Some Christians and churches claim that depression comes from demonic possession, or from sin, perhaps a curse, or because God is punishing us for a wrong-doing. As we discussed in the article “Can Christians Have a Mental Illness,” while on some occasions it may be the result of an ongoing sin, for most believers, depression doesn’t usually arise from these things.
We’ve looked at possible physical causes of depression as well as circumstances which may cause it. It can be the result of drug and alcohol abuse, physical injury or as part of an illness, as a side effect of certain medications, or as a consequence of physical, psychological and/or sexual abuse.
Seeking help for depression is not sinful, nor is taking anti-depressants. Getting over depression isn’t about “having more faith,” or “looking on the bright side,” or “just getting over it.” There is no pithy quote, Bible verse or inspirational saying that will snap us out of it. In fact, there are quite a number of Bible verses that speak about depression, and Bible characters who struggled with it.
Depression is not a new thing – it’s been around almost since day one!
One of the more important things we learned in that earlier article is that a good proportion of the population will experience depress-ion at some time in their life, and therefore it’s likely that many Christians will also go through it.
Being a Christian doesn’t automatically make us immune. Depression doesn’t mean that a person is lacking in spirituality or immature in their Christian walk. Do you need reassurance on that? Then hopefully this article will provide enough evidence to demonstrate that some of the strongest, most faithful believers have suffered depression – and God still loved them.
Normally in each issue of SPAG Magazine we endeavour to provide an article on one inspirational person. In conjunction with issue 7’s focus on depression and mental illness, we’re sharing a little about the lives of inspirational believers who suffered depression – from the Bible, from history and also from the present day. This is by no means a comprehensive list, and I encourage you to find out more.
If you’ve ever suffered depression, it may ease your burden to know that profound Christian thinkers, passionate champions of the persecuted and down-trodden, God-inspired prophets, and those who reached great pinnacles of wisdom and strength in their Christian walk, have shared the trials and torments of depression with us.
If those with such resounding faith, profound knowledge and deep compassion can experience the same depths of sorrow, anguish, and moments of doubt; times when God seemed silent to their urgent, tortured pleas for help or for answers; then we, the more common, ordinary Christians are not alone – we aren’t wrong or broken or in need of deliverance. For some of us, it is part of the demanding journey of what it means to be a Christian.
It’s almost freeing to know that these exceptional Christians share such a bond with us. Perhaps it is those who have never known depression and those dark, tormented nights of the soul, who miss out on this distinctive experience. Perhaps we who have known depression, are the chosen ones who God deems worthy of undergoing such an ordeal. Perhaps our journey will be all the better for it.
As bizarre and unreasonable as it sounds, perhaps there’ll come a day when we’ll be able to look back and say “Thank you Lord.”
Whatever the circumstances, depression is very real, and can have a profound and long-lasting impact on us. Those who have never suffered depression cannot understand the terrible pain and suffering it causes.
Biblical Believers Who Suffered Depression
(a) Adam and Eve
While there is no Biblical evidence to confirm it, I imagine that both Adam and Eve suffered depression after they sinned and were cast out of the garden of Eden.
Having previously been so intimate with God, it must have been devastating for them to lose that close and loving relationship. No longer did they know that kindred closeness of spirit, soul and purpose. Adam and Eve knew without a doubt that they were no longer Holy – that purity of their holy relationship with God had ceased to exist.
I’ve heard hell described as the absolute and complete awareness of our aloneness and separation from God. Perhaps in a way, it was similar to how Adam and Eve felt.
Their daily lives of toil to grow food and to survive would have been a constant reminder of the repercussions of their sin, and their unending loss.
The consequences of their sin were later brought home to them, when their own son Cain killed his brother Abel.
(b) King David
There are more than three dozen examples of David’s experiences with depression which he shared in the Psalms. In Psalm 6:2-7 we read words that sound similar to what we might say when experiencing deep depression. Along with the anguish, his words seem to be touched with frustration and even anger:
“Show me grace, Eternal God. I am completely undone. Bring me back together, Eternal One. Mend my shattered bones. My soul is drowning in darkness. How long can You, the Eternal, let things go on like this?
Come back, Eternal One, and lead me to Your saving light. Rescue me because I know You are truly compassionate.
I’m alive for a reason – I can’t worship You if I’m dead. If I’m six feet under, how can I thank You?
