Can a Christian be depressed? If you call yourself a Christian, and you fall into depression, is your faith even real? There are many myths surrounding depression – that a Christian can’t experience it; that positive thinking will overcome it; that if you’ll just be more spiritual, or more mature in your faith you won’t experience it; that it’s just sadness.
But the Bible tells us otherwise. Sometimes, Christians do experience depression. Even good Christians. Moses, Jonah, Job, Jeremiah, David, some say Solomon, and even Elijah experienced depression. These are the heroes of the faith, so if they can experience depression, we can too.
It happens today as well — some ministers at RockPointe have personal experience with depression.
And it is complex – the triggers, the depth, the root of the depression won’t always be the same from one person to another. Not even from one Christian to another.
So what can we do to understand depression? And what can we do if we, or someone we love, is impacted by it?
There are key aspects that define our life: our values and our purpose. The things in which we place value determine what gives us purpose. We get out of bed each morning to pursue what we value, and this impacts every aspect of our lives.
For a Christian, our highest value should be Christ, and our purpose should align with His purpose. But we’re human, so sometimes this isn’t the case. And sometimes other values and other purposes influence our outlook.
The book of 1Kings documents Elijah’s experience with depression – and it gives us some insight into dealing with it in our life, or in the life of someone we love.
Elijah valued God without question. When Ahab’s wife, Jezebel, began to lead others astray through Baal worship, Elijah was grieved. He wanted to right the course of the nation and its leadership. His desire to bring glory to God and drive his countrymen back to God culminated in a showdown with the Baal worshippers. The god who delivered fire would be the god of the people… Worshippers of Baal did all they could to call down fire, without success. When Elijah’s turn came to plead with God, our God did indeed deliver the fire. That should have settled it – the nation would worship God as agreed.
But the enemy doesn’t work that way – the enemy that seeks to oppress us isn’t bound by integrity or by his word. After hearing that Baal wasn’t able to deliver fire, but God was, Jezebel didn’t worship God. Instead, she vowed to kill Elijah. And this triggered Elijah’s spiral into depression: It began with the fear that he allowed to consume his heart and his thoughts. That fear caused him to flee, and to isolate himself. Once isolated, he was alone with his thoughts that moved from fear to a sense of failure – because his work to turn his nation back to God wasn’t immediately successful, his driven personality decided his life wasn’t worth living. He moved from fear to a sense of failure, to hopelessness. And from there, Elijah fell into fatigue.
This reads like a checklist of symptoms of clinical depression. Elijah, the great man of God, experienced depression. In his case, God spoke to him through an angel and healed him, delivering him from depression.
But not everyone experiences supernatural angelic healing to the symptoms that plague him. So what can we do when we or someone we love find themselves mired in depression?
We can encourage. It might not seem to make a difference. It might even seem pointless. But people who have experienced depression and who are now free from it agree that the encouragement matters – even when they seem to ignore it.
And if we’re in close relationship with someone who is depressed, we can coach them. We can pull our depressed friend along, encouraging activities we can enjoy together.
In specific cases, like a spouse or an exceptionally close friend, we can offer insight, pointing out things we’ve noticed that trigger depression or help in staving it off.
We can always listen. We can always pray. And we can be prepared with tangible, practical resources, such as a list of counselors that we might be able to encourage a friend to see.
Depression is real. Christians aren’t immune. Acknowledging this is the best first step we can take in helping ourselves and our loved ones.
If you find yourself struggling with depression, please seek help.