Thursday, December 01, 2011

Toward a Biblical Perspective on Depression: Romans 5:1-5

So far this series has considered seven case studies from Scripture, from which we have endeavored to draw lessons about some of the possible causes and cures for depression. Then we examined a couple of passages which speak directly to the issue of depression in order to see how the Bible says that we should face such a trial. Now let's turn our attention to some of the Bible's teaching that deals more generally with trials and tribulations, of which depression in all its forms would be a subset. For example, let's begin by examining some of Paul's teaching on trials in the Book of Romans:
NKJ Romans 5:1-5 “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; 4 and perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
I was reminded by this passage that through Christ I can “rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (vs. 2), and I think by this Paul means that I can rejoice in the knowledge that God will manifest His glory through me and in my life. In fact, later in this same epistle Paul describes the ultimate triumph of God's work in us as our being glorified. For example:
NKJ  Romans 8:15-18 “For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, 'Abba, Father.' 16 The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs-- heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. 18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”

NKJ Romans 8:28-30 “28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. 29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30 Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.”
All things, including tribulations and suffering, are a part of God's plan to glorify us, that is, to reveal His glory in us. Although this ultimately happens in the resurrection (as the context in Romans 8 makes clear), it is happening to some degree even now, which is what I believe Paul is saying in Romans 5. I think he is trying to tell us that, as we learn to go through trials in faith, we see God being glorified in us more and more, and this gives us a foretaste of the coming glory that will be revealed in us. When Paul tells us that “we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope” in verse 3-4, the hope he is talking about is the “hope of the glory of God” he has mentioned in verse 2. So, the more we see God being glorified in and through us as we faithfully endure trials, the more we increase in the certainty that His promise of future glorification is, indeed, true.

There is a cycle revealed in Romans 5:1-5, one through which God has taken me many times before and with which I have become quite well acquainted. So perhaps an illustration of how the cycle has worked in my own life would help to explain what I mean more clearly. It comes from a time when I was just a kid, about twelve years old. I went with my family to a state park in southern Indiana that had a cave that went through a hillside and came out the other side. I think it was actually an abandoned attempt at building a railroad tunnel at one time. At any rate, the tunnel was just long enough that when you were in the middle of it you were in complete darkness and could see no light coming from either end. After having gone through the tunnel a couple of times with a flashlight, I decided – I vaguely remember a dare – to try to go through the tunnel with no light at all. Well, about half way through, as I was in the darkest part of the tunnel, feeling my way along, I remember being gripped by fear and worrying that maybe I would get lost somehow and no one would ever find me. And I thought about turning back. But what kept me going was that fact that I had been through the tunnel before, and I knew that if I just pressed on there would be a light ahead.

This is the same way with trials in my life. I have been through the tunnel before many times, and I know that, despite how dark things may be at any given time, there is always a light at the end! It is the “hope of the glory of God,” and it keeps me going, just as Paul said it would. Indeed, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel of every trial for the Christian, and it is the joy set before us as we see the glory of God more fully manifested in our own lives. May we ever seek this joy in Him! And may we accept the fact that it comes with suffering, even such suffering as depression. You see, even depression – however terrible it may be to endure – can be a lens through which we may see more clearly the glory of God being manifested in our lives, and this can bring us great reason for joy even in the midst of heartache.


  1. Keith, thanks for the insightful thoughts on depression.

    Started a blog and did a series on communication-mission of the church-and many various topics with a Biblical perspective:

  2. I have learned a lot about depression from a biblical view from the book of Job. He went through terrible anguish, and even cursed the day he was born, but in the end he put his hope in the Lord, and was greatly blessed and changed by the suffering he endured. I admire his brutal honesty about his feelings that many of us Baptist feel are shameful and on the verge of blaspheme. I believe it was his honesty that allow healing in his life.

    David McCannon

  3. David,

    I think Job sinned against God in the midst of his depression, for which he later repented. I began this series of articles on depression with seven case studies, one of which included an article on Job that you can read here:

  4. But it was not the sin that caused his depression, it was the great loss he experienced, and God did not judge him harshly for being honest about his feelings. "Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." KJV A lot of people hold these poisonous thoughts in and it is a much greater sin to hold these thoughts in; it leads to self-destructive behavior. Only Jesus was the only sinless one. I would have fallen to. It was God's love that lead to Job's repentance, not being shamed by his friends for having shared such thoughts. A lot of people attempt suicide because they fear judgement for sharing such thoughts. They need encouragement not criticism. They need to be restored gently, and many times you cannot find this in the church today. Remind them of God's love. They have lost hope and they need to be lead to the author of the only true hope who is Jesus Christ. If I do not know what one is going through, I cannot know what they need me to pray for them about.

  5. David, I agree with much of what you have said, but I would be quick to add:

    First, I never said or implied that sin was the cause of Job's depression. What I said was that Job "sinned against God in the midst of his depression." And, if you read the post that I previously wrote concerning Job (to which I linked in my previous comment), you would have seen that I expressly denied that Job's depression was a result of sin.

    Second, I also do not disagree that a depressed person should be honest about his feelings, including confessing sins both to God and to one another. But Job's sin wasn't that he was "honest about his feelings." It was that he sinned against God by speaking as though he had the right to judge His works and by accusing Him of wronging him. So, I agree that we should discuss our troubles with God and others and confess our sins; I just don't think that holding and expressing sinful thoughts against God is ever right. And I think that, while we seek to be understanding and gentle with the depressed, we must never shirk our responsibility to confront such sinful anger toward God as Job fell into.

    Third, I also notice that you make the statement that the depressed "need encouragement not criticism," after which you say that "they need to be restored gently." But I wonder how they can be restored without confrontation of sinful attitudes toward God that they may have developed in response to their depression. Wouldn't this necessitate at least some "criticism"? And isn't this exactly what Elihu did when he not only confronted Job's friends but Job himself? For example, didn't he clearly tell Job, "Look, in this you are not righteous. I will answer you, for God is greater than man" (33:12)? And wasn't it Elihu alone that was not later included in the rebuke by God, whose own answer to Job echoed the same ideas that Elihu had expressed? In my view, we learn from the book of Job not just to be much more understanding and gentle than Job's friends had been, but also to be willing to confront actual sin in the depressed person when necessary, even if it may sound to some like being too "critical" or unloving.