Distinguishing Depression from Despair

I preached on my past struggles with anxiety a few months ago here at Rockville, and as many of you know, depression is anxiety's wicked step-sister. They can attack in pairs or separately. So let's say this up front for those who have or have not experienced it: DEPRESSION IS NOT A SYMPTOM OF WEAK FAITH. Can guilt from sin lead to depression? Sure. Read some of the psalms like Psalm 51. Can life lived without relationship to God increase the likelihood of negative thoughts, feelings of isolation, decreased neurotransmitter activity, or suicidal tendencies? Sure. But faithful Christians face depression…and for a myriad of reasons – genetic disposition, life experiences, prolonged grief, changes in hormones, physical sickness/disability, stress, repressed anger, anxiety, etc. So an experience of depression, whether brief or prolonged, does not mean your faith is not strong enough. Mental or emotional illness could be one form of a thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

But here’s what I think Satan’s strategy is going to be while we’re facing depression. He wants to amplify the depression into despair and defeat. In The Sickness Unto Death, the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard discusses the danger of succumbing to a defeatist mindset.   

“This is also a form of despair – to be unwilling to hope in the possibility that an earthly need, a temporal cross, can come to an end. The despairing person…has convinced himself that this thorn in the flesh gnaws so deeply that he cannot abstract himself from it (whether this is actually the case or whether his passion makes it so to him), and therefore he might as well accept it forever.”

When Paul spoke of his thorn in the flesh, his point was not to accept the thorn as an excuse to give up or back off. Quite the opposite. His point was to see the grace of God through the thorn…to seek the power of God to fuel his life and ministry despite the weakness…and even through the weakness. If you’re struggling with depression symptoms, face that reality. Open up about it. But do not accept that reality as a death certificate. Seek a holistic treatment – medication, therapy, sunshine, diet, exercise, friendships…with God at the core of that treatment plan. There is hope. There is light.


To His Glory,


Caleb Cochran

Preaching & Outreach Minister

Rockville, MD


Photo credit: Tanya Dawn / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND