The reality of spiritual depression: Part 2

PSALM 42 & 43

When thinking afresh about a topic I find it is often useful to consider the vocabulary that is used in discussing it before ordering the concepts.  Apart from the second sentence of the repeated verse at the end of each stanza Ps 42.5,11, 43.5 there is little that is positive. The vocabulary includes these words and phrases: thirsts, tears, pour out my soul, cast down, turmoil, breakers and waves have gone over me, mourning, oppression, taunt and reject me.  The psalmist is in despair and experiencing repeated mental and spiritual turmoil. Frequently if we are in that place our internal dialogue is circular and although we imagine ways out of the position we return again to the same set of feelings.

We do not know if the circumstances he describes are metaphors or physical reality but it is not necessary to know to understand the nature of his experience and how it relates to contemporary experiences.  He describes being in the far north of the country 42.6 well away from Jerusalem in the south, the centre of his spiritual highs with God. He understands his relationship with God through his role as a musician and leader of worship in Jerusalem and is now deprived of it. ‘How I would go up with the throng, and lead them in procession to the house of God.’ v 42.4 When the capacity to continue in the things that have been a blessing to us and others is removed it can seriously damage our spiritual health, cause a period of mourning and adjustment. It can challenge our identity, for the Christian it is helpful to meditate on our identity in Christ and what he has done for us. ‘But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.’    John 1.12

The psalmist describes his longing for God as a dryness and unresolved thirst. vv42.1,2 These feelings will not go away and they are destroying his appetite. ‘My tears have been my food day and night.’ v 42.3 He recognises his spiritual and mental state impacts his physical wellbeing. He keeps going back over memories of times when he was fulfilled and cannot move on.

The second stanza 42.6-11 describes the feeling of being overwhelmed and out of control. In truth there are no major waterfalls or seas with massive breakers and waves to cover him v 42.7 in northern Israel. He is drawing on repeated biblical and ancient Hebrew imagery where the depths of the sea represent chaos and disorder, a place where unknown evils may come from. He is desperate for something firm to stand on. ‘I say to God, my rock: Why have you forgotten me.’ v 42.9 The sense of desertion by God that can overwhelm one creates a spiritual loneliness.  Whether his enemies are real or imagined 42.9-10 he is oppressed by them. The taunting in his head will not go away, ‘Where is your God?’ 42.10

In the midst of his turmoil he again resolves to praise God, knowing that he is his salvation, but that does not make him feel better. One has to admire the psalmist, he has faced up to his problems, he has rationalised them and knows the way forward is with God whatever his current feelings. In the third stanza (Psalm 43) he starts his fight back. He calls on God to vindicate him against his oppressors even though his feelings tell him God has rejected him. There is a conflict between his inherent trust and experience of God and his overwhelming feelings. To cut through this he needs two things. He needs light to shine through his spiritual darkness and God’s truth to guide him into the presence of God for which he has so longed. V 43.3 He wants to express his faith and love for God in the way he knows he connects with God, through music. That is undoubtedly true for very many now, however for others their core way of relating with God may be different. For some it will be in silence, for others through the written or spoken word. Some find the easiest way to pray is when walking, others need to be on their knees. Others like me may prefer to spend time with an open bible, moving between reading, reflecting and prayer. However we find God in our deepest souls we also need to spend time in the company of other disciples.  Their presence and faith will build us up.

We could pray that:

We will recognise and understand when people are experiencing depression.

We will be prepared to stand alongside them with patience and love.

That our church will be a place where God’s light and truth can gently lead them into God presence.

Holy overshadowing – Graham Kendrick

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