Setting Biblical Expectations About Depression: Easy and Not So Easy

Categories: Devotional

Robin Williams died this week. He loved tennis, his mom Laura Williams did too. Robin would sometimes sit by the court at the Belvedere Tennis Club to watch his mother’s tennis lesson. I was her teaching pro. I remember thinking, Robin Williams is the saddest person I have ever seen. I never saw him don a mask of merriment.

Before my days in Marin County, I lived in New York City. For a season I worked at NBC on Late Night with David Letterman. I never once saw Mr. Letterman smile off camera. Later I learned that like Robin Williams’ public struggle with depression Letterman’s was not a secret either. We can add to that open list, Ellen DeGeneres and Conan O’Brien.

Some 350 million other Americans suffer from depression. One in six Americans will do so in their lifetime—the chances double if you are a woman.

Like some of us at Celebration Church, Robin Williams was part of the Anglican Communion. In one comedy routine, he described his Episcopal faith as “Catholic Lite—same rituals, half the guilt.”

Should a Christian who suffers with depression feel guilty because of it?

If your answer is “yes,” then know there is a long list of the “should be guilt-ridden.”

Job:  May the day of my birth perish, and the night it was said, ‘A boy is born!’ (Job 3:3).  My heart is broken. Depression haunts my days (30:16).

King David: I am worn out from groaning; all night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears (Psalm 6:6).

Elijah: I have had enough, LORD … Take my life…  (1 Kings 19:4).

Jeremiah: Oh, that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears!  I would weep day and night for the slain of my people (Jer. 9:1).

Jonah: Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live (Jonah 4:3).

Apostle Paul: We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life (2 Cor. 1:8).

Martyn Luther: I felt “completely abandoned by Christ. I labored under the vacillations and storms of desperation.”

Charles Haddon Spurgeon: For most of his life “The Prince of Preachers” suffered from depression.

Mother Theresa: She wrote of decades of depression even though she was constantly cheerful and smiling — a manner she described as, “the cloak by which I cover the emptiness & misery.”

Add to this list many psalmists—60 out of the 150 psalms can be called “downers.” Take for example Psalm 43:5 (c.f. 42:6), Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?

In Psalms 42 and 43, the word “downcast” in Hebrew means, “turned in on yourself” (Sigmund Freud picks up on this Hebrew insight). Here the psalmist is surely fixated on himself. Over the course of 16 verses (chapters 42-43), the psalmist uses the pronouns, “me,” “my,” and “I,” almost 50 times.

Whatever can be said of the causes of depression, and much can be said—when someone is deeply depressed they become the center of their own universe.

While the Bible does not pull punches about the hard reality of depression, it does hold some good news about what to do when living in the midst of it.

For instance, we can learn from the Bible that when we become depressed it is OK to be dead honest with God about it, and with each other. Christians great and small have openly suffered through depression.

So how can you as a follower of Jesus set biblical expectations about depression for your life?

The easy—Expect many times of trouble and sorrow and darkness (Psalm 116:3, Eccl. 11:8).

The Not So Easy—Expect to make God the center of your universe—not yourself— and expect Jesus’ words to ring true for you:

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world (John 16:33).

Let’s find something in that to Celebrate!


Author: Toby Larson

Toby Larson leads Celebration International. He is a husband and father of 5. Whether he's teaching, hitting tennis balls, sailing a Hobie, serving in Asia, skiing on water or snow, Toby is passionate about the love of God and the love of life. Read more ...