What the Bible Teaches About Depression and Happiness

An old spiritual laments, “Nobody knows the troubles I’ve seen, nobody knows my sorrows.”  A modern rock song languishes, “You don’t know how it feels to be me!”  But Jesus does.

In Matthew 26:36-46, Jesus’s agonizing, lonely prayers in Gethsemane show the hellish human suffering of His soul before He went to Golgotha. 

Jesus knows what it’s like.  And Jesus saves you from the deepest depression.[1]

Jesus can relate to your depression.

Consider the olive press where a milestone crushed olives into paste that was tightly squeezed three times to “bleed” the oil out: so Jesus’s soul was wringed three times in tortuous prayer.

An olive press likely loomed in the background foreshadowing the beginning of Christ’s end (vs. 46); “Gethsemane”, which means oil press, was a garden at the foot of the Mount of Olives (vs. 30) where His soul was being squeezed out, anguishing over when His life would soon be pressed from His body.

In vs. 37, Jesus was “sorrowful” for His soul was “very heavy”.  In vs. 38, He was “exceeding sorrowful”, encompassed with distress so debilitating as “even to death” (He can relate: Hebrews 4:14-15; 5:2).

During His first prayer (vs. 39), Jesus fell on His face disturbed about pending isolation (Psalm 22:1; Mt. 27:46).  The Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53:3 was … a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.

Grief is not ungodly.  Sorrow is not sin. Depression is not sickness.  These mental responses are often reasonable.  But we also must handle our despondency responsibly.

Jesus gives you an example of how to work through your depression.

Jesus sought out God three times as desperation increased.  And though experiencing desertion[2], He found resolve (vs. 45) as He addressed His “Father” each time with “not my will but Thine be done” (vss. 39, 42, 44).

Jesus exemplified the preface and third petition of the Lord’s Prayer, which we can offer mindful of Hebrews 2:18; 5:7.  In Him you have relief from terrible distress that would be yours in hell.

Jesus saves you from eternal depression.

Christ couldn’t let the cup “pass by” (vs. 39, see also John 12:27), for His soul had to go through hell so Christians would not mentally suffer there forever.  It was “his hour” (vs. 45) alone so that it will never be ours.

While you may often feel there will be no end to your deepest depression, Jesus has cured it on the cross.  Whatever sorrow you suffer now, it is all the hell you will ever know while you benefit from His joy unspeakable.

Still, you will battle despair on the way to heaven and must stay close to your Redeemer for happiness.

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones acknowledged spiritual depression' and its causes and treatments as normative: “It is interesting to notice the frequency with which this particular theme is dealt with in the Scriptures and the only conclusion to be drawn from that is that it is a very common condition.”[3]

In Psalm 42:5, 11 and Psalm 43:5, David is psychologically hurting again, and again he goes to God Who again is His greatest help.[4]  David’s soul was downcast” (sunken), and disquieted” (growling).  So we too sometimes need the Spirit to groan for us to God (Romans 8:26).

But go to God we will to save us from ourselves.  David asks himself, Why? What am I doing?  This is not helping!”  He does not question the validity of his helplessness, but his hopelessness: hope thou in God.

There is thrice this refrain: snap out of yourself and go to God!  Lloyd-Jones explains:

[David] stands up and says: ‘Self, listen for a moment, I will speak to you’ … you have to address yourself … And then you must go on to remind yourself of God … The essence of this matter is to understand that this self of ours, this other man within us, has got to be handled … turn on him; speak to him … instead of listening … and allowing him to drag you down and depress you … The devil takes hold of self and uses it in order to depress us.[5]

In Philippians 3:1, Paul says rejoicing in the LORD is what keeps Christians “safe” from misery.[6]  Thus while a prisoner writing to a persecuted church, he is happy to again repeat his reminder to rejoice (Philippians 4:4).  To unlock depression’s captivity, delight in your resurrected Deliverer.  To be safe rejoice in the LORD.[7]

Grant Van Leuven has been feeding the flock at the Puritan Reformed Presbyterian Church in San Diego, CA, since 2010.  He and his wife, Fernanda, have six covenant children: Rachel, Olivia, Abraham, Isaac, Gabriel, and Gideon.  He earned his M.Div. at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, PA.

[1] For a sermon by the author by this same title and from which he heavily draws, visit https://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=72020217174881

[2] To study this concept related to depression, see Spiritual Desertion by Gisbertus Voetius.

[3] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974) , 10.  I highly recommend his first and brief chapter using Psalm 42, “General Consideration”, for educating Christians to both counsel themselves and others.  It is most succinct and sufficient to address and deal with the main issues.

[4] See the author’s sermon on Psalm 42, Hold on through the Hurt by Hoping in God.

[5] Lloyd-Jones, 20-21.  He also warns that ultimately all depression is the work of the Devil, 19.

[6] Proverbs 17:22 says, A merry heart doeth good like a medicine; see the author’s sermon, Laughter Can Minister

[7] See the author’s sermon by the same title here: To Be Safe Rejoice in the LORD.


Grant Van Leuven