Was King David Bipolar?

I am not a medical doctor with a degree in psychiatry and King David is not available for extensive medical testing, so I cannot say with certainty that he was bipolar. However, it is clear that he was a passionate person with extreme emotional highs and lows. Scripture details accounts of his amazing victories as well as his searing defeats. When surrendered to God, His passions were correctly channeled and he experienced great triumph. Alternatively, when he succumbed to his sinful desires, his downfalls were disheartening. His disposition and personality can be fairly accurately assessed not only through his life decisions, but through the psalms he composed.

Personality tests and temperament assessments have existed for decades, and now through social media are readily accessible for anyone with a few minutes to spare. In the 1980’s one popular test categorized individuals into one of four personalities—Choleric, Sanguine, Melancholy, or Phlegmatic. The names of these four personality types were adopted from Galen, an ancient Greek physician who believed that humans consisted of one of four substances that produced certain dispositions and disease.

Medical science has advanced significantly since Galen, and yet still we reference some of his original findings regarding these four temperaments. For those that may not be familiar with these temperaments here’s a very brief overview: The Choleric is a strong personality, stubborn, unyielding, with natural leadership ability; he can be demanding and often intimidating; The Sanguine is the life-of-the-party extrovert, with a generally happy disposition; The Melancholy is more of an introvert—dark, brooding, sensitive and creative; and The Phlegmatic is the easy-going, never excitable, laid-back personality.

Most people are predominantly one of the four, but have a secondary personality as well. The greater percentage a person has of a certain personality, the more evident the traits of that personality will be. For instance, someone that is 90% Choleric will be easier to spot than someone that is 60% Choleric. Though rare, some people may be an equal combination of two. Most artists, writers, and musicians are primarily Melancholy, and I am no exception. Melancholies bring great depth and artistic beauty to the world, yet struggle inwardly with depression and moodiness.

King David was undoubtedly a Melancholy.  A quick trip through some of the psalms he penned shows us his extreme mood swings—some so severe, a modern psychiatrist might claim he was bi-polar. At times, he was in the depth of despair, longing for his own life to end; at others, on the top of the world, singing God’s praises, rejoicing in the beauty of life.

Psalms is a vast treasure for all, but especially those with Melancholy personalities. Many times in my life, I have wept my way through the psalms. I have read chapter after chapter until my soul was satiated and my pain alleviated. Melancholies feel things so deeply, and often our moods have little to do with our circumstances or surroundings. We have intense mood swings that can be difficult to navigate—both for ourselves as well as for other people—emotions that largely resemble the ups and downs of a roller coaster. Though amusement park roller coasters are a blast to ride, none of us want to live crazy lives full of inconsistent, erratic emotion.

One evening, during prayer, I made the following request to God. I said, “God, I want to be a locomotive not a roller coaster.” At the moment I prayed that prayer, I wasn’t sure why I used the word “locomotive.” It’s certainly not a prevalent word in my modern vocabulary, yet it rolled off my tongue without thought. The next morning during my quiet time, I was reminded of this prayer and felt compelled to look up the word “locomotive.” The on-line dictionary offered the following definition: “a self-propelled engine powered by another source designed to push or pull other cars.” Interesting definition, don’t you think? Isn’t it an excellent metaphor for the Believers life in Christ?

As Believers, we must be self-propelled; in other words, we must carve out the time to spend with God, read our Bible, follow His commandments, and “put on love.”  Yet, our self-propulsion is powered by the Holy Spirit resident within us; He gives us grace to follow His will. We are designed, like the locomotive, to “bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).

We are to push and pull one another toward our respective destinies in the Kingdom. Rather than ride the wave of volatile, roller coaster-like emotion, we are to exhibit the stability found in the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal. 5:22). Thankfully, the Holy Spirit is constantly at work within us, transforming us into the likeness of Christ as we bow our will to His. I am grateful that His strength is made perfect in my weakness.

I long to make every moment a good memory and my spastic emotional personality bounces from sadness to anger to happiness, sometimes unpredictably, making memories that I’d often rather forget. But thanks be to God who always causes me to triumph in His name! (2 Cor. 2:14) The more time I spend in His presence, the more my Melancholy (and your Choleric, Sanguine, and Phlegmatic) personality will be redeemed for His glory.

Where would we be without the melancholy writings of King David or the choleric instructions of Paul the Apostle? God knew us before He formed us in the womb; He chose our personalities and temperaments and divinely connected them to who we are and what we are destined to do and be in His Kingdom. Rather than fight against our God-given disposition, we must learn to surrender it to His will. As He becomes the strength in our weakness, He will be glorified through our personalities, no matter how extreme they may be!

So, take heart, dear readers with untamed personalities (yes, even you, Phlegmatic—you know you need to get off the couch and do that laundry!) God has perfectly matched your personality with your destiny, and as He becomes greater in you, you’ll begin to see more of the best and less of the worst of your disposition! Thank Him today for you are fearfully and wonderfully made.

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