Many times, in my Biblical counselling office, I have this question asked. Is depression or anxiety a sin? I believe the question is based on a profound misunderstanding of who God is. As I look throughout the Bible, I find a beautiful narrative of a relational and present God, full of love and grace within everyone’s pain (whether it was situational or a result of mistakes)! So, I think the better question we should be asking is, “What does God’s grace look like in depression, anxiety, and any other mental or emotional pain (or even a diagnosis)?” Now, here is the longer answer in three brief points as we look at the Bible narrative of grace and even Jesus’ experience with depression. Yes, Jesus! Read on!
1) In the Bible, depression and anxiety are described as a human experience with God involved, NOT a diagnosis with a distant God.
The Bible is an ancient text full of rich, poetic language. It articulates depression and anxiety as profound human experiences with God as a present for support and grace.
For example, look at these Biblical expressions:
Psalm 38: “… there is no soundness in my flesh [referring to the whole state of well-being] … I go mourning all day … my strength fails me; And the light of my eyes, even that has gone from me [from having wept continuously] … For I hope in you, O Lord; You will answer, O Lord my God.”
Psalm 42 (& 43): “Why are you in despair [downcast], O my soul [referring to the whole being – physically/emotionally]? And why have you become disturbed [despondent] within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence.”
Psalm 69: “For the waters have threatened my life. I have sunk in deep mire, and there is no foothold. I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched; my eyes fail while I wait for God. But I am afflicted and in pain; May Your salvation, O God, set me securely on high. For the Lord hears the needy and does not despise His who are prisoners.”
No matter the mental or emotional anguish we experience, God is not looking for sin. He is looking to help us know that He is there with us, love and grace! This concept is beautifully expressed in Psalm 37:23-26:
“The LORD establishes the steps of a man, and He delights in his way. When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong, because the LORD is the One who holds his hand … all day long He is gracious and lends, and his descendants are a blessing.”
Interesting note (and some science): Notice how the passages above, especially Ps. 42 and 37, reveal God being fully present with a reference of being held (holding hands) by God (see Isaiah 41:10, 13 and John 10:29). In troubled times, our hand symbolism is used going into new promises (see Isaiah 42:6). Why is this significant, because a recent 2018 study shows that holding hands with an intimate partner can lessen pain through what is called “interpersonal synchronisation.” When a close couple is holding hands, the one in pain begins to sync their breathing and heart rate and brain waves while providing comfort, resulting in less pain. The more comforting and empathetic the partner is, the higher they have brain synchronisation and less pain. We are not holding hands with God. However, the Biblical narrative and imagery throughout are always about a relational and ever-present God of comfort. He desires us to see, and maybe sync with His grace, that He is a compassionate, gracious and loving God whenever we experience depression, anxiety, and any mental or emotional pain.
2) Even great church leaders, full of faith and the Holy Spirit, experienced depression – they were NOT excluded from it.
In the New Testament, the apostle Paul was not immune to having dark days and was quite open about his struggles. For example, in 2 Corinthians 1:8-9, Paul honestly shares how the ministry pressures were beyond what they could handle, and it caused those dim and depressive emotions. When he could not see or feel it, he had to rely on God’s gracious love and faithfulness (not work up his faith for it):
“For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead …”
Later in 2 Corinthians 7:5-6, Paul shares how he found God’s comfort from all the external and internal pains:
“… our flesh had no rest, but we were afflicted on every side: conflicts without, fears within. But God, who comforts the depressed, comforted us by the coming of Titus.”
Paul was not looking for sin or His lack of faith. His default was to look for God’s living and active grace. Also, Paul reveals that God’s answer for his depressive state was the comforting fellowship from Titus. God did not take Paul’s pain away; he comforted his mental and emotional pressures with the community.
“At this moment, Jesus didn’t use His divine nature to get out of it but used his divinity to embrace the fullness of our humanity lovingly.”
3) Even Jesus experienced deep human despair and depressive pain, NOT distancing Himself from our everyday realities.
Before Jesus was crucified, He was in the Garden of Gethsemane, praying with his disciples (Matthew 26:36-38). Jesus knew what was coming, and the scripture says that He “… began to be grieved and distressed.” Then, Jesus says:
“My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death …”
When you look at translations for “grieved, distressed,” and “deeply grieved, to the point of death,” you will find the meanings like:
The lack of courage; fear; weary and perplexed; even, ‘maddening grief.’
Nevertheless, more specifically for the expression, “deeply grieved, to the point of death,” you will find definitions such as, “mental agony” and “such sorrows,” with the same intensity as any person struggling with suicidal feelings. At this moment, Jesus did not use His divine nature to get out of it but used his divinity to embrace the fullness of our humanity lovingly.
Paul’s statement in Philippians 2:6-8 emphasises this point, “…although He [Jesus] existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied (laid aside his divine right to surpass) Himself … being found in appearance as a man [humankind], He humbled Himself by becoming obedient [lovingly committed] to the point of death …”
Jesus knew He was in/with the Father (John 17:21). However, in this time of intense mental and emotional agony, Jesus wanted to be close to His beloved friends/disciples (v.38), “… remain here and keep watch with me.” Think about this: after Jesus fasted for 40 days and was tempted by the devil in the wilderness, the angels ministered to Him (Matthew 4:11), but in this deep mental and emotional anguish, Jesus wanted to be with humans, Jesus wants to be with us!
What does this say about Jesus when we go through our darkest moments?
What does this say about Jesus being able to understand our physical, mental, and emotional pains truly?
He truly knows, loves, and cares for us as it states in Hebrews 4:15-16:
“For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathise with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore, let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
So, is depression, anxiety, or any mental or emotional anguish a sin?
Maybe it is not a question to find a sin story; perhaps it is a question to discover God’s love story, full of grace truly.
I leave you with this hope.
Corinthians 4:17-18 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.