When we face mental health struggles, it’s easy to feel isolated and lonely - like we’re the only ones experiencing the pain and uncertainty of our situation. But humans have been wrestling with the world of mental health far longer than we may realize - going back to biblical times. In fact, some of the Bible stories you probably already know include aspects of mental health that you may have missed.
Check out and explore 4 Bible stories that can give us a new or extended perspective on the world of mental health and the sovereignty of God.
David - Pride, Family Issues, and Depression
Read: 2 Samuel 11-13
David’s story is a complex one - he goes from being the young man who kills the giant Goliath, to the prideful king who sends his mistress’s husband to be killed after he accidentally conceives a child with her. So it’s no surprise that David’s story is filled with mental anguish and struggle that stem from pride, familial issues, and bouts of depression.
We can find the bulk of David’s hardships in 2 Samuel - when he lusts after Bathsheba, a married woman. In 2 Samuel 11-13 we learn of the pride and power that David possesses and how he uses it to take what he wants, and then to try to cover up his mistakes. He ends up sending Bathsheba’s husband to his death, losing his infant son that he conceives with Bathsheba, and then losing his other son after that son rapes his own half-sister.
We see the mental anguish that David is going through as he cries out to God in the Psalms - Psalm 38 and Psalm 42 are examples of his state of mind. But even in his worst moments, and especially in his days of mental struggles and depressive states, David was loved by God and used to do great things. Although David’s story is a sad one, he is a prime example of the fact that it’s never too late to cry out to God in our times of grief or mental struggle. He can always use who we are now, regardless of what we’ve done in our past.
Naomi - Death of A Loved One and Bitterness
Read: Ruth 1-4
The story of Naomi is found in the story of another prominent biblical character - Ruth. But the part that Naomi plays in the book of Ruth is one that sheds light on the kind of mental anguish that comes from losing loved ones and facing extreme bitterness.
In the book of Ruth, we read that Naomi’s husband and both of her sons die, and she’s left as a widow with no real family in a land that is not her own. This causes her to feel that God is dealing with her bitterly - she even asks people to start calling her “Mara” which means bitter. It’s as if Naomi begins to see her entire existence through a lens of grief and loss, unable to see the meaning in who she is or why she’s been left to live out her days.
But throughout her story we read about how her daughter-in-law, Ruth, chooses to love and care for Naomi, even in her darkest days. And through this love Ruth builds an even stronger relationship between herself and Naomi, eventually giving Naomi a reason to carry on.
Naomi’s story has an especially joyful ending, in which she becomes part of the lineage of Jesus. But it’s not without wrestling with why God would allow so much pain and suffering in her life that she arrives at that part of her story. Even in the parts of our stories that bring struggles, anxiety, and hopelessness, we know that God is always working and that his plans are greater than anything we can hope for.
Jonah - Disappointment, Failure, and Stubbornness
Read: Jonah 1-4
It can sometimes be hard to think past the giant fish in the story of Jonah - but have you ever taken time to read through his story, only to discover that it doesn’t have a very happy ending? In fact, if you read the final verses in Jonah, you might think you’ve missed something. His story ends abruptly, and bitterly, with Jonah’s last words being exclaimed in contempt and anger.
So what can Jonah’s story reveal to us in terms of mental health? In the book of Jonah we can see that both emotionally and literally, Jonah is in a deep and dark place. God asks him to complete a task to further his Kingdom, and Jonah literally turns and runs the opposite direction. His excuse is that the people God wants him to speak to don’t deserve God’s mercy - and instead of coming to terms with the fact that none of us - not even Jonah himself - live up to the standard that Jonah has apparently set for receiving God’s mercy, he spends his time fleeing God’s calling and ends up in the belly of a fish - or a literal sea monster.
This mental anguish that Jonah is struggling with may seem childish and ignorant to us, but it’s just another instance of God showing mercy and deliverance to each one of us when our tendency to be human gets in the way. God pursued Jonah even though he ran from God. From the belly of this fish, we read the prayers of anguish and remorse that Jonah anxiously prays. He seems to learn his lesson and gets spit out onto land, and he seems to cooperate with preaching to the Ninevites. At the end of the book, however, Jonah embraces his bitterness and contempt for the very people he is supposed to be reaching.
Despite Jonah’s disobedience, his disappointment, and his failure, God rescued him from the depths of the sea, and even in Jonah’s bitterness and refusal to cooperate and see the big picture, God uses his story to speak to us today.
Job - Hopelessness, Loss, and Anguish
Read: Job 1-42
The story of Job is a tough read. But we know from the beginning that Job is “upright” and “blameless” - that he’s a man of God and possesses deep integrity. We also know from the beginning that Satan wants to test these qualities of Job and see if he remains upright and blameless in his devotion to God even in the midst of terrible loss and deep sorrow. So it’s no surprise that we watch Job experience anguish in many forms, including the death of his children and servants, loss of property, and bodily sores.
The interesting part of Job’s story for us is how God responds to Job’s anguish. Job curses the day he was born, likens his life to prolonging misery, and even wishes for death. Job's friends try to comfort him by suggesting reasons for his suffering. Job is stubbornly defiant and his questions are our questions: 'What have I done? Why is God punishing me?' The most difficult part of the book is when God answers Job with a series of blistering questions that Job can't answer. God replaces Job's stubbornness with humility - 'How can we as humans begin to explain the actions of God?'"
It’s in this sudden outburst from God that Job’s suffering is put into perspective - God doesn’t enjoy seeing us suffer, but our suffering is not the whole story. God has plans that are bigger and go further than our anguish, and when we realize that he is the ultimate authority, it can put our suffering into perspective.
At the end of Job’s story, God blesses him with his health back, twice the amount of property as he had before, more children, and allows him to live a long life. But the point of Job’s story isn’t that God “makes up” for the pain Job suffered - it’s that he has the power to give, take away, and give again.
If you’re looking for additional resources on mental health check out:
4 Ways to Help a Family Member Who Struggles with AnxietyTop 5 LCBC Messages on Mental HealthContact our Care TeamMental Health Resources
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