Depression Theology

“I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.  I remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.” (Lam. 3:19)

Thus speaks the author of Lamentations, a book of sorrows wherein the author mourns the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.  I’m sure I’ve never witnessed something as horrible as he describes.  But I have experienced sorrow.  I’ve been down in the dumps.  And I just feel bad sometimes with no good explanation.  In fact, knowing I have no reason to be depressed can make it worse!  What does God want us to do when we’re feeling depressed?  Here are three biblical prescriptions:

1) Cry out to the Lord in Lament

The Psalms are full of prayers of grief and sorrow, otherwise known as laments. By one count these make up over a third of the Psalms. Read them, pray them and wrestle through them.  Psalm 55 comes to mind, where David cries out, “my heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death assail me.  Fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me.”  There’s no quick fix for this type of despair. But this Psalm is a prayer – David is pouring out his soul to God, and the Psalm ends in hope: “but I call to God, and the Lord saves me. Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice.”  “Cast your cares on the Lord,” says David, “and he will sustain you. He will never let the righteous fall.”

2) Find strength in Community

When I am depressed, seeking out company is the last thing I want to do.  I would rather be alone so I can feel sorry for myself!  But think of David again.  Exiled from Saul’s court and on the run for his life, he flees to Gath of all places (as in, Goliath of Gath!).  David’s strategy when he is brought to the king of Gath?  “He acted like a madman, making marks on the doors of the gate and letting saliva run down his beard” (I Samuel 21:13).  Surely not David’s most shining moment.  He then escapes to the caves of Adullam where his brothers and his father’s household join him. Then “all those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their leader” (22:1-2).

The parallel to Christian community is clear: most of us are distressed and in debt too!  But seriously, while David was in dire straights on his own, he thrived in community, and we are wired to be the same.  Not only does iron sharpen iron in community (Proverbs 27:17), but it’s only in community that we can learn to forgive each other, bear each other’s burdens, and teach and admonish one another (Galatians 6:2, Colossians 3:16).  So don’t let depression drive a wedge between you and your people!

3) Remember the Victory of Jesus

The night he was betrayed, Jesus told his disciples frankly, “in this world you will have trouble.”  “But take heart,” he added, “I have overcome the world!” (John 16:33).  If you are a Christian, you are united to Christ, and in him you have overcome the world too!  In the midst of his afflictions Paul could therefore say “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (II Corinthians 4:17).

Pain, depression, anxiety . . . these are fleeting.  Death has been overcome by Christ on the cross.  And God will be faithful to his promises.  He will “transform our lowly body to be like [Christ’s] glorious body” (Phil. 3:21).  And it’s because of Christ’s victory that we can remember the more famous words of Lamentations:

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness!” (Lam. 3:22-23).