We live in a time where we have access to all sorts of knowledge. With a number of electronic devices around us, we can obtain information from recent writers to ancient historians, seeing what others have learned, or simply have to say, about all sorts of subjects, from psychology to religion to politics and much, much more. With the internet, we can spend countless hours adding to our resume of things we know, to simply watching animals do stupid things over and over. We have become consumed with humanity in so many various ways, however, seen especially in the fact that the entertainment business is one of the most desired occupations in the world, to the point that people will hand over billions of dollars to be moderately entertained for a couple of hours. Worse than this, we seem to believe (or have proven to believe) that because we have access to all of this knowledge, we might as well just say we know it, simply because we have access to it whenever we so desire. And as a direct result, we have become one the most ignorant peoples in the history of man, not because of our lack of knowledge, but because we think having access to knowledge equates to actually knowing it.
But what makes this error all the more severe is the reality that when we obtain knowledge, we believe also that it means we are the authority of this knowledge, dictating what it can and cannot mean, and where it can and cannot apply. Science, for example, is primarily used to make theories of the past an actuality, regardless of countering evidence, since certain men “know” more than others, and have certificates to prove it. And thus we have committed the wicked sin of believing that knowledge equates to wisdom.
Wisdom, in a simple definition, is the proper application of knowledge. In other words, I may “know” how to bake a cake, but if I fail to use the knowledge properly (i.e. baking a cake for someone who is allergic to dairy or has diabetes), then that knowledge is useless. More specifically, if someone knows what is right but chooses to ignore, redefine or misapply this knowledge, they are fools who bring themselves to destruction. If I have an abundance of knowledge but fail to ever apply it correctly, it is useless to me, and is more detrimental than an abundance of ignorance.
One of many results that comes from this thinking is the trend to diagnose virtually everything as some sort of sickness. If a child cannot pay attention during a class, they are not disciplined in order to pay attention, but are instead diagnosed with some sort of attention disorder and are given medication to deal with it. This solution has become more and more the answer to every issue there is. Having worked the City Rescue Mission in Lansing for more than a year, I have seen this in its full reality, in that most of the men and women who come (if not all) are on some sort of medication, for everything from blood sugar/pressure issues to anger management, and have been on some medications for years, while other medications are still being added. And the result? Many are troubled in their minds, shaking with sudden outbursts of anger, and the inability to see where their true need lies (the Gospel). I am not saying that we should never take medication for anything, but rather, we should not medicate everything as a solution.
Nevertheless, because we now have the “knowledge” of how the body works (from how our heart beats to what happens in our brain that makes us laugh), we can therefore diagnose everything as a disease, regardless of what it is. And this is how the world deals with everything from anger, confusion, a lack of discipline, and yes, even depression. Now, instead of battling depression day in and day out, the world will tell you that it is not your fault, but is instead your body’s fault, and thus you must take a variety of medications. There are countless advertisements all around talking about how to medicate it, and even if you go to nearly every kind of counseling, you will leave with a prescription for your emotional issues.
And so the answer to depression, along with every other issue, is that it really (in the end) is not your fault, but your body’s fault, “and so here are a few pills to swallow to deal with it.” But what of the church? This type of response is not unusual nor unexpected from the world, but how are the people of God supposed to see sadness, and how are we told by God to deal with sadness and depression?
What is Depression?
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines depression as a “pressing down.” It is “A state of feeling sad” and more specifically a dejection, which is “ a psychoneurotic or psychotic disorder marked especially by sadness, inactivity, difficulty in thinking and concentration, a significant increase or decrease in appetite and time spent sleeping, feelings of dejection and hopelessness, and sometimes suicidal tendencies.” It also notes that this can be a result of something such as “unemployment,” but it maintains the fact that it is believed to be a mental or psychological disorder more than anything, and often can come regardless of the circumstances.
