Christians sometimes assume that if they suffer from depression, it must be because they lack faith. Tragically, this assumption leads to feelings of shame that deepen the depression. The truth is that there are many examples of people who struggle with depression in the Bible.
If one takes the words of 2 Timothy 3:16-17 to heart, believing that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, ESV) then the accounts of those struggling with what we would now call depression are written for our instruction.
There are situations and circumstances in which depression is a response that makes complete sense. The characters of the Bible suffered from the human condition. Included alongside more prescriptive instructions for living a godly life, are the stories of the struggles of the heroes of the faith.
What is depression?
The current diagnostic criterion for depression includes a variety of symptoms but must include either depressed mood and loss of interest or pleasure as a primary symptom. There are other symptoms alongside these such as insomnia or sleeping too much, fatigue, eating too much or too little, feelings of worthlessness and guilt, and recurrent thoughts of death.
The symptoms must persist for at least two weeks every day, to be classified as a major depressive episode. In addition to the mood-focused symptoms, depression can also manifest in a variety of physical symptoms like tiredness or chronic pain.
The diagnostic criteria for depression were not established when the Bible was written, but the experience of human emotion has not changed over time. As we examine these passages, we can see how the characters in the Bible also dealt with this struggle.
Depression in the Bible
Elijah was perhaps one of the greatest prophets of the Old Testament prophets, but in 1 Kings 19, we meet him in what can only be described as a deep depression.
And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers. – 1 Kings 19:4, ESV
He has just had a showdown with the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel and God demonstrated his power in a big way, but now he faces opposition from Jezebel and is fleeing for his life. Who wouldn’t feel hopeless and depressed in this instance? Rather than rebuke Elijah for his depression being a lack of faith, God sends an angel to feed him and tells him to rest multiple times.
Feeling hopeless amid great trials is a normal response to the letdown effect of bearing up under pressure for too long. The Bible demonstrates God’s kindness and attention to the human condition of his children in this passage. He is sympathetic to Elijah’s weaknesses and provides him with the comfort and physical rest and sustenance to regroup and try again.
David is another example of a hero of the faith who dealt with depression. Although the context for when he wrote each psalm is not provided, we see in the psalms a repetition of despair, physical symptoms of depression, insomnia, and feelings of hopelessness.
The historical books of the Bible share the difficulties that David dealt with, but the Psalms reveal his full emotional experience. The following are just a small sample of passages that reflect feelings of depression:
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation, and my God. – Psalm 43:5, ESV
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? Oh my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest” – Psalm 22:1-2, ESV
I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping. My eye wastes away because of my grief; it grows weak because of all my foes. – Psalm 6:6-7, ESV
The beauty of looking at the Bible as a whole is that it provides the context to know that depression was not the whole of David’s story. The Psalms are as full of great praise as they are David’s honest expressions of despair. Perhaps the takeaway is that one must realize depression is not a fatal flaw, but a part of the human experience that many will struggle with.
The story of Job provides us with the story of why he struggled with depression. The curtain is pulled back and the readers of the story are privy to the knowledge that Satan was allowed to torment Job. He suffers an unspeakable loss, so is it any wonder that although he is not experiencing active suicidal ideation, he makes statements like these:
Why did I not die at birth, come out of the womb, and expire? – Job 3:11, ESV
Why did you bring me out of the womb? Would that I had died before any eye had seen me and were as though I had not been, carried from the womb to the grave? – Job 10:18-19, ESV
Job was not actively wishing to die but was so depressed with his current circumstances that he felt despair and a great sense of hopelessness.
After great loss and suffering, depression can be a very normal response. This is not pathology but is often part of the grieving process. Job’s unhelpful friends tried to explain his suffering away, spiritually bypassed it, and insinuated that he must have done something to cause it. As the reader of the book of Job, it is obvious that none of those things are true.
If you are struggling with depression after a great loss, be comforted that God is not berating you for your faithlessness, but will restore you in kindness in His time. Depression can be a necessary, although painful, part of processing grief and loss.
Depression is common, but it’s good to seek care.
These examples of depression in the Bible can help those struggling with depression to feel less alone. They speak the truth as opposed to the lie that depression is a spiritual failure. No one would assert that any of these examples of depression in the Bible lacked faith! However, just because depression is de-stigmatized does not mean you shouldn’t seek care.
Counseling can be an incredible resource to help you examine the contributing factors, learn to process loss effectively, gain tools to cope and provide compassionate care during a difficult time in your life. Often long-lasting depression can stem from trauma, unprocessed grief, or other more complex factors.
It can be difficult to address this by yourself, and a dedicated time and space to process those emotions and learn coping skills can make a huge difference in one’s quality of life. Often an individual will seek counseling for a presenting issue of depression, only to find that depression is a symptom of other ongoing things in their life, rather than the main problem.
In addition to providing a safe place to process your emotions counselors are trained to evaluate and intervene to provide care if you are dealing with serious thoughts of suicide. Please seek help if you are feeling seriously depressed. You are an irreplaceable person, made in God’s image and deserving of love and care! Our counseling office would love to know how we can best serve you.
If you are experiencing suicidal ideation the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255.
“Depression definition and DSM-5 diagnostic criteria.” PSYCOM.net. (n.d.). Retrieved January 31, 2022, from https://www.psycom.net/depression-definition-dsm-5-diagnostic-criteria/
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