4 Biblical Heroes Who Can Inspire Christians with Depression
Depression is something that just eats you alive.
It gnaws at you, until you feel overwhelmed with guilt, and even basic life functions seem difficult to carry out.
In my own personal life, when dealing with depression, the comparison game plays a dangerous role. Especially as a woman, I’ll see other women who seem more accomplished or who seem unburdened by worries and sorrow. I often find myself wishing I could look more like them.
Especially women believers can often feel a heavy pressure to set an example for everyone in our lives, our children, our spouses, etc., and depression does little to ease this weight off our shoulders.
This article will explore 4 biblical illustrations of heroes who’d entered times of great despair and the examples they showed on how they dealt with such moments of deep anguish.
First of all, does the Bible have anything to say about depression?
Although the word depression didn’t exist during the Old or New Testament, we can see different authors and people mentioned who experienced moments of intense desolation. Whether they had such feelings for a moment, or for months, they often had a phrase for comparing what they felt: they had entered the depths of Sheol (Psalm 88:3).
In essence, they feel as though they’re at the gates of Hell or at death’s door.
Depression can often resemble that. Those who have it often feel as if something inside of them is dead or as though circumstances will never, ever improve.
Although Scripture does not have the explicit word “depression,” we can see from these heroes that they experienced some very real symptoms.
Hero 1: Ruth
You often don’t find Ruth listed among “people in the Bible who experienced depression” if you do a simple Google search--but no doubt about it, Ruth had moments of hopelessness.
Living with Judeans, not her own people, Ruth’s first husband dies (Ruth 1:5). During that time, women had difficulty earning livings on their own, and often married very young, so Ruth was very vulnerable to hardship without a husband. To escalate matters, her embittered mother-in-law tells her that she is leaving Moab to go back to her own land and tells Ruth to stay behind without her.
Ruth decides to accompany Naomi to Bethlehem and follow God, although both the country and deity were unfamiliar to her. Now with no husband and a mother-in-law who cannot work, Ruth sets out to get whatever scraps of grain she can in the fields where they settle.
How we can learn from Ruth: Ruth had a scary set of circumstances. Now in a foreign land without a husband, she had every opportunity to grieve, become embittered, and return home to worship the gods her people worshipped. But she decides to serve her mother-in-law and work, even when she doesn’t see an immediate payout or prospect in the future.
Of course, God shows up and blesses her faithfulness. But Ruth didn’t foresee she would meet her second husband in the field she gleaned from that would take care of her and Naomi. She didn’t immediately see how God was going to provide for them. From Ruth, we can learn how to trust God, even during terrible moments of tragedy.
Scripture passage: Ruth 1-2
Hero 2: David
You cannot talk about depression without bringing up King David.
David had a rough go of things throughout his time from shepherding to becoming King of Israel. Constantly on the run from a jealous King Saul, a son who wanted to usurp his throne, and facing threats from Israel’s enemies, he often didn’t see a way out of Sheol.
In verses such as Psalm 38:4, Psalm 42:11, and Psalm 88:3 we can see the depths of his despair. He feels an enormous amount of gnawing guilt and hopelessness. He uses words like overwhelmed, heavy burden, downcast, disturbed, troubles, and death. Isn’t that what depression feels like?
Nevertheless, in each of the passages he cries out to God, he reminds himself of his hope in the Lord. Even when moments seem most dire, he acknowledges God has come through in the past and will do so in the future.
How we can learn from David: David knew troubled times and didn’t hold back. We can learn to be honest and open with God. He is not ashamed of our depression or feelings of despair, and He wants to hear from us. We can also learn how to remind ourselves to hope in God’s promises. Even though we feel, in the moment, that circumstances can never improve, we can remember how God came through in the past and how He has never failed us yet.
Hero 3: Job
In one fell swoop, Job lost almost his entire family, his home, and his good health. Now covered in festering boils, he has only his friends and his wife to comfort him. Except, they don’t. His wife tells him to curse God and die, and his friends keep telling him these tragedies wouldn’t have happened if Job didn’t sin.
But…Job hadn’t sinned.
