Talking about depression among people of faith can seem like a risky venture. After all, if I believe in God, the maker of heaven and earth, surely depression shouldn’t be an issue? Unfortunately, many people labor under the false idea that because you know God and follow Jesus through the power of the Spirit, illness, and struggle are no longer part of your existence, and to go through those things means you have weak faith.
This is far from the truth, and it is a dangerous idea that not only misunderstands the role of faith in the life of the believer, but it also misunderstands how certain diseases work, and it can be dangerous.
When we turn to the Bible, we see people of faith going through many struggles and setbacks. Job, Elijah, David, and others struggle with anxieties and what appears to be depression. We can learn from them how to deal with our own issues, as well as pick up a few things to avoid.
Depression isn’t something new. The term may be something we recently coined, but the experience it describes is a reality that people have been battling with for millennia.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) says that depression is a common, but serious mood disorder. Struggling with depression is nothing to be ashamed of, and an estimated 6.7% of the adult population has likely dealt with depression at some point in their lives.
Depression causes severe symptoms that affect how you feel, think, and handle your day-to-day activities such as sleeping, eating, or working. Just as with anxiety, depression is an emotional response that can easily take on physical manifestations.
We will turn now to the Bible to see what it says about depression, and how we can begin to address it.
Depression in the Bible
When we read about depression in the Bible, we see it appear in at least two ways. Some passages describe symptoms one would associate with depression, and that strongly hints that that was what the speaker was suffering from. Other passages stand as an encouragement when you’re going through depression.
It must be noted that there are different kinds of depression, some of which are situational, and some that result from a combination of biological, environmental, and other factors. A person may thus get depressed when they lose a loved one or something of significant emotional value, but they can also get depressed because certain neurochemicals aren’t in a good balance.
Some of the passages that seem to hint at depression in the Bible include the following:
Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint; heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony. My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long? Turn, Lord, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love. Among the dead no one proclaims your name. Who praises you from the grave? I am worn out from my groaning. All night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears. My eyes grow weak with sorrow; they fail because of all my foes. – Psalm 6: 2-7
Psalm 6 above was written by David, the “man after God’s own heart”, and the following Psalm was written by a man named Heman. It is a prayer of deep despondency, telling of the anguish of the soul:
Lord, you are the God who saves me; day and night I cry out to you. May my prayer come before you; turn your ear to my cry. I am overwhelmed with troubles and my life draws near to death. I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am like one without strength.
I am set apart with the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave, whom you remember no more, who are cut off from your care. You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths. Your wrath lies heavily on me; you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.
You have taken from me my closest friends and have made me repulsive to them. I am confined and cannot escape; my eyes are dim with grief. – Psalm 88:1-9
Job, a man whose faith in God marked him out for special attention, lost his children, his health, and his wealth in a series of calamitous events. He wrestles with God but doesn’t lose his faith in God. In Job 3:11 he says, “Why did I not perish at birth, and die as I came from the womb?” And in other similar words, he curses the day he was born, saying in 3:24, “For my sighing comes as my bread, and my groanings are poured out like water”.
In Job 10:1, Job contends with God saying: “I loathe my very life; therefore, I will give free rein to my complaint and speak out in the bitterness of my soul.” In Job 30:15-17, 27 he says: “Terrors overwhelm 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… My heart is in turmoil, and is never still; days of affliction come to meet me.”
The book of Lamentations describes the desolation when Jerusalem was overrun by enemies; there is death, hunger, and despair throughout the city, and Jeremiah writes:
My eyes fail from weeping, I am in torment within; my heart is poured out on the ground because my people are destroyed because children and infants faint in the streets of the city. – Lamentations 2:11
In the book of Jeremiah, the weeping prophet wrote, “Cursed be the day I was born … why did I ever come out of the womb to see trouble and sorrow and to end my days in shame?” (Jeremiah 20:14, 18).
Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? – Psalm 42:5
I am utterly bowed down and prostrate; all the day I go about mourning…I am utterly spent and crushed; I groan because of the tumult of my heart…my heart throbs, my strength fails me; and the light of my eyes – it also has gone from me. – Psalm 38:6, 8, 10
From prophets, a king, and a man renowned for his faith, we find these verses speaking of their many struggles in terms that describe what people who go through depression experience. This is what the ancients called “melancholy,” and the lack of energy, sadness, yearning for death, anger and much else mark the ways depression can act on a person’s mood and behaviors.
Scripture to encourage you if you’re struggling with depression
There are other passages in the Bible that we can turn to when facing depression, and these include the following. Part of overcoming depression is to get the help needed to overcome unhealthy patterns of thinking.
Through therapy for depression, which may include medication, and by holding onto verses such as these to help guide your mind towards truth, it is possible to overcome depression. If you or someone you know struggles with suicidal thoughts or tendencies, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) any time day or night 24/7, or online at www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. – Psalm 34:17-18
A glad heart makes a cheerful face, but by sorrow of heart, the spirit is crushed. – Proverbs 15:13.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. – Psalm 23:4
Answer me quickly, O Lord! My spirit fails! Hide not your face from me, lest I be like those who go down to the pit. Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul. – Psalms 143:7-8
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. – Matthew 11:28-30
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:38-39
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world, you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. – John 16:33
The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. – Deuteronomy 31:8
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for peace and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. – Jeremiah 29:11
The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. – Psalm 9:9
He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. – Revelation 21:4
The Lord does not shun or abandon those that are in trouble; rather, he draws near to them to help them in their times of need. If you or a loved one struggle with the symptoms of depression, do not hesitate to ask for help. the sooner you can find help, the sooner you can get your health back.
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