Can a Christian be depressed?

1st June 2021

By Pam Jenkinson – Night Light Crisis Café Project Worker

I would want to start this blog with – of course – what a silly question! However, is it one? If someone has been set free because of the blood of Jesus, knows very clearly where they are heading, then surely there is no place for depression? Surely, Christians should be dancing and celebrating every day? What have they got to be depressed about or worry about anything? Don’t they believe the Bible when it says in John 8:36 – so if the Son sets you free you will be free indeed – there is no room for depression, anxiety or fear? Do they lack faith?

Yet …

The Bible is full of stories about worrying and sadness from the Old Testament to the New Testament. So much of the Bible has stories about those that suffered anguish and depression; just reading through David’s life you see a man at times at the top of the mountain, but then suddenly he is low in the valley. So actually, if you think about it, does this really show that even over 2000 years ago, people from all over the world and a variety of faith backgrounds were struggling with depression, too!

Furthermore, there are many people of deep faith who struggle or have struggled with depression such as Charles Spurgeon or Abraham Lincoln. Their depression has been triggered from facing real tragedy and has often resulted in repeated bouts of depression despite apparent success.

There are so many myths and misconceptions as to what depression actually is and often this ignorance causes shame and misunderstanding about its nature, especially for those with a faith. Here are a few I have seen below: –

Myth 1: Depression is due to a lack of willpower

Truth – We cannot ‘will’ ourselves well; depression is a difficult battle, and willpower is an important strength to bring to the fight against depression.

Myth 2: Depression is self-pity. If you’re depressed, you’re just feeling sorry for yourself.

Truth = People respond to challenging situations in various ways. What may not amount to much of a loss for one person, may be devastating for another. This may be due to an individual’s values, previous losses they have experienced in the past or a genetic temperament that renders them more sensitive than others.

Myth 3: Depression is due to lack of faith.

Truth = Charles Spurgeon was one of the most faithful, inspiring Christian teachers of his time, yet he understood what it was like to be gripped in depression. He understood that depression isn’t always logical, and its cause is not always clear. There are times, he said, when our spirits betray us, and we sink into darkness. We slip into the “bottomless pits” where our souls “can bleed in ten thousand ways and die over and over again each hour.”

He also would not tolerate the accusation that “good Christians” do not get depressed. “God’s people,” he preached, “sometimes walk in darkness, and see no light. There are times when the best and brightest of saints have no joy.”

Spurgeon’s experience with depression enabled him to encourage and support others who suffered from it as well. Because of his own suffering, he could also better empathise with and comfort others. There is a profound comfort in realizing someone else understands— at least in part—you’re suffering. They can offer comfort in a way another cannot.

How true his words are – if Christians cannot empathize with what it is to be depressed, then how they relate to the world around them?

Night Light Crisis Café is run by local churches, with teams of both those who have a faith and those who have not. A large proportion of our volunteers understand and can empathise with guests who visit the cafes because they have experienced depression or another mental health crisis themselves.

Empathy is such a powerful tool to have when supporting others. Empathy goes beyond sympathy; it is the ability to mutually experience the thoughts, emotions, and direct experience of others. Empathy says, “What you’re going through is something I can closely relate to, because I have been through something similar; we have a shared experience.”

So, Christians should be permitted to call depression for what it is. At the same time, they take heart in God’s care. Taking heart does not mean pretending to be happy or ignoring the feeling of emptiness that depression brings. It also does not mean neglecting to treat depression through such means as counselling or medication. It does not mean ignoring the relational hurts or the misperceptions that have led to depression. It does not mean denying the fact that depression could be a lifelong struggle.

What taking heart does mean is bringing all our pain to God. It does mean continuing trust in Him. It does mean believing that what He says about Himself and about us is true, even when we don’t feel like it is. It does mean getting the help we need, battling depression rather than giving in to it. A great quote I read is this – ‘It’s not that when you have faith that your depression and anxiety are gone. But it’s when you’re depressed or anxious, your faith might be the only thing that keeps you strong’. (JS Park, The Voices we Carry)

Night Light Café is open to all, from faith backgrounds or not – everyone is welcome. To access this service, or to refer someone for support from Night Light, please call 0300 011 1200 or email nightlight@actstrust.org.uk. https://www.facebook.com/nightlightcafelincoln https://www.actstrust.org.uk/night-light-cafes/

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