While suffering from depression I suffered terribly from guilt, in fact, I found it one of depression’s most disturbing aspects. But from counselling, prayer, God’s Word, and through the liberating work of Jesus, I was eventually set free from it. In this post, I will examine several aspects of guilt during depression.
Ruminating Over Past Sins
When suffering from depression it is quite common to develop a habit of casting our gaze back to painful memories of recent or past sins and failures.
And since our mind is in an oversensitive, anxious state, we relive those memories with painful intensity. As guilt rises up to consume us, our face becomes hot, we lament and grieve over the past event, and wish we could go back in time and relive that part of our life and do it properly this time. These extremely discouraging episodes can last for hours.
However, there is good news for those who believe in Jesus and follow Him as Lord - we have assurance that our sins will be forgiven when we confess them. So if we recall a past or recent sin, we can confess that sin to God and receive His complete forgiveness.
1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
Note that while we only need to confess a sin to God once, it is typical while depressed to keep confessing the same sin again and again, because the feeling of guilt remains. If this happens, we just need to keep reminding ourselves that we have already confessed the sin, it is forgiven, and we do not need to look at it, confess it, or feel guilty over it any longer. If the feelings of guilt remain, it is nothing to be alarmed about - our nervous system is exhausted and needs time to recover.
Here are more Bible verses that assure us of the forgiveness of our sins.
1 John 1:7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. Jesus’ blood, which He shed on the cross, does not just cover our sins - it cleanses us of them completely.
What is God’s attitude to our sins, once they have been forgiven? Does He keep tabs on them? No, this is what He does with them: You will hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. Micah 7:19 Jeremiah 31:34 goes on to tell us, "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more."
So if God Himself chooses to forget our sins, who are we to keep dragging them up time and time again?
Satan will try to convince us that we are still guilty, but Romans 8:1 tells us the truth. Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Another verse which comforted me greatly is 2 Corinthians 5:21 God made Jesus, who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Jesus we might become the righteousness of God. This means that when God looks at us, He does not see our old, sinful nature and problems. Instead, He sees the purity and righteousness of Jesus clothing us instead.
While digging through my diary yesterday, I found an entry that I wrote during the ‘recovering from depression’ phase of my life.
24/6/92 - When I sin I often feel really unworthy, although I always say sorry to God. I feel guilty and unworthy to go before Jesus, as though He is displeased with me. But yesterday He showed me that He wants to have a relationship with me above all else, and He wants that relationship to be in harmony at all times. When I sin and say sorry, that's all He expects. He wants me to say sorry so that the harmony can be restored to our relationship. That's why He died on the cross, so that mankind could again fellowship with Him and the Father and Holy Spirit, like when Adam and Eve fellowshipped with Him in the Garden of Eden before they sinned. Jesus has atoned for my sins so that I can have a harmonious relationship with Him at all times.
(A postscript here. If there is an issue of habitual sin in your life, and you are having trouble stopping it, please see a pastor or counsellor and get the sin dealt with. This will require repentance, ie, turning our back on the sin, and may also require counselling, inner healing, or spiritual warfare, and needs to centre on the cross of Christ.)
I’m Not Doing Enough for God
Another common cause for feeling guilty while depressed is when we look back at what we used to be like - zealously serving the Lord - and feel guilty that we are not serving God to that degree now. I recall how painful it could be going to church while I was in this phase. The pastor often gave stirring, convicting sermons on the importance of using our gifts to serve God. These sermons were actually aimed at healthy Christians in the church that warmed a pew on Sunday, but took no further steps in using their gifts to serve God. So, although the pastor was not talking to me, in my anxious I feared the sermons were aimed squarely at me and felt so guilty for my lack of current activity.
One day that same pastor asked me how I was going. When I told him briefly my condition, he surprised me by telling me to rest and recover – which was exactly what I needed to do. I needed to have realistic expectations, recognise that I was ill, and as with all illnesses, needed time to recover from it. This does not mean that we cannot serve God while depressed. During the initial phase of depression, I was such a mess that I honestly could not do anything much at all. However, once I had been placed on anti-depressants, received counselling, and read ‘Self Help for Your Nerves,’ I soon improved sufficiently to start serving God again. But I started slowly. First I joined a home group and played the piano. A few months later I taught Sunday school – and this is all I did for around four years. Finally, when I recovered completely, I was able to become more involved in serving God. So we have to be patient with ourselves. God knows we are ill, and He does not expect us to do more than we are able.
From my diary, 28/9/91 - It's funny, here I am, trying to live a normal life, yet I am suffering from a mental illness - me, the guy that nothing ever happened to, or never would happen to. And I feel kind of guilty, or ashamed, that I am this way. But it is not my fault - and there's nothing I can do about it. So I should not feel guilty or a failure - it is just one more thing for me to overcome through Jesus, one more victory to win.
Note that we do not have to run around looking for ways to serve God - we only have to do what He gives us to do. Ephesians 2:10 For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. How do we know which works God has prepared for us to do, rather than burning ourselves out running around trying to meet the needs of all people everywhere? We keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, be sensitive to the gentle promptings of the Holy Spirit, pray, and be aware of what is going on around us. He will show us what to do.
I’ve Stepped Outside of God’s Will
While suffering from depression I was petrified that I had stepped outside of God’s will and that His response was to punish my by taking away my peace. In other words, I feared that He had caused the depression in order to punish me, which of course resulted in deep-seated guilt.
My counsellor taught me that I could not step outside God’s will, for He is greater than my ability to do such a thing. She taught me to pray, “What ever Your will is for my life, Lord, please bring it about - even without my obedience or cooperation. You are God; You are greater than me or the circumstances, so You are able to bring about Your will regardless.”
The following verse was crucial in setting me free from the deceitful fear that God was punishing me.
1 John 4:18 ‘There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.’
I wrote a diary entry when God drove this truth home into my heart. I learned a couple of weeks ago about 1 John 4:18 where it says the love of God has no fear - it says that there is no fear of punishment from God. So all of my fears that God was about to smash me over the head with a brick for stepping out of line were rubbish.
Getting Angry with God
The below diary entry shows common reactions we can have towards God during the initial stages of depression, when everything seems hopeless and black. Knowing that we should trust Him and not blaming Him results in more feelings of guilt.
I grow tired of repenting.
I tried to praise You in and through and for it,
I tried not to grumble, not to get bitter.
But I failed.
I’ve lost my temper with You,
I’ve blamed You.
How could You let this happen to me?
I feel so dirty, so unclean, because of the anger I have towards You.
My previous blog post, Has God Abandoned Me? deals with this issue in detail, so if you have not read it, I recommend popping over there when you get a chance.
A small postscript, if I may. If the feelings of guilt do not diminish over time, I recommend seeing a pastor or a Christian counsellor, as there may be a work of the enemy involved such as an unclean spirit of guilt. If such a thing is revealed by the Holy Spirit, the pastor or counsellor can take authority over that work of the enemy, break its grip on our life, and cast it away from us.
Ephesians 6:12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Matthew 16:19 “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." (Heaven in this passage refers to the spiritual realm where the enemy lives.)
The Judge’s Verdict
For those who are in Christ Jesus, the Judge in heaven has issued His verdict over our lives – and that verdict is: not guilty.
(1) ‘Self Help for Your Nerves,’ Doctor Claire Weekes, Angus & Robertston Publishers, 1989, p86.
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