Monday, 11 August 2014

A great Hope in Depression

"Deep calls to deep
at the roar of your waterfalls,
all your breakers and your waves
have gone over me."
(Psalm 42:7)


What is amazing about the Psalms is the honesty of the writers before God. There is a candidness and forthrightness as we read about the thoughts, the experiences and the emotions of the writers. Sometimes the writers express joy and praise because of the love or the mercy of God- the emotional peaks of bliss. At other times there is sadness and depression because of persecution, sin, tragedy, or simply because of the difficulties of living as an imperfect human being in an imperfect world- the emotional valleys of darkness. Here in the Psalms the full range of emotions for the Christian are lain bare which should give us great encouragement to approach God and talk to him no matter how we are feeling. 

Through it all the Psalmists approach God and pour out their hearts before him, their inner feelings and thoughts, their concerns and wishes. So we find in the Psalms, "Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us." (Psalm 62:8)  Dear Christian know that God loves you no matter how you are feeling, and he accepts you no matter what you are going through. He desires for you to be with him and to share with him the emotions of your heart and the thoughts of your mind. Because of Jesus nothing separates the Christian from communion with the Father. On the contrary through Jesus the Christian can go before the Father with confidence. "Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." (Hebrews 4:16)

In this Psalm the Psalmist is enduring a time of depression which has been triggered by those who have surrounded him and are mocking him and his God. They say to him, "where is your God?" (verse 3) In other words, "you say there is a God, where is he, show him to us. If he exists where is he to help you?" He is therefore feeling downcast because of the torrent of abuse that is directed at him as they belittle him and God. Through this dark time the Psalmist, "thirsts for God, for the living God" (verse 2) to comfort him and give him strength to endure. And he longs for a time when those who mock him will be put to shame and he looks to a time when joy will once again flood into his life again. "These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go to the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival." (verse 4)

For those who suffer from depression they desperately hope. They hope that tomorrow will be a better day than the horrible day that has just gone. They hope that the end of this bout of depression is soon rather than later. They hope for the endurance to last another day when so many dark days have almost brought them to complete breaking point. They hope for a joy to return, a joy they remind themselves of as they look back to better days. They hope for a God who will help them, who will stand by them, and will bring them through this dark, dark, depression. Most of all they hope for a day when depression will be no more. For those who suffer from depression there is great hope in this Psalm.

This Psalm Addresses a very Wrong Belief

As I have read and re-read this Psalm over the years one verse has stood out to me as being extraordinary. It can be easily missed until a person stops and thinks, "what is being said here and what does that mean?" Verse 7 in this Psalm says something that goes against all that the majority of Christianity believes in, in this country. And it addresses the question, "where is God in depression?" I am looking at this aspect because I suffer from depression. And for years have heard many Christians distance God from this suffering. "God knows about it and he can use it but he can never will it," is the catch cry I have heard for much of my Christian life from fellow Christians. But this Psalm in verse 7 will not allow this to stand. It flies like an arrow to pierce the belief that God has no hand in depression and by so doing reveals below the surface just how wrong that belief is.

A little while ago someone asked me, "why do you get depressed?" I could have said, "because I was born with a disposition to get depressed." Or, "when I get over stressed that triggers it." Or, "when financial or relational problems become too much I am susceptible to depression." All of these are true. But I know from my bible that none of these are the ultimate reason for why I get depressed. As important as they are they are all subordinate to a sovereign God. The fullness of Scripture teaches that God wills, and governs all things including my depression. God is the cause behind  all that leads up to and culminates in my depression. This is what the Psalmist is saying when he writes, "Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls, all your breakers and your waves have gone over me." (verse 7) If God is sovereign, (which he is) and he works all things for the good of those who love him (which he does) then depression has a purpose that can only be for the well being, benefit and eternal good of the Christian as hard as it might be to endure its dark days.

God's Sovereignty over Depression

But where exactly is God's sovereignty over depression found in this Psalm?. This a very important question the answer to which needs to be fleshed out from the Psalm especially verse 7. So from this verse what is being said and what does the Psalmist mean?

In this verse the Psalmist draws on nature and his observation of it to describe the depression that has afflicted him. He takes what can be seen in the creation around him to describe what can often not be seen in the heart and the soul of those who suffer from depression. The Psalmist begins the verse with these words:
1) "Deep calls to deep." From these words the following can be gleamed. (a) There is a harmony that exists in nature such that the various aspects come together in waterfalls, waves and breakers. Just as there is in nature there is a harmony between the aspects of life that culminate in the waterfalls, waves, and breakers of depression. (b) There is an intensity of power in nature. This intensity which is seen points to the intensity of power of depression that afflicts the sufferer. This intensity of power also points to God whose hand governs and directs not only the seen world of nature but the unseen world of the mind. (c) It also points to the source of nature as being one so deep that it is outside the control of men just as depression in its source is outside the control of the sufferer. It comes and goes by a force which he often knows little of. (d) It also points to this force of nature as being one which cannot be predicted as to how long it will last since it has a mysterious quality to it due to the deep depths of its source. In my own life there has never been a time when I could ever say how long depression would last or how intense it would end up being. That was outside my knowledge.

2) The Psalmist then comes to one of the results of what happens when, "deep calls to deep" with the words, "at the roar of your waterfalls."What does the Psalmist mean here? I think he means the following. The word roar indicates an intensity to nature, a turmoil of raging water that culminates in a roaring waterfall. Likewise in depression there is an intensity that churns up emotions and thoughts and culminates in the raging waters of the soul. Roar is an apt word for the voices of accusation, hopelessness and despair that torture those who suffer from depression.

