Sin and Depression

Sin and Depression

If you were in worship last week you already know this; for the rest of us, I’m sad to announce that in a few weeks Julie Bilbro will finish her time as CPC Admin. There is no way to adequately thank her for all she has done—all that she brought to the job—but please stop by the office in coming weeks and let her know your appreciation.

Also, I’ve had a chance to speak with Julie and apologize for my lame comment at the beginning of worship regarding her leaving—which I intended as humor—but I wanted to apologize to all of you as well. I am proof of James’s dictum that the tongue can “stain the whole body.” My apologies.

I’ve had a handful of emails regarding my comment in the sermon connecting depression to sin, following D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. It’s a difficult discussion, and it’s never my intent to grieve anyone, but let me try to bring clarity. I’ll use depression, despair and other terms interchangeably, but not in any clinical sense.

In Scripture, depression comes from sin, Satan, and circumstances, but discerning which of those three is the cause of any particular moment of despair is, in my experience, almost impossible. Keep in mind that Satan lives on condemnation and at times will condemn you relentlessly (see Zech 3:1-5). But you also have to keep in mind that we are self-deceived people, reluctant to face our sin honestly. If this sounds like a recipe for getting lost in your own head, give thanks for Psalm 40. David knows he is himself not the answer. If he is to escape the pit, God will have to draw him out. This is exactly what God does for David and what he will do for you…in his own time. What’s crucial here is understanding the necessity of God’s objectivity, hence David’s picture of a man lost down in a “miry bog” needing someone to pull him out. We need God to come and rescue us.

A passage I find helpful on sin-related depression is 2 Cor 1:8-11—Paul’s “despairing of life itself” in Asia. The hub of the discussion is doubt and belief, which is difficult because we are reluctant to think of unbelief as sin. The fear, anxiety, and uncertainty created by unbelief make us feel weak and victimized. What Paul eventually realizes is that far too much of his faith was in himself, not in God who “raises the dead” (v.9). Through his depression he learned of his unbelief. Much of your despair may come from a lack of trust when you face difficulty.

I won’t say much regarding despair and Satan, except that he is a liar and he will lie chiefly about the truth of God’s love for you, his forgiveness extended to you, his patience with you, his fatherhood over you, his hope and future prepared for you. Satan will induce you to doubt all that is good, then condemn you for doubting! That sounds cruel because it is cruel; he wants to crush you. The best way to fight a lie is with the truth. Let the word of God dwell in you richly and don’t give the devil a foothold. Start with Psalm 40! For a remarkably nuanced meditation on Satan’s devices, read C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters. If you incline toward the Puritans, read Thomas Brooks’s Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices.

A purely circumstantial cause of depression would be something like a hormonal imbalance. Brain chemistry is real. God has made us body and soul and the two are inextricably bound. Our souls/minds cannot be accounted for in strictly natural terms, yet they are in symbiotic relationship with our bodies. Some people become mildly discouraged (or irritable) with a simple drop in blood sugar. Diet, exercise, sunshine, people—all of these can lift and help us. If we are prone to certain moods (as I am), Satan will jump on those. Sin may come into play as well if we begin to abandon hope. At this point we’re starting to get lost in our own heads again, so back to the first point on the objectivity of God, as Paul says, “who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 7:24).

This is not even the tip of the iceberg, but hopefully better than the passing comment in the sermon. God be with you all this week!