Does the Bible Teach Us How to Pray?
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Does the Bible Teach Us How to Pray?

Depression is Not the Result of Personal Sin

Posted October 29, 2021
Suffering

Depression, unlike discontentment or cynicism, is not sin; it’s a medical condition. Depression is something that happens to a person; no one chooses depression. Depression is a form of suffering, and our tendency to link “suffering to particular sins (and therefore its remedy of simply more faith and obedience) is toxic both spiritually and physically.”

Part of the problem is that people don’t understand what sin is. Michael Horton writes,

In a biblical perspective, sin isn’t just something we do or don’t do. It arises out of a sinful condition. Just as the whole self is created in God’s image, the whole self is fallen in Adam. Consequently, we are sinners and sinned against, victimizers and victims. We are caught up in a maelstrom of living on this side of the curse, and many of its effects are in no way dependent on a specific sin, demonic attack, or anything else for which one is personally responsible. That is not to say that we are not personally responsible for our sin, but that the sinful condition is far greater in its extensiveness than that.

This doesn’t mean that depressed people don’t sin. They are sinners like the rest of us, but their depression is not the result of personal sin nor is their depression an act of personal sin. Instead, their depression arises out of the fallen condition of all humanity. This means that we can understand depressed people as victims to a destructive disease like cancer. Biochemistry, genetics, personality, and environmental factors all play a part in predisposing one toward depression.

The reason why it’s important to make a point that depression is not the result of personal sin is because this view can really harm the person by either adding guilt to the person already suffering or giving a false hope that if they just stop sinning they will find healing. Both responses are destructive and the Bible speaks to each.

In John 10 Jesus and his disciples come across a man born blind. Seeing the man, Jesus’ disciples make the common assumption that his blindness came through personal sin. They ask, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2). It seems like an good question at first glance. After all, the Bible says, “The LORD does not let the righteous go hungry, but he thwarts the craving of the wicked” (Proverbs 10:3). So, maybe there is some sort of divine law that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. This has always been the common wisdom of humanity. But Jesus answers to the contrary, turning the common wisdom on its head. He says, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3). Through this answer Jesus reveals the simplistic and often false judgment passed through a misuse of wisdom like that of Proverbs.

The Bible’s wisdom is always there to remind us that there are consequences for our actions that will affect our lives and the lives of people around us, but the Bible’s wisdom must not be used to condemn people who are suffering by assuming that personal sin is always involved. Instead, God has a greater purpose in this world, which is infected with corruption because of the sin of the first man, Adam (see Genesis 3). God’s greater purpose is to turn evil to good as a display of his mercy and grace and to show his kindness to people who sin.

Like Jesus’ disciples, we need to avoid making judgments and speculating about why people suffer. It’s always complicated, and biology can play a part because the world has become corrupt and unruly. We should expect people to be born blind in a world that is fallen. We shouldn’t be surprised that people are born with brain defects that result in depression or other mental illnesses. And in cases in which people suffer, we need to understand that this suffering is not simply the result of personal sin; with some things personal sin may play a part, and people suffering from depression will still sin in their state even as we who are not depressed sin, but depression is not the result of personal sin. No one should ever be made to feel guilty for their depression. They need help, hope, and healing.


Footnotes

  • Michael Horton “Faith and Mental Illness,” Modern Reformation, July/August 2014.

  • Michael Horton “Faith and Mental Illness,” Modern Reformation, July/August 2014.

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Silverio Gonzalez

Silverio Gonzalez is a husband and father. He earned his B.A. in Philosophy from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and his Master of Divinity from Westminster Seminary California.