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Anxiety and Depression are not Sin – and Here is Why!   

Written by Staff Therapist Kiersten Williams 

 

If you had an upbringing in the church, it is likely you have heard the message (intentionally said or not), “one only needs to pray ______ away”. While well intentioned, this can be harmful for both the individual’s mental and spiritual health. As a clinician who grew up in the church, each time I heard that message I wanted to pull my hair out in frustration. If you struggle with anxiety, depression, or any other mental illness, be encouraged that you are not alone, nor does the fact you deal with such issue(s) mean you are a bad Christian. I’m not saying that God is unable to lift anyone out of any struggle, (and this post is not meant to be a theological discussion about God, for that can and does fill up books!) but this is to speak out against the belief that you are not a good Christian (or one at all!) if this is a struggle.   

Historically, illness was linked to sin. We see it in John 9:1-2, where Jesus confronts the pairing of illness and sin. However, the vestiges of that belief still remain, with stigma and the occasional message evidenced from the stage.   

Mental illness is not something that can only be prayed, or heaven forbid, exorcised away. Millions of Christians live with mental illness every day. Does that mean all of them are not good Christians? Take a look at these biblical figures who are believed to have dealt with mental illness:   

  • Elijah  
  • Despite all of the wonders he witnessed during his lifetime (bringing a little boy back to life, saving a non-Jewish woman and her child from drought, and ‘winning’ the epic ‘who is REALLY God’ showdown), Elijah was suicidal after God rained fire down on Mt. Caramel. It was only through angelic intervention he stayed alive during that period of his life.   
  • Moses   
  • Moses, another huge figure in Jewish and Christian scripture, was likely another individual who struggled with anxiety and depression. Before he even started his journey to free the Israelites, he was paralyzed with fear (did I mention he may have had a phobia regarding public speaking?). Moses cried out of deep despair to God many times. Despite his deep lows, he is revered as a great man of history and faith.   
  • Jonah   
  • Jonah, the great prophet of God, was called to do amazing things. However, after being saved from a giant fish (which, by the way, the transformation he would have faced during that time likely caused greater respect from the Ninevites who happen to worship a half fish, half man god named Dagan (Trumbull, 1892)), he did not get what he anticipated. After the great revival, Jonah told God he preferred death over living.   
  • King David  
  •  one of the greatest known individuals of the Old Testament did not escape unscathed. Despite his status as being beloved by God and filled with the Holy Spirit, David reports of sleepless nights, the crying of many tears, living in fear, and much heartache.  
  • Martha, sister to Mary and Lazarus  
  • Martha, a friend to Jesus, was burdened with many things. She was anxious and frustrated when Jesus was visiting for a meal, and demanded her sister help her with all the preparations. (Understandable, really!) However, Jesus lovingly tells her in Luke 10:41a “Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things…” did that mean Martha was any less of a friend to Jesus?   
  • Paul 
  • The most prolific writer of the New Testament, this man endured much for sake of the gospel. With such a hard life after a privileged upbringing (Roman Citizen, an educated Jew), it’s no surprise he had mental health concerns. According to 2 Corinthians 1:8, Paul and his companions despaired even of life itself. This man, well revered among the church, faced difficulties and potential depression/suicidality in his lifetime. 

It’s time to end the stigma and fear surrounding mental illness in the church.  You are not any less a Christian, human, or a child of God if you find yourself struggling with any sort of mental illness. There are many individuals who would love to help you through this struggle. Please do not feel ashamed or scared to reach out to a professional, as they are there to help you through this difficult season in your life.    

  • Trumbull, H. (1892). Jonah in Nineveh. Journal of Biblical Literature, 11(1), 53-60. doi:10.2307/3259078  

 

*If you are currently experiencing suicidal thoughts and/or plans, please call 1(800)273-8255 (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline). This is a national suicide hotline where you can find someone to help you during this extremely difficult time. And please know we too are here at Owens and Associates, and would love to walk with you during this difficult time in your life. * 

If you would like to learn more about how to understand and work with your emotions, reach out to Owens & Associates at (847)854-4333 for a free 15-minute consultation.