No, I’m not calling Jesus a liar: Christians and responses to depression

During my one-year stint as a counseling major at seminary, I’ll never forget the first day of my last semester. The professor asked the class to stand up, and if you believed it was a sin to have depression, move to the left side of the classroom. If you believed it wasn’t a sin, move to the right.

My stomach clenched instantly, even though everyone in the class moved to the right side of the classroom.

All but one person.

Naturally, the professor called this person out, asking her to explain and defend her position. The woman looked to be around my mother’s age, and her response was a single statement: “If you have the true joy of Christ, you would never have an excuse to be depressed.”

That same semester, I joined a club exclusively for writers. The Subject du Jour of that group just happened to be sexual abuse, as most of us were either survivors or closely affiliated with one. Writing was our way of processing its heavy toll. But, again, there was one person who stood out by saying, “Why are we spending so much time talking and writing about this, when we could be writing about healing?”

“Writing is healing,” I explained to her (with an extraordinary amount of self-control).

“No,” she insisted. “Jesus is healing.”

“Writing can be a gift from Jesus to help with healing,” we pointed out, but the woman held her ground: “What are you saying about the power of Jesus, then? That he isn’t enough? Are you calling him a liar?”

That, right there, is one of a myriad of reasons I could no longer stay at seminary; why I could no longer affiliate with certain church groups. I didn’t have the words to explain myself back then (I only had blinding rage) but I have a few words now I’d like to say in response.

Joy may be a by-product of a relationship with Jesus, but it’s not a requirement.

Some of the most influential leaders in the Bible struggled with depression. How can we forget Psalm 44:24, when David cries, “Do you forget me, Lord? Why do you hide your gave from me?” Or Jesus himself taking time to be alone and weep when death was imminent? What about history’s numerous martyrs – what’s more depressing than being burned alive?!

Deeply-held convictions don’t have to be swayed by what the body feels. Strained relationships don’t equal broken relationships. If you’ve ever loved someone when they weren’t acting very lovable, you understand what this means.

For some people, depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain that must be treated like any other illness. For others, it’s triggered by tragic circumstances.

I don’t know if there’s a chemical imbalance in my brain or not. But I know that depression has woven its way into my life from watching a loved one die of cancer and experiencing an abusive relationship that lasted from the end of high school through college. My biggest concern is that I’m pressing on toward healing rather than choosing to remain stuck. I accept that this could be a life-long process. What is sinful about a person recognizing that they have a problem and choosing to seek help? What part of living in a broken world tells us that healing must be immediate?

Most importantly,

If you self-righteously judge the quality of my faith by my struggle with depression, you will not motivate me to get better. You will only enable me in staying stuck.

True, no one can make me do anything. I always have the choice to choose bitterness or betterness. It’s the motivation to choose betterness that evaporates when Christians tell me I have weak faith, instead of encouraging me and asking what they can do to help.

Aren’t Christians supposed to work together as a community? Don’t we all have unique spiritual gifts? Why does it never occur to some Christians that the answer to our prayers for healing could be found in each other? There are people with the ability to prescribe medication that can help manage chemical imbalances; there are people with an ability to just sit and listen, and communicate more love and empathy in a hug, a smile, or a nod than others try to do with a thousand verses pulled out of context.

Shame is a motivator for nothing but locking the gates of a self-made prison.


9 thoughts on “No, I’m not calling Jesus a liar: Christians and responses to depression”

  1. Spot on. A very good post. A very good analysis.

    I have listened to too many sermons where they tell you if you lack joy, if you are sad it is a religious problem – seek Jesus, seek God with no mention of mental illness.

    The Grief Share program offered in many churches for those mourning the loss of a loved one. In session eight they deal with suicide. Not once in the discussion or the notes does the topic of mental health get mentioned. Rather they talk about the “sin of suicide” and “is the person in heaven.” It has been many years since I left the Catholic Church, but back in my school days I can remember they telling us that suicide was a ticket to hell.

    In the end given the churches, and I think this covers most denominations, attitude towards mental health as a religious rather than a mental health issue over the years, decades, centuries, how much that has set back the work on the medial front in dealing with mental health and enhanced that shame, guilt, and greater depression people feel who have mental health issues.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is right on point! As a Christian who struggled with depression and anxiety I can say it is not a sin to feel the way you feel. God knows we’re human and he never said we would feel happy all the time. The “joy” He speaks of comes from knowing him but he never said if you don’t feel that joy 100% of the time, it’s a sin. It’s impossible to be happy at every moment. We’re human and we have to experience human circumstances and feel those feelings that come alone with it. Depression isn’t always a choice.


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