As a starting place, it needs to be said that depression is not simply a product of willful sin that needs to be corrected. I wish the solution was that easy, but it isn’t. If you have ever personally struggled with depression, or have had someone close to you struggle with depression, you understand that to infer this is to be simplistic.
The root of the struggle with depression is more complex, and here’s why: if the Bible is true (and I believe that it is), one can see that when the Fall of humanity happened (Genesis 3), when God’s image reflected in us was marred and distorted by sin - everything around us and in us was affected – our minds, our hearts, our relationships, the way we see and experience the world, our bodies, our psychological makeup, our biochemistry – just to name a few. Where we once lived in wholeness, fullness, having intimacy with God and with each other, we now live with fragmentation, brokenness, fear shame and insecurity. We live in a broken world where things are not as they ought to be, nor as they should be, nor as they will one day be again. Depression is, for many people, an unwanted fruit of living in this broken, fallen and sinful world.
Depression is not simply a product of willful sin that needs to be corrected.
Of course, as Christians we are called to live in active repentance and faith – fighting for joy and contentment. But for most people I have known over the years who struggle with depression, they are not intentionally choosing to be depressed. Their biochemical and psychological makeup has a limp – which influences their view of God, of life and of relationships with other people. To walk in their shoes is to feel feel alone. The silence they hear is deafening. The struggle is real. It’s not simply a product of willful sin that needs to be corrected, like getting a new pair of glasses. Many people are born with certain biochemical and psychological tendencies that make the ongoing struggle with depression difficult, exhausting and relentless.
As a Christian subculture, our simplistic comments about depression are only serving to make those around us who struggle with this feel even more alone in the process. We need to quit telling people that if they repent more or better, their struggle with depression will end - that if they would pray harder and trust God more, their struggle with depression will immediately go away. By saying things like this, we are lying to them and hurting them in the process. And if we believe this, we are lying to ourselves. Depression isn’t that simple. The solutions aren’t that easy. We struggle to admit this, because we want to control their struggle rather than patiently engage with it.
The reality is that all of us struggle in different ways; we all have a limp of some sort. We all have tendencies towards certain illnesses – physical, mental, biochemical or psychological. As easy as it might sound, depression isn’t simply a willful, stubborn resistance to joy; it is, in part, a biochemical and psychological illness. Of course, God can and will ultimately heal depression. But for many people, the struggle will only be fully and completely healed when Jesus comes back to make everything new. He will renew and restore everything in our world – and in us - that is broken – replacing it with wholeness, fullness of joy and life. But until He comes back again, the struggle for many will remain. Healing from depression in this life, to whatever degree that may be, is simply a beautiful glimpse of the ultimate healing from sin and brokenness that is to come. This doesn’t mean that we resolve ourselves to being depressed, but it does mean that we can be both realistic and longsuffering with each other.
Instead of trying to convince people that depression is simply a pattern of their own stubborn and willful sinfulness, what if we sought to love our brothers, our sisters, our moms, our dads, our husbands, our wives, our parents, our children and our friends – letting them know that they are not alone, that we are willing to walk with them through the struggle? What if we limped alongside them, letting them know that we struggle in many ways too? What if we gave them grace, kindness and compassion? What if we gave them hope, reminding them that restoration is coming, that one day Jesus will make all things new? What if we gave them encouragement, reminding them that life in Jesus can be found in the midst of the struggle, not just beyond it?
But as we fight for joy, we rest in Jesus – through hopeful repentance and faith, knowing we still live between the dreaming and the coming true.
Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. – Psalm 30:5