Hello friends, and happy Thursday to you. A bit of a heavy topic today - depression - but there us much hope in the Word when we go beyond the surface. This will be a continuing series for us also, and like our discussion of the Perseverance of the Saints, it will be spread out, rather than consecutive. Today's Scripture readings include Numbers 7 (the longest chapter we've read thus far, and the fourth longest chapter overall in the entire English Bible.), Psalms 42-43, Song of Solomon 5 and Hebrews 5.
Can a Christian be depressed is our big question of the day. Medical doctor and Christian author John Lockley writes: “Being depressed is bad enough in itself, but being a depressed Christian is worse. And being a depressed Christian in a church full of people who do not understand depression is like a little taste of hell.”
Psalms 42 is our focus passage, and it is a wonderful Psalm full of soaring emotion that goes up and down. I am finding a greater and greater appreciation of the Psalms as we are reading them through during quarantine. I generally do the podcast late at night, once the kids and my wife are in bed. I finish quite late, take a walk, wind down, and go to bed. I find that the Psalms have been occupying my thoughts in the morning, and that it has been very fruitful to reread the Psalms from the previous night's reading first thing as I am waking up. The Psalms are such a wonderful expression of thoughts, prayers and praises to God - I find they are teaching me to pray and worship utilizing the Words of Scripture more and more. Consider the powerful emotions found in the words of Psalms 42:
My tears have been my food day and night,
while all day long people say to me,
“Where is your God?”
4 I remember this as I pour out my heart:
how I walked with many,
leading the festive procession to the house of God,
with joyful and thankful shouts.
5 Why, my soul, are you so dejected?
Why are you in such turmoil?
Put your hope in God, for I will still praise him,
my Savior and my God.
6 I am deeply depressed;
You can see where we get our focus question for the day - right here in the Holy-Spirit inspired words of Scripture, the Psalmist notes that he is depressed, and that tears have been his food. I note here, as I've noted many times, that reading the Bible dispels one of any notions that the Word of God is full of the kind of sunshine pumping, pollyannish, your best life now kind of faith that is so often proclaimed by televangelists on various 'Christian' tv channels. The Word of God is genuine, authentic, deep and often reflects the real anguish and pain of being an actual living and breathing human.
This is one of the most honest and genuine passages in the Bible, and there are dozens. Most of us are unfamiliar with the depth and genuineness of the Bible. I honestly blame preachers for that. They/we tend to avoid passages like Psalms 42, and negative things. NOTE the switch between vs 8 and 9 - the flip flop. That is so characteristic of us - especially when in the throes of depression.
The Lord will send his faithful love by day;
his song will be with me in the night—
a prayer to the God of my life.
9 I will say to God, my rock,
“Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about in sorrow
because of the enemy’s oppression?”
If you've ever had this kind of jarring flip-flop from faith to fear and back again - YOU ARE NOT ALONE! It happened to many of the spiritual giants in the Bible. Let's go read Psalms 42-43, and then come back and briefly discuss the possibilities of a Christian being depressed.
If you define depression in a very general and sort of vague way - maybe that depression is an extended and persistently depressed mood - keeping in mind that I'm neither a doctor, nor psychologist, I think you'll find that several giants in the Bible qualify as depressed. The Sons of Korah, authors of our Psalm today, and others count. As does Elijah and Moses, both mighty men of God that were so downcast that they told God they were ready to die. Jeremiah also fits that bill, wishing he hadn't been born, and worse. Hannah in 1st Samuel declares that she is a woman with a broken heart, and King David (Psalms 69) also went through several periods of seeming depression.
Other giants of the faith have too, such as Charles Spurgeon:
“I am the subject of depressions of spirit so fearful that I hope none of you ever get to such extremes of wretchedness as I go to.’” Charles Spurgeon.
“It is all very well for those who are in robust health and full of spirits to blame those whose lives are sicklied or covered with the pale cast of melancholy, but the [malady] is as real as a gaping wound, and all the more hard to bear because it lies so much in the region of the soul that to the inexperienced it appears to be a mere matter of fancy and diseased imagination. Reader, never ridicule the nervous and hypochondrichal, their pain is real; though much of the [malady] lies in the imagination [thought-processes] it is not imaginary.”
Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, 3 vols. (Newark, Del.: Cornerstone, 1869), 2.132.
And John Piper:
I cannot tell you how many hundreds of times in the last twenty-eight years at Bethlehem I have fought back the heaviness of discouragement with these very words: “Hope in God, John. Hope in God. You will again praise him. This miserable emotion will pass. This season will pass. Don’t be downcast. Look to Jesus. The light will dawn.” It was so central to our way of thinking and talking in the early eighties that we put a huge “Hope in God” sign on the outside wall of the old sanctuary and became known around the neighborhood as the “Hope in God” church.
John Piper, Sermons from John Piper (2000–2014) (Minneapolis, MN: Desiring God, 2014).
So - can a Christian have depression, or be depressed? You bet they can! I see nothing in Scripture that would lead me away from that conclusion, and volumes that affirm it. If you are now fighting depression know that you are NOT alone - many saints in the Bible and throughout church history also waged war against depression. I do not have an easy antidote for you, or a fake cure-all. I do want to close out with a hopeful passage from God's Word, though:
Psalm 34:18: The Lord is near the brokenhearted; He saves those crushed in spirit.
I'd also like to recommend David Murray's book, Christians Get Depressed Too. 5 stars, and very helpful, comforting, and faithful to God's Word!
I do realize that this is short commentary, but do not despair, as this will be a topic we return to fairly regularly as we go through the Psalms!
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