Ready for a difficult thought? You know the good life you are seeking? Come on, you know the one. The one just around the corner. The one that only requires 1 big lottery win, the prefect spouse, accomplished children, or maybe just that next promotion. Now I think you know what I mean. We all can envision the good life that is just a little bit further away. But does this good life exist? John D. Rockefeller was the first American billionaire and if you count for inflation he would easily be one of the richest people of all time. My dad used to tell me when asked, “How much money is enough?” He responded, “Just a little bit more.” The point is….the “good” life as you may see it is never coming. It all depends on perspective and all to often we miss the joy in that is available to us because we are searching for joy elsewhere. However, sometimes joy is more illusive when our brain chemistry is altered beyond the typical ups and downs of life. If you are suffering a momentary down or long term depression rest assured that even though the “good” life won’t be achieved reality actually offers comfort and truth that is far better then our imaginations can invent.
A Pain by All Means
The rest of this post will deal with the difficult topic of depression and suicide. When I even mention that topic I’m sure we all have a few celebrity names come to mind. And for those less fortunate perhaps close friends or family have faced these struggles or given in to the darkness of suicide. Before moving forward with a Biblical look at this subject I want to clear up a couple things from a Christian perspective. First, there is no biblical basis for the claim that suicidal individuals end up in hell or purgatory. Second, Christian approaches that reject the mere possibility of medication as one component for treatment are rejecting the 1 Corinthian command to honor your body as a temple. How are you to honor God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength if your mind is diseased and your strength is diminished? Don’t get me wrong these topics could be articles in themselves but they are common questions and misconceptions that deserved to briefly be addressed for Christians and non-Christians alike. With that out of the way I want to look at what we can learn from the Bible on the topic of depression and suicide. My hope is maybe this article will eventually point someone in the direction of these scriptures because they have been a great comfort to me in some of my darker moments.
King David was Israel’s 2nd king. He had a life filled with ups and downs beyond what most of us can imagine. He faced the Philistine champion Goliath as just a young man. Eventually as his popularity grew the prior king (and his best friend’s father) feared he would take over and hunted him with murderous intent. Years later during his own leadership he made poor decisions that resulted in the deaths of innocents. He made foolish decisions and yet he was “a man after God’s own heart." And yet he felt the depths of pain and despair. Take a look at this from Psalm 6;
Or Psalm 13
1How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
3 Consider and answer me, O LORD my God;
light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
Or Psalm 22
I don’t know about you but I hear a lot of pain. The pain of someone whose hurts run as deep as yours and mine. Yet, David’s Psalms are filled with hope as well….the hope he found in God’s promises. Psalm 23 perfectly sums this up;
6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
And David experienced much pain over the rest of his life as well. However, just because things didn’t go as David wanted doesn’t negate that he was able to trust the Lord through his good and bad times knowing that it all would work together for the good in the end. You could go on and explore Ecclesiastes and the writing or ruminations on king Solomon (David's son) and explore further the burden depression can play across multiple generations.
A little background before diving in. Elijah was a prophet of God who was present during one of the many times that Israel was knee deep in apostasy. He led the charge against the prophets of Baal (a Canaanite deity). He mocked these prophets as they failed again and again trying to summon their god. He delivered a crushing victory as Yahweh showed himself by lighting a water drench sacrifice. And the people of Israel slaughtered the false prophets (read all about it in 1 Kings chapter 18). However, this victory was short lived as he was fled into the wilderness as the “queen” started hunting down prophets. Despite his victory a low point was just around the corner as we see in chapter 19.
4But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”5And he lay down and slept under a broom tree.
Ever been so down sleep seemed the only escape? I have. And so has Elijah
Jonah might have been the most reluctant prophet in all Israel. Archaeological evidence is most lacking for Jonah compared to all the other individuals mentioned in this post. However, the psychological realism of his story adds some credence to it’s plausibility. So Jonah was called to spread the gospel with a wicked city but ran the other way instead. When the ship was nearly destroyed by a storm Jonah’s own disregard for his life shown through.
11Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea grew more and more tempestuous. 12He said to them, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.”
Now, given the cowardice before the Lord before I have a hard time seeing this as bravery. Following this with have the whole incident with the fish and his eventual preaching to Nineveh where they miraculously repent of their sinful behavior. But Jonah was not happy that things had not gone as expected;
1But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. 2And he prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.3Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
Jonah’s struggles continued as he wished the same again over an incident with a plant. I highly suggest the full reading of the whole (short) book.
Finally, I don’t think we can end this discussion without a brief look at Jesus. Particularly in Matthew 26 as Jesus prays in the garden.
37And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” 39And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” 40And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? 41Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 42Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.
But that’s not all. At the cross in Mark 15 we see Him quote David;
34And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
We find though that people here thought he was calling for Elijah;
35And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” 36And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” 37And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last.
In Matthew chapter 16 verse 4 Jesus, a son of David, declares that the only “sign” he will give is that of Jonah. A death, and resurrection 3 days later. Despite all the truth and knowledge Jesus held for God’s plan the bounds of an earthly mind still crushed His spirit as only depression can do.
Only Christianity offers a God who not only understands the human mind but has “been there, done that” He experienced the fullness of human emotion and yet faced it boldly. Depression is never easy, no matter what the cause. And sadly many will end their lives as they see their walls closing in. There is hope though, not hope for the “good” life. No, Christianity offers hope for a genuine life, a life that corresponds to reality. Paul shares with us in Philippians 1;
20as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.
Our hope is not in what is to come next but instead our victory is in the running of the race itself. We hope not on the things of this world but our duty is in the race. And for Non-Christians, if any of you are still with me, I hope you can see the hope that we share. There is a God who knows what you are experiencing. Because He faced it Himself.