One of the most famous works of art The Scream was created by Norwegian painter Edvard Munch. In 2012, it was sold for $119.9 million, becoming the world’s most expensive work of art ever sold at an auction. Why is this piece such an influential item? I believe most people can relate to the character’s emotions in the picture—fear, anxiety, hopelessness, and depression. Nearly everyone in the world, regardless of age, gender, or ethnicity, has experienced depressing moods. It affects more than 19 million adults in the United States, predominately between the ages of 25 to 44, and women are twice as likely to suffer from it as men.
There is not a concise definition of depression, but only a range of emotional and physical symptoms that attempt to describe it. Secularists define it as a biological medical illness that causes “loss of energy, feelings of weakness, powerlessness, unhappiness, self-punishment, and a whole range of negative feelings.” Biblical counselors also define depression with similar symptoms, but differ on what depression is, why it occurs, and how to effectively treat it. Let’s investigate the biblical perspective.
Biblical Perspective on Depression
Biblical counselors first understand human beings to be composed of both a body and a soul (Matt. 10:28; 1 Thess. 5:23), and created by a living God (2 Cor. 6:16). This position differs from secularists who either believe man to be purely biological or having two components (body and mind). Even if secularists believe there is a mind, that doesn’t conclude they believe in the personal God of the Bible. These assertions are important to recognize first since they lay the foundation for understanding depression. People are not alone when they experience depression. Famous people like Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill struggled with melancholy. Even the great English preacher Charles Spurgeon, the missionary David Brainerd, and Bible translator J.B. Phillips wrote personal journals expressing their struggles with sadness.
Why is depression a universal phenomenon to humankind? Let’s examine the world through biblical lenses to understand why depression exists. First, depression exists because we live in a fallen world (Gen. 3). All of us have sinned against God (Rom 3:23) and our relationship is fractured apart from Christ. People were made to worship God and know Him, but everyone has turned to idols that leave the soul empty and unsatisfied. Second, depression is a result of living a life without God. The person who doesn’t believe in God has no absolute standard for determining the purpose or goal of life, which ultimately leads to depression. Even if unbelievers have peace, it’s only temporary and not the same type of peace that Christ offers to those who receive the Holy Spirit (John 14:27). Finally, when we accept Christ as our Lord and Savior, we are given a new heart which gives us good desires, comfort, and hope for the future (2 Cor. 5:17). Because believers still struggle with inward sin, it is possible to get depressed. Nevertheless, it’s the hope of every Christian to be delivered from sin when we go to heaven and worship God (Rev. 7:15-17).
There are many specific causes of depression. First, a person may feel sad because they have guilt over sins they have committed in the past or present. In the Scriptures, Jonah was disobedient toward God, reluctant to visit Nineveh, and afterward asked if God would take his life (Jonah 4:3). David was heavy in heart after he committed adultery (Ps. 32). These sins can cause our conscious to accuse us and can continue to grow to depression unless we confess and forsake it (Rom. 2:14). Moreover, depression can result from overwhelming responsibilities that seem impossible to accomplish by the individual. In Deuteronomy 1:28, we have an example of the Israelites who entered the land of spies and believed that they were too large to fight, resulting in discouragement. Oftentimes we get overwhelmed with the bills we need to pay, the projects we have at work, and spending quality time with family. This can lead us to despair. However, we need to realize that God is sovereign and working out all things for our benefit (Rom. 8:28).
Depression is an issue that continues to plague our culture. The secular community believes that it’s a biopsychosocial illness while the biblical community believes that it’s a result of living in a fallen world. The only cure to the root of depression is the gospel. All of us have struggled with depression and desperately need the Prince of peace (Isa. 9:6) Jesus Christ to fill our hearts with love, joy, and satisfaction so that we can live a life triumphing over depression.
5 practical steps to triumphing over depression.
1. Read Psalm 68:19, then make a list of 25 blessings that God has bestowed on you. Think about every area of your life: physical, spiritual, financial, social, circumstantial, etc. After you write them down, make it a daily practice to thank God. I have noticed that when I focus on God’s goodness, I rejoice instead of feeling depressed. Finish by reading Philippians 4:8 and Ephesians 5:20.
2. Take notes on the Sunday sermon. Read them over with your spouse or a close friend. Then act on them. For example, if the pastor preaches on the great commission in Matthew 28:16-20, pray what God would have you do. Think about unbelievers that are in your sphere of influence: work, school, relatives, friends, etc. Take an opportunity to invite them to your church, pray for their salvation, or share your own testimony about what God has done for you. As you see God work, your life may take on a new purpose that will quench depression.
3. Complaining is a sin easily overlooked in our culture and can lead to a depressing outlook on life. Pay attention each time you grumble about a situation, confess your sin, and read Romans 12:2: “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” When you repent of complaining, remember to replace it with a thought that is pleasing to God, which is thanksgiving (Ps. 28:7; 69:30; Col. 2:6-7).
4. Do a bible study on verses about repentance and forgiveness. Then make a list of the consequences of sin and the benefits of obedience. Finally, read through Psalm 32, 38, and 51, praying that God would transform your heart to worship Him.
5. Every time you experience depression, jot down the experience in a journal. Afterwards, read through the Psalms and then meditate on a particular verse. Try to memorize it so that your mind will be filled with God’s word rather than worry, anxiety, or fear that leads to depression. Finally, seek an accountability partner to let them know each time you are experiencing symptoms of loneliness or anxiety.
Lee Shirley (2000) Depression: A Treatable Disease. The National Academy on an Aging Society, (9): 1-6.
Robert Smith, The Christian Counselor’s Medical Desk Reference (Hackettstown, NJ: Zondervan Press, 2000), 200).
Janice Wetzel, Clinical Handbook of Depression (New York, NY: Gardner Press, 1984)
Edward Welch (2000), Words of Hope for those who Struggle with Depression. Journal of Biblical Counseling (18
Wayne Mack, Out of the Blues: Dealing with the Blues of Depression and Loneliness ( Bemidji, MN: Focus Publishing, 2006).