The word “depression” is never specifically used in the Bible, nor is there one Greek or Hebrew word that sums it up just like our English language has defined it, therefore we must compare the English definition and see where its various traits are mentioned in the Scripture to see what words the Bible does use. The best comparison that I have found is the word “despair” used in 2 Cor. 4:8, which comes from the Greek word “ἐξαπορέομαι,” meaning “to be utterly at a loss, that is, despond: – (in) despair.” This fits with the modern meaning of “depression,” which is seen in a person’s inability to be happy or positive, but are instead in a constant state of “depressing,” or a pushing down of our emotions and outlook, which results in emotional, mental and physical side effects, such as constant tiredness and a lack of hunger/eating. It has the idea of having no way out of a given situation, whether outward circumstance or inward sadness, having no “escape.” We also see a few examples of this sort of a mindset in other books of the Bible, such as with some of the Old Testament Prophets, like Jeremiah, who was known as the “Weeping Prophet,” or Elijah, who openly despairs about the fact that the people of Israel have killed off the prophets of God and have torn down the altars, and were seeking to end his life as well, having no escape from such a position. The Psalmist continuously lays out his inner trials concerning the events around him, and how it appeared utterly hopeless no matter what happened. Job, who lost everything, was to such a point of despair that he began to wonder if God was unjustly judging him. (In fact, with Job, his circumstances were so awful that his wife told him to curse God, roll over and just die. That, I dare say, is pretty bad.) And so we have much to compare our English word “depression” to, and for this post I will use the word “despair” for that very purpose.
Now let us look at the results and outworking of the modern, English word for “depression.” In most cases, it is due either to past or current circumstances, or simply a medical condition that causes a person to be “down” all the time, regardless of past or present circumstances. However, no matter whether or not it is due to circumstances, there is always a medication for it, because it is seen almost entirely as a physical condition that can be treated. This is due to the fact that it can result in higher blood pressure, constant tiredness and a lack of eating and/or hunger. As far as actual outcome, the person rarely appears happy, and often verbally focuses on the negative side of things more than any positive outcome of a discussion. The attitude is obvious, in that it can largely be seen in what is not there. Regardless of circumstances, there is no reason to be happy, as there is always another way to see things. On a personal note (my opinion), it also has the evidence of seeking to justify itself. In other words, if challenged, the “depressed” person will never concede the fact that their “depression” is wrong and should be changed, but instead will defend their right to be “down” no matter what. We see this in the Bible, actually, in that the prophets would, when describing all the horrible things around them, create a defense for this despair, anticipating a response (which they received quite often from God Himself), while some often gave the correct answer right after stating all the reasons why they should not continue speaking the Word of God. The world, however, always sees depression as a physical condition, and one that should not be dealt with, but cured (as in, the side effects should be removed and the cause suppressed through various means).
And finally, what is the solution? According to the world, it is (as has been mentioned here quite a few times) medication and constant encouragement, not to get through the depression, but either to avoid it or simply accept it. In fact, more often than not, the individual who is experiencing the depression will simply concede the point and give in altogether, viewing it as a way of life that can only be numbed, not ever fully removed. And what is perhaps one of the more notable points is that the modern church does not differ, in almost every regard, from the world, whether about the cause of depression nor the cure. The church, I dare say, is almost more religious about it than the world is, to the point where anyone who says anything contrary to either the cause or cure of depression they have concluded on is openly and utterly condemned as being hateful, ignorant and not worth the time of day. I have seen such very recently, in fact.
How does the reasoning fit with other issues?