I’m exhausted. I cannot even speak, my voice fading as sighs. Every day ends in the same place – lying in bed, covered in tears, my pillow wet with sorrow. My eyes burn, devoured with grief; they grow weak as I constantly watch for my enemies.” [Voice]
We can understand why Job would have suffered depression, after he lost all he had including his children and his wealth. While he must have grieved for his children, he was able to accept that loss was part of life – he’d come into the world with nothing, and would leave the world with nothing.
When Satan was allowed to afflict Job with a terrible illness that not only caused him awful physical pain, he also lost the affections and closeness of his wife, the comforts of his home, contact with friends and loved ones in his community, and was cast out of his home town because of his disease.
Here was a different sort of trauma to the losses he’d suffered earlier. This next step meant that he’d lost everything else including his dignity, his health, and his position within society – he was even mocked by low-life people because of how far he’d fallen from God’s grace.
Additionally, he was constantly in pain which would have affected every physical movement and would likely have plagued his sleep. Lack of sleep and relentless pain alone can cause depression, but the added losses and indignities would have piled up upon his already low spirits.
He’d lived a good life and had tried to be obedient to God. When he was suffering so terribly, he questioned God, demanding a response from Him about what he’d done to deserve such harsh treatment. Doesn’t that sound a lot like what most of us would probably do in Job’s situation?
We can almost hear the anger and perhaps even a little touch of rebuke in his voice in Job 6:8-10:
“If only my one request were answered, if only God would grant me the fulfilment of my only hope: That God would be willing to crush me, to kill me, that God would release His hand and cut me off.
At least then I would have a crumb of consolation, one source of joy in the midst of this relentless agony: I never denied the words of the Holy One in my pain.” [Voice]
We can hardly blame or judge Job for feeling angry with God. In fact, that kind of a reaction has been around since the time of Cain and Abel, when Cain became angry upon God asking where his brother was.
We can still love God and feel angry and upset with Him. In fact, it really isn’t a surprising response when we’re obedient and go through difficulties and pain and don’t understand why we’re suffering.
Eventually God healed Job and restored his blessings including more children and wealth, and a long, healthy life.
For most of us though, restoration of good health, the return of our wealth, or a child or a partner to replace one we’ve lost, don’t usually happen, and our pain and suffering may remain with us.
Elijah was one of several people in the Bible who suffered depression. Here was a man that saw some incredible miracles including ravens sent by God to feed him when he was hungry; provision of food for himself, a widow and her son during a famine; and then Elijah raised the woman’s son from the dead after he passed away.
On another occasion he prayed to God to send fire down from heaven to burn up his sacrifice, to show His power to Baal’s prophets and to the Israelite people. The Israelites saw God’s power and were filled with fear, awe and wonder.
In the same chapter we read that he was able to supernaturally run faster than Ahab who’d left earlier in his chariot!
Despite all of those amazing miracles, he knew and trusted God, and yet Elijah sunk into a terrible depression, even seeking to die.
In 1 Kings 19:4 we read:
“He journeyed into the desert for one day and then decided to rest beneath the limbs of a broom tree. There he prayed that his life would be over quickly and that he would die there beneath the tree.
Elijah: I’m finished, Eternal One. Please end my life here and now, even though I have failed, and I am no better than my ancestors.” [Voice]
After he overcame his depression, Elijah continued in his work for God, and took on Elisha as his apprentice. Later, as his time on earth drew to a close we read in 2 Kings 2:11b:
“A blazing chariot pulled by blazing horses stormed down from the heavens and came between Elijah and Elisha. Then Elijah was swept up into heaven by the fiery storm.” [Voice]
God favoured Elijah so highly, that he took him straight up to heaven! Surely then we must consider that depression is no hindrance to being close to God, or for God to accept each of us completely, or for us to be able to do His work.
(e) Other Bible People
You may like to read about other Bible people who suffered depression, such as: Jeremiah; Hannah; Jonah; and Jesus.
The night before His crucifixion, Jesus spent time in prayer, His spirit in distress. While not necessarily depression, He was in extreme anguish so great, that he sweated drops of blood.)
Christians in History Who Suffered Depression
(a) C.S. Lewis
Most of us know Lewis’ work from his beloved Narnia series. Lewis, was a great Christian thinker who also wrote books on theology, and yet for such an intellectual who understood God so well, he suffered depression.
After his wife died of cancer, just three years after they married, he wrote of his experience, when he desired an answer or some kind of sign from God:
“…But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become.” (“A Grief Observed.”)
Lewis struggled to connect with God during his difficult days, to focus his heart and mind on God, just as many of us do. In his book, “A Grief Observed,” he said of his suffering:
“God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn’t. In this trial He makes us occupy the dock, the witness box, and the bench all at once. He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down.”
