“I feel depressed, but believers aren’t SUPPOSED to be depressed, are they?”
Depression isn’t simply a matter of being a sin problem, or being a spiritual problem, or being an emotional problem, or being a physiological problem – it is a combination of many things working together that brings depression.
We are synergistic wholes – our minds, our emotions, our bodies, and everything that comprises us impacts every other aspect of us – all the time.
The physiological part is easy to address, so we will start there.
There are several studies that have been done around the world that show one of the most common physiological contributors to depression is “leaky gut.” (Normally the digestive system is surrounded by an impermeable wall of cells. Certain behaviors and medical conditions can compromise this wall, allowing toxic substances and bacteria to enter the bloodstream. Lots of things can cause leaky gut.)
Being tired and run down can contribute to depression. So can long-term anxiety. So can severe crisis (and this is subjective to the individual – there is no objective standard of what “should” or “shouldn’t” constitute a crisis).
The emotional/spiritual part are interwoven.
So, what is depression?
Simply put, depression is “silent rage”; it is bitterness turned inward. At base, bitterness is deep-seated, long-term unforgiveness.
The sow-and-reap principle of life expressed in Galatians 6:7 is ever-present and universal. And it has great significance when discussing depression.
Let’s look at bitterness first.
When we allow unforgiveness to take root in our heart, bitterness sprouts up and permeates every aspect of our lives. The person we are embittered toward gets to live rent-free in our head, and we suffer far more than they do. In fact, they often have little if any idea that we are holding a grudge against them or that we think they owe us something.
Often that person has gone their own way, never knowing or caring that we are bitter or, in other cases, fully aware of our bitterness and actually enjoying our misery. While the person we despise is often unaware of the fact, we are slowly but quite certainly destroying ourselves and everything good in our lives.
Let’s look at how we end up in a place of bitterness.
Unmet Expectations: Expectations are like the ceiling; people can jump up and touch it, but they can’t live up there. So it is with the expectations we have of others. Often our expectations are rooted in a sense of entitlement (we believe we are entitled to have our wants and needs met when we want, the way we want). When our expectations go unmet, we experience
Disappointment: Our hopes are dashed on the rocks and we feel sad that things didn’t go as we expected. Holding on to that disappointment quickly leads us down lower and into
Disillusionment: Now we aren’t just disappointed about a situation or with a person, now the shiny picture we had of that person and the relationship is dark and dingy; we are losing hope. Remaining there long drops us even lower and we fall into
Despondency: This we call the “Eeyore Level.” This is where we are pessimistic not only about relationships, we are pessimistic about our own worth and value.
“I’m leaving (if anybody cares)”
“Of course this fell apart—I’m stuck with the same idiots I’m always stuck with?!”
“What did I expect? That things would magically be different than they always are?”
We don’t have to live here long before our unrelenting anger about how long we have been mistreated this way results in
Bitterness: Bitterness is rooted in deep-seated, long-term unforgiveness—usually, unforgiveness over someone (or multiple someone’s) not living up to our expectations.
The only difference between Bitterness and Depression is the direction the anger is turned. Bitterness has an outward focus; Depression has an inward focus.
Again, we need to remember that bitterness harms us far more than it harms the one we are embittered toward.
Let’s look at the devastating consequences of bitterness in our lives:
- It will harm us physically.
- We become enslaved to our bitterness.
- Bitterness flavors every relationship in our lives.
- It is a sin that will keep us from God’s forgiveness.
FIRST, bitterness harms us physically. The negative health effects of bitterness/unforgiveness have been well-documented, with research showing a link between prolonged anger or resentment and a host of heightened medical risks. Because of the ways in which resentment and unforgiveness interact with the brain, the body’s reactions can lead to chronic—and sometimes serious—physical ailments. In fact, prolonged bitterness can make people 500% more likely to die before the age of 50. And, over time, we even show the effects of this stress in our faces: We begin to look “hard.”
SECOND, we become slaves. We are enslaved by our bitterness. We are emotionally tied to the person we are bitter toward. Everything they do or don’t do affects us, whether we want it to or not. We spend so much time nursing our animosity that we hinder our ability to have a useful and productive life. Someone said that “unforgiveness is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”
THIRD, bitterness flavors every relationship in our lives. Read carefully Hebrews 12:15 (and its referent, Deuteronomy 29:18). In both places, it speaks about a “root of bitterness.” A bitter spirit toward one person will contaminate every other relationship in our lives. It is like the rotten apple that spoils the whole barrel; like a cancer that, unchecked, destroys us from within.
FOURTH, unforgiveness is sin and it keeps us from having God’s forgiveness. Read carefully Jesus’ instruction on prayer in Matthew 6:9-15. Especially note versus 14 and 15. An unforgiving spirit keeps us from God’s forgiveness. After all, why would God forgive us if we are unwilling to forgive someone else? It would also serve well here if you study Jesus’ parable in Matthew 18:21-35.
Several earlier posts discuss forgiveness in-depth (Forgiveness – Part 1, Forgiveness – Part 2, Forgiveness – Part 3, Forgiveness – Part 4).
Here is an overview on forgiveness from a Biblical perspective:
Forgiveness is poorly understood and even more poorly taught in much of Christian circles today. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which are poor hermeneutics (breaking the rules of proper Bible interpretation), bad logic, and weaving together ideas that don’t really go together. The following section is intended to help us understand forgiveness from God’s perspective. We trust it will be a help.
Three Kinds of Forgiveness
There are three kinds of forgiveness described in the Bible. One is completely up to God, one is up to us, and one cannot and should not happen without a certain amount of work on the part of the offending party.
- Judicial Forgiveness: This is the complete [pardon of all sin granted by God that only He can provide to a person when they confess their need for and receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, then repent of their sin. There are many instances in the Bible where, even though God forgave the sins of a person or of the people, He did not remove the consequences of their sin (David, 2 Samuel 12:7-13; Children of Israel, Numbers 14:20-23).
- Internal Forgiveness: This is where we extend mercy to the person who has wronged us to the degree that we completely forsake retaliation and revenge, leaving that person in the hands of God. Our best plans for revenge will fall far short of what God has planned. He does have a plan (See Genesis 50:20). This does not mean, however, that the person is not held accountable for their actions, nor does it mean that we stuff our emotions about what happened and ignore them. That set us on a downward spiral into the same destructive lies we have been working on becoming free of.
- Relational Forgiveness: God does not forgive without confession and repentance on our part, and he does not require or allow us to do so either (1 John 1:9; Luke 3:8). They not only are in full agreement on the exact nature and character of their wrong (the meaning of the Biblical word “confess”), but they also invest much energy and effort to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8; Ephesians 4:22, 24, 28).
True repentance is a grieving over sins one has committed, an open acceptance of responsibility for the evil suffered by those we have wronged, a complete forsaking of those sins and anything that makes that sin easy to recommit, and a replacing the sinful attitude and behavior with the opposite righteous attitude and behavior for the sake of God and others (See Ephesians 4:28).
The Bible teaches us that knowing the truth will set us free. It is hard for us to practice good until we know what is good. Once we have recognized and accepted the truth, we are free to practice the truth. A person who does not know the truth is like someone blind in a strange place. That person stumbles around, never sure of himself and always lost.
For most of us, the first step to God has to be a willingness to internally forgive those who have wronged us. We must not continue in unforgiveness, knowing that this is a path to self-destruction.