Psalm 73: A Guide to Prayer for an American

images

Truly God is good to Israel,
to those who are pure in heart.
But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,
my steps had nearly slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. (Psalm 73:1-3)
Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalml 73:23-26)

A Door No Man Could Open

Sealed Shut by Grace
My Lord has much better for me than the thing behind the door that He  just slammed in my face. I certainly don’t have the sense or the confidence to believe it as confidently as I should, but I know that God is using all things for my good, because He’s given me the Spirit of Christ.

“If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13)

Have you ever been in a situation where things wouldn’t budge? Sure it’s disappointing, but most people find alternative routes. “When one door closes another opens” is one of the most popular adages of our time. (Either that or “When God closes a door He opens a window.”)

Minus the reductionistic nature of the quote, this may describe your normal experience. By default, we troubleshoot through our setbacks. Christians, whether they face very difficult situations or not,  pray to the LORD for His help. It is the blessing of our gracious LORD that people are able to hold down a stable job, that husbands and wives stay married, that children continue in the way of their parents, granted their parents have trained them in the wisdom and grace of God. Sometimes we are forgetful of these regularities. However, just because we forget, doesn’t mean that Christ isn’t continually sustaining all things by the Word of his Power.  (Heb 1:3; Col 1:17) Our Lord and Savior  is speaking to us, and the order of things visible and invisible are His words. The Scriptures are the glasses enabling us to see these things. (Matt 7:24) God isn’t going to build anything else. And if He doesn’t build, then we’re all wasting our time because it isn’t going to happen. (Psalm 127:1)  We just need the eyes to see, and the ears to hear, yet another gift from God. (Prov 20:12)

What about the doors that are sealed shut? What happens when the window, which was the alternative,  is barred over? What happens when the routes you may have otherwise taken, are unavailable to you? Many may call this  “The Twilight Zone”, though I’m sure there are many others who call it home.  Job, Jonah, and Jeremiah once did.

It was God’s pleasure to glorify Himself through the suffering of these men, even in Jonah’s case, when he reacted as many of us would today. In the land of opportunity, we believe too quickly that our lots will be similarly wonderful. If everything is operating accordingly, we will all have good careers, wonderful marriages,  and “the pie in the sky, by-the-by” . I too quickly believe these things and God sanctifies me by acquainting me with all of my weaknesses.

God will purify His children from their iniquities (Zech 13:9) , He will give us peace and hope if we ask for it, (Romans 15:13; Phil 4:6-7)  but we will all suffer in Christ. (Romans 8:17; Phil 1:29) Each of us are given a special measure, according to the grace of God. (Eph 4:7; 2 Cor 10:13, 1 Cor 7:17, Romans 12:3) These are all general truths. It is the particularities that often cause me to stumble.

Providence: The Points and Planes of Suffering

It is often difficult for me to place my own “point” of suffering on the “plane” of genuine Christian experience. But I believe Christ’s invitation is open to the weary, even when their weariness is cause by their own doing.

“Ah, stubborn children,” declares the LORD,
“who carry out a plan, but not mine,
and who make an alliance, but not of my Spirit,
that they may add sin to sin;
who set out to go down to Egypt,
without asking for my direction,
to take refuge in the protection of Pharaoh
and to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt!” (Isaiah 30:1-2)

We run to Egypt, to gather the things God hasn’t given us, and wonder why we are wearied and enslaved by our own devices. But “Gracious” and “Merciful” is God’s covenant name (Exodus 34:6);

Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you,
and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.
For the LORD is a God of justice;
blessed are all those who wait for him.”  (Isaiah 30:18)

The Dark Night of the Soul
Even more confusing is knowing that there are many occasions when my suffering is not connected to any sin of mine at all. It’s just there. I know that many illnesses and traumatic events can cause mental suffering. However what happens when you don’t have anything external to point to, when asked why you can’t get moving like everyone else?

“He has besieged and enveloped me
    with bitterness and tribulation;
He has walled me about so that I cannot escape;
    he has made my chains heavy;
though I call and cry for help,
    he shuts out my prayer;
he has blocked my ways with blocks of stones;
    he has made my paths crooked.” (Lam 3:5,7-9)

This description certainly matches the experience of depression and anxiety, unintended or not. It puts the DSM-5 to shame in that respect.

Talk about a real theological diagnosis of the inner turmoil of depression : “Patient seems to have been besieged and enveloped by God, causing symptoms of weariness with life, near unexplainable sorrow, and internal turmoil that interferes with daily life and interpersonal relationships.”

Well Meaning Friends with Useless Advice

Then there is the real possibility that those closest to you will not understand. Even when they try to, you are causing tension and stress when you voice your experience. God has made us finite, and we must realize that it is a blessing to be unable to completely understand ourselves and the people around us. We must also realize that God gives us the ability to share truth and offer help and comfort even though we don’t fully understand. Then there other times when we are tempted to offer something else. Like, advice.

Advice can be really helpful. However just because advice is helpful, doesn’t mean we should share it in every situation. Advice does not always universally apply. Using a fork to eat my green beans doesn’t mean it will be just as helpful using a fork to remove toast from the toaster. Swimming is always good exercise, but that doesn’t mean I should go swimming during a thunderstorm. “Okay this is getting a little ridiculous” you may say, and you’re right. However, good advice can be ridiculous sometimes. Being “slow to speak” is something we should all practice.

Think of Job’s three friends:

(1)  Eliphaz, acknowledges that Job has been a source of strength to others (Job 4:3-4). But then he turns and puts the blame for Job’s suffering squarely on Job himself. “Think now,” he says, “who that was innocent ever perished? Or where were the upright cut off? As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same” (Job 4:7-8)

(2) Bildad, says much the same. “See, God will not reject a blameless person nor take the hand of evildoers” (Job 8:20)

(3)  Zophar, repeats the refrain. “If iniquity is in your hand, put it far away, do not let wickedness reside in your tents. Surely then you will lift up your face without blemish; you will be secure, and will not fear.…Your life will be brighter than the noonday” (Job 11:14-15, 17).

“Their reasoning is a syllogism. God sends calamities upon wicked people only. You have suffered a calamity. Therefore you must be wicked. Job himself avoids this false syllogism.”  (source)

It may be that this is a hidden premise in our own hearts (it certainly is for me), and so we pray that God will continually remind us of His mercy. Christ invites us to take on His yoke. He is the suffering servant, and the only mediator between God and man. He is able to sympathize with our suffering, and is not ashamed to call us His brothers and sisters (Heb 2:11,17; Heb 4:15). This doesn’t remove suffering, but it certainly is a relief to remember that suffering isn’t without purpose.

God raised Jesus from the dead, and the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead lives in me (Romans 8:11) God takes delight in delivering His children. (Zeph 3:17) I need to be reminded of this when I’m stuck. Maybe we could all use this reminder

“What is impossible with man is possible with God.” (Luke 18:27)

In Transit: The Grace of Groaning

from-darkness-to-light-anil-nene

 

“As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him.” (Gen 15:12)

“The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.” (Ex 20:21) 

In the Christian experience, we will all inevitably come to a time in which we realize that something is off.  This experience will differ from believer to believer; because of factors such as personality, gifts, and geographical setting.

In some cases it will appear to originate externally, or in the things that go on around us. Like a splash in time, which ripples out and effects those who are around. Whether it be bankruptcy, the loss of a job, bereavement, divorce, breakup, a falling out between friends. Someone sinned against you, or you sinned against them. These are all examples of things that happen externally

For many (if not all), it is internal. When you’re on the end of your rope. It could have originated from an externality, causing you to stop and think about it, and examine yourself, and your relationship with the LORD. