1167) Depression in the Bible (a)

I Kings 19:4 — (Elijah) went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom tree, 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.”

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     “I have had enough,” Elijah said.

     Have you ever ‘had enough?’  Enough of conflict, enough work, enough of your career, enough of dealing with people, enough stress, enough illness, enough of kids, enough of _______.  I am sure you have something you could fill in that blank.  Sometimes, we may even get enough of everything, enough of life itself, and feel like Elijah who said, “I have had enough, Lord, take my life.”  Elijah, you remember, was one of the most faithful and courageous people in the whole Bible.  If even a strong man of faith like Elijah could get such feelings, anyone can.

     The Bible never uses the word ‘depression,’ but today we would say that Elijah was most certainly depressed.  If his despair was related to his work, which does seem to be the case here, we might say he was suffering from that form of depression we call ‘job-burnout.’  Everyone has an occasional bout with depression; a few are depressed much of the time; and at any given time, in any group, there will be a significant number of people struggling with depression.  Sometimes, such depression is deep and severe.

     How can one say anything of value in a short meditation about a topic so broadly defined, so varied, and so complex?  For example, think of the wide variety of conditions which can cause depression.  There is big a difference between the despair of a 23 year old who is depressed because she cannot find the right shoes to wear to her friend’s wedding, and the despair of a woman whose husband of 49 years was just killed in a car accident.  There is no way one can briefly describe depression in all its forms, and then briefly outline the steps to cure it.  It is just too big, too varied, and far too complex for simple descriptions and solutions.  All I can do here is say a couple things about it.

     One way to say something about depression is to do what the Bible does, which is to simply tell stories of individuals who have who have been depressed, and see how they dealt with it.  Though the Bible never described anyone as ‘depressed,’ it contains many stories of people who are what the Bible sometimes calls ‘troubled in spirit.’  

–There is Job who loses everything, and who desperately, angrily, and despairingly questions God’s justice.  But Job does keep talking to God, standing firm in his faith; and in the end, God blesses him for his faithfulness.  

–On the other hand, there is Saul, a man often troubled in spirit, but who responded not in faith, but in jealousy and anger and unfaithfulness.  His rebellion and disobedience took him farther and farther away from God, and in the end, Saul did not receive God’s blessings.  

–There is also Jeremiah, nicknamed the ‘weeping prophet,’ who filled an entire book of the Bible with his despairing observations called ‘Lamentations.’  But Jeremiah also had the faith to write some of the Old Testament’s most wonderful descriptions of God’s grace, love, forgiveness, and future hope.

–Habakkuk began his Old Testament book by asking, “How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?;” and ended the book still without the help he had prayed for, but declaring that no matter what happens, he would trust in, wait for, and rejoice in his Savior God.  

–And, there are the Psalms, filled with cries for help in the midst of despair, and also filled with expressions of gratitude, trust, and hope.  To give just one example, Psalm 34 says: “I sought the Lord and he answered me, and delivered me out of all my terror…  I called in my affliction and the Lord heard me and saved me from my troubles…  The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and will save those whose spirits are crushed…  I will glory in the Lord, and his praise shall ever be in my mouth.”  In the 22nd Psalm David began his prayer with these words: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?”  It sounds like David is depressed.  

–Even Jesus felt that way, and quoted those very words from the cross in his time of despair and suffering.  (continued…)

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Daniel 7:15  —  I, Daniel, was troubled in spirit, and the visions that passed through my mind disturbed me.

John 13:21b  —  …Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.”

Habakkuk 1:2a…3:16b-18  —  How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?…  Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us.  Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LordI will be joyful in God my Savior.

Psalm 119:25  —  I am laid low in the dust; preserve my life according to your word.

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 PSALM 30:1a…2-3…5b…11-12:

I will exalt you, Lordfor you lifted me out of the depths…

Lord my God, I called to you for help, and you healed me.  You, Lord, brought me up from the realm of the dead;
    you spared me from going down to the pit…

Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning…

You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.  Lord my God, I will praise you forever.