Depression in the Bible: Which Biblical Figures Suffered from Depression?

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Depression in the Bible: Which Biblical Figures Suffered from Depression?

A common misconception amongst Christians is that if you are feeling depressed or require a psychiatrist or psychotherapist, your faith is not strong enough. Many Christians who do not know much about mental health or mental illness may say to another, “pray and ask forgiveness for your sins.” They may equate such feelings of depression to being punished for your sins. 

Nothing could be further from the truth. Some of the greatest figures in the Bible, renowned through time for their faith and closeness with God, also struggled at one point or another with depression. In fact, you are in good company: 

King David experienced prolonged bouts of depression:

One notable example in the Bible is King David, the shepherd, warrior, poet, and king loved deeply by God. David is renowned in the Bible and amongst Christians for having defeated the Philistine giant Goliath with just a stone in a sling. Eventually, he would go on to unite the tribes of Israel and establish Jerusalem as its capital.

However, King David frequently express feelings of deep sorrow and despair in the Book of Psalms:

In Psalm 6:6-7, King David writes: “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 13:2: “How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul, with sorrow in my heart everyday?”

Lastly, in Psalms 31:9 – 24, he writes: “Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and body with grief. My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak.”

Elijah the prophet fell into despair and asked God to take his life:

Additionally, Elijah the prophet experienced a period of deep despair and desolation. In the First Book of Kings, Elijah is forced into hiding after his confrontation with the priests of the pagan god Baal. During this time hiding in the wilderness, Elijah falls into deep depression and expresses a desire to die:

1 Kings 19:4 “But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. ‘I have had enough, Lord,’ he said. ‘Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”

Job’s life is a profound meditation on human suffering:

In the book of Job, the titular figure is depicted as a man who is righteous, fearing God and shunning evil. He is blessed with wealth, a large family, and an esteemed reputation in his community. However, Satan challenges God and questions Job’s righteousness, suggesting that Job serves God only because he has been blessed with prosperity. God allows Satan to test Job’s faith by taking away his possessions, his children, and eventually his health. Job’s life is turned upside down as he experiences profound loss and physical affliction.

In Job chapter 7, Job addresses God directly, pouring out his heartache and sorrow, pleading for relief from his suffering. He describes his days as filled with hopelessness and worthlessness: 

Job 11: 16: “Therefore, I will not keep silent; I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul… I despise my life; I would not live forever. Let me alone; my days have no meaning.” 

Hannah’s life is marked by the anguish of unfulfilled longing:

Hannah was a devoted and faithful woman of God whose life was initially marked by anguish. She was one of two wives of a man named Elkanah who faced a deeply personal struggle: she was barren and unable to conceive a son. Hannah’s sorrow was compounded by the fact that this physical condition carried significant social and emotional stigma in her society. Elkanah’s other wife Peninnah on the other hand, was able to conceive and would taunt and antagonize Hannah for her infertility. 

In her despair, Hannah felt forgotten and forsaken. Yet in the depths of her anguish, as she poured her heart in prayer, she found her answer from the Lord and received peace in relying on God’s final plan.

1 Samuel 1: 10-11: “In her deep anguish, Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly. And she made a vow, saying, ‘Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.” 

Naomi’s grief was so immense that she felt that God had turned against her:

Naomi experienced profound grief and despair amidst the trials of life. Naomi suffered significant losses in a short period – first her husband, then both her sons leaving her without any male heirs to carry on her family line. She went from being a wife and a mother to being a childless widow in a very short period of time. Adding to this, Naomi found herself completely alone in Moab, a foreign land, separated from her extended family living in her native Bethlehem. She lamented her bitter fate, renaming herself Mara meaning bitterness. Naomi’s despair and grief was palpable as she returned to Bethlehem with her daughter-in-law Ruth, her heart heavy with grief and resignation:

Ruth 1:20-21: “So the two women went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they arrived in Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred becasue of them, and the women exclaimed, “Can this be Naomi?” “Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter.”

Naomi’s story eventually evolves into one of hope and redemption through the providence of God but for a long period of her life, Naomi felt an overwhelming sense of despair and bitterness. 

