The following article has been adapted from Chapter Six
of Lou’s book, Losing that Lovin’ Feeling.
by Lou Priolo
Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God. (Psalm 43:5)
Depression is one of the most common reasons people come to see me for counseling. There are physiological as well as nonorganic causes for this condition.
The most basic cause of spiritual depression is living out of harmony with Scripture. However, to simply call something “sin” without identifying its exact biblical designation does not help us effectively treat the problem. Just as a physician can prescribe a specific antibiotic once he’s identified the exact strain of bacteria causing an infection, I hope to help you arrive at a more accurate diagnosis of and remedy for any functional (nonmedical) depression you may be experiencing.
The first category of sin that causes depression is unrepentant sin. By this, I mean any sin about which you feel guilty. Someone has likened guilt to the physical exhaustion that occurs when an individual exercises too long. Overexerting oneself during physical exercise will ultimately result in a temporary depletion of strength and vigor. Similarly, living day in and day out with guilt over sin that has not been confessed expends a certain amount of emotional energy. It saps your emotional strength and causes you to become “emotionally exhausted” (i.e. depressed). God didn’t design guilt to be something that His people were to live with for long periods of time. His intention is for us to confess our sin and forsake it. In so doing we experience both forgiveness through Christ and sanctification through the Holy Spirit. (These two provisions eliminate guilt.) Appropriating God’s forgiveness removes the guilt of our past sins. Cooperating with Him in the sanctification process removes the guilt we sometimes experience due to the knowledge that we are bound by a particular sinful habit and will, therefore, likely commit the same sin tomorrow.
Certain sins, in addition to producing guilt, have other side effects that will sap emotional energy and produce depression. The greatest of these is bitterness. Bitterness (or resentment) is the result of an unwillingness to forgive those who have sinned against you. It requires emotional energy to maintain a grudge. Resentment, like guilt, will deplete your energy if allowed to reside in your heart too long. Painful emotions such as bitterness and guilt are God’s “smoke detectors” designed to call attention to a particular fire issue in our lives. They can’t be ignored without long-term damage to the body and soul. Other sins that drain our emotional energy (above and beyond any guilt they might cause) include anxiety, unrighteous anger, selfish fear, and jealousy.
Mental Attitude Sin
The next classification of nonorganic depression has to do with mental attitude sins. Perhaps the best way to categorize them is as wrong values. When people do not view life as God does, misery results. As Christians, we must train ourselves to think as the Bible says we should think, to love the things He loves, to hate the things He hates, to long for the things He wants us to long for, and to not want the things He doesn’t want us to have. In other words, for us to be happy (the antithesis of being depressed), we must think and be motivated biblically.
Depression often occurs when people have sinful thoughts and motives. They think thoughts that God says they shouldn’t think. They fear the things He doesn’t want them to fear. They do not fear Him as much as He wants them to fear Him. They worry about things about which He says not to worry. They interpret circumstances in ways that do not reflect God’s sovereignty, love, or goodness. They are not thankful for His blessings. They want what God says they can’t have. They love what God says they shouldn’t love (or love too much what God has given them to enjoy in moderation). They value too highly things God doesn’t value highly (if at all). They don’t value the things He values most. Is it really any wonder that so many people in our society are depressed?
Mishandling Difficult Situations
The third cause of spiritual depression is mishandling difficult situations. God leads His children into a variety of trials designed to perfect their character and ultimately result in their happiness. But when they do not avail themselves of the resources He has given them to respond biblically to a trial, they can grow discouraged, bitter, guilt-ridden, anxious, and fearful. All of these can lead to depression. How we respond to the difficult circumstances God brings into our lives determines the extent to which we will be depressed about those circumstances. Be it physical illness, loss of employment, marital difficulties, broken relationships, or the death of a loved one, you can depend on the truth of Romans 12:28-29.
“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son.”
Perhaps it’s time for you to ask yourself, as the psalmist did, “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me?” This question was meant be asked as a self-rebuke. “In light of God’s wonderful provisions, what right do you have to be despairing and troubled?” But may I suggest that you ask yourself this question more diagnostically, “why (for what reasons) am I discouraged and depressed?”