“Is it a sin for a Christian to be depressed? I am depressed sometimes, and I feel guilty about it. Can you give me any advice?”
Could anxiety be sinful? Yes — if we accept the testimony of Jesus, and we respect the apostolic command of Paul.
But the Bible certainly acknowledges that life’s complications can be depressing (the word is used so elastically). We are even commanded to “weep with those who weep.” This means that we sympathize with their grief, rather than trying to convince them that such sorrow is sinful.
What Christians do, however, with their grief may demonstrate either strong faith, or it may result in a debilitating depression. Therefore, we must give serious thought to this question. There is no simple “yes” or “no” answer.
Now here is Paul’s comments on the matter.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7).
So many things are easier said than done. The advice, “Don’t worry,” is surely in that category. That peculiarity, however, does not nullify the counsel. “Don’t worry” is not only good advice, it is a biblical command.
How can we be commanded not to worry? Is anxiety not an inevitable human emotion that we have when certain things happen to us?
Let us allow Webster to define this state of mind.
“Anxiety is a painful or apprehensive uneasiness of mind usually over an impending or anticipated ill ... an abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear often marked 1 by physiological signs (as sweating, tension, and increased pulse), 2 by doubt concerning the reality and nature of the threat, and 3 by self-doubt about one’s capacity to cope with it” (51).
An overwhelming sense of self-doubt about one’s ability to cope should not overcome the Christian, who has been told, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31). Let us consider the biblical counsel that helps us manage anxiety, and prevents it from overwhelming us.
The apostle Paul’s prohibition against anxiety is: “Do not be anxious about anything” (Phil. 4:6a). Notice that Paul’s statement is a command. It is a comprehensive command, for we are not to be anxious about anything. Like all commands, we must choose to submit to it, thereby exercising a choice – not to worry. It is a permanent requirement. Our lives should be characterized by confident trust in the Lord, rather than by worry and doubt.
Likewise, the Lord Jesus forbids worry (Mt. 6:25). He encourages us not to be anxious, for our Father lives, gives, loves, clothes, and knows our needs (Mt. 6:25-32). Worry can not create circumstances, correct problems, or change the future. It is, therefore, faithlessness, self-centeredness, distracting, and debilitating.
After stating the prohibition, Paul relates the prevention.
“But in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6b).
Instead of merely talking to yourself and others, talk to God. Instead of worrying about anything, talk to the Lord about everything. This is the antidote to being overly anxious, and we may not take advantage of it, because we worry that it will not help.
Paul says that this prevention for anxiety involves real communication (i.e., prayer) with the Creator, who is a personal being, who listens, cares, and responds. The word “prayer” stands for this divine blessing and represents a reality for the child of God. It is not a psychological pick-me-up, nor it is a quick fix.
Paul said that in our prayers, we ought to make “supplications.” Therein, we recognize that God is the one to whom these needs ought to be addressed. There is no one else to whom we can turn for these necessities. Sadly, we may find ourselves putting more confidence in men than we do in God. Listening to sound advice is needful, and so is leaning on the everlasting arm of Jesus through prayer (Heb. 4:15-16).
Prayer should be characterized by “thanksgiving,” Paul says. A poet expressed the thought in this way:
In midst of dangers, fears, and death,
Thy goodness we’ll adore.
We’ll praise thee for thy mercies past,
And humbly hope for more.
God has made us resilient, but we must rely upon him for the strength. A grateful disposition allows us to make many spiritual observations about his “mercies past,” empowering us to humbly hope for more.
The prevention also includes, says Paul, “requests.” Amazingly, we are able to convey to God Almighty a specific request for a particular need. And so, Paul encourages us to rely on the Lord, trusting in him, and he will enable us to withstand life’s difficulties and keep paralyzing self-doubt at bay.
The promise is given in the next verse (Phil. 4:7), which is conditioned on obeying the divine prohibition and following the preventive measure.
“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Such peace is incomprehensible to those who are not “in Christ Jesus,” the sphere wherein the promise is given. It is incapable of empirical analysis. It is immeasurably better than any human forethought could devise. It is inseparably joined to the redemptive work of Christ Jesus. It is the calm that comes from the Master of ocean, earth, and skies, for it is the Creator who says to us, “Peace, be still.”
Through the redemption by the blood of Christ, our most critical problem of all has been dealt with. Therefore, worry about nothing; pray about everything; thank God for anything; and have the peace that only God can provide.
“Casting all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you” (1 Pet. 5:7).