It has become almost a textbook answer, the things above, to depression, but the first (and I think the most important) question to ask is: How does this match with other issues? And so let’s take three common issues that Christians struggle with, and see if we can fit the same cause/solution into their circumstances…
- Covetousness: This is one that hits awfully close to home for me, a tech-savvy, younger guy, who is constantly keeping an eye on the latest and greatest gadgets to come out of the various high-tech. companies throughout the world. Just the other day I went into Best Buy, and walked by a couple of laptops that would very well satisfy my craving for technical power. A man I know who works there came over and asked if I was shopping for a laptop, to which I had to responsibly respond “No, unfortunately I am not.” I, after all, have a baby, and another one on the way, and a car that is hardly worth the metal that makes it up, and so all I can do is look and drool. And so what is the cause of coveting? Is there a physical cause? Absolutely. Covetousness can be certainly be linked to the various processes the go on in the brain, but I won’t go into that, as that isn’t important. Instead, coveting is a result of the flesh- that which constantly seeks self-satisfaction. My heart tells me I want it and my mind runs a million calculations to see if I can afford it. The blood pressure may certainly go up, in my own case, because the excitement of possibility is not very hard to stir up, and the sure pleasure of scrolling through the countless and latest features is something that can scarcely be quenched quickly. What is the cure? There are bound to be a few medications that can stifle the excitement. But let’s take the solution for depression and apply it here. “It isn’t my fault.” Covetousness is surely a medical condition, and therefore no one can judge me as “sinful” for giving into it. Because I can’t help it. If I see a 50% sale on a $1,500 laptop, how can I resist? I just can’t help it. My mind sees it and wants it, and I guess I just have to accept that. I can quote countless professionals who would encourage me to give in and simply get a credit card (I have worked in sales for over a year, so I know plenty in this area) and could probably find a way to fit it into my budget. But is it the best thing? That is an entirely different question…
- Laziness: This is something that is a little more comparable to depression, since it is a lack of physical and/or mental energy or determination, and can also be a side-effect of depression. In other words, it is a lack of productivity based on a lack of motivation, whether physical or otherwise, just as depression is a lack of escape from despair, regardless of whether it is physical, spiritual or both, regardless of circumstances. The cause of laziness can easily be compared to depression, in that sometimes we just wake up feeling awful, having a complete lack of any motivation to do anything in general. And so we go on with our day, doing relatively little, without much of any care. The verbal justification? “I’m just tired.” Not only does such a one fail to do much of anything productive, but what they do begin they rarely finish. What should be the answer? Is the cause physical, or spiritual? According to professional response to depression, if we apply it here, that person is not at fault for being lazy, but rather laziness is nothing more than a physical condition, and should be properly medicated. The Bible speaks of the lazy man many times (the “sloth”), but that assumes it is simply a spiritual condition, right? If it can be proven to be a medical condition, then the Bible no longer applies there.
- Immorality: Finally, and I think most importantly, is the comparison of our reasoning around depression, to how we should view immorality. Lust is one of the most prominent temptations in mankind, of which the father warns his son sternly in the Proverbs, because of the destruction it brings. But what is lust? Is it not the body functioning as it was designed? The desire for the physical relationship is built into almost every single person, especially men, and is by no means unnatural. But what is lust, specifically? Lust, as opposed to attraction, is the desire for the physical satisfaction regardless of the seriousness of the relationship. In other words, the physical without the institute of marriage is sin, because it defiles what God has established as holy (set apart for the covenant of marriage). Just as adultery defiles the marriage already in place, defying the commandments of God in order to satisfy the physical. And lust, I dare say, is a lot more physical than depression, because it is both very natural and very convincing, because like depression, its greatest tool lies within the feelings of the individual. And so what is the cure? Should we medicate lust? Should we take a pill that will reduce such particular functions? Did Joseph, when tempted, tell Potiphar’s wife “Ha! That won’t work, I’ve been taking medication for that.” No. Was he just so spiritually strong that it didn’t faze him? Apparently not, judging by the fact that he turned and ran as fast as he could in the opposite direction. He didn’t reason. He didn’t fight. He ran. Most modern Christian counselors would have told him to go to counseling, where he surely would have been given good suggestions (as well as reassurance, had he failed, that it was not really his fault), and most likely been prescribed medication for this issue. And we seem to think that Joseph was just somehow stronger than the average person. “He had the Spirit of God” one might say. And they would be right. But do we not also have the Spirit of God? Or was it given in a lesser measure to us than it was to Joseph or the other Biblical saints?
