Can Godly Men and Women Get Depressed?

by | Oct 11, 2021 | Depression and Faith

The Bible clearly answers that question, speaking through God’s people who experienced despair.

The reason for their emotional lows varied. A few of the following characters were reacting to a specific difficult circumstance or tragedy. A few were often in a state of melancholy. Their temperaments varied, yet all of these examples, which are representative rather than exhaustive, show that deep faith in God can coexist with episodes of deep despondency.

Despite their cries of doubt or despair, none of these persons stopped believing in and seeking God. Taking their pain to Him actually reflected a deep faith in Him. No one voices a doubt, complaint or sorrow to God unless, deep down, he or she believes in Him and believes He can help.

(Citing a particular Bible character in this post does not necessarily mean that he or she would have met today’s criteria for major or chronic depression!)

As you read the Bible texts that follow, determine which person you most identify with, and why.

Moses

The  complaints of people who Moses led during their wilderness journey from Egypt to Canaan prompted this prayer:

Why have You been so hard on Your servant? And why have I not found favor in Your sight, that You have laid the burden of all this people on me? Was it I who conceived all this people? Was it I who brought them forth, that You should say to me, “Carry them in your bosom as a nurse carries a nursing infant, to the land which You promised to their fathers?” Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me, saying, “Give us meat that we may eat!” I alone am not able to carry all this people, because it is too burdensome for me. So if You are going to deal thus with me, please kill me at once, if I have found favor in Your sight, and do not let me see my wretchedness.  –Numbers 11:11-15

 

Elijah

This text follows God’s dramatic and successful use of Elijah to defeat the false prophets of Baal, and to predict an end to a severe famine (1 Kings 18).

 Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there.

But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. 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 19:1-4

King David

How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? – Psalm 13:1-2

Asaph (A Levite appointed over corporate worship services during the reigns of David and Solomon)

 Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable? Has his steadfast love forever ceased? Are his promises at an end for all time? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has He in anger shut up his compassion? – Psalm 77:7-9

Sons of Korah  (Originally appointed by King David to lead the choral music in the tabernacle)

O Lord, God of my salvation, I cry out day and night before You. Let my prayer come before You; incline Your ear to my cry! For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol. I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am a man who has no strength, like one set loose among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, like those whom You remember no more, for they are cut off from Your hand. You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep. – Psalm 88:1-6

Jeremiah 

Jeremiah composed these words due to the adversity he faced when he gave God’s message of judgment to the people in Judah. Jeremiah is referring to God.

He has driven and brought me into darkness without any light; surely against me He turns his hand again and again the whole day long. He has made my flesh and my skin waste away; He has broken my bones. He has besieged and enveloped me with bitterness and tribulation. He has made me dwell in darkness like the dead of long ago. He has walled me about so that I cannot escape. He has made my chains heavy; though I call and cry for help, He shuts out my prayer. My soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is, so I say, “My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord.”
– Lamentations 3:2-8, 17-18

Job   (After suffering the catastrophic losses of family members and possessions)

I loathe my life; I will give free utterance to my complaint; I will speak in the bitterness of my soul. I will say to God, “Do not condemn me; let me know why You contend against me.” And now my soul is poured out within me; days of affliction have taken hold of me. The night racks my bones, and the pain that gnaws me takes no rest. God has cast me into the mire, and I have become like dust and ashes. I cry to You for help and You do not answer me; I stand, and You only look at me. – Job 10:1-2; 30:16-17, 19-20

Hannah

Hannah lived in ancient Israel, where a woman was expected to bear children. She was one of two wives of Elkanah. Her husband remained devoted to her despite her barrenness, yet the other wife ridiculed and provoked Hannah year after year. The social stigma led to a descent into depression.

“She went and would not eat” (I Samuel 1:7). Her husband noticed her despondency, asking, “Why do you weep and you do not eat and why is your heart sad?” (vs. 8).  She felt “greatly distressed” (vs. 10), yet she kept asking God to open her womb. She told Eli, the priest, “I am a woman oppressed in spirit” (vs. 15), and “I have poured out my soul before the Lord” (vs. 15).

Naomi

Due to a famine, Naomi, her husband, and their two sons migrated from Bethlehem to Moab. While there, her husband died. Her sons married, but they died before their wives had children. When she decided to return to Bethlehem, Ruth, her daughter-in-law, insisted on accompanying her.

Her losses exerted a dramatic effect on Naomi’s spirit. She exclaimed, “The hand of the Lord has gone out against me” (Ruth 1:13). When she returned to her homeland, she told acquaintances, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt bitterly with me” (Ruth 1:20). The name “Naomi” meant “pleasant,” whereas “Mara” meant “bitter.”

 Paul

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death.  – 2 Corinthians 1:8

 

Going Deeper

The value of examining those cries of despondency from Bible personalities may crystallize if you read the excerpts again in light of these questions.

What descriptors and symptoms of depression can you glean from these references?

What effect did reading about the despair of people in the Bible have on you? Why?

In what sense is it reassuring to know that God’s people in biblical times, who we view as heroic figures, sometimes felt this way, yet maintained their faith in God?

God inspired this biblical record of despondent individuals and intended for these honest cries to be in His inerrant Word. What does this fact tell us about Him?

What can we learn from these examples about how to pray when we are despondent?

(I am aware that after their laments, several of the individuals I cited in this post either shifted to an attitude of praise and a declaration of trust in God, or their laments were interspersed with an affirmation of God’s goodness. And in some cases, God eventually heeded their desperate cries. The shift to a more trustful stance occurred before God intervened or changed the situation that prompted their laments!. In my next post, I’ll address this interesting phenomenon among God’s choice servants who cried out to Him in their depression. You will be encouraged by what I will point out!)

 

A Helpful Resource on Depression

In Spurgeon’s Sorrows: Realistic Hope for Those Who Suffer from Depression, Zack Eswine identifies one significant value of reading the heartfelt cries of despondent people in the Bible: “You and I need a language of sorrows, and God teaches it to us. In the pages of the Bible, the faithful describe their inward condition in terms of pits and miry bogs, deep shadows and grave lands, and floodwaters that swallow us whole. Without metaphor, depression often exposes the inexperience of our vocabulary. For Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892), the language of sorrows revealed a Being who truly understands our plight.”

Eswine’s book about the prolific London pastor shows how Charles Spurgeon’s effective ministry of preaching and writing was enhanced, not hindered, by his emotional and physical suffering. For my review, follow this link:

THE OUTRAGEOUSLY FRUITFUL MINISTRY OF A DEPRESSION-PRONE SPIRITUAL GIANT

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