Spiritual Depression

Posted on August 21, 2014

At the end of the last article, I wrote that I had coined a phrase “spiritual depression”. That is not entirely accurate. I borrowed that phrase from an old book by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones whose title is “Spiritual Depression”. However, what he meant by the term is different than what I mean by it.

To me, Spiritual Depression is the result of guilt and shame.

Brent was packing up his things into the trunk he had brought to college. It wasn’t the end of his degree or the end of the semester. Nonetheless, he was leaving and had resolved never to return. He haphazardly threw clothes and books into the trunk without any sense of whether the load would all fit. He wanted out of that place.

His roommate was worried for him and desperately wanted him to stay. As fast as Brent could throw stuff into his trunk, the roommate took it out. It was a zero-sum game that neither was winning. At one point, another friend came into the room and helped withdraw things out of the trunk. Brent knew it was a futile effort to try and pack, so he just sat down on the bed defeated. After a long sigh, he lay down and began to stare at the ceiling. Silent tears dribbled down his cheeks.

He was depressed. But the reason for his depression didn’t fit any of the descriptions I gave in the last article. He was carrying an emotional load because of something happening deep inside of his spirit. To understand this, let’s study an incident from close to the end of Jesus’ life

When Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus and identified him to the Sanhedrin’s soldiers, he marked himself out as the scapegoat, the most heinous villain in the Gospel account. We are unclear to all of his reasons for selling Jesus out, but money seemed to be the most important one. He was offered 30 pieces of silver to betray his master and he took it.

Afterward, when Jesus began his Passion suffering, Judas was filled with remorse and fervently wished he could take back his bad decision. And, like most bad decisions, there was no going back from this one. He told the Sanhedrin leaders he had “betrayed innocent blood”. They didn’t care and asked him what he was going to do about it. In a fit of despair, he threw down the 30 pieces of silver at their feet and walked out of their presence. Wandering around in depression, he finally went out and hung himself.

I think it would be wrong to diagnose him with bipolar disorder, hormonal or neurotransmitter imbalances or other physical problems. His problem was spiritual and quite common.

He was feeling guilty about what he had done. Who wouldn’t?

In addition, he likely felt shame and remorse, emotions that often cut people off from the rest of society. We don’t want others to see our shame, so we hide away. Often people who are loaded down with guilt and shame do harm to themselves or others before they ever resolve it.

Brent had received mid-term grades. All of them were fine except one. He received a D on one exam which he had decided he didn’t need to study for. He had heard from upper-classmen who had taken the course that the midterm only covered certain topics. Since he knew the information well on those topics, he decided he didn’t need to waste energy looking over the content for that course.

When he faced the results of this decision, it triggered a latent sense that no matter what he did in life, he would always fail. Belief in one’s inevitable failure is usually based on very little actual evidence, but it feels real all the same. Brent had believed since he was a child that he was doomed to mess things up for himself. Because he held onto this belief into adulthood, it became part of his persona. It rarely took much to trigger him.

Fortunately, Spiritual Depression is one of the easier types to deal with. At least, it can be if it is treated correctly. It requires that one follow these five steps to overcome its effects.

1. Acknowledge legitimate sin. God’s forgiveness only is given to those who will acknowledge what they’ve done wrong and who don’t want to do it again.

2. Make amends for how sinful actions have hurt others.

3. Ask God to speak to you about your failure. This is similar to what God did for Simon Peter. He too failed Jesus. He too betrayed his friend. But he didn’t give in to the shame. He spent time trying to piece together what had happened. During this season, Jesus met Peter while he was out fishing (John 21). During that conversation, Jesus spoke to Peter and allowed him to renew his love for Jesus. That renewal was enough to rid the guilt out of Peter’s life.

4. Ask God to show you lies you have believed about yourself. Brent was able to do this over the next year. God showed him that he didn’t fail all the time. He didn’t even fail most of the time. He heard God’s voice and allowed God to help him let go of his false belief.

5. Ask God to fill you again with the Holy Spirit. We cannot overcome Spiritual Depression simply by trying harder. We need to partner with God and allow Him to shake loose the spiritual scar tissue.