“And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”
Isolation, perpetual darkness, hopelessness, and despair. A dark cloud that follows you around everywhere you go while others around you are in the sunlight. No desire, no joy, no interest or values, no friends, no support, and no hope. These are often the inescapable feelings of someone who is suffering from loneliness and depression. And although we should comfort those crushed in spirit, too often the church tends to be a home for ridicule rather than a place to find comfort, support, and the love of God.
As Christians, we have no problem jumping into the mission field, helping the orphans and widows, or preparing meals for the homeless, but when depression strikes, our misconceptions and lack of understanding the severity of the problem can deteriorate our spirit of compassion. When we see someone suffering from depression, we keep silent or just avoid them altogether, or we blame the one suffering for having a lack of faith. Nevertheless, both are wrong. Loneliness and depression can affect anyone including spiritually healthy people in debilitating ways. And if that’s you, believing, claiming, repenting or praying enough, although part of the solution, is not an instant cure. God also provides us with medications and trained medical professionals.
What Is Clinical Depression?
Clinical depression is a hidden disability and serious mental condition that millions of people all over the world suffer from, in all walks of life. It’s not the same as grief or sadness which is appropriate at times due to our broken world. It’s not a sin, it’s not a spiritual disorder, it’s not emotional dysfunction or a defect in your character. And most of all, it’s not a choice! Asking someone to “try not being depressed” is equal to asking a person who has been stabbed, to “try and stop bleeding.” The famous theologian Charles Spurgeon once said “The flesh can bear only a certain number of wounds and no more, but the soul can bleed in 10,000 ways, and die over and over again each hour.”
Over the past decade, research reveals that the neurobiological basis of clinical depression is associated with changes in brain chemistry, brain structure, and the connections between the nerve cells. A PET scan (evaluate’s cell metabolism) of the brain in a normal individual reveals high levels of activity in both hemispheres, while the same PET scan of a depressed person’s brain reveals decreased brain activity that’s indicated by a dramatic darkening that looks like an eerie shadow blocking out the light. The regions of the brain responsible for executive function and memory begin to shrink and the pathways connecting to areas that control fear, mood, and drive get blocked, disrupting the flow of serotonin, the molecule responsible for regulating sleep, appetite, mood, and experiencing pain.
This photo above shows why we can’t just “pull ourselves out of it.”
Often times, people who suffer from depression lose their ability to control their descent into darkness, and “sheer will” alone is a tool that often fails them. Understanding the medical peculiarities of depression can shine a light on the vital importance of “loving our neighbor” the right way, and standing beside our brothers and sisters until the eerie darkness fades away and the light returns.
How Serious Can Loneliness and Depression Get?
Conservatively speaking, there are well over 120 million people in the world who struggle with loneliness and depression. And the statistics I found were over two years old. Every year the number of people diagnosed with depression increases by 30%. These are people from all walks of life such as doctors, lawyers, sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, business owners, entrepreneurs, teachers, and yes, even pastors who struggle with this. So, don’t ever believe the lie that only weak-minded people struggle with loneliness and depression. To get a small glimpse of just how serious it is, here are some mind-boggling statistics below;
According to the HRSA (Health Resources & Services Administration), loneliness is more dangerous than obesity and as damaging to your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. And,
43% of seniors report feeling lonely on a regular basis and due to that, their risk of mortality is increased by 45%.
Annual federal spending attributed to social isolation among older adults is estimated to be around 6.7 billion dollars, with a 29% risk increase in coronary heart disease and a 32% risk increase in stroke.
Although the numbers rise each year, in 2010, more than 253 million prescriptions were written for anti-depressants, even though there were only approximately 311 million people in the US at the time.
Second only to cholesterol medication, the highest volume drug in the United States are anti-depressants.
The annual cost for depression in the United States is estimated to be around $100 billion, including a loss in productivity of $44 billion.
There are 100 suicide attempts for every success story, and a suicide was committed every 12.8 minutes in 2013 alone.
