King David, the warrior poet who united the ancient clans of Israel, suffered from major depression. A heavy spirit weighed him down. He was fatigued and had no energy, yet he found it hard to sleep. His speech was littered with sighs, his face downcast. He laid in bed all the time, lethargic. He felt guilty and alone.
What was causing David’s depression?
David was suffering from a guilty conscience. Mental health professionals often dismiss or minimize guilt as a cause for depression. But as we read in the story of Cain, depression (from a Biblical perspective) often serves as a warning for deeper, more dangerous problems.
David’s problem was that he had an affair with a married woman and he conspired, successfully, to have her husband murdered. He then married her to cover up her blooming pregnancy. Instead of honeymooning, David spiralled into a dark melancholy.
David tried to hide from his guilt. He believed that if he covered all his bases, no one would find out he had sinned. He thought he could get away with it. But as you can see, he wasn’t getting away with anything. The guilt of his crime was making him sick.
What lifted David’s depression?
One of my favorite passages in the Bible is the confrontation between the prophet Nathan and David. It is the classic bait and switch.
BAIT: Nathan tells a story. “A rich man and a poor man lived in the same town. The rich man owned a lot of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had only one little lamb that he had bought and raised. The lamb became a pet for him and his children. He even let it eat from his plate and drink from his cup and sleep on his lap. The lamb was like one of his own children. One day someone came to visit the rich man, but the rich man didn’t want to kill any of his own sheep or cattle and serve it to the visitor. So he stole the poor man’s little lamb and served it instead.” (CEV)
Remembering his days as a shepherd, David is furious! “I swear to God, this rich man deserves the death penalty for what he did. And, he should pay the poor man four times what the lamb was worth.”
SWITCH: “You are the rich man, David!” Nathan accuses. He then details David’s sins. “You murdered Uriah the Hittite by having the Ammonites kill him, so you could take his wife.”
David thought he could protect himself by covering up his sinful actions. But, unconfessed guilt festers. It is only when the guilt is lanced and splayed open, that healing can begin. The first step out of depression, in the case of a guilty conscience, is confession.
“So I confessed my sins, and told them all to you. I said, ‘I’ll tell the LORD each one of my sins.’ Then you forgave me and took away my guilt. Happy is the man who is forgiven!” Psalm 32
Not all of us have a personal prophet to slice our sins bare as David did. But, we have his example and our own conscience. If you are feeling guilty and depressed, will you allow the prick of guilt to prod you to confess it? Happy is the woman whose guilt is erased.