Does this sound sacrilegious to you? Could it be because we think depression is either a sign of weakness or wrong?
Jesus’ depression was neither weak, nor wrong. In fact, it revealed how deeply He cared for the welfare, not of his own self, but for others. Jesus embraced the overwhelming sorrow he felt because it taught him submission. He valued the outcome of his pain more than its release. That doesn’t mean it was easy for him. The book of Hebrews tells us that Jesus experienced the lure of wickedness, just like you and me. He was tempted in every way we are. He was tempted to feel sorry for himself; to become bitter; to seek glory for his work; to neglect his daily responsibilities; to short-cut God’s plan. But, he never yielded. Because he is intimate with the persistent tug of sin, he is sympathetic with our struggles. Not only is that comforting to me, it is inspiring. I can learn from him how to traverse the temptation of depression and be strong, remaining obedient.
When did Jesus get depressed?
After the death of his cousin, John, he sought isolation. (Mathew 14:13) He cried loudly and often in prayer. (Hebrews 5:7-9) He was known for being sad. (Isaiah 53:3) In Gethsemane, he was afraid his body would not survive the anguish he felt. (Matthew 26:38)
What was the cause of His depression? And how did he respond to it?
Jesus was focused on the suffering of others (due to circumstances or willful sin), and it depressed him. Abraham Lincoln, Jonathan Edwards and David Brainerd were great men who were plagued with life-long melancholy because of their burden to free others from enslavement, punishment or ignorance. The pain of this concern would drive them to bed for weeks. Jesus, too, sought isolation. But his compassion for the people would always return him to his responsibility to care for their welfare. He did not shut down. He sacrificed his “need” for being alone to serve others. He did not make them feel guilty for asking too much of him. He did not fly into a bitter tirade about the poor circumstance of his life. He did not create more work for his disciples because he neglected his. Even in the midst of his personal grief, he made life easier for the people near him. This is the lesson of depressed Jesus. His feeling of sorrow did not negate his behavior, it motivated it.
At the pinnacle of his anguish in Gethsemane, he cried to his friends,
“My soul is so sad, it is killing me!”
He begged them to uphold him in prayer; to support him by simply being near. Yet, they deserted him for sleep, unable to understand what he was going through; unwilling to try. He alone fought the dark dirge engulfing him.
Terrified and astonished at the degree of pain he felt, he collapsed, begging God, “Please, make it stop. You can do anything, you are God. Please change your plan for me!”
Troubled, confused, distracted in his emotional travail, he relies on the one truth that shaped his universe, “But its not about me, its about You. I’ll do what you ask.”
Three times he asked God to reconsider, and three times he submitted to the path God designed for him; the path that lead to shame, abandonment and fleeting hell*.
How? Because he believed God. He was strengthened with His promise. Thinking of the joy only discovered through the ordeal, he began to think less of the shame and pain presently confronting him. Jesus learned something through his struggle. (Wow! I’m being really sacrilegious, eh?) The blessings – or happiness – of an obedient life far outweigh the depressed state of now.
And he got up off the ground, calmly greeted the mob and submitted his life to God.
*Separation from God.