But we must go even further. Using the same logic that is applied to depression, as far as its cause and solution, let us apply that reasoning to homosexuality. What is the defense for Christian depression? “It is a physical condition, not a spiritual sin.” What is the defense for Christian homosexuality? “It is a physical bent, they can’t help it, and therefore it isn’t a sin.” Comparably, they are the same, moreso than most would admit. Because both claim it has a physical cause, they therefore see that as separating the physical from the spiritual, and thus excuse it as a “condition,” not a sin. And yet, for some reason, the modern church (in most circles, at the present time) openly condemn homosexuality for such reason, and yet turn around and apply that reasoning almost identically to their justification of depression in the Christian life. And this is where the primary issue lies…
The Biblical Command
The Bible never refers to despair as a “physical” condition as our modern age does. This is not to say that there are not physical evidences, or causes. The primary issue with our interpretation of “depression” is that we assume it is either physical or spiritual. If it is spiritual depression, then it might be sin. But if there can be found a physical cause (a condition), it is now no longer spiritual, and is therefore not sin, because nothing physical can be sinful. This may not be the exact way it is stated, but this is very much the actual meaning based on defensive arguments and self-justification of depression.
Depression is never a fruit of the Spirit. It is never listed as a feature of the Christian, nor is it ever expected of the follower of Christ. It is never on the list of righteous attributes, nor is it ever commended. God never rewards one who is hopeless, but instead pulls them from that hopelessness and puts them in the Light, thus the hopelessness is the place of the lost. In fact, the actual “fruits” (or evidences) of the Spirit of God are the very opposite of depression and despair. Just like unbelief, the Word of God never commands despair, but instead the opposite is required and encouraged, which by default sees the opposite of love, joy, peace, and the rest of the fruits as “Spirit-less.”
Allow me to provide an example…
One of the causes of “depression” is, in fact, the circumstances of one’s life. Whether financial or not, the downward spiral of our general lives can cause a good deal of discouragement, and without a turnaround it will lead to the temptation of despair, because there is no view of an “escape” (a definition of the Biblical word for “despair”). In our day and age, it is very much centered on two areas of loss: finances and family. If one (or both) fade away, the individual is very likely to fall into despair. But regardless of what we lose or have shattered before our eyes, the commands of the God do not change, and are found especially in Philippians 3 and 4, passages which are often either overlooked or so generalized that they are scarcely specific and rarely applicable. But let us look at these passages, and see if they can actually be taken seriously, and literally.
Here we have Paul speaking about loss, and if anyone could speak about losing everything, it was Paul. In the very first verse, he reminds them of something seemingly very simple, and yet too often overlooked: Rejoice. Now many in Godless society would stop there and leave it at great advice, while others whose Biblical expository skills are nothing more than painted selfishness make this appear as a general command to “always be happy” and to always have a smile on your face. But this is not what Paul is speaking of. In fact, he clarifies what he is talking about in the following verses, also into chapter 4.
