Thursday, June 09, 2011

Toward a Biblical Perspective on Depression: Case Study #2

In our first case study, we saw that depression can be the result of unresolved sin, but in this case study we will see an example of depression that doesn't stem from sin, even though it leads to sin. In fact, we will see that even the most righteous man on the earth in his day succumbed to a sinful attitude in the midst of a terrible depression. In this case study we will focus our attention upon the account of Job.

Job is perhaps one of the first people we think of when we think of Biblical examples of depression. And we are given some very good reasons for why he was depressed. For example, we know that God at first allowed Satan to destroy Job's family (except for his wife) and all of his property (1:13-19). But we are told that Job's initial reaction to these terrible events was one of godly worship, even in the midst of such deep pain and anguish.

NKJ Job 1:20-22Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped. 21 And he said: 'Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return there. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.' 22 In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong.”

So, Job found refuge in his knowledge that God was sovereign over all things, even over the terrible things that had happened to him and his wife, when they lost all their children and all their possessions.

However, as Job himself was attacked with physical infirmities (2:1-7), as his wife began to nag him (2:9-10), as his depression got deeper and deeper, and he received no comfort from his friends, he began to become more and more bitter and angry. In fact, he even began to get angry at God and to accuse Him of wronging him. Let's take a further look at his situation and examine some of his own descriptions of his depression:

NKJ Job 3:1-3 “After this Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. 2 And Job spoke, and said: 3 'May the day perish on which I was born, and the night in which it was said, “A male child is conceived.”'”

NKJ Job 3:24-26For my sighing comes before I eat, and my groanings pour out like water. 25 For the thing I greatly feared has come upon me, and what I dreaded has happened to me. 26 I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest, for trouble comes.”

NKJ Job 6:26 “Do you intend to rebuke my words, and the speeches of a desperate one, which are as wind?”

In other words, Job is asking his friends why they are jumping all over him for venting in the midst of such pain. Don't they realize that the words of people in such a sad state cannot always be taken so seriously? On the other hand, Job will later regret having said much of what he said (40:3-4; 42:1-6)! But we will focus on Job's repentance later. For now, let's continue looking at the depths of his depression:

NKJ Job 9:27-31If I say, 'I will forget my complaint, I will put off my sad face and wear a smile,' 28 I am afraid of all my sufferings; I know that You will not hold me innocent. 29 If I am condemned, why then do I labor in vain? 30 If I wash myself with snow water, and cleanse my hands with soap, 31 yet You will plunge me into the pit, and my own clothes will abhor me.'”

NKJ Job 10:1-3 “My soul loathes my life; I will give free course to my complaint, I will speak in the bitterness of my soul. 2 I will say to God, 'Do not condemn me; show me why You contend with me. 3 Does it seem good to You that You should oppress, that You should despise the work of Your hands, and smile on the counsel of the wicked?'”

NKJ Job 19:6 “Know then that God has wronged me, and has surrounded me with His net.”

How sad what has happened to Job! After refusing either to curse God or accuse Him of any wrong (1:20; 2:10), he eventually succumbed to the pressure of his circumstances and the resulting despair and accused God of wrong. Such has been the temptation of many a depressed and sorrowful soul. Thankfully, though, Job never did curse God and turn away from Him, no matter how bitter and angry he became.

In the end, however, Job found solace in the same understanding of God's sovereignty that had at first enabled him to respond correctly. For, as a result of his suffering, Job had been given a clearer revelation of God that he had ever had before, and it was enough for him, even though he still had no answers for why all the terrible things had happened to him. Listen to what he says about it:

NKJ Job 42:1-6 “Then Job answered the LORD and said: 2 'I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You. 3 You asked, “Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?” Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. 4 Listen, please, and let me speak; You said, “I will question you, and you shall answer Me.” 5 I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You. 6 Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.'”

Notice that the first thing Job does, once he understands again the greatness of his sovereign God, is to repent. He repents of what he had said before about God, when he accused Him of treating him unfairly, and he admits that he never deserved to be treated well in the first place. Indeed, he hates what he has done. In light of who God is, he sees himself as small and insignificant and in need of God's mercy.

I think we may learn a valuable lesson from Job's example. You see, we will never have as clear a vision of God as we may have when we have been brought to the end of ourselves. And, when we have been brought to the very end of ourselves, to the end of our ability even to cope, we will discover that the clearer vision of God that we receive will be enough, even if it we don't get answers to our questions. To be sure, we should not expect to experience a theophany in which God appears to us in a whirlwind, as He did to Job, but we will nevertheless be able to ascertain like never before just how great He really is!

Do you want to know how great God truly is? If so, then you will have to discover how insignificant you truly are, and this means you will have to be brought low, perhaps to the deepest reaches of depression. But it will be worth it, and it will make you more useful to God as well, just as it did Job. Notice, for example, that at the beginning of the book we are told that Job offered sacrifices for his children and interceded for them (1:5). But at the end of the book Job's ministry was expanded to include his friends (42:7-9). Thus he found that he was able to minister to the very friends who had let him down, and he was able to do so in a way he never could have had he not gone through the trials he went through. We are also told that Job received more blessing from the Lord than ever, after he had gone through all of his trials (42:12a).

Perhaps we should consider that the kind of depression we all dread so much (3:25) may just be the best friend we could ever have! In my view, this is one of the great lessons to be learned from the example of Job. For even if we cannot see it clearly at the time, such calamity and depression may be the best thing for us in the end. But we need to trust God as Job did in order to see it. As Paul later teaches us, we need to remember that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).

I guess what I am trying to say from the teaching of Job, as well as from my own experience, is that depression could just be the best friend a person may ever have, but a person has to be willing to make friends with it. There has to be a willingness to see it in the context of God's larger plan. In fact, there has to be a willingness to see it as a an opportunity to know God better and to better make Him known. I believe this is what Job discovered in the end, and I hope we may discover it as well.

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