Disclaimer: This is not a clinical diagnosis about chemical depression. This simply contains my thoughts, based on personal experience, about emotional depression.
This past week I received an e-mail that posed a question I have often side-stepped. However, being asked it directly has caused me to confront the thought and organize my thoughts in written format. If Christians also suffer from depression, how are they any different from their secular counterparts? Before I delve into answering, I must begin by stating that my answer is based on the premise that human beings are equally both physical and spiritual beings. This means that we are eternal souls with physical bodies, and we are physical bodies with eternal souls. Though we function tangibly on this physical planet, we are always aware of thoughts, ideas, feelings, and experiences connected to the spiritual realm. This is an important understanding to have when attempting to understand depression.
First of all, it must be made clear that the Christian is not exempt from trouble, nor destined for a happy life. In fact, quite the opposite is true; Christians are the most persecuted group in history and in present times. (Visit Persecution for more information) In John 16:33, Jesus Himself said, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation [emphasis added], but take courage; I have overcome the world.” However, the Christian is called to a joyful life. How is this possible? In her book, One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp explains that, “…joy doesn’t negate all other emotions – joy transcends all other emotions”(176). Why? Because he knows the physical is only temporary and the spiritual is eternal. He knows his eternity is secure for Jesus warned, “And do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). In whatever suffering the Christian is enduring right now, he can be confident that it will last but a moment. No matter how much her heart is aching in this present life, the Christian can rest in the knowledge that she is loved with an everlasting love by a Savior Who knows her name.
If all that is true, why then does the Christian suffer from depression? A valid question. Depression is a melancholy of the soul and comes upon her when she is focused on the weight of the temporary instead of the hope of eternity. Being a finite, physical being it is impossible for the Christian to not become influenced by what is tangible but in doing so, it is that which then influences him. In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus addresses our dual nature: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and You shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and my load is light.” When the Christian allows her mind to only dwell on her physical condition, be it loneliness, the loss of a loved one, rejection in a relationship, financial distress, health concerns, etc. her soul becomes heavy and exhausted. In those times, she must deliberately turn to Jesus and rest in the knowledge that He will guide her through the present difficulty. If she does not, she will only experience more despair as she experiences her human frailty. Thus, the Christian suffers from depression when there is disconnect between his physical and spiritual natures. There should be a natural flow between the two: his physical nature should inspire him to pursue God and his pursuit of God should inspire him to embrace his present life experiences, whether they are good or bad.
I recognize that this barely scratches the surface of the complexity of human nature and emotion. It is much simpler to articulate in words than to translate into lived experience. To turn to God in times of trouble and refuse to dwell on the desperation of the moment is almost counterintuitive for the human being. Yet it is vital for the survival of the soul. Choosing to give thanks is the means for doing this and remembering the divine price Christ paid on Calvary is reason enough to plunge our soul into continual thanksgiving. But gratitude is a spiritual discipline that must be cultivated over time. It is a journey that I am presently on; my default response is to despair when things don’t go my way, but my spirit longs to automatically rejoice. And one day it will!