When Depression is Sin
Depression is not sin. That's what my wife told me in response to a statement I made during my sermon this past Sunday. I should not have categorized depression as a sin behavior.
My wife was right. Depression is not sin. But it is often accompanied by sin. Just as it's difficult to masturbate without lustful thoughts, it's difficult to be depressed without self-hatred, mistrust, or fear.
I had been giving a talk about the negative mood cycle. For example, if confronted with a difficult writing assignment, every fiber of our being resists putting words on the page. In order to address our negative mood, we lust after some kind of solace, some chemical boost that will give us the energy we need to start working or avoid thinking about it altogether. From there, we pursue self-medicating behaviors - eating, social media, TV, pornography, video games, substance abuse, etc. Some of those behaviors are overtly sinful (porn, substance abuse) and some are only sinful when consumed as as a means of salvation.
Depression can be, paradoxically, a type of salvation. The feeling of being depressed can act as a form of avoidance or self-medication. It is often a by-product of a certain pattern of thinking. I understand depression can have a biological/chemical foundation (ex. post-partum depression) but what we do with our thoughts is our responsibility. We own our thoughts in the same way we own our actions.
Dan Allender, in his book The Wounded Heart, addresses adult victims of sexual abuse:
Abuse provides the raw data that seems to prove that God is not good [emphasis his]. . . The abuse victim's fundamental enemy then, is sin: the fearful refusal is to trust a God about whom she is deceived. The Spirit of God is hard at work in her to reveal God's true nature and confront her fear and mistrust, but His work is a battle that requires her cooperation.
Depression, like abuse, is not the fault of the victim. My aim is not to make people feel guilty or ashamed about depression. But in a similar way to abuse, depression provides the raw data that seems to prove that God is not good. That raw data can arise biologically or as a by-product of our mistrust of God. Either way, the negative emotion tempts us to turn away from God.
I'm convinced that most types of depression are sustained by a pattern of thinking that does not acknowledge who God is and who we are in Him - new, righteous, and beloved children.
We battle against depression, like all sin, by opening our eyes to the reality of God's nature and what Christ has accomplished on our behalf. The broken crust of wilderness is not of our choosing but where we place our trust is.