All Those Depressed People…in the Bible

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Given the statistics, depression seems to be the modern psychological equivalent of the Black Death. It only claimed an estimated 75—200 million victims, but an estimated 121 million people around the world suffer from depression. It affects slightly over 1 in 10 Americans and it’s on the rise. Things like unemployment and divorce are cited as the major contributing factors to one’s depression.  And with the skyrocketing numbers of both unemployment and divorce, no wonder depression is such a problem these days.

Even among Christians, depression is on the rise, and their struggle with it is compounded and worsened by the notion that “Christians shouldn’t be depressed.” So, naturally, that makes them even more depressed.

The fact is, the Bible is full to overflowing with depressed people. The “great one” himself, the apostle Paul, fought depression through his whole ministry. He always overcame it, but it always came back. Some would say he had good reason to be depressed: he gave up everything when he became a follower of Jesus Christ, he often went hungry, he was falsely imprisoned when people lied about him, not to mention all those crazy shipwrecks he lived through. In all, though, Paul discovered contentment in every situation he found himself in.

Depression may or may not be sin, but it is a state of mind that is unhealthy and can lead to other problems for the believer. Let’s take a look at a few depressed folks in the Bible. Maybe we can learn something from how they handled it.

Jeremiah, the depressed prophet

The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah was one the most powerful preachers of righteousness in Israel, yet he is known today as “the weeping prophet” because, as strange as it may seem, he spent most of his life in utter despair. There were many reasons for this, not the least of which was the fact that even though his people faced immanent ruin, they steadfastly refused to listen to his warnings. They ignored him and mocked him. But maybe the most depressing thing that ever happened to Jeremiah occurred in Jeremiah 36.

In the fourth year of the reign of King Jehoiakim of Judah (son of Josiah) the Lord gave this message to Jeremiah: “Get a scroll and write down all my messages against Israel, Judah, and the other nations. Begin with the first message back in the days of Josiah, and write down every one of them. Perhaps when the people of Judah see in writing all the terrible things I will do to them, they will repent. And then I can forgive them.” (Jeremiah 36:1—3 TLB)

Jeremiah (and Baruch, his secretary) did just that, and you can imagine how long it took! And by the way, Jeremiah was in prison at the time. Now, you’d think the king would appreciate all the work, but in response to Jeremiah’s obedience and hard work, the King reacted in a most unappreciative manner:

And whenever Jehudi finished reading three or four columns, the king would take his knife, slit off the section, and throw it into the fire, until the whole scroll was destroyed. And no one protested except Elnathan, Delaiah, and Gemariah. They pled with the king not to burn the scroll, but he wouldn’t listen to them. Not another of the king’s officials showed any signs of fear or anger at what he had done. (Jeremiah 36:23—25 TLB)

It was a complete and utter disaster. All that work came to nothing. And yet, God came back to Jeremiah with this:

After the king had burned the scroll, the Lord said to Jeremiah: Get another scroll and write everything again just as you did before… (Jeremiah 36:27, 28 TLB)

Now, how futile does that sound to you? In 600 BC, it must have taken an eternity to do all that writing. And to what end? Jeremiah suffered imprisonment and nearly died when he was put in a gigantic well in water up to his neck and his people’s fate was already sealed.

We read this in Lamentations 3, which Jeremiah also wrote:

I am the man who has seen the afflictions that come from the rod of God’s wrath. He has brought me into deepest darkness, shutting out all light. He has turned against me. Day and night his hand is heavy on me. He has made me old and has broken my bones. (Lamentations 3:1—4 TLB)

Those are the words of a man in despair. He seemed to be unable to see a way out. And yet, at the depth of depression, there was a flicker of hope, and he was able to write these profound words:

Yet there is one ray of hope: his compassion never ends. It is only the Lord’s mercies that have kept us from complete destruction. Great is his faithfulness; his loving-kindness begins afresh each day. My soul claims the Lord as my inheritance; therefore I will hope in him. The Lord is wonderfully good to those who wait for him, to those who seek for him. It is good both to hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. (Lamentations 3:22—26 TLB)

He had the truth in in him all the time. It took some time for it to bubble up to the surface, but with God’s help, he gained some much needed perspective.

Rebecca, a depressed mother

If you are a mother, or father that matter, your children may be the cause of your greatest joy and pride. But sometimes even little precious can make a sainted mother depressed. Case in point, Jacob’s mother, Rebecca:

Then Rebekah said to Isaac, “I’m sick and tired of these local girls. I’d rather die than see Jacob marry one of them.” (Genesis 27:46 TLB)

Now, that could be a problem. Apparently there were only Canaanite girls nearby and as far as Rebecca was concerned, not one of the was good enough for her Jacob. Esau had married one of those Canaanite women and she brought all kinds of sorrow into the home. Rebecca was overwhelmed.

But she had other issues that she was dealing with:

So Esau hated Jacob because of what he had done to him. He said to himself, “My father will soon be gone, and then I will kill Jacob.” But someone got wind of what he was planning and reported it to Rebekah. (Genesis 27:41, 42 TLB)

Yes, family drama can take its toll on a mother. Every parent wants what’s best for their children and there is no more formidable advocate for a son than his mother. But what if the threat comes from another family member? What does a mother do about that? You can see, Rebecca’s plate was full of despair. Her family was, to put it mildly, a mess.

