What the Bible Teaches About Depression

I’m Really Sad...Is This Wrong?

Once, I was recovering from a sickness that caused constant, intense pain. During the recuperation, another kind of pain befell me—that of unrequited infatuation (at the time, I was too immature to realize the fact of that noun).

Hence I was far from smiley, and when a Christian friend asked me how I was, I let her know I was not happy.

She responded that she was so disappointed in me; she had thought “better of me.” How could I, and why should I, be sad? Did I expect this world and other people to make me happy?! Did not I know that the Bible says to rejoice ever more? Satan was winning because I was sad!

Her scolding somehow failed to turn on my Happiness Switch. And while she won the upper hand in the exchange—I don’t remember what or how I responded—she lost me as a friend. Notwithstanding, her words stayed with me and haunted me.

Compounding my inner conflict and guilt was the lost world’s attitude towards sorrow. The saying, Laugh and the world laughs with you, cry and you cry alone, is more accurate than not; and I find the alteration, Laugh and the world laughs with you; cry and the world laughs at you, even more accurate.

As if to reflect this attitude, the most recent CDC data shows that one in ten Americans age 12 and up take anti-depressants.

Being sad is considered an illness, that something is wrong with you; apparently a human being’s naturally-occurring state should be happiness.

Note: Some physical conditions (e.g. low blood sugar) and health problems (e.g. vitamian deficiencies) can impact emotions, moods, and attitudes. I am not addressing here any quantifiable, measurable medical factors affecting emotions. That is a separate issue. This addresses whether it is wrong for a Christian (or non-Christian) to be sad, no matter the why or wherefore; and whether something is wrong or something malfunctioning with you if you are sad.

This self-centered song epitomizes the world’s disapproval of sorrow.

Bring me sunshine in your smile,
Bring me laughter all the while,
In this world where we live,
There should be more happiness
So much joy you can give
to each brand new bright tomorrow
Make me happy through the years
Never bring me any tears;
Let your arms be as warm
as the sun from up above;
Bring me fun, bring me sunshine, bring me love!

The tune is nice, but the words made me cringe. I could never live up to these demands. “Never bring me any tears”—not a single tear? Never ever? And yes, “the sun” is up above, but storms and lightning bolts and hurricanes and grief-causing phenomena are also up above!

Being aware of this, when I was sad I tried to conceal it from others; I wasn’t sure if I was sinning, and I did not want to disobey the Bible. But in times of deep pain (e.g., when unsaved loved ones died and went to hell), I could not stop tears from falling.

The three texts that my former friend had referenced were Philippians 3:1a, “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord,” Phil. 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice,” and I Thessalonians 5:16, “Rejoice evermore.”

Did they mean if I was sad, I was ipso facto sinning, giving victory to Satan? This question drove me to study passages on this throughout the Bible. May others find comfort and reassurance in the Scriptures that shed light on this topic.

Sorrow In The Old Testament

Sorrow first appears in Genesis, when God addresses Eve and Adam, respectively, after they sinned: “I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children...” (Genesis 3:16c) and “In sorrow shalt thou eat of [the ground] all the days of thy life.” (Gen. 3:17f)

Hm. “I [God] will greatly multiply thy sorrow” and “In sorrow shalt thou eat of [the ground]” to Adam... In other words, God ordained, or established, sorrow for man and woman.

But what about those who always say that the Old Testament has no bearing in the age of the New Testament? I thought on it. Well, the fallen sinful nature of Adam still applies to everyone; women still have terrible pain in childbirth; the ground is still cursed with thorns... It seems certain that the part about sorrow still hold for man and woman in the 21st century.

Genesis 6:5-6 stood out:

And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6And it repented the LORD that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him at His heart.

The sin of man grieved God at His heart. That is something.

When ten of Jacob’s sons tricked Jacob into thinking his son Joseph was dead, Jacob mourned for his son (Gen. 37:34-35) The context didn’t indicate explicitly if this was righteous or sinful...but I believe it would have been sinful for a father not to mourn if he believed a beast had consumed his son.

Joseph’s Tears

Joseph, who is held forth as a paragon of virtue, gave way to tears. Gen. 43:29-30: And he lifted up his eyes, and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother’s son, and said, “Is this your younger brother, of whom ye spake to me?” And he said, “God be gracious unto thee, my son.” 30 And Joseph made haste; for his bowels did yearn upon his brother: and he sought where to weep, and he entered into his chamber, and wept there.

Did Joseph weep by himself because it was sinful or wrong to weep—or, because he wished to conceal something else at that point—namely, his identity?

