The shortest verse in the Bible holds deep meaning for every single follower of Christ and for all of humanity. Jesus eternally remains the ultimate example of humanity and the perfect revelation of God. His recorded life and His ongoing revelation of Himself to His Bride defines what it means to be human, healthy, and whole. As the 21st century American church struggles to address the rising tide of mental illness in our culture, we often overlook Christ’s own experience with sadness, pain, and emotional struggle.
In the midst of a conflicted dialogue about depression and how to minister to individuals within the church, we must recognize that depression and sadness are not the same thing. Jesus was sad. Jesus wept, and Jesus is perfect. It is normal to experience sadness and pain. Not only is it normal to experience these things in a fallen world, it is often right to experience sadness. Jesus Christ is God in the flesh, the same God who is Love. There are times when Love is sad, and Love grieves. Sadness in and of itself is not wrong. There are times when it is right to be sad.
Every single human being, including Jesus, experiences moments of sadness as they go through life. It is healthy to grieve over the loss of a loved one, to mourn over the trouble of a friend, to feel sad at the injustice and trouble of this world. What is not healthy is to be overcome by these feelings and for sadness to become a constant in our lives, “weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5). The enemy loves to convince us that we are more unhealthy than we really are. Many of us identify sadness as depression. Rather than saying, “I’m sad,” we say, “I’m depressed.” We confuse the healthy with the unhealthy and the normal with the abnormal. It is healthy to have moments of sadness: Jesus does. There are times when sadness comes from the enemy or from fear or lack of trust or any number of other negative sources. We are in a spiritual war. How we respond and how we relate to Jesus in these times determines our health.
Jesus’ example is vital when it comes to emotional health. He experienced sadness as we all do. In John 11 He wept in public. He was deeply sad, but He did not let His emotions stop the will of God. He did not lose His faith or His connection with the Father. He did not alter His course. Moments after weeping, He spoke with authority as the Son of God and commanded Lazarus to come out of the grave. A man who was dead for four days rose and came out of the tomb.
In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus was consumed with sadness again. He struggled with all of the emotions that come from such a sacrifice, and more importantly He grieved the prospect of experiencing sin for all humanity. Luke 22:44 says, “And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” Jesus was in such “agony of mind,” as the Amplified Bible translates it, that He sweat drops of blood. This was sadness so deep and so profound accompanied by such a drastic physical response that I’m sure it would be difficult to find a psychologist who wouldn’t have said that Jesus was having a breakdown. Jesus responded to this incredible sadness by praying “more earnestly.” He focused Himself on the Father and He poured out His heart as a Son. And when He finished, He was ready to carry out the will of God. Circumstances did not change, but Jesus went through them as a Son resting upon His Father. This is our example: not to suppress or ignore our emotions, not to distract ourselves from the pain and sadness, and not to find solace in pleasure, but to respond as a Son of God and cast our cares upon Him. He cares for us.
Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
When Jesus went to the cross, He not only experienced our sin, but every effect of sin. He stepped into our weakness. He stepped into our sickness and disease. He stepped into our pain and loss. He stepped into our sadness. He took them into the tomb and rose in victory over them all. We have been raised with Him. Now we are seated in heavenly places with Him. We have been given authority over the enemy and self-control through the Holy Spirit. We are free to live in response to Him, His victory, and His sacrifice. In Acts 16 when Paul and Silas had been fiercely beaten and imprisoned, they chose to respond not to the fear or sadness of their circumstances, but on the love and goodness of God. They rejoiced. They had power to choose to rejoice and praise. They had power to choose the garment of praise for the Spirit of heaviness (Isaiah 61:3). If you have the Holy Spirit today, you have that same power.
We don’t have to deny, suppress, or disparage our feelings or anyone else’s. In all things, we can respond as Sons of God. We can run to our Father and find comfort and strength in His arms. We can do this in prayer, in singing, in dancing, in reading or quoting or declaring Scripture, in simply listening to the Lord, or in resting in His presence. We have a refuge and a never-ending source of peace, joy, and comfort. That is supernatural.