface, everything looked good, and he seemed content. His lifestyle and achievements were coveted by millions. Yet, deep within his soul, behind the veneer, there was emptiness. And then as the news came out the media began blaming it on depression, among other things, which was a surprise to many. Robin Williams didn’t know Jesus Christ. He had been running from God for sixty-three years, and it finally took its toll.
Psalm 32:10 says, “Many are the sorrows of the wicked.” That’s a good definition of the chronic depression that Robin Williams suffered that resulted from years of deliberately living a life devoid of God and Christ. He couldn’t run away from His Creator and the Judge of every soul (Ezek 18:4), and he ended up taking his own life. He was wicked at least up until he died—we don’t know what happened in the last moment—but he lived his life in rebellion against God. You can watch YouTube videos where Williams makes a mockery of Christianity, blaspheming Jesus in his comedic routines to earn a laugh and a buck. The secular media completely ignored the spiritual demise of Williams and its implications on his depressed soul.
The Christian world has also had national discussions about depression and suicide. Not long ago, the whole world was talking about Matthew Warren, the son of Rick Warren, who at age 27, on April 5th, 2013, shot and killed himself in his home with a gun. Rick Warren is probably the most famous pastor in the world and is considered by many to be “America’s pastor.” A year after his son’s death, Warren came out with an opinion article in Time Magazine, and here’s what he said:
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 60 million Americans experience a mental health condition every year. That’s one in four adults and one in ten children. People of every race, age, religion or economic status are affected. Whether we are aware of it or not, we all know someone who is living with some form of mental illness. Mental illness is something we are intimately acquainted with, as our youngest son, Matthew, struggled with a variety of mental illnesses from a young age. Even as a toddler, there were signs that things were not right. At age seven, he was diagnosed as clinically depressed, which surprised us as we were unaware that children that young could be that depressed. As the years went by, he began to experience major depressive episodes as well as panic attacks, extreme mood swings, obsessions, compulsions, personality disorder, heartbreaking problems in school and relationships. Life became a painful revolving door of doctor appointments, medication therapy, and adjustments to school classes. There were periods of relative stability, but then Matthew’s suicidal ideation became part of our daily life. Our hilariously funny, immensely creative, intensely compassionate son struggled to make sense of his life and the mental pain he was experiencing. His anguish was our anguish. On April 5th 2013, impulse met opportunity in a tragic way when our beautiful son ran into the unforgiving wall of mental illness for the last time.
Since his son’s tragic death, Rick Warren has written much and talked a lot about depression and suicide, seeking to offer his advice and to console those suffering from like experiences. One venue he uses for such purposes is his blog, Pastors.com. On August 14, 2014, one of the most popular blogs posted on that site had to do with depression and suicide in light of Robin Williams’ suicide written by Allen White, a friend of Warren.
In this post, White is writing to pastors, exhorting them what to emphasize when it comes to talking about depression and suicide. In his three main points, he makes some startling and disturbing claims. For example, he assumes that depression is a “mental disease.” Then he follows that unsubstantiated assertion by saying, “Mental illness is…incurable…it never goes away.” And to top it off he writes in bold claiming, “Finding Jesus is NOT the Cure for Depression!”
When I first read this statement I was aghast. This is the exact opposite of what I believe. As a Christian and a pastor I am called to preach “the gospel”—“gospel” means “good news.” The good news is that Jesus can save anyone from sin. And sin is the root to all the problems in this fallen world. Salvation in Christ gives real, internal, everlasting joy and hope. At salvation God imparts His Spirit into the believer, providing access to the fruits of the Spirit, which are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22-23). These virtues all counter hopelessness, sadness and depression.
In God’s providence, the same week I read this blog-post I had the privilege of baptizing a person at my church. Step one was for me to hear her testimony. For forty minutes, with great joy and some tears, she shared how Jesus had been working in her life over the course of years as she was exposed to the biblical gospel as believers witnessed to her and prayed for her salvation.
It all culminated in her radical transformation when she believed the gospel with understanding and she was born again (John 3:7). In His grace, God had made her a new creation (2 Cor 5:17). As an unbeliever she battled severe depression for years. In her testimony at one point she actually said, “Jesus saved me from depression!” I almost fell out of my chair upon hearing that, as I had just read the Pastors.com blog a couple days before, which dogmatically warned pastors that “Finding Jesus is NOT the Cure for Depression.” It has been years since she gave her testimony, and she continues to grow in the grace of Christ as a believer. She still believes that Jesus saved her from depression. She admits that life is still hard, since we live in a fallen world, but she recognizes that God in Christ is her sufficiency, even in the hard times.
When Jesus saves a sinner, He provides a complete salvation—redemption of mind, soul and spirit, and in the life to come, complete redemption of our bodies as well (Rom 8:23).
 Rick Warren and Kay Warren, “Churches Must Do More to Address Mental Illness.” Time, March 27, 2014. http://time.com/40071/rick-warren-churches-must-do-more-to-address-mental-illness/, accessed May 16, 2018.