Handling Depression Biblically – Part 4
We’re in a series on “Handling Emotions Biblically.” We started with anger and then moved on to depression. Three weeks ago we discussed the medical, cultural and biblical definitions of depression and two weeks ago we looked at the lives of two of the prophets, Elijah and Jeremiah, and how God ministered to them when they experienced feelings of depression.
Last week we looked at depression in David’s life. As we looked at Psalm 32 we saw how David’s sin with Bathsheba affected his emotions and led to what we would describe as depression. Today we’re going to talk more about how a failure to handle the events and responsibilities of life in a biblical way and other sins can cause feelings of depression. Then we’ll talk about how, as believers, we should respond to feelings of depression.
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Cain & His Unpleasant Emotions
In Genesis 4, we read about Adam and Eve’s two sons, Cain and Abel.
² … When they grew up, Abel became a shepherd, while Cain cultivated the ground. 3 When it was time for the harvest, Cain presented some of his crops as a gift to the Lord. 4 Abel also brought a gift—the best portions of the firstborn lambs from his flock. The Lord accepted Abel and his gift, 5 but he did not accept Cain and his gift. This made Cain very angry, and he looked dejected (NLT).
Cain’s offering was rejected by God and Cain became dejected. The NKJV says his countenance fell.
Hebrews 11.4 says, “By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous.”
God didn’t just reject Cain’s offering out of hand. Abel responded to God in faith, he believed God and obeyed Him. Cain’s disobedience and rebellion was first exposed by his offering. He followed the dictates of his own heart and brought what seemed right to him. Genesis 4 goes on:
6 “Why are you so angry?” the Lord asked Cain. “Why do you look so dejected? 7 You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.”
God was personally dealing with and warning Cain about what was going on in his heart. His response should have been repentance, instead he remained angry at God and his brother will pay the price.
8 One day Cain suggested to his brother, “Let’s go out into the fields.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother, Abel, and killed him.
Cain lures his brother out into the field and then kills him out of anger and jealousy.
9 Afterward the Lord asked Cain, “Where is your brother? Where is Abel?”
“I don’t know,” Cain responded. “Am I my brother’s guardian?”
Given another opportunity to repent and confess his guilt, he responds with defiance and rebellion.
10 But the Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground! 11 Now you are cursed and banished from the ground, which has swallowed your brother’s blood. 12 No longer will the ground yield good crops for you, no matter how hard you work! From now on you will be a homeless wanderer on the earth.”
13 Cain replied to the Lord, “My punishment is too great for me to bear! 14 You have banished me from the land and from your presence; you have made me a homeless wanderer. Anyone who finds me will kill me!”
His response: “It’s too much! It’s not fair!” He was filled with self-pity and feelings of depression.
“Someone will kill me.” He becomes consumed with fear and guilt.
His sinful choices put him on a downward spiral of sin that lead to dejection, anger, self-pity, depression, fear, worry, and guilt.
In a course that my husband teaches, the downward spiral is illustrated by what happens in the life of a hypothetical college student. We’ll call her Colleen.
Colleen is a good student. She heads off to college with lots of encouragement from her family and teachers to study hard and keep her grades up. College life is new and exciting. She’s making friends and doing well in her classes.
But one night as she heads to the dorm to study, a new friend says they should go to Starbucks and hang out for a while. She protests, but after some convincing gives in and jumps in the car. They stay late and she’s too tired to study. The first time she gets away with it, but soon it becomes a habit. One morning she fails a pop quiz and pretty soon her grades are slipping. When an exam comes up, Colleen cheats.
Then her parents call and ask her how she’s doing. She lies and tells them she’s doing great.
Soon she’s experiencing feelings of anxiety and depression.
If she went to the clinic on campus and told them about her feelings, it’s likely she would be given a prescription to help her feel better. But are her feelings really the problem?
Often, our feelings are like the warning lights on the dash of our cars. They’re telling us something is wrong under the hood. If we disconnect the lights or cover them up somehow, we won’t solve the problem. In fact, we’ll probably have a bigger problem somewhere down the road.
Something is wrong in Colleen’s heart. She has let fun and pleasing her friends become more important than pleasing God.
What Does Colleen Need?
Colleen needs to repent. She needs to ask God to forgive her and she needs to accept His forgiveness. She needs to call her parents, admit that she lied, and ask for their forgiveness. She, also, needs to confess what’s she’s done to her professor, ask for forgiveness, and be willing to accept the consequences. Then she needs to become faithful in her studies.
All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness (Heb. 12.11 NKJ).
If You’re Depressed
First, remember that God has answers:
16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3.16-17 NKJ).
3 By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence (2 Pet. 1.3 NLT).
There is great hope in His promises (1 Cor. 10.13; Phil. 4.13; Rom. 8.28-29).
