Wishing They Were Dead: How to Handle Despair

I love the honesty of scripture. It’s not merely some clinical, “standard operating procedure” for how life works. It’s personal. It gives accounts of real people who suffered struggles of all varieties. And, as a result of these struggles, scripture gives us many examples of both individuals and masses of people who were wishing they were dead in order to escape what had plagued them. The interesting thing is, even those we would place in the highest regard, those who we would never expect to ever desire death over life, had also shared in this common mindset of despair at one time or another.


This struck me as I read through the book of Numbers. Here we see how the Israelites had had enough of life while wandering through the desert. Death was then (in their opinion), the better option…

Numbers 14:2 (CSB)
“All the Israelites complained about Moses and Aaron, and the whole community told them, “If only we had died in the land of Egypt, or if only we had died in this wilderness!”

This is not the only time in scripture where we see masses of people wishing they were dead. Take these examples in Revelation…

Revelation 6:15-17 (CSB)
“Then the kings of the earth, the nobles, the generals, the rich, the powerful, and every slave and free person hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains. And they said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb, because the great day of their wrath has come! And who is able to stand?””

Revelation 9:6 (CSB)
“In those days people will seek death and will not find it; they will long to die…”

The Bible even gives examples of people who not only wished they were dead, but who actually took matters into their own hands and committed suicide… Judas (Matthew 27:5), Saul and his armor bearer (1 Samuel 31:4-6), Zimri (1 Kings 16:18), and Samson (Judges 16:26-30).

The Spiritually Mature

Now, it’s one thing for a regular “Joe” to sometimes reach his wits end, to then conclude that not existing anymore would be a lot better than dealing with what he to has deal with in life. (I can certainly relate. I bet we all could.) But, what about the ones who we place in that higher regard? The ones who we consider to be the most spiritually mature?

This is Moses of all people, whom scripture describes as “No prophet has arisen again in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.” (Deuteronomy 34:10), crying out to God after being fed up with what he had to deal with…

Numbers 11:13-15 (CSB)
“Where can I get meat to give all these people? For they are weeping to me, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ I can’t carry all these people by myself. They are too much for me. If you are going to treat me like this, please kill me right now if I have found favor with you, and don’t let me see my misery anymore.”

And, he’s not the only one. Take, Job for instance. Scripture describes him with being on par with Noah and Daniel…

Ezekiel 14:14 (CSB)
“Even if these three men — Noah, Daniel, and Job — were in it, they would rescue only themselves by their righteousness.” This is the declaration of the Lord God.”

Yet, look at what he says during times of intense stress…

Job 3:1-7 (CSB)
“After this, Job began to speak and cursed the day he was born. He said:
May the day I was born perish,
and the night that said,
“A boy is conceived.”
If only that day had turned to darkness!
May God above not care about it,
or light shine on it.
May darkness and gloom reclaim it,
and a cloud settle over it.
May what darkens the day terrify it.
If only darkness had taken that night away!
May it not appear among the days of the year
or be listed in the calendar.
Yes, may that night be barren;
may no joyful shout be heard in it.”

Job 3:11-13 (CSB)
“Why was I not stillborn;
why didn’t I die as I came from the womb?
Why did the knees receive me,
and why were there breasts for me to nurse?
Now I would certainly be lying down in peace;
I would be asleep.
Then I would be at rest…”

Job 6:8-9 (CSB)
“If only my request would be granted
and God would provide what I hope for:
that he would decide to crush me,
to unleash his power and cut me off!”

Do you want other examples?

Here’s a minor prophet…

Jonah 4:3 (CSB)
“And now, Lord, take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

Jonah 4:8 (CSB)
“As the sun was rising, God appointed a scorching east wind. The sun beat down on Jonah’s head so much that he almost fainted, and he wanted to die. He said, “It’s better for me to die than to live.””

Here’s a major prophet…

Jeremiah 20:14-18 (CSB)
“May the day I was born
be cursed.
May the day my mother bore me
never be blessed.
May the man be cursed
who brought the news to my father, saying,
“A male child is born to you,”
bringing him great joy.
Let that man be like the cities
the Lord demolished without compassion.
Let him hear an outcry in the morning
and a war cry at noontime
because he didn’t kill me in the womb
so that my mother might have been my grave,
her womb eternally pregnant.
Why did I come out of the womb
to see only struggle and sorrow,
to end my life in shame?”