According to the White House Conference On Mental Health, in 1999 30,000 suicides were reported with over 2/3 of them caused by depression.
And, for every two homicides committed in the US, there are three suicides.
Are Loneliness and Depression in the Bible?
As you can see from the statistics above, loneliness and depression are a lot more serious than most people realize, and even extraordinary men and women of faith have suffered from it, such as Charles Spurgeon, Martin Luther, and even Mother Teresa. In the biblical days, people were no different than us, and the Bible is full of examples to show us.
David made a habit of saying things like, “My bones are in agony. My soul is in deep anguish. I am worn out from groaning. All night long I flood my bed with tears” (Psalm 6).
Jonah got so mad at God that he wanted to die. He said, “Now O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live” (Jonah 4:3).
As Jeremiah wrestled with despair, he felt like a failure and cursed the day he was born, saying “why, did I ever come out of the womb to see trouble and sorrow and to end my days in shame?” (Jeremiah 20:14-18).
Elijah felt so defeated and worn, that he begged God to take his life (1 Kings 19:4).
And, even though Job maintained his faithfulness to God, he suffered many times in his life saying things like, “Why did I not perish at birth, and die as I came from the womb?” (Job 3:11), and, “I have no peace, no quietness, I have no rest, but only turmoil” (Job 3:26), and even, “I loathe my very life” (Job 10:1).
Even Jesus Himself can sympathize with someone who is suffering from loneliness and depression. Hebrews 4:15 says, “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.” The night He was taken into custody before His crucifixion was the loneliest night of His life. He knew He was going to die, yet His disciples fell asleep when He needed them most. Jesus said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death, stay here and watch with Me” (Matthew 26:38), but it didn’t do any good. Although everyone could always count on Jesus for healing and support, in His most needed moments on earth, He had no one to comfort Him. Yes, Christ was lonelier than you can imagine.
Will a Christian Go to Hell If They Commit Suicide?
The real question to ask is, can a person who has given their life to Christ, and received the forgiveness of all their past, present, and future sins, do something to be unforgiven? Can that person lose their salvation? The answer is a resounding “NO”. The Bible is clear that the only unforgivable sin is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, or the refusal to believe in Christ (Mark 3:29). The reason why some people believe that suicide is a sure ticket to hell is because you cannot ask for forgiveness after committing it. But if we had to ask for forgiveness for every individual sin we commit, then we would all be facing eternal damnation.
God’s word promises us that “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). The apostle Paul said, “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8: 38-39). And I think that pretty much covers everything. Besides, Romans 5:1 tells us that we have been “Justified,” which basically translates out to mean “just as if I’d never sinned.” I know, it’s hard to grasp, but if you said the sinner’s prayer and gave your life to Christ, then these are the cold, hard “God-breathed” facts.
Is Suicide in the Bible?
Loneliness and depression, sometimes even leading to suicide, have been an issue that’s been recorded throughout history. And the pages of scripture are no exception. In both the old and New Testaments, stories of suicide can be found.
King Saul – Defeated by his enemies, Saul chose to end his life by falling on his own sword rather than face his captors (1 Sam. 31:3-5).
King Saul’s Armor Bearer – After seeing that King Saul was dead, his armor-bearer, out of hopelessness, took his own life as well (1 Sam. 31:5).
Samson – Braced between two pillars and willing to die, out of revenge, Samson uses his strength to pull the pillars down, killing himself and his enemies (Judges 16:30).
King Abimelech – After being injured by a woman, out of pride, King Abimelech took his own life so that no one could say “A woman killed him” (Judges 9:50-55).
Ahithophel – This one-time companion of David and grandfather of Bathsheba chose to go home, put his house in order, and kill himself. All because his advice had not been taken and David’s army had defeated him (2 Samuel 17:23).
King Zimri – This King chose to set his palace on fire and die in it, rather than to face his enemies (1 Kings 16:15-20).
Judas – After betraying Christ, his guilt led him to choose suicide and hang himself rather than to repent and ask Christ for forgiveness (Matthew 27:3-5).
