5 Possible Factors in Depression

In yesterday’s post I introduced you to David Murray’s helpful little book, Christians Get Depressed Too, by giving you a bit of an overview. Today, let’s take a look at the fourth chapter, The Causes. My own experience with depression-anxiety affirms Murray’s conclusion that the cause “is often a combination of various factors.” The five factors he considers are explained below. Quotations beside each factor are statements I underlined because I found them applicable personally.

Stress – David Murray has helped me see that my life is often like an elastic rubber band that is extended “two or even three times its size. However, the further you stretch it, the greater the tension on the rubber, the less flexible it becomes, and the greater danger of its eventually snapping.” Murray draws attention to two stretching forces: Life events (over which we don’t have much, if any, control) and Lifestyle (over which we have substantial control). “Much of the increase in depression and anxiety today is largely the result of an unbalanced lifestyle where people are, on the one hand, working too hard and spending too much and, on the other hand, are exercising, resting, and sleeping too little. [I underlined the next sentence in red ink] This deliberate stretch beyond our capacities and abilities is not glorifying God in our body and spirit (1 Cor 6:20)” [55].

Psychology (The Way We Think) – In a previous chapter, Murray looks at 10 false thought patterns, which I found immensely helpful and will interact with tomorrow. Here it’s enough to say: “It is vital to learn to recognize these unhelpful thoughts by prayerful self-examination… When we feel down or when we are stressed, these core beliefs, these latent false thinking patterns, tend to occur more frequently and dominate” [57].

Sin – “Non-Christians may be depressed because of their sin, in which case the cure is repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. Sadly, many depressed unbelievers are being treated with chemicals when what they need is conversion.” While recognizing this; however, Murray warns believers not to immediately jump to a sin-cause: “I agree with the instinct to oppose the common position that depression is always caused by personal sin.” But he is also careful to add clarification: “having said that, we must still leave open the possibility that a depression may sometimes be the result of specific sin or sins (as David describes in Ps. 32).” What Murray passionately wants us to avoid is rushing to find a sin-cause immediately in a way which closes our minds to other possible factors [59-60].

For clarification—from my point of view—the one thing I would say differently than the author in this area is that I would include a false thought pattern under the broad category of “sin” rather than separating it out as its own area. The reason is every part of my being has been corrupted by my depravity, which includes my thinking processes. Therefore, part of God’s transformation of me into the image of Christ is to renew my mind—to get me thinking rightly, biblically, in a Christ-centered manner rather than my natural self-centered manner. As the Lord graciously helps me see my false thought patterns, I realize none are neutral, and I discern “unbelief” written over so many and, therefore, must repent of these erroneous ways of thinking and bring them captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor 10:5). Perhaps I’m not allowing enough room for simple human weakness (I am but dust). But at this point, since all sin is rooted in unbelief, I would not place thought patterns into its own separate category as Murray does. This is a minor difference that may be a matter of semantics.

Sickness – “Just as the curse on this world and our bodies can cause mechanical, chemical, and electrical problems in our hearts, our livers, our pancreas, our eyes, and other body parts, so we can also have mechanical, chemical, and electrical problems in our brains, which may affect the way we think, and even our personalities. Many of us have seen friends or loved ones with brain injuries, bleeds, or tumors undergo distressing personality changes” [64]. With exemplary pastoral compassion, Murray goes the extra mile to convince us not to make “sin is always the cause of depression” our default position. “It may well be [that sin is the cause],” he writes. “But let’s not begin there and potentially damage some of the precious people of God in their moments of greatest weakness” [66].

Sovereignty – Many readers will find David Murray’s final cause of depression surprising—the sovereignty of God! “Hard though it may be to accept, the ultimate cause may be, ‘It pleased God.’…Sometimes we take God’s presence in our lives for granted. We forget what we might be without Him. He may wisely, temporarily, and proportionately withdraw the sense of His favor and presence to remind us of our state without Him and to lead us to greater thankfulness and appreciation for Him” [66-67]. He then offers Job and Hezekiah as examples.

Murray concludes his chapter on causes of depression with a quotation from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, physician of the body turned physician of the soul. It’s an appropriate way to conclude this post as well.

Now we turn to consider the ‘wiles of the devil’ as they are to be seen in the confusion he creates between the physical, the psychological and the spiritual realms…The subject is one of the most practical we can ever consider. We are strange creatures, made up of body, mind, and spirit; these are interrelated and react upon one another. Many of our troubles in life are due to this fact, and to our failure to realize the place, function, and sphere of each one of these realms.

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