As it turned out, Jacob’s brother Esau was the real problem, while the lack of acceptable young ladies for Jacob was a relatively minor one that Rebecca used to get Jacob out of town:

So Isaac sent Jacob away, and he went to Paddan-aram to visit his Uncle Laban, his mother’s brother—the son of Bethuel the Aramean. (Genesis 28:5 TLB)

She turned to her husband and together they were able to solve at least one family problem. Getting Jacob to his uncle’s house got him away from Esau and, if they were lucky, Jacob would find a good Jewish girl to marry!

Moses, the depressed leader

Moses was the hero of a nation. Through him, God had worked wonders for the people of Israel. And yet, Moses fought depression.

Moses heard all the people complaining as they stood about in groups at the entrances of their tents. He was distressed because the Lord was angry with them, and he said to the Lord, “Why have you treated me so badly? Why are you displeased with me? Why have you given me the responsibility for all these people? (Numbers 11:10, 11 GNB)

Can we blame Moses for becoming “distressed” in the face of the constant complaining and whining from the millions of people looking to him for guidance? If we read these verses correctly, his problem were the people, yet he blamed God. Yes, Moses’ perspective was completely out of whack with reality. He was depressed—and probably angry, aggravated, and frustrated to boot—and in that haze he lashed out in the wrong direction. Imagine, blaming God for something He had nothing to do with! You would never do that, would you?

Here’s what God told Moses after Moses’ outburst:

The Lord said to Moses, “Assemble seventy respected men who are recognized as leaders of the people, bring them to me at the Tent of my presence, and tell them to stand there beside you…they can help you to bear the responsibility for these people, and you will not have to bear it alone.” (Numbers 11:16, 17b GNB)

God, you’ll notice, didn’t come down on Moses. God knew Moses’ heart and He knew what Moses was going through. God provided a solution that made complete sense, and it was not a supernatural solution. It was a simple solution that Moses himself could easily have come up with if he had been seeing things clearly. The point: Moses may have lashed out at God, but Moses was right to go to God in prayer, and in the end, God came through and helped Moses out of his distress.

Joshua, another depressed leader

Moses wasn’t the only leader of Israel that got depressed, and like Moses before him, Joshua lashed out at God:

Joshua and the leaders of Israel tore their clothes in grief, threw themselves to the ground before the Lord’s Covenant Box, and lay there till evening, with dust on their heads to show their sorrow. And Joshua said, “Sovereign Lord! Why did you bring us across the Jordan at all? To hand us over to the Amorites? To destroy us? Why didn’t we just stay on the other side of the Jordan?” (Joshua 7:6, 7 GNB)

Faced with a horrible, stressful situation, Joshua and the other leaders of Israel did exactly the right thing, albeit in the wrong way. They went to prayer, which is what we should always do when faced with a seemingly impossible situation. But, they too lashed out at God, blaming Him for their current situation. Their perspective was skewed, and while they did the right thing in praying, they were blinded to the real problem:

The Lord said to Joshua, “Get up! Why are you lying on the ground like this? Israel has sinned! They have broken the agreement with me that I ordered them to keep. They have taken some of the things condemned to destruction. They stole them, lied about it, and put them with their own things. This is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies. They retreat from them because they themselves have now been condemned to destruction! I will not stay with you any longer unless you destroy the things you were ordered not to take!” (Joshua 7:10—12 GNB)

Israel’s real problem was not the power of their enemies, but their sin. Joshua didn’t see that; all he saw was the enemy. He was completely blinded to the spiritual state of the people. Fortunately for Israel, God gave Joshua the solution that would solve all his problems, and the first step was to stop praying about it and do something about it. Sometimes, believe it or not, it’s better to do than to pray, especially if deep down inside you know what the solution is, but for whatever reason you don’t know it or see it.

Jesus, the depressed Savior

This brings us to Jesus, the Son of God, and even He found Himself in the the depths of despair, at least one time. As our Lord hung, dying on the Cross, He shouted out these words to His heavenly Father:

About three o’clock, Jesus shouted, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46 TLB)

In His despair, Jesus felt like God had abandoned Him. Of course, God could no more abandon His only Son than He could abandon Himself. In His humanity, though, this was how He felt. This is actually a comfort, because even though He felt this way, He didn’t sin. It was simply how He felt. M’Neile gives a great commentary on this verse:

The cry was an expression of His agony of soul and body, but in that agony is involved the mystery of the Atonement.

It’s a profound thought. As the substitute sinners, Jesus was permitted to experience everything we do, including a sense of loss. The greatest despair and depression comes when we feel like we have been abandoned, either by loved ones, or our health, or our intellect, or even our God.

All things being equal, it’s not sinful to feel depressed from time to time, as long as you don’t stay in that state. As a Christian, you’re of no use to God (or anyone else, for that matter) if you are stuck in your depression for an extended period of time. Regardless of how you feel, and regardless of what it is that’s got you down, God will give you perspective; He will show you a solution; He will lead you out of your fog of depression. The first steps, though, are yours to take.

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