My Personal Battle with Loneliness and Depression.
It seems as though loneliness and depression have been genetically passed down throughout the male side of my family. My father battled with loneliness and depression and took anti-depressants. My son still battles with loneliness and depression, and I myself, have been battling with it for years. It’s not something that you can turn off and on at will, nor do you know when it will strike. For me, it often strikes when everything is going perfectly. And then, all of a sudden, I feel it coming. And within a matter of minutes, I feel completely hopeless and alone. The deep dark despair and endless thoughts of negativity began to bombard my very soul. I’ve tried to snap myself out of it but it doesn’t always work. At times, it gets so bad, it really wouldn’t matter if I had Nehemiah 8:10 permanently embedded into my memory, and all of the other comforting promises of God in Scripture. Sometimes professional help is needed, along with the love and support of family and friends.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was weeping, He was crying, He fell down on His face (Matthew 26:36-40). And one could say, “well Jesus, don’t you trust God? Why are You reacting with such powerful emotions?” But that would be a misunderstanding of what it means to trust in God. Because at that moment, Jesus was evaluating the circumstances of losing the connection between the first and second person of the Trinity. The forsaking that had to happen at the cross! So I know that when I’m suffering from chronic depression, I’m not going to beat myself up by thinking I’m lacking in my faith. I now realize that there are changes happening within my brain that affect my mood, outlook, and concentration, which oftentimes affects my ability to experience God’s joy in my life – causing me to ignore the refining work He may be accomplishing through my times of despair.
What Hope Is There for Those Struggling with Loneliness and Depression?
The greatest truth is that we have a loving Savior who knows all of our struggles and weaknesses and understands our pain. And if our Creator and Redeemer can leave His throne of endless glory, come down to the earth He created and struggle through physical abuse, mockery, and even death by crucifixion – all for the sake of us, then we have the hope of knowing that all we have to do is focus on Jesus and finish the race set before us (Psalm 37:4). We have the hope of knowing that either in death or at His return, we shall be made like Him (1 John 3:2). Depression is a very common yet very treatable condition that only 1/3 of those struggling with, receive treatment for. 80-90% of those who receive treatment report feeling better within just a few weeks.
I have learned a lot from my battle with loneliness and depression. The Lord Himself said that “it is not good that man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). Even having just one close friend can be a lifesaver. Proverbs 18:24 says “One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” But my Father in heaven loves me for who I am, not for how many friends I have. I’m learning to find peace in my own solitude. My bouts of depression have caused me to long for a life that I have not found on this earth. As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I trust in the Lord to hold on to me when I feel my world coming apart. I know that God has a purpose in mind for it all and that it will all work together for good somehow (Romans 8:28).
Even though pastoral staff may sometimes be ill-equipped to properly deal with depression, and err toward a spiritual solution only, instead of accompanying it with psychological or medical treatment, no one in the church should ever feel alone in a place where people should feel built up and encouraged (1 Thes. 5:11).
1 Corinthians 12:26 says “And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.” So in your dark moments of despair, never be afraid to reach out to the church. Even if you have to show up with your Bible opened up to Galatians 6:2.
The Scriptures do not present themselves as an automatic guarantee of an emotional turnaround, because the Scriptures themselves describe people who hear the word of God and do not emotionally turn around. But without the Scriptures, there is no hope of a Christ-exalting turnaround of our emotions. We must never forget that when loneliness and depression strike, and we can’t see God, our identity in Christ – and His love for us, remains untarnished. No matter how bad we feel about ourselves, God’s word says that we are the apple of His eye (Zechariah 2:8).
If you or someone you know are struggling with depression or thoughts of suicide, reach out to family, friends, the body of Christ, a counselor, or professional help. Or you can call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or text 741741 to speak with a trained crisis counselor.
I dedicate this post to the memory of Pastor Andrew Stoecklein of Inland Hills Church in California, who tragically lost his longtime battle with depression via suicide in August of 2018.