Despair, Depression, & Darkness for the Believer
You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me; my companions have become darkness. Psalm 88:18NKJV
When God lays men upon their backs, then they look up to heaven. God’s smiting His people is like the musician’s striking upon the violin, which makes it put forth melodious sound. How much good comes to the saints by affliction! When they are pounded they send forth their sweetest smell.
Affliction is a bitter root, but it bears sweet fruit. – Thomas Watson
I thank God for the Psalms. The psalms do not water down the reality of living in a sin stained world nor do they hide the plethora of suffering experienced by pilgrims as they journey through such conditions. Psalm 88 pulls no punches concerning the reality of pain, suffering, and sorrow that many saints in the Old and New Testament experienced each and every day. Have you ever felt God has cast you off and hidden His face from you or that your soul is full of trouble and death is waiting around the corner? Have you ever felt afflicted by God Almighty Himself? These are difficult questions and experiences that occur in the lives of God’s people. Once again, I thank God the psalmist penned these experiences lest any of us think our suffering or experiences are somewhat new or different from the saints who have gone before us. So often in western Christianity suffering, depression, and overall melancholy are harsh realities we do not like to talk about, much less experience. And because we don’t acknowledge the fact that Christians, even mature saints, suffer from times of darkness and despair, it is difficult for us to offer true hope and biblical counsel.
John Calvin saw the richness of the Psalms: “I have been accustomed to call this book… ‘An Anatomy of all Parts of the Soul;’ for there is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror. Or rather, the Holy Spirit has here drawn to the life all the griefs, sorrows, fears, doubts, hopes, cares, perplexities, in short, all the distracting emotions with which the minds of men are wont to be agitate… There is no other book in which we are more perfectly taught the right manner of praising God.”
Consider the realities experienced in Psalm 88: vs. 3 For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near the grave. vs. 6 You have laid me in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the deeps. vs. 7 Your wrath lies hard on me, and You have afflicted me with all Your waves. vs. 14 O Jehovah, why do You cast off my soul? Why do You hide Your face from me? vs. 15 I am afflicted and ready to die from my youth up; while I suffer Your terrors, I pine away. vs. 16 Your fierce wrath goes over me; Your terrors have cut me off.
So what is the solution? In such a brutally honest psalm what hope or prescription does the Psalmist offer during the midst of such sorrow and suffering? The answer is prayers and tears. Simple and yet quite difficult. The Psalmist never tells us to turn off our emotions or to pretend as if the suffering isn’t real. The Psalmist says, “My eye mourns because of affliction; O Jehovah, I have called daily on You; I have stretched out my hands to You.” God does not require that we hide our pain and suffering or simply act like it isn’t real. The psalmist mourns because of his affliction and at the same time cries out to the only One who can provide relief. The closer I look at this psalm the more I am convinced the entire psalm is a prayer. Notice how he begins the psalm with “O Jehovah, the God of my salvation, I have cried day and night before You.” Then in vs. 2, 9, 13, and 14 the Psalmist specifically addresses Jehovah. The psalmist day and night pours out his tears and supplications to Jehovah seeking mercy and grace from the God of his salvation.
How do Christians respond when it seems as if God has hidden His face? How do we respond when darkness has become our closest friend? Here are a few practical steps we see in this psalm:
Pray– Suffering and sorrow often cause us to pray more. That is a good thing. God hears the prayers of the righteousness. Christ ever lives to make intercession for His bride. Pray with earnestness. Pray with determination. Pray without ceasing.
Mourn– It’s okay. Someone once said you don’t know how sweet Jesus is till Jesus is all you have. It is far better to have a heart without words than words without a heart. We are not to be dominated by our emotions, but some of the sweetest times of prayer are filled with groans and tears. No words. Just a heart that is broken and tears that are flowing. “O put my tears into Your bottle; are they not in Your Book?” (Psalm 56:8b)
Look to Jesus– Was there ever a man who suffered more? Was there ever a heart that was more wounded? Before the cross he was despised, rejected, and beaten. On the cross the fierce wrath of God pressed down upon Him. Before the cross He wept over the cities. On the cross He cried out asking why God had forsaken Him. Jesus knows your pain. Jesus experienced darkness as His only companion. Go to Him as you are and He will comfort you with a love and peace that surpasses all understanding.