Depressed People Of the Bible: Jonah, A Classic Example

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September 2023

   Jonah was told to speak to a city filled with people who would have no problem killing him. The army of Nineveh may have been responsible for the deaths or capture and enslavement of people Jonah knew, perhaps even relatives of Jonah.

   Jonah responded to his fears and boarded a ship going in the opposite direction. They experienced such a violent storm that tough, experienced sailors feared for their lives. They cried out to their gods and cast their cargo overboard. Throughout all this, Jonah was sleeping.

   How could Jonah sleep with all that noise from the wind, rain, thunder, sailors crying out, and running around the ship hauling, dragging, and throwing large pieces of cargo around? Jonah was in a deep depression and slept through it all in the dark bottom of the ship. Even if he did awaken, he might have thought to himself, “Good, if this ship sinks, at least this emotional pain will end.”

   Have you ever been so despondent that all you wanted to do was hide in a dark room or to isolate yourself from other people? Have you ever dipped so far down that you no longer cared about your life or the safety of others? Have you ever been so depressed that all you could do was sleep? If so, then you can relate to Jonah.

   Jonah told the sailors, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will become calm for you. For I know that this great tempest is because of me.”

   Jonah saw the storm as a punishment, as opposed to being sent by a loving God who valued Jonah and did not want him to run away from Him. In this state of depression and without faith in a loving God, Jonah became suicidal.

   You might be going through a tempest in your life right now, and it might be in part because of choices you have made. If that is the case, God did not send the tempest to punish you, He allowed it to draw you to Him, to get you back on course. He allowed it not because He is angry, but because He loves you. He values you. He has a plan and a purpose for you.

   Jonah must have forgotten how God accepted repentance. He seemed to think the only way to stop the storm was by his death.

   The sailors resisted, but finally gave in and tossed him overboard. God did not let Jonah off the hook; He used a fish to catch Jonah. A fish’s belly is likely one of the darkest places. Jonah did something to bring himself out of the depression. He made a good decision. He accepted God’s love and cried out to the Lord. 

   The fish spit Jonah out on dry land. Jonah went to Nineveh and their hearts were softened. God did not destroy the city. He accepted their repentance. This “displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry.” Jonah began to accept God’s love for him and became outwardly obedient, but he did not receive God’s love to the point of being able to forgive and love others.

   Jonah again became suicidal — he said, “It is right for me to be angry, even to death!” 

   We can demonstrate anger with hurtful words or actions, or we can hold the anger in and it can lead to sadness and depression. Sadness and anger, as a result of bitterness, are two sides of the same coin. Whether you have allowed bitterness to become bursts of rage or self-pity and depression, you are the only one who can reverse the cycle by choosing to allow God to give you the ability to rise above the wrong that someone else has done.

   The financial term “debt forgiven,” indicates a debt is absolved and does not have to be repaid. This is not biblical forgiveness. When a wrong is done to us, we can be forgiving and at the same time still expect the offender to pay back the debt, make the wrong right, lose privileges, be put in jail, or receive the appropriate discipline and punishment for the wrong they did. Even when God forgives us, He does not just wipe out the debt. The debt must be paid. By both the Messiah’s death for us, and our death to self.

   By forgiving we are calling out their wrong. We do not forgive someone for doing something good, we only forgive people for doing something bad. Forgiveness does not mean, “It’s okay.” Forgiveness does not mean we will or that they should “Forget it.” No, both we and they need to remember and learn from that wrong so that it is not repeated against us or against anyone else. 

   Forgiveness is the recognition that God is stronger than the people who have wounded us, stronger than the past. Choosing to forgive — giving the frustration, anger, and hurt over to God — brings healing to us.

   Learn more about Jonah, forgiveness, and other depressed people of the Bible in the book Depressed People of the Bible.”

Author’s Disclaimer: The information I will be sharing is not intended for diagnosis or treatment of depression. It is a biblical reflection on people throughout the Scriptures who dealt with depression and how God carried them through it to healing and purpose.

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