A Spirit of Heaviness

To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified.

(Isaiah 61:3) KJV

Is depression in the Bible? If you go to church, particularly a conservative one where the Bible is preached and taught, you’ve probably heard a preacher say something like: “every life situation you can imagine is in the Bible.” It may be stated as this way:

“Whatever you’re facing in life, whatever you’re dealing with, whatever your personal struggles are, they’re all in the Bible. The Bible is where you can go to find help and comfort for whatever you’re dealing with.”

– Widely promoted Christian belief

What about depression? Is depression in the Bible?

Off the top of my head it would be hard to think of a passage that talks about depression. That is, until I found one while I was doing my normal, routine Bible reading. In my teaching I frequently emphasize the importance of daily Bible reading. I advocate starting at the beginning and reading through to the end. It’s the only way to know what’s in it. You don’t need any fancy reading guide, and you certainly don’t need a chronological Bible, just start at the beginning and go to the end. If you read 3 chapters a day and 5 chapters on Sunday you will read the whole Bible in a year. I recently decided to read the whole Bible again but I wanted to go much faster than usual. I decided to read 10 chapters a day and get all of the way through in less than 6 months.

Something that you will notice when you read the Bible is that there are times when it seems as if your eyes are just passing over the words. The words don’t connect with anything and it’s impossible to understand what it means. Don’t let this put you off. It’s necessary. I think it’s one way in which God finds out how serious you are about getting to know him.

I’ve read Isaiah chapter 61 about 20 times in my life. My most recent read was the first time I can remember seeing the phrase “spirit of heaviness.” It occurred to me that this is what depression feels like. When you feel heavy, weighed down. It makes you unmotivated. You just want to lie down and think about all of your woes. Even moving around takes so much effort.

When we look to see what we can find out about the spirit of heaviness, we see the same Hebrew word is used numerous times in Leviticus in the diagnosis of leprosy. It refers to the scar of leprosy fading as it heals. It’s used to describe smoking flax, when the flame is extinguished and the trails of smoke linger.

A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth. He shall not fail nor be discouraged, till he have set judgment in the earth: and the isles shall wait for his law.

(Isaiah 42:3-4) KJV

The flame is extinguished and all that’s left is a wisp of smoke. It’s a little sad. Discouraged. Disappointed. This is worth more follow-up.

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