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Depression, discouragement and related emotional problems can afflict both those who follow God and those who don't.
In the Old Testament, God allowed Satan to afflict the righteous Job with the loss of his family and virtually everything he owned, and then to attack his body with painful boils. (God allowed this for a long-ranged purpose.)
If we are depressed, we we must not let embarrassment hold us back from seeking help when we are depressed. Job 3 shows this faithful man’s deep depression and desire to die:
“May the day perish on which I was born, and the night in which it was said ‘a male child is conceived.’ May that day be darkness; may God above not seek it, nor the light shine upon it” (Job 3:3-4). Later, Job wished for death. “Why is light given to him who is in misery, and life to the bitter of the soul, who long for death, but it does not come, and search for it more than hidden treasures” (Job 3:20-21). Long-term suffering without hope drives many to despair and the desire to end it all.
In 1 Samuel 1 we see the story of Hannah, one of two wives of Elkanah. The other wife, Peninnah, had children, but Hannah was unable to conceive. Peninnah arrogantly ridiculed Hannah and “provoked her severely, to make her miserable” (1 Samuel 1:6). At those times, Hannah “wept and did not eat” (1 Samuel 1:7).
Then one year when they had gone to worship at the tabernacle, “she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed to the Lord and wept in anguish” (1 Samuel 1:10). Hannah was indeed depressed. But the story has a very happy ending.
The book of 1 Samuel also records the sad reign of Saul, the ﬁrst king of Israel. He started out well enough: tall, attractive, from a good family; it would seem he had everything going for him. But a series of bad decisions based on his pride and a wrong attitude took their toll, and before long Saul sank into the depths of depression.
Additionally, some of God’s own prophets went through very low periods when they wished they were dead. Elijah is perhaps the best known. He carried God’s judgments and warnings to several Israelite kings, including the despotic Ahab and his evil wife, Jezebel.
A high point of Elijah’s life came when he overthrew the 450 prophets of Baal at Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18). He proved not only the power of God but the utter lack of power of the hundreds of pagan prophets. It seems Elijah should have been on top of the world, but he soon sank into the depths of depression after being threatened by Jezebel.
“Then he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and sat down under a broom tree. And he prayed that he might die, and said: ‘It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers’” (1 Kings 19:4).
Elijah was extremely tired physically and mentally, but he also needed to learn a lesson about God’s power and presence.
The Bible records other examples. We know Jeremiah went through periods of great grief and probably some depression.
Jonah suffered frustration, resentment, and discouragement over God’s decision not to destroy Nineveh (Jonah 4:8).
The apostle Paul experienced many types of great suffering, as he summarized in 2 Corinthians 11:23-26. However, the New Testament gives no evidence of Paul suffering any deep depression. Philippians 3:13-14 shows he knew the importance of “forgetting those things which are behind [because God’s grace gives us a clean slate and you can’t change the past] and reaching forward to those things which are ahead”—staying Christ-centered and focused on the goal of God’s Kingdom.
Paul’s epistles are ﬁlled with uplifting encouragement for others. Such encouragement can be found in Romans 8:18 and Romans 8:28, and 2 Corinthians 4, where he spoke of “our light affliction, which is but for a moment” (2 Corinthians 4:17). These verses have given great comfort, encouragement and inspiration to countless people over the ages. Paul’s example shows that depression comes not so much from what happens to us as from our perspective and attitudes about those happenings.
The point is that depression can also affect godly people. It’s not necessarily a character flaw or a sin that brings on depression, although these can be factors. Many of God’s servants went through low periods in their lives and sometimes suffered from depression and a desire to die. However, though they may have wanted God to end their lives, the Bible records no cases of them taking their own lives.
If we are depressed, we we must not let embarrassment hold us back from seeking help when we are depressed. In the next section, we consider the question: What does the Bible reveal about how God views suicide?
UCGiA Booklet (Michael Kelley)