Change your thinking about feelings and problems (Jn. 13.17; Jas. 1.25; Rom. 6.11, 8.28-29). Both are part of living in a broken world and will one day be alleviated, but not yet.
Pray for God’s wisdom, grace, and help.
If there doesn’t seem to be any reason for your depression, get a physical to rule out any organic cause? But, even if there is, it’s not a free pass to act on those negative emotions. Physical problems do not negate 1 Corinthians 10.13:
No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.
Ask God to help you evaluate your life in light of God’s Word. Are you making adequate time for rest and refreshment, physically and spiritually? Have you suffered a loss or serious setback. If so, do you need to allow yourself some time to grieve? Or like Jeremiah, do you need to get God’s perspective on your problems?
Is there an ongoing sin issue in your life? If so, you need to repent and ask God’s forgiveness. But you also need to turn away from your sin and with God’s help go His way. That may mean seeking godly, biblical counseling. It may mean making yourself accountable to a mature believer.
Memorize Scriptures that speak to your heart and your situation. Verses like these:
And the Lord, He is the One who goes before you. He will be with you, He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed (Deut. 31.8).
But You, O Lord, are a shield for me,
My glory and the One who lifts up my head (Ps. 3.3).
6 Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, 7 casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you (1 Pet. 5.6-7).
38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8.38-39 NLT).
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God (2 Cor. 1.3-4).
Find biblical solutions to daily problems. Don’t let them pile up. Get help if necessary.
Ask yourself, what responsibilities are you not fulfilling? Are you neglecting responsibilities where your spouse or children are concerned? What about home or work? Pray for God’s grace to meet those responsibilities.
Establish realistic goals and plans. It may be as simple as a list of two or three simple things to do each day (get out of bed and get ready, walk around the block, make the bed, clean out one drawer, write out two checks, do one load of laundry).
If you’re on medication, don’t stop suddenly or without your doctor’s help and supervision.
Get in motion no matter how you feel. Attend worship services. Determine to praise God in the midst of your trial.
I can’t overstate how important and how doable this is, even while everything in you says, “I can’t!” God will not make you do anything, but He will give you the grace you need when you get up and decide to step out in faith and obedience.
9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor. 12.9-10).
Next week, we’ll begin looking at fear and worry. I hope you’ll be here each week (post goes live at 5 PM MST on Sundays).
Special Offer for the month of June only: If you sign up for “Christian Living” posts and “Bible in a Year” posts here and here (you must click both links and add your email address), I’ll send you a Kindle version of “Help, I”m Depressed” by Life Line Mini-Books.
Does this sound like you? “Troubling thoughts flood my mind. I lie in bed alone, beseeching God on behalf of my three children. The tears come as I wonder why the Lord seems so far away and why prayers remain unanswered. Life seems so unfair. Why is it so hard? In the “depths of despair” I know I have a choice to make. Am I going to allow these feelings to destroy me?”
If I’m a Christian, Why Am I Depressed? by Robert Somerville
In this achingly honest work, Dr. Somerville explains that depression is not restricted to the secular world. Throughout history, godly men and woman—among them Martin Luther and Charles Spurgeon—have suffered in the deep trenches of dark emotion. But God’s Word promises victory at the seemingly unreachable end of trials, and new strength forged from adversity and pain in the new light that follows the darkness of despair.
You are not alone. In If I’m a Christian, Why am I Depressed? you will find not only the author’s testimony but also those of others who have struggled with depression and through prayer and biblical counseling have overcome by embracing Christ’s healing love.
Exodus is a real story about God redeeming his people from the bondage of slavery and how their difficult journey home exposed their loyalties—though wounded by Egypt, they had come to worship its gods. Most Christians don’t make golden idols like the Israelites in the wilderness, but we do set up idols on our own desert road—idols like substance abuse, pornography, gluttony, and rage. And even those who don’t know the pain of actual slavery can feel enslaved to the fear and shame that follow sexual abuse or betrayal by a spouse, for we suffer at the hands of our idols as well as those created by others. We need more than self-improvement or comfort—we need redemption.
Redemption is not a step-oriented recovery book; it’s story-oriented and Bible-anchored. It unfolds the back-story of redemption in Exodus to help Christians better understand how Christ redeems us from the slavery of abuse, addiction and assorted trouble and restores us to our created purpose, the worship of God. Readers will discover that the reward of freedom is more than victory over a habitual sin or release from shame; it is satisfaction and rest in God himself.
Where Is God in the Struggle? Looking away from despair towards hope can feel risky. What if God doesn’t come through for you? What if you don’t feel instantly better? Instead of offering simple platitudes or unrealistic “cure-all” formulas, Edward T. Welch addresses the complex nature of depression with compassion and insight, applying the rich treasures of the gospel, and giving fresh hope to those who struggle. Originally published as Depression: A Stubborn Darkness Light for the Path, this new edition is updated with added content.
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