Here’s Elijah…

1 Kings 19:3-4 (CSB)
“Then Elijah became afraid and immediately ran for his life. When he came to Beer-sheba that belonged to Judah, he left his servant there, but he went on a day’s journey into the wilderness. He sat down under a broom tree and prayed that he might die. He said, “I have had enough! Lord, take my life, for I’m no better than my fathers.””

Here’s David…

2 Samuel 18:33 (CSB)
“The king was deeply moved and went up to the chamber above the city gate and wept. As he walked, he cried, “My son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you, Absalom, my son, my son!””

The Point

My point in bringing this subject up is to show that having thoughts of wishing we were dead is not only common, but it was even common amongst the ones we would deem as the most spiritually mature. Scripture’s honesty ought to give us solace in times of despair, because it reveals that we are not alone. Even Solomon, whom the Bible describes as the wisest person who ever lived…

1 Kings 4:29-31 (CSB)
“God gave Solomon wisdom, very great insight, and understanding as vast as the sand on the seashore. Solomon’s wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the people of the East, greater than all the wisdom of Egypt. He was wiser than anyone — wiser than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, Calcol, and Darda, sons of Mahol. His reputation extended to all the surrounding nations.”

…also contemplated these things. Here’s what he wrote…

Ecclesiastes 4:1-3 (CSB)
“Again, I observed all the acts of oppression being done under the sun. Look at the tears of those who are oppressed; they have no one to comfort them. Power is with those who oppress them; they have no one to comfort them. So I commended the dead, who have already died, more than the living, who are still alive. But better than either of them is the one who has not yet existed, who has not seen the evil activity that is done under the sun.”

Later he went on, but added a point about hope…

Ecclesiastes 9:1-6 (CSB)
“Indeed, I took all this to heart and explained it all: The righteous, the wise, and their works are in God’s hands. People don’t know whether to expect love or hate. Everything lies ahead of them. Everything is the same for everyone: There is one fate for the righteous and the wicked, for the good and the bad, for the clean and the unclean, for the one who sacrifices and the one who does not sacrifice. As it is for the good, so also it is for the sinner; as it is for the one who takes an oath, so also for the one who fears an oath. This is an evil in all that is done under the sun: there is one fate for everyone. In addition, the hearts of people are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live; after that they go to the dead. But there is hope for whoever is joined with all the living, since a live dog is better than a dead lion. For the living know that they will die, but the dead don’t know anything. There is no longer a reward for them because the memory of them is forgotten. Their love, their hate, and their envy have already disappeared, and there is no longer a portion for them in all that is done under the sun.”

The Solution

In times of despair, we (Christians) must remind ourselves that we are joined with all the living, that we are in Christ, who is our hope. As Paul said in his opening to 1 Timothy…

1 Timothy 1:1b (CSB)
“…Christ Jesus our hope…”

Believe it or not, even the Apostle Paul and company had also dealt with despair to the point of wishing they were dead. How they handled it though illustrates how we ought to approach these same feelings. In such times we must not give in, but realize why we are in such situations…

2 Corinthians 1:8-9 (CSB)
“For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.

There is an encouraging account given in the book of Acts where Paul and Silas not only stop a man from committing suicide, but they also gave him the Gospel, leading to the salvation of both him and his household. May it encourage you in your times of despair…

Acts 16:25-34 (CSB)
“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the jail were shaken, and immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s chains came loose. When the jailer woke up and saw the doors of the prison standing open, he drew his sword and was going to kill himself, since he thought the prisoners had escaped.
But Paul called out in a loud voice, “Don’t harm yourself, because we’re all here! ”
The jailer called for lights, rushed in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. He escorted them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved? ”
They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved — you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him along with everyone in his house. He took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds. Right away he and all his family were baptized. He brought them into his house, set a meal before them, and rejoiced because he had come to believe in God with his entire household.

Godspeed, to the brethren!

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