3) The Psalmist ends this verse with the words, "all your breakers and your waves have gone over me." The words, "breakers and waves" only serve to further intensify the Psalmists picture of nature from a roaring yet localized waterfall to a vast ocean which collides with the coastline and churns up its beaches. So it is with depression. It never remains localized in its impact. Nor does it remain localized in its effect. It inevitably crosses any borders that are erected to contain it. For as it grows in intensity it can no longer be hidden behind a mask of polite Christian etiquette. It consumes the whole life, mind, heart, soul and body in an ocean of negative, dark, and hopeless thoughts and emotions. It effects how we view ourselves, how we view others, and how we view God. 

4) Finally the Psalmist ends with words that are often read over with little thought paid to the enormity of their meaning in a Christian culture that has largely distanced God from suffering and depression. He uses one word to describe where the depression in his life has come from. "All your breakers and your waves have gone over me." Who is he talking about here? Who is the your described here? Well, it could be the ones who are mocking him earlier in the Psalm when they say to him, "where is your God?" After all it is their persecution that has triggered this bout of depression. Or it could be Satan who will inevitably be behind the scenes instigating and encouraging the mockery that is directed at the Psalmist by these men. But I think it is neither of these. The answer to the question, "who is the your in this verse?", is found in answering the question, "who is the Psalmist talking to?" This becomes plain as we read the words at the beginning of this Psalm, "as a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God." The whole of this Psalm is a prayer to God. So when he says, "your breakers and your waves" he means those that God has ordained and willed to be in his life since the one the Psalmist is primarily talking to in this Psalm is God. 

Depression is not a random act of nature that is somehow outside the control of God. God is sovereign King over all that happens within his kingdom including the dark depression that grips his much loved children. If this be not so what hope does the Christian have that any good will come from his depression? What hope is there that depression will not ultimately win? Because God causes depression in its weight and time there is hope that great good will be the result of all the black days of depression he brings into the Christian's life.

Great Hope

What good can come from depression such that it gives hope for the sufferer of depression as they look to the days, weeks, and months ahead? As we look at this Psalm we can gleam the following points:

1) Better, more joyous days are ahead. It will not always be the way it is. Things will change. The Psalmist writes, 

"These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul:
how I would go with the throng
and lead them in procession to the house of God
with glad shouts and songs of praise,
a multitude keeping festival.

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God."
(Psalm 42:4-5)

There were joyous days in the past and there will be joyous days in the future. Because God was sovereign over the Psalmist's depression he could be encouraged as he looked back to a time when he shouted with gladness and sang with praise that it would be so again. God would restore him so that he could once more lead the throng in procession to the house of God. It probably does not seem like it, if you are suffering from depression, but there is an end. No one can say when that will be. But what can be said is that the same God who brought depression into your life will one day take it away by the almighty hand of his sovereign power and you will sing out your heart to him in joy once again. You will once again praise him as your salvation and your God.

2) There is a faithful friend who will stand by you and who will never leave you. No matter how black and miserable the days become he has pledged to always be by your bedside to love you and care for you. The Psalmist writes,

"By day the LORD commands his steadfast love,
and at night his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life."
(Psalm 42:8)

The Creator and Sustainer of the universe, the all powerful King who rules and governs all things is also your closest friend who will stand by you with steadfast love. While humans may be fickle in their friendship and will fail you, this friend is faithful in his nature, steadfast in his covenant of love with you and will be committed to your well-being and care in, through and beyond the dark days of your depression.

3) Your emotions in depression are not an accurate indication of where God is and how he relates to you. The Psalmist writes,

I say to God, my rock:
"Why have you forgotten me?
Why do I go mourning
because of the oppression of my enemy?"
(Psalm 42:9)

In his depression God felt distant from him. He felt as if God did not care and had forgotten him and forsaken him. Depression has such a dark impact upon the mind, leading to negative and wrong thinking, that it then flows into the emotions. 

Greatly beloved sufferer of depression who has a relationship of Fatherly love and care with God through the Lord Jesus, your negative thoughts and emotions in depression are not the truth about where God is as you suffer. His infallible word, the bible is. What God says in his word is true. What you are thinking and how you are feeling is not. Please go to the bible and remind yourself of what God really says not what your negative thoughts and emotions are telling you what God says. Remind yourself of the love of God that is so amazing in nature that it has its pinnacle in the dying Son on the cross who saves you and reconciles you to God and which flows from the cross in tender loving kindness to this present day. Your God, your Father, cannot forget the one for whom the Son came to die for, save and reconcile to himself. Those who the Son dies for will never be forgotten by the Father.

4) No matter how deep or dark the depression God is able to save his children and bring them out of it. No matter how hopeless the situation may seem there is great hope because of God who is sovereign over all things including depression and who is able to release you from its grip and restore your downcast soul so that you will once again praise him.

"Why are you downcast, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God."
(Psalm 42:11)


The only way there can be hope in depression is if a loving God is sovereign over it such that he brings it in its weight and duration for the good of those who endure it. Take away the sovereignty of God over depression and there is no hope that in its weight and duration it will not crush those who sufferer from it or that it will recede and come to an end. There is also no guarantee that any good may come from it. It may simply go on day after day causing the sufferer to lose faith, to become cut of from relationships and the outside world, and to become so distorted and negative in their thinking that they eventually commit  suicide. Oh but what a great hope there is for those who belong to Christ and yet have to sufferer from depression. There is the hope that a loving Father is in control of the weight and duration of depression so that he will never allow it to crush you. There is the hope that God brings depression for spiritual good as he deepens trust and faith in him as you learn to look to him and lean upon him and rely upon him as the only one who can sustain and as the loving, comforting friend who knows your sorrow and pain and who is faithful to you. There is this great hope because of God. 

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