In chapter 44, Judah admitted to Joseph the wrong that he and the others had done. In chapter 45:1-2, Then Joseph could not refrain himself before all them that stood by him; and he cried, “Cause every man to go out from me.” And there stood no man with him, while Joseph made himself known unto his brethren. 2And Joseph wept aloud: and the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard.

He wept loudly enough that the house of Pharaoh heard it. No, Joseph did not conceal his weeping the first time because it was sinful and he was ashamed of his sin.

Judges 20 recounts battles between the tribe of Benjamin and the other tribes of Israel. Verse 23 says the children of Israel “went up and wept before the LORD until even, and asked counsel of the LORD.” When the wicked Benjamites killed 18,000 Israelites, verse 26 repeats that they “went up, and came unto the house of God and wept and sat there before the LORD” and Judges 21:1-2 says again that they “wept sore.”

Mine Eye Is Consumed With Grief

Many Psalms mention sorrow, weeping, or mourning—and of a depth and a length that would be called “depression” today:

  • “I water my couch with tears,” Psalm 6:6
  • “[H]aving sorrow in my heart daily,” Ps. 13:2
  • “[M]ine eye is consumed with grief,” Ps. 31:9
  • “I go mourning all the day long,” Ps. 38:6b
  • “[M]y sorrow is continually before me,” Ps. 38:17
  • “My tears have been my meat day and night, while they continually say unto me, Where is thy God?” Ps. 42:3

“But, but,” the Sadness-Is-Badness stickler might protest, “it was sinning when the Psalmist was weeping all the day long, watering his couch with his tears, sorrowing every day, and so forth. He would have been happy as a lark (or a clam) but he just didn’t trust God enough.”

Did the contexts of these verses indicate that the Psalmist was ashamed, or repentant, for being sad, or considered that his being sad meant he had something wrong with him? I combed through these Psalms and failed to find one such context. Indeed, in Psalm 6:8, the Psalmist tells the workers of iniquity to depart because “the LORD hath heard the voice of [his] weeping”—which indicates God listens to weeping.

(In one passage in II Kings, God specifically acknowledged the grief of a man as a reason He showed mercy. II Kings 20:1-5 tell us how king Hezekiah of Judah was “sick unto death,” how the prophet Isaiah told him “Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die and not live.” Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed and “wept sore.” God sent His word by Isaiah, “I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears, behold, I will heal thee.” (v. 5) )


Ezra details incidents of deep sorrow. The first involves the remnant of the children of Israel who were rebuilding the house of the LORD. In chapter 3, the foundation of the house is laid, and verse 12 says, But many of the priests and Levites and chief of the fathers, who were ancient men, that had seen the first house, when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, wept with a loud voice; and many shouted aloud for joy.

In Ezra 9, the princes of this remnant informed Ezra that the people of Israel had not separated themselves from the sinful peoples of the lands and had disobeyed God’s instructions and married into their families.

How did Ezra respond? “I rent my garment and mantle...and sat astonied until evening sacrifice. 5 And at the evening sacrifice I arose up from my heaviness [...] I fell on my knees, and spread out my hands unto the LORD.” He went on and fills the following ten verses in the chapter with a lamentation and confession of the sin of the people of Israel.

Chapter 10 begins, “[W]hen Ezra had prayed, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, there assembled unto him out of Israel a very great congregation of men and women and children: for the people wept very sore.”

When Ezra finally rose up, “he did eat no bread nor drink water, for he mourned because of the transgression.” (v. 6)

That’s pretty serious sadness; a sadness that entails fasting—from bread AND water—would easily be labelled depression today.

Nehemiah, author of the following book, had similar “depression” when he heard woeful tidings of Jerusalem. Neh. 1:3-4: And they said unto me, “The remnant that are left of the captivity there in the province are in great affliction and reproach: the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire.” 4 And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven.

...and Prophets

Jeremiah surpasses all others; indeed, Jeremiah’s life is arguably sadder than that of Job’s. Jeremiah was called of God to deliver messages that no one obeyed, and he lived a lonely, hard life. (He never could enjoy loving, warm, human companionship on earth; God told him, and with good reason, not to take a wife nor have sons and daughters.)

This poor man wrote in 9:1, “O that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!”

In 13:17, Jeremiah says, “But if ye will not hear it, my soul shall weep in secret places for your pride; and mine eye shall weep sore, and run down with tears, because the LORD’s flock is carried away captive.”

How you would react if you went into the city streets and saw people everywhere starving to death? And when you went out into the country, you saw bloody, dead bodies lying in the fields?