First, he lists off his credentials. He warns his readers of the fact that there will be false teachers, who present a way of holiness that is only a perverted idea of the Gospel. And notice what he compares when speaking of the “false circumcision” verses the “true circumcision.” The false circumcision is that which puts confidence in the “flesh,” in which sin and unrightness is rampant and unchallenged. And it is very important to note that the word “flesh” is us to characterize and describe the soil and outworking of sin, in that the body itself is the greatest tool of the “evil one,” because we who lack faith only thrive in our feelings and bodily lusts, not in the rightness of God, and this is vital to understand, especially in light of “depression,” is often excused because it can be physically “diagnosed,” as though this takes it off the list of “Godless” and places it on the list of “neutral.” In comparison, we who are of the “true circumcision” (true set-apartness) are characterized not by the body, but instead by the worship of God through His Spirit, and find both our joy and reason for joy in Christ Jesus, placing no “confidence” or trust in the flesh, as though it can convince us of anything. And yet, for some reason, we can place “confidence” in the flesh if it can reveal itself as being entirely in the body. In other words, if I can pinpoint the visible cause as being in the body (bodily functions or otherwise), then it is now no longer sin, because “I cannot help it.” And likewise, the solution is also physical. We must now medicate away the physical cause, as though that is the root of the issue? And if we had no access to the medical solution, we are then left with what? I guess we have to give in and just be naturally discouraged all the time, regardless of a cause, because it is my body’s fault? And whether or not one can make the case for such a response, or an alternative, neither are what the Bible says, which ignores whether there can be a physical diagnosis and instead goes right to the true root of the issue. Sin is sin, and is most often found in the flesh, not excused by it. The “flesh” is not merely an analogy of sin, but is the very ground upon which the evil within us thrives and grows without hindrance if not challenged by the Word of God. And Paul makes this clear. He gave up a great deal, including (but not limited to) the respect and admiration of his peers, whom he well surpassed with his knowledge of the Law (Gal. 1:14). He more than likely lost connection with his family in the conversion to the Gospel of Christ (although it is not mentioned), and yet the thing he lists here are his credentials. He was very well educated and respected, and very zealous for God and the Law, and yet he came to discover on the road to Damascus that he was, regardless of his zeal, persecuting the Messiah whom God had sent. And so what does he then think of his earthly credentials? They are, quite literally, the excrements of man (“loss” in the NASB). They are useless, and worth less than that, in that they are detrimental to the Gospel of Christ, and are not of any value in light of the Kingdom of God. Even his own righteousness fell into that category, because now he found his righteousness in Christ alone. And now he broadens his list to include “all things” (vs. 8), not because one cannot make a good case for them that they are decent things, but because they are all surpassed by the “value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord,” and in light of this knowledge of God (see John 17:3) all other things are “rubbish,” not worth our time because we are (and ought to be) so enthralled with the knowledge of Christ. And we rejoice in suffering, because our Lord suffered. What sort of suffering? The “loss of all things” as spoken of here, including finances and family. In fact, in regard to the former, this was specifically stated as practically inevitable (Mat. 10:35-37, see also Mat. 12:50), and yet in the modern church it seen as the most horrific thing, and must never been seen as an option. And such an idea is both Godless and sinful, because it contradicts the clear teaching of the Word of God. And such a sacrifice sounds impossible, but what must be clarified is pretty much every command of God is impossible, if we are without Christ. And we don’t pretend to be perfect in and of ourselves. And many latch onto that statement (vs. 12) as though it is an excuse. “I know I am not supposed to say/do/think [such and such], but I’ll say/do/think it anyway.” Such is, by its own admission, sin (which is by definition that which is contrary to the Word or commandment of God). What Paul says here in vs. 12 is not an excuse, but rather a point of hope, that although we still live in the flesh (see Rom. 7), we are not by any means “sinners” anymore, in that we are now in Christ, and no more in the flesh, and therefore glory “in Christ Jesus” because we are “Christians,” not those who are characterized by the flesh. And so Paul says to forget what “lies behind” and reach forward to what lies ahead, which is the “goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” And being in Christ, who is perfection (completion) itself, we who are in Him are perfect, and have this “attitude” in ourselves, holding to the perfect standard of Christ Jesus. And so, to answer the many who have brought forward the defense (or rather, excuse) “Well I am not perfect” or “I am not a saint,” I say that such a statement is contrary to the Word of God, and is only the vocabulary of the devil.
The saint of Christ is, by comparison to the sinner, characterized by their hope, not their despair. The sinner, and apostate, is one who is characterized by their “walk,” who practically sprint to their own “destruction,” who are by implication enemies of Christ, and who worship their bodies (their “appetite,” the cravings of the flesh), and can only glory in that which is shameful (as opposed to glorying in Christ Jesus), and can only think of earthly things (good or bad, happy or sad). Whereas we who are in Christ are not in despair because of what we look to, that is, the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will take us Home to our true citizenship, and will finally turn these wretched bodies into the glorified state that perfects our worship before the Almighty God, and that solely by the power of the grace of God, to the end of His glory.
To be continued in Part II…