5 Bible Characters Who Struggled with Depression
- Amy Green Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2016 18 Oct
Go through the gallery of biblical heroes—the famous “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11—and you’ll notice that the characters mentioned have something in common: all of them struggled with dark pasts, fears, failures, and broken relationships.
And yet, at times, the church avoids talking about difficult subjects like depression—which is interesting, because many of our favorite heroes and heroines struggled with doubt and despair, just like we do today. The accounts of their heartache and debilitating sorrow resonated with me when dealing with my own depression and have been an encouragement to generations of believers.
And best of all? The God they served is the same God we serve today. Take comfort in these honest, raw stories of redemption, because where we are weak, He is strong.
“I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail, looking for my God.”
Summary: David wrote songs of lament at various times in his life—when he was hiding from a former mentor who wanted to kill him or fleeing his son who had started an uprising against him, for example. This king was familiar with betrayal and sleepless nights and crying out to a God who sometimes seemed silent. His brutally honest prayers have been a comfort to many a Christian struggling with depression.
God’s response: Besides the fact that God preserved these bold, unfiltered psalms to this day in our Bibles, it was David’s faith that gave him courage to end so many of his laments with praise. A familiar theme is one in Psalm 42: “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” In the end, God delivered David from Saul and Absalom—though at great cost and with much pain. It’s not a stereotypical happy ending, but the Psalms show that David chose joy and thanksgiving to God regardless of his circumstances.
Read the full story: Psalm 22, 69, and others
“Why is light given to those in misery, and life to the bitter of soul, to those who long for death that does not come?”
Summary: Faithful Job faced demonic attack unlike anyone in biblical history—his wealth, family, and health destroyed in just one day. His wife responded by urging him to join her in giving up on God, but Job refused… although he did spend the majority of the book insisting that his treatment was unfair and debating with his incredibly unhelpful friends.
God’s response: Some people would point to the abundant blessings at the end of the story as examples of God’s reaction to Job and his cries. That may be true, but far more profound is the fact that God answered. Job repeatedly (and sometimes angrily) demanded an audience with God, and he showed up… and in one of the most beautiful passages in the Bible, put all human suffering in perspective next to his own might and power.
“I have had enough, Lord. Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”
Summary: Unlike some of the other characters on this list, Elijah didn’t pray this exhausted prayer after a lengthy time of suffering. In fact, it was right after an amazing victory where God used him to work a miracle in front of the whole nation—a spiritual high. But only a day later, he came crashing down: running from a vengeful queen, hungry, and feeling very alone.
God’s response: After making sure Elijah’s basic needs were met—food, water, proper rest—God asked Elijah a key question he needed to think through even in the middle of his depression: “What are you doing here?” God also told Elijah he wasn’t alone: 7,000 others refused to worship idols. And, most importantly, God showed the prophet his glory—which didn’t look at all like what Elijah thought it would, coming in a still, small voice.
Read the full story: 1 Kings 19:1-18
“The Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty.”
Summary: After her husband and two sons died while she was living as a refugee in a foreign land, Naomi came back to her native Israel angry and ready to give up on life. Even the dedication of her daughter-in-law Ruth wasn’t enough to keep her from venting her deep hurt to everyone around her.
God’s response: Sometimes, God’s answer is the care of another person, and when she needed it most, God brought Ruth to Naomi. In her unwavering loyalty, Ruth looked after Naomi’s physical needs, repeated words of faith in God, and eventually provided her with new hope through her marriage to Boaz and the birth of Naomi’s grandson.
Read the full story: Ruth 1-4
5. The Teacher of Ecclesiastes
“What a heavy burden God has laid on mankind! I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”
Summary: The writer of Ecclesiastes, who calls himself the Teacher, was the man who had it all—rich, wise, powerful, and possessed of everything he needed to be happy. Except he wasn’t, and he took a whole book to write about all the things in life that couldn’t give him a sense of purpose.
God’s response: There’s no miracle here that we read of—no person brought into the Teacher’s life to comfort him, no unexpected reversal of fortune, no divine mission from God to give him purpose. Instead, it seems that God simply revealed meaning in the midst of the mundane and in the satisfaction of obeying God’s commands. “Here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13)
Read the full story: The book of Ecclesiastes, especially 1-3 and 12
We’ll give God the last word on the subject of fighting depression: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed… So we do not lose heart.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9, 16)
Amy Green makes her home in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her first winter there, where she struggled with depression, was the coldest the state had seen for 50 years. She blogs about issues of faith, culture, and ordinary life at themondayheretic.wordpress.com.
Publication date: October 18, 2016