Still, Job continually puts his hope in the Lord and does not waver in his faith. In the end, God replenishes his health and his family, double-fold. Job had no indication God would do this, but he continued to believe in his plan, nevertheless.
How we can learn from Job: Job has quite a few lessons packed into the forty-some chapters in the book. First, we can learn that our friends’ advice regarding our depression or moments of sorrow, while well-meaning, may not always be the best or most right thing for us to hear in the moment. We need to always check everything against Scripture. Often, those who don’t have depression don’t know how exactly to respond to someone who does, and they can say something hurtful or wrong without intending to. In those moments, we can learn to have patience and grace with our friends as we trust their good intentions while not taking their mistaken thinking to heart.
Second, we can also learn to love and praise God no matter what the circumstances, like Job does. It’s easy to sing songs of praises when our families are in good health, our depression seems to have taken a hiatus, and finances seem secure. But as soon as we lose any or all of these things, we, like Job, need to continue to glorify our Lord and believe in his good character. Like a son who doesn’t understand why his dad did something, but trusts in his love anyway, Job didn’t depend on his circumstances improving to trust in God’s heart for him. God blessed his faithfulness abundantly.
Scripture passage: Job 1
Hero 4: Jesus
It may seem like a shock that the Lord of the Universe could ever experience something like depression, but in the Garden of Gethsemane, he was sorrowful to the point of death (Matthew 26:38). That sounds similar to the sadness that consumes me every day.
Even though Jesus knew the Father’s plan and was willing to carry it out, and he knew about the resurrection, he still struggled with deep, deep anguish. It worsened even to the point where he sweat droplets of blood.
Nevertheless, he goes forward with the plan for salvation. Even though his future in the next few hours seemed bleak, he proceeded with the journey set before him, to offer a way for us to have a personal relationship with God.
How we can learn from Jesus: Sometimes, whether during a depressed episode or just in general, the future seems bleak. We ask for God to take away this cup before us, or this thorn in our side, but he does not take it away. From Jesus’ example, we can learn to trust God, even when the future looks horrendous. We know, in the end, God will make all wrong things right, and will wipe away every tear from our eyes. We also learn that it’s okay to feel negative emotions about our circumstances, even as we trust God. Jesus had the power to know exactly, step-by-step, how everything was going to happen and how God would deliver him, but he still allowed himself to be sad. We can allow this of ourselves, too.
Scripture passage: Matthew 26
What can we learn from all of these heroes?
Even if they didn’t experience depression in the sense we know it, the Bible has several examples of very real people who had very real anguish and sorrow. Through all this pain and weariness, they chose to praise God.
They continued to trust in God’s plan, even when it seemed as though they’d hit a dead end. Ruth had no promise of a future husband and now how to earn a living in a foreign land at the Old Testament equivalent of a minimum wage job.
David, although promised to be King of Israel, experienced a great deal of fleeing for his life, familial trauma, and loss of loved ones such as his baby, his best friend, and his son who tried to usurp him. Still, he trusted in God’s plan. Job had lost his family and health, and it seemed for the majority of the book that God had gone silent, and even Jesus felt the depths of despair.
Nevertheless, they heroes remained loyal in their faith and praised God, even when they felt like doing the complete opposite. We are empowered to do the same.
Hope Bolinger is a literary agent at C.Y.L.E. and a recent graduate of Taylor University's professional writing program. More than 350 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer's Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her column "Hope's Hacks," tips and tricks to avoid writer's block, reaches 6,000+ readers weekly and is featured monthly on Cyle Young's blog. Her modern-day Daniel, Blaze, (Illuminate YA) just released, and they contracted the sequel for 2020. Find out more about her here.
Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Diana Vargas
Hope Bolinger is a literary agent at C.Y.L.E. and a graduate of Taylor University's professional writing program. More than 600 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer's Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her column "Hope's Hacks," tips and tricks to avoid writer's block, reaches 6,000+ readers weekly and is featured monthly on Cyle Young's blog. Her modern-day Daniel, Blaze, (Illuminate YA) Den (releasing July 2020), Dear Hero (releasing September 2020), and Dear Henchman (releasing 2021) Find out more about her here.