Thursday, August 04, 2011

Toward a Biblical Perspective on Depression: Case Study #6

Note: Although the author of Lamentations is not given in the text, the book has traditionally been attributed to the prophet Jeremiah. Since I see no good reason not to accept this traditional view, I will assume in this post that Jeremiah is indeed the author. However, nothing I will address here will be affected by this issue.

Jeremiah is a classic example of depression due to extreme suffering. This man had to witness the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. and saw many of the most terrible atrocities imaginable. He knew that all of this was the predicted wrath of God upon Judah for all of her sins, but this knowledge didn't help take away the awful sting to his heart. Let's examine one passage in which he describes the toll it took on him to have to survive it all while helplessly watching it happen:
NKJ Lamentations 3:1-8 “I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of His wrath. 2 He has led me and made me walk in darkness and not in light. 3 Surely He has turned His hand against me time and time again throughout the day. 4 He has aged my flesh and my skin, and broken my bones. 5 He has besieged me and surrounded me with bitterness and woe. 6 He has set me in dark places like the dead of long ago. 7 He has hedged me in so that I cannot get out; he has made my chain heavy. 8 Even when I cry and shout, he shuts out my prayer.”
Notice how Jeremiah has begun to think that God is not hearing his prayers any more. This is a fairly common thing for depressed people, and it is one of the reasons they often quit praying. But it isn't true that He has stopped listening, as Jeremiah will later indicate.
NKJ Lamentations 3:9-16 “He has blocked my ways with hewn stone; he has made my paths crooked. 10 He has been to me a bear lying in wait, like a lion in ambush. 11 He has turned aside my ways and torn me in pieces; He has made me desolate. 12 He has bent His bow and set me up as a target for the arrow. 13 He has caused the arrows of His quiver to pierce my loins. 14 I have become the ridicule of all my people -- their taunting song all the day. 15 He has filled me with bitterness, He has made me drink wormwood. 16 He has also broken my teeth with gravel, and covered me with ashes.”
Notice how Jeremiah continues the description of the terrible things he has endured by explaining them as being done ultimately by God. He knows not only that it is God who has brought destruction upon Jerusalem, but also that it is God who is ultimately sovereign over his own sufferings as well. Even though he, as a true believer, has been spared experiencing God's wrath, it doesn't mean that he has been spared suffering as part of God's plan for his life. And we shall not be spared suffering either. Remember, for example, Paul's words that “the Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together” (Romans 8:16-17).
NKJ Lamentations 3:17“You have moved my soul far from peace; I have forgotten prosperity.”
Notice here that Jeremiah changes from speaking of God in the third person to addressing Him directly in the second person. He is talking to God now, and it will begin to change his point of view.
NKJ Lamentations 3:18-20 “And I said, 'My strength and my hope have perished from the LORD.' 19 Remember my affliction and roaming, the wormwood and the gall. 20 My soul still remembers and sinks within me.”
Still speaking to God, Jeremiah tells Him about how far into depression he has sunk, to the point where he feels completely helpless and completely hopeless. And he simply cannot forget the horrors he has witnessed and the sufferings he has personally experienced. In fact, he apparently keeps reliving it over and over again, and he keeps feeling helpless and hopeless over and over again. In our day, at the very least he would probably be diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

It is depressing for us just to think about what he went through! We can only imagine how bad it was for him! But as bad as it was, Jeremiah has more to say, and it may shock some of us.
NKJ Lamentations 3:21 “This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope.”
Now, when he says, “this I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope,” he cannot mean the things he has been remembering up to this point, because these things led him to feel hopeless. He must, then, be introducing a new line of thought, one that does give him hope. Let us see what we find, then, in the following verses.
NKJ Lamentations 3:22-23 “Through the LORD'S mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. 23 They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.”
Notice how he remembers what he knows to be true about God, despite the circumstances he has endured and cannot put from his mind. And notice how he shifts from remembering God's mercy and compassion to praising Him for His faithfulness. You see, as real as his suffering was, it didn't eclipse in his mind the reality of who God is! But he doesn't just speak to God and praise Him for His faithfulness, he also speaks to himself in the next verse.
NKJ Lamentations 3:24 “'The LORD is my portion,' says my soul, 'Therefore I hope in Him!'”
Jeremiah reminds himself that God really is enough for him. In fact, one gets the impression that had he not been brought so low he may not have realized this fact so clearly as he does at this moment. Isn't it true that we often don't see that God really is enough for us until He strips away everything else that we may have been hoping in? And isn't it good for us when He does this? Jeremiah thought so, as the next couple of verses demonstrate.
NKJ Lamentations 3:25-26 “The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him. 26 It is good that one should hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.'”
These words are spoken by a man who had no other choice but to wait upon the Lord, and he has gone from thinking God never hears his prayers (vs. 8 above) to a calm assurance that He does hear the one who waits upon Him and does not quit seeking Him, no matter what the circumstances. In fact, Jeremiah says it is good that we should be put in the very kind of situations that require us to wait for God and to seek Him earnestly, situations that bring us to the very end of ourselves and make us wonder if there is any hope at all. Only then we will truly know the Hope of the hopeless.

What about you and I? Do we really want to know God as Jeremiah knew Him? Do we really want to experience how good it truly is to have to wait upon Him and desperately seek after Him? Well, then, perhaps we should expect some very difficult and depressing circumstances to be a part of His plan for us. And perhaps we should not be surprised if He asks us to endure a great deal of heartache. In addition, if we really want to be used of God as men like Jeremiah, David, and Moses were, then perhaps we should be willing to suffer as they did as well. After all, the lives of these men are still speaking to us today for a reason!

1 comment:

  1. Very good, thought provoking post. It is true that often we must lose it, to appreciate it. My greatest growth in my relationship with God happens during the hard times.