Jeremiah witnessed the devastation of Jerusalem and his people and fell into extreme emotional distress:  

Jeremiah was known as the “weeping prophet”, tasked with the burden as a messenger of God. His prophetic ministry coincided with a period of immense turmoil and national crisis in Israel, witnessing the impending destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of his people by the Babylonians. Jeremiah faced relentless opposition, rejection, and persecution for his unpopular message of judgment and impending doom. He experienced profound feelings of isolation, as he often found himself alone in his convictions, with few allies or supporters. His prophecies eventually became true and he had to witness the devastation of his beloved city and the suffering of his people. 
Jeremiah’s anguish is palpable in his writings, in both the Book of Jeremiah and Book of Lamentations:

Jeremiah 20:14-18: “Cursed be the day I was born! May the day my mother bore me not be blessed! Cursed be the man who brought my father the news, who made him very glad, saying, ‘A child is born to you– a son!’ May that man be like the towns the Lord overthrew without pity. May he hear wailing in the morning, a battle cry at noon. For he did not kill me in the womb, with my mother as my grave, her womb enlarged forever. Why did I ever come out of the womb to see trouble and sorrow and to end my days in shame?” 

Moses experienced feelings of self-doubt, inadequacy, and despair while leading the Israelites:

Moses, revered as the great liberator and lawgiver, faced profound internal, emotional struggles despite his deep closeness with God. Tasked with leading the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt and into the Promised Land, Moses bore the weight of this responsibility. His journey was fraught with trials and challenges, from confronting Pharaoh’s hardened heart to managing the complaints and revolts of his people.
Despite his unwavering commitment to God’s mission, Moses grappled with self-doubt and inadequacy, questioning his ability to fulfill his divine calling. At times, the burden became so overwhelming that Moses pleaded with God to take his life rather than continue bearing the weight of leadership:

Numbers 11:15: “I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. If this is how you are going to treat me, please go ahead and kill me–if I have found favor in your eyes–and do not let me face my own ruin.”

So why do faithful servants of God suffer from depression and other mental afflictions?

While all of these Biblical figures eventually find hope and redemption in God, it is apparent that all of them suffer from deep despair, depression, and hopelessness at one point or another. So why must faithful servants of God suffer?

In the Book of Genesis, Satan introduced the concept of suffering into the world through original sin. Satan, in the form of a serpent, tempts Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to disobey God’s commandment not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Through this disbelief and act of disobedience, Adam and Eve bring sin and its consequences, including all the ways in which a human can suffer and die, into the world. 

This is the precise moment when humanity’s harmonious relationship with God, creation, and one another is fractured, leading to a fallen state characterized by moral and physical suffering. Satan appears constantly in the Bible to tempt servants of God like King David, Elijah the Prophet, and Job, to turn away from God. Satan’s seductions to keep people away from God come in many forms and mental health afflictions are one of them.

The good news is that God keeps His hold on  these notable characters, pointing them to the hope of the coming Messiah, the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ, who will deliver mankind from the bondage of sin and curses. God uses these as examples for us to refer to. If you have accepted Jesus and believe that He saved you from sin and eternal death, God promises that you are His child and He is always with you. The enemy wants to use mental health struggles to make us forget or doubt this wonderful truth.   

Why it is so important to seek help when feeling depressed:

Depression, feelings of hopelessness, and suffering are just some of the methods Satan employs to ruin a Christian’s  enjoyment and relationship with God forever.  The more miserable you are, the less you are able to rejoice in the Gospel and feel happy and fulfilled in your relationship with God. The more despondent and helpless you become, the greater the risk of isolating yourself and avoiding the community that we all need. 

This is why if you are suffering from depression or any mental affliction, it is so important to seek help and address it right away. Of course, we do encourage you to pray to God for relief and seek closeness with Him during times of suffering. Prayer and the Word of God are vital aspects of spiritual and emotional well-being. However, if we leave depression untreated, it can worsen over time and lead to severe consequences such as increased risk of substance abuse, impaired daily functioning, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

From a spiritual perspective, a state of unattended depression and hopelessness can also cause us to become spiritually compromised. We may start to waver in our faith in God, and forget about Him entirely in the midst of our suffering. Or we may lose sight of God’s special plan in our lives along with how He could use our suffering and pain for something unimaginably better. We encourage you or any of your loved ones to seek help right away if something is not feeling right emotionally and mentally.

Enjoyed our blogpost? Subscribe to our newsletter for more resources on mental health and integrating the Gospel message in your healing journey. 

If you found our resources useful, please consider donating to Oak Health Foundation, which is a 501(3)c nonprofit dedicated to providing resources regarding holistic mental healthcare and subsidized treatment for those in need.

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