And when it seemed to him that God wasn’t responding:
“’Knock and it shall be opened.’ But does knocking mean hammering and kicking the door like a maniac?”
(b) Mother Teresa
The compassionate and caring nun, Mother Teresa is often presented to the world as an iconic image of supreme Christian service, of one who was content in her work, faithful in her service and unwavering in her devotion to God.
There was also the Mother Teresa that few of us know, who suffered depression and struggled to find God, especially during periods of dark despair, but her soul hungered for Him even when she didn’t sense His presence.
In her book “Come Be My Light,” (edited by Brian Kolodiejchuk, MC) she said:
“I want to smile even at Jesus and so hide if possible the pain and the darkness of my soul even from Him.”
And later she wrote:
“With regard to the feeling of loneliness, of abandonment, of not being wanted, of darkness of the soul, it is a state well known by spiritual writers and directors of conscience. This is willed by God in order to attach us to Him alone, an antidote to our external activities, and also, like temptation, a way of keeping us humble in the midst of applauses, publicity, praises, appreciation, etc. and success.”
(c) Other Christians in History Who Suffered Depression
Other well-known Christians who suffered depression included: Charles Dickens; Martin Luther; John Calvin; John Wesley; Handel; Emily Dickinson; Sir Isaac Newton; Charles Spurgeon; Pope Francis; Florence Nightingale; and many more.
Well-known Christians of Modern Times Who Suffered Depression
(a) Barbara Bush
The former first lady of the USA suffered terrible depression in the 1970s. According to a New York Times article, she sometimes had to stop her car on shoulders of the highway because she feared that:
“…she might deliberately crash the vehicle into a tree or an oncoming auto.”
(b) Joyce Meyer
Joyce was abused as a child which impacted on her emotional and mental development enormously, and led to her depression. In her article “Is it Really Possible to Beat Depression?”she said:
“I know what it’s like to be depressed. For many years I was unstable emotionally because of abuse that I experienced during most of my childhood. It caused me to be negative, critical, and easily discouraged. I used to believe that it was better not to expect anything good to happen to me because if nothing good happened, I wouldn’t be disappointed. But I was still miserable and had no peace.”
Joyce believes that we can allow depression to take hold of us, and that there are ways to stop it. She said:
“Depression begins with disappointment. When disappointment festers in our soul, it leads to discouragement.”
(c) Other Well-known Christians of Modern Times Who Have Suffered Depression
Jim Caviezel, the actor who played Jesus Christ in Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion of Christ” has suffered depression.
Others in this group include: John James (Newsboys); Sheila Walsh (singer and talk-show host); Tina Campbell (Mary Mary); Richard Smallwood (gospel music artist); Buzz Aldrin (astronaut); Lecrae (hip hop artist, record producer and actor); Kevin Sorbo (actor); Mel Gibson (actor, director and producer); and Ashley Judd (actor).
For each of us who suffer depression or other mental illnesses, our journey and our experiences may be different, but we are bonded together in a unified Christian experience.
We aren’t alone in our suffering. The similarities of our anguish, the deep depths of our depressions, the struggles of our condition, the unanswered, perplexing questions and even at times, silence from God show us by their similarity that God has found a way to stretch us and shape us, even sometime agonisingly, but purposefully into something more than we were before.
We may not see that we’ve changed for the better, or understand that the suffering that we bore began a transformation within us.
While in the midst of our struggles, sometimes we feel torn, broken, battered and weak with trembling, God isn’t unaware of the battle we are waging, He is not absent from us though His silence may make it seem that He is.
These troubling experiences and depression are another part of our journey. Perhaps we undergo this pain and suffering because there was something deep in us which God needed to change or to remove from us, which required such a forceful and intense experience.
When we take those final steps at the end of our human journey and find ourselves standing before God, instead of asking Him “Why?” our minds, hearts and soul will grasp it at last and we will say, “I understand.” [End]
“That’s the thing about depression: A human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it’s impossible to ever see the end. The fog is like a cage without a key.”
After Adam and Eve sinned, there were cast out of the garden of Eden, and realised their separation from God.
King David in prayer
Job and his friends
Elijah calling down fire from God
Jeremiah in the ruins of Jerusalem
Jesus and the crown of thorns
Sir Isaac Newton
[Voice] The Voice Bible Copyright © 2012 Thomas Nelson, Inc. The Voice™ translation © 2012 Ecclesia Bible Society All rights reserved.
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