Not all depression is sin! There’s a huge misunderstanding about this within Christian circles and it makes a difference for how well we care for one another when we assume all depression is necessarily a result of sin. That is not to say, however, that depression is never the result of sin. Some depression does arise from, or is exacerbated, by sinful choices. The Bible, however, gives hope and guidance for those whose depression is associated with sin.
Depression is not usually caused by one event or single cause. Rather, it is the combination of things played out over time. In cases of a sinfully driven depression there is a common progression. Julie Ganschow has helpfully illustrated the progression.
The progression usually starts with a disappointment. We all experience disappointments. Life does not always work out the way we want it to and disappointment, wishing things were different, is a natural and understandable response. When disappointment turns into discontentment then it shifts from merely wishing things were different to becoming bitter and angry about the way things are. Bitterness is a poison that can destroy one’s ability to see anything other than sorrow, offense, and futility, so as the progression continues it goes from discontentment to despair. Despair sees no one way out the situation, life, and disappointment I experience. It turns bitterness into hopelessness. The longer one lives with despair the more likely that it too will morph, this time into destructiveness. Destructiveness can be self-focused or others-focused but it seeks relief by lashing out, by expressing some form of hostility. It can lead some people towards suicidal thoughts, and others to aggression. This is a general progression, it is not to suggest that everyone goes through every step of it, nor that it is inevitable that a person will walk down this hill. It is a general observation about the ways in which depression can evolve as a result of sinful responses to life problems.
The Bible speaks to this cause of depression. Within the Psalms we get a host of examples of sorrow arising from sinful choices, and we also get guidance on how to navigate it. In Psalm 32, David describes his response to the guilt of undressed sin. We read:
When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer (v. 3-4)
By not dealing with his sin he experienced a loss of appetite (bones wasting away), perpetual groaning (the sound of despair), and a loss of energy. He was weary and felt that God’s hand was heavy on him. Sin comes with consequences, even when we get away with it. A guilty conscience, a disconnect from God, and a demand for things that God never promises will all drive us towards despair.
The Scriptures present, however, not simply an example of sinfully driven depression, the present a resolution. The Psalmist continues:
Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess
my transgressions to the Lord.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin. (v. 5)
His response to the realization that his depression was caused by sin was simple: confess my sin. He turned in repentance to the Lord and found forgiveness. Confession, of course, does not change our situation, it doesn’t make the disappointment go away, nor does it remove the temptation to be bitter and discontent. It does, however, give us hope and encouragement. God forgives us when we sin. Our relationship with Him can continue to grow and we can find peace and joy even in our disappointing circumstances. This is why the Psalmist starts the entire psalm off with words about what a blessed life looks like. He says:
Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit. (v. 1-2)
The good life, according to the Psalmist, is found in the freedom of forgiveness. Depression that results from sin can be altered first through repentance and confession, and through the acceptance of God’s love and grace. This doesn’t make everything magically better, but it starts us on the right path back up out of the pit of despair.
Not all depression is sinful. We should be careful not to automatically ascribe sin to ourselves or to others as we struggle (John 9:1-3). We should not, however, avoid any personal self-evaluation that explores how we are responding to our circumstances. Perhaps our depression is rooted in a sinful response to our problems? Perhaps it is exacerbated by a sinful response to our problems. Evaluate your responses in the midst of depression and seek to understand if and how sin might be a contributor. It’s not always the case, but sometimes it is. Thankfully, the Bible offers us hope and help when our depression is rooted in sin.