There are many examples of depression from the life of David, who may have had a tendency toward depression that many of God’s children have experienced over the years. Many of his psalms deal with this very issue in one way or another, but we will limit our focus to just two of them.
NKJ Psalm 6:1-10 “O LORD, do not rebuke me in Your anger, nor chasten me in Your hot displeasure. 2 Have mercy on me, O LORD, for I am weak; O LORD, heal me, for my bones are troubled. 3 My soul also is greatly troubled; but You, O LORD – how long? 4 Return, O LORD, deliver me! Oh, save me for Your mercies’ sake! 5 For in death there is no remembrance of You; in the grave who will give You thanks? 6 I am weary with my groaning; all night I make my bed swim; I drench my couch with my tears. 7 My eye wastes away because of grief; it grows old because of all my enemies. 8 Depart from me, all you workers of iniquity; for the LORD has heard the voice of my weeping. 9 The LORD has heard my supplication; the LORD will receive my prayer. 10 Let all my enemies be ashamed and greatly troubled; let them turn back and be ashamed suddenly.”
Here we see that the cause for David’s depression in this instance was mainly the bad treatment he was receiving from others. He refers to those who are abusing him as “workers of iniquity” (vs. 8) and “enemies” (vs. 10). He doesn’t tell us what they were doing to make his life so miserable, but miserable he surely was (vs. 3)! In fact, we have here not only the typical weeping that comes with depression (vss. 6-8), but also the physical symptoms that may accompany it (vs. 2).
This psalm really hit home with me because a great deal of the depression I had experienced early in my life had to do with the mistreatment I received from others. But, sadly, I did not discover what David knew until I was twenty years old, namely that I could find help from God through praise and prayer. But this is what David discovered, isn’t it? For isn’t this psalm both praise and prayer? In it David calls out to God for help and also expresses confidence that God will indeed answer him (vss. 8-9). So here again we have the most basic answer for depression – simple trust in the Lord, a trust in Him that gives us confidence to open our hearts to Him.
This psalm also shows us the importance of sharing our troubles with other people. After all, this psalm was written by David to be sung by others. How sad it is, then, when believers keep their depression all bottled up inside, instead of sharing it with God and His people.
Let’s turn our attention next to Psalm 32:
NKJ Psalm 32:1-5 “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. 2 Blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. 3 When I kept silent, my bones grew old through my groaning [שְׁאָגָה, sheagah, literally roaring as of a lion, but here with the sense of bawling or groaning] all the day long. 4 For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was turned into the drought of summer. Selah 5 I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,’ and You forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah”
Here the obvious reason for David’s depression was guilt due to unconfessed sin. Notice several effects of this guilt in verses 3-4.
First, David had not only emotional effects (“groaning,” vs. 3), but also physical effects (“my bones grew old,” vs. 3; “my vitality was turned into the drought of summer,” vs. 4b) from unconfessed sin.
Second, David was continually plagued by the unconfessed sin and the accompanying symptoms (“day and night,” vs. 4a).
Third, David had these ailments and depression as a result of God’s discipline (“Your hand was heavy upon me,” vs.4a).
This means that depression accompanied by physical symptoms, or in combination with physical ailments, whether they are experienced together – as in David’s case – or not, can be due to the discipline of the Lord. For other Scriptural examples of God’s discipline, consider the following passages:
NKJ 1 Corinthians 11:26-30 “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes. 27 Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. 30 For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep.”
If God can discipline through sickness, weakness, and even death, then He can certainly do so through depression, can’t He? I believe so. In fact, I think this was the very thing David experienced due to unconfessed sin.
NKJ James 5:14-15 “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.”
Notice that James assumes that sickness may be due to sin in a person’s life. But if this is so, then it should be seen as discipline from the Lord, shouldn’t it? This is certainly what David discovered. In fact, his unconfessed sin led to both physical ailment and depression. And this may be true of many depressed people today as well. If so, then they should also be encouraged that this is a sign of God’s love for them, as the author of Hebrews teaches:
NKJ Hebrews 12:5-8 “And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: ‘My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; 6 For whom the LORD loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.’ [Prov. 3:11-12] 7 If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? 8 But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons.”
If you are experiencing depression because of unconfessed sin or due to God’s discipline, then you need to remember not to get discouraged and think that it is a sign that God does not love you. Actually, it is a sign of the very opposite! It is a sign of His great Fatherly love, because of which He will apply the discipline you need.
I wonder how many of us may be struggling with depression or some physical ailment due to a stubborn refusal to deal with our sins by confessing them to the Lord and receiving His Forgiveness. And I wonder how many of us in such a condition can deny that it is pride that keeps us from calling out to Him in repentance as we should? So again we see that depression is often bound up with pride.