Such nightmarish conditions were Jeremiah’s daily experience during the siege of Jerusalem. “Let mine eyes run down with tears night and day, and let them not cease: for the virgin daughter of my people is broken with a great breach, with a very grievous blow. If I go forth into the field, then behold the slain with the sword! and if I enter into the city, then behold them that are sick with the famine!“ (14:17b & 18a)

And in Jeremiah 22:10, God tells Jeremiah specifically for whom to weep. “Weep ye not for the dead, neither bemoan him: but weep sore for him that goeth away: for he shall return no more, nor see his native country.”

(Anyone who has known the pain being torn away from home, from everything familiar, will feel tears sting his eyes.)

Ezekiel 13 has an interesting verse, especially for anyone who thinks that sadness comes from failing to choose to be happy. In this chapter, God is rebuking some very evil persons; for example, He says, “Will ye pollute Me among My people for handfuls of barley and for pieces of bread, to slay the souls that should not die, and to save souls alive that should not live, by your lying to My people that hear your lies?” (v. 19)

In verse 22 - 23, He concludes,

Because with lies ye have made the heart of the righteous sad, whom I have not made sad; and strengthened the hands of the wicked, that he should not return from his wicked way, by promising him life; 23 Therefore ye shall see no more vanity, nor divine divinations: for I will deliver My people out of your hand: and ye shall know that I am the LORD.

“With lies ye have made the heart of the righteous sad, whom I have not made sad...” I have heard people state that all you need to do to be happy is choose to be happy. It is that simple! But God’s Word says that these righteous, whom God would deliver out of the evil people’s hand, were made sad by the lies of the wicked.

Ecclesiates blew my former friend’s position completely out of the water. In Ecclesiastes 3, we find that to everything there is a season, and v. 4 says there is “A time to weep, and a time to laugh.”

Eccl. 7:2-4 elaborates upon sorrow: “It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men, and the living lay it to heart. 3 Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better. 4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.“

Sorrow in the New Testament

Everything so far is from the Old Testament; but it is the New with the verses exhorting Christians to rejoice evermore. So is there room for sorrow?

Early in the New Testament, in Matthew 5:4, Jesus said, “Blessed are they who mourn.” (There is no such statement, “Blessed are they who laugh.”) Jesus Himself knew extreme sorrow, as Matthew and Mark—and even the book of Hebrews!—tell us:

  • And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. 38 Then saith He unto them, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with Me.” —Matthew 26:37-38
    (Mark 14:33-34 parallels this account.)
  • Who in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from death, and was heard in that He feared; 8 Though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered. —Hebrews 5:7

Isaiah had prophesied centuries before that Jesus would sorrow:

He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: [...] Surely He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows.

Blessing Those Who Weep

Luke 6:21 b & 25b: “Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh. 25b Woe unto you that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep.”

He even praised a woman for her tears. In Luke 7:38, a repentant woman “stood at His feet weeping and began to wash His feet with tears.” In v. 44, Jesus said to His host, Simon, “Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest Me no water for My feet: but she hath washed My feet with tears.”

In Luke 23:27-29, Jesus actually instructed women to weep for themselves and their children.

And there followed Him a great company of people, and of women, which also bewailed and lamented Him. 28 But Jesus turning unto them said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for Me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children. 29 For, behold, the days are coming, in the which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck.”

The Apostles’ Grief

“Serving the LORD with all humility of mind and with many tears and temptations...” Acts 20:19 “[R]emember that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.” Acts 20:31

When Paul’s Christian brethren were saying good-bye to him, what did they do? “And they all wept sore, and fell on Paul’s neck, and kissed him, Sorrowing most of all for the words which he spake, that they should see his face no more. And they accompanied him unto the ship.” Acts 20:37-38

What about verses telling us to rejoice?

Absolutely Philippians 3 begins, “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord.” However, later in the chapter, Paul writes, “For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ.” Paul tells them to rejoice in the Lord, and then he says that he is even weeping as he writes of the many enemies of the cross of Christ. Rejoicing in the Lord may not preclude shedding tears over the perdition and enmity of others.

Furthermore, in the preceding chapter, Paul says their fellow believer, Epaphroditus, who was “full of heaviness,”—and not in a physical sense; and he writes that God had mercy in preserving the life of Epaphroditus, and not on him only, but on Paul so, “lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow” (v. 27b) Thus, Paul sent him to the Philippians, in part so that “I may be the less sorrowful.”

Rejoicing in the Lord is not mutually exclusive with sorrowing. II Corinthians 6:4a & 10, “But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God. [...] 10 As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.”

