Let me preface this article by recognizing that some forms of depression have a legitimate physical cause. These must be addressed and controlled through the advancements of medical science.
Diabetes, hypothyroid, other glandular problems may be directly connected to the depression a person feels. I will let the medical doctors give help for those medical issues originating in bodily sicknesses that affect the emotions.
“Spiritual depression” is rooted in some spiritual issue. We describe it as a slippery slope that has four very distinct levels moving emotionally and spiritually downward. The person who starts his slide can move downward through these four levels very quickly. This depends on his beliefs and maturity in Christ and the Word and his habituated patterns of thought.
The good news is that a person can stop his downward slide toward depression at any level and move back up and out of depression if he will bring God and His Word to bear on his thought patterns. When he applies biblical truth to his thoughts, beliefs, and actions, he will see his emotions change.
Step One: Disappointment
Disappointment is the first level. It is not a sin to be disappointed. We are all disappointed at times for various reasons. Disappointment comes when a person doesnʼt get something he really wanted or thinks he deserved.
Maybe he didnʼt get the pay raise or the recognition he expected. Perhaps he is disappointed by the gift he received, expecting something better. Maybe the baby wasnʼt the desired gender, or there was no baby at all after many years. On and on, disappointments come when hopes and dreams are dashed.
There is also disappointment when a person gets something he didnʼt want or deserve. Maybe it was a layoff or loss of a job unexpectedly, or a breakdown of a relationship. Physical problems, life-threatening illnesses, or loss of loved ones are disappointments we all experience but certainly donʼt expect or ask for. We experience grief and sadness over a loss, and confusion over unfulfilled expectations.
How our heart responds to these disappointments determines the direction we go, either reaching up to God or down the slippery slope of depression.
Christ Himself faced many of disappointments, yet He never sinned by allowing Himself to slide downward the next level. He continued to place Himself in the hands of a sovereign, loving God, just as each of us must. We must know God who has a purpose for every disappointment. Disappointment must be seen as his appointment for us.
Trust in Him, that He has never made a mistake in what He allows in our lives, and He never will.
Step Two: Discontentment
When a person fails to deal with situations at the disappointment level he slips downward to the discontentment level. He wonʼt be satisfied without getting what he expected or what he thought he deserved. He wonʼt find contentment in a condition or circumstance he believed he did not deserve.
Disappointment has slipped into discontentment, and discontentment is sin on the slippery slope toward depression. It is dissatisfaction with what God is doing in his life at that moment, a self-righteousness that says he knows better than God, or a self-pity that sees himself as the undeserving victim of unfair circumstances.
This leads to anger and bitterness toward God and others. A person can learn to live with disappointment and find contentment. However, he must see God as bigger than the disappointment. God has a far greater, sovereign purpose for the disappointment in his life than he is able to see at the moment.
Paul said that contentment, even amidst negative situations, is something that every believer can learn (Philippians 4:13). He also instructed Timothy,
Godliness with contentment is great gain. 1 Timothy 6:6, NIV
The inverse is also true, that ungodly thoughts and attitudes with discontent is great loss.
Step Three: Despair
Despair is the next emotion down that slippery slope toward depression. The Greek word means no way out, no way through. Despair believes there is no way out of the discontentment over disappointing circumstances. The discontented person is dissatisfied and believes there is no way through to reach contentment or a better circumstance. This is where many give up on responsibilities and check out of life, thinking it will never be better.
Of course, the person in despair is deceived by his own desires (James 1:14–15). He believes a lie that there is no way out. He is blinded by disappointment and wonʼt be content until he gets the result he wants. He is stubbornly seeking his own way and not Godʼs way out (1 Corinthians 10:13).
The despairing person will find no way out until his will, his wants, and his desires are submitted to Godʼs desires for him. When he continues looking for a way to escape the pain by trusting only his own understanding (Proverbs 3:5), he will never find the right escape route. Someone must be there for him to confront the lie he is believing and to show him the truth and the way of escape.
He must be reconnected to a faithful God who has indeed provided a way to escape and who will help him bear the disappointment and not break under it. He needs to experience and practice trust in the Lord with all his heart, and to let this faithful, loving, and sovereign God direct his path out of the disappointing circumstance in his life.
As the person in despair is lovingly and gently guided to see the lie his heart has believed, he must be encouraged with hope. A wise brother must help him to see and then walk with him through the application of biblical truth that will replace the lie.
Step Four: Destruction
This brother must counsel him to develop his trust in God and eventually to see Godʼs sovereign purposes every time for all of lifeʼs disappointments (Romans 8:28, 29). If the person in despair continues to be convinced the lie is true for him, he slides further downward to the fourth level to the destructive mode in the middle of depression. He finds himself at the bottom both emotionally and spiritually.
The desperately destructive person could act in a way out that would damage his employment, finances, or even his own life or the life of another. This purposeless, despair-driven direction ultimately damages his spiritual and emotional life even more.
Until the person looks upward to realize that the God who loves him is still with him and wants to help him through, the person may seek foolish, destructive ways out of his low spiritual and emotional circumstance.
He needs a brother to walk through this difficult but hopeful time with him. Will you be that brother or sister?