Peter wrote of the salvation of God “Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations.” 1 Peter 1:6

What About Ungodly Sorrow?

At this point a reader might say, “Okay, I get that it is not always wrong to be sad; but is it not possible that sometimes sorrow is sinful? What about those who are ‘sorry’ only because they didn’t succeed in a sinful goal? Or what about those who are so sad they kill themselves? That can’t be okay.”

Yes, sorrow can be sinful or ungodly. See II Corinthians 7:8-11:

“For though I made you sorry with a letter, I do not repent, though I did repent: for I perceive that the same epistle hath made you sorry, though it were but for a season. 9 Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing.

10 For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. 11 For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter.”

The sorrow of the Corinthians was godly because they did not wish to kill themselves (“the sorrow of the world”—i.e., ungodly sorrow—“worketh death.”). Secondly, their sorrow galvanized them to clear themselves of sinfulness.

In ancient Israel, King Ahab coveted a man’s vineyard, and the man refused to give him his private property. I Kings 4:4 says King Ahab was “heavy and displeased” after this refusal. Ahab was so pouty that he laid down on his bed and would eat no bread. His wicked wife Jezebel asked him (v. 5) “Why is thy spirit so sad?”

Ahab’s sorrow WAS sinful. He was sad because he hadn’t gotten his sinful, covetous way.

Esau is another example of ungodly sorrow. Hebrews 12:16 names Esau as a “fornicator, or profane person,” who for “one morsel of meat sold his birthright. For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.” [emphasis added]

“Crocodile tears” are another example of ungodly sorrow.

After both Israel and Judah fell to Babylon, the Babylonians left behind a remnant in the land, and appointed a governor to oversee this remnant.

Enter Ishmael, the son of Nethaniah, and his ten evil accomplices. Jeremiah 41 explains how Ishmael and these ten men slew the governor and all the Jews who were with him.

Then there came Jews from Shechem, Shiloh, and Samaria—eighty men—with offerings and incense in their hand to offer them in the Lord’s house.

Verse 6: And Ishmael the son of Nethaniah went forth from Mizpah to meet them, weeping all along as he went…

Ishmael’s crocodile tears disarmed these unsuspecting men, and Ishmael killed all but ten of them, and the only reason those ten survived is that they offered their wheat, barley, oil, and honey, as ransom for their lives.

Jesus spoke of the ungodly sorrow several times in Matthew:

  • “But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Matt. 8:12
  • “Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness, there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Matt. 22:13
  • “And shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Matt. 24:51
  • “And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Matt. 25:30

In all of these instances, “gnashing of teeth” accompanies the weeping. Gnashing of teeth does not accompany the mourning or weeping in the instances of godly sorrow.

Revelation 18 showcases ungodly sorrow, in vv. 11, 15, and 19, respectively:

  • “The merchants of the earth shall weep and mourn over her [Babylon]; for no man buyeth their merchandise any more.”
  • “The merchants of these things, which were made rich by [Babylon], shall stand afar off for the fear of her torment, weeping and wailing,”
  • “And they cast dust on their heads, and cried, weeping and wailing, saying, Alas, alas that great city, wherein were made rich all that had ships in the sea by reason of her costliness! for in one hour is she made desolate.”

But We Don’t Want to Be Sad!

No. And I, who have shed many tears, do not wish for reasons to cry. I wish the little child I held in my arms had a daddy who loved her. I wish the dying man I knew was not suffering pain.

Let us note that Jesus identified the Holy Spirit as “the Comforter.”

  • “And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;” John 14:16
  • “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost,” John14:26a
  • “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father.” John 15:26b
  • “[I]f I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you.” John 16:7b

Comforting is not scolding. The Holy Ghost is not there to tell you, How bad you are for crying that your husband died, you are giving Satan victory. No, the Holy Ghost is there to COMFORT you.

Along these same lines we read in Isaiah 25:8,

He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of His people shall He take away from off all the earth: for the LORD hath spoken it.

Revelation has two verses reiterating this future end of sorrow for God’s children:

“For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.” Rev. 7:17

“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” Rev. 21:4

One infers from this verse that until the end of the world, there shall remain tears in the eyes of His children from their sufferings; that sorrow and crying and pain will not cease until the end of this old, fallen earth.

What true, abiding comfort to know that the day will come when God will wipe away all tears. With this reassurance, I feel a few roll down my cheek.

What Scripture Teaches About Depression

“Christians should be happy all the time. Being sad gives Satan the victory.” But what does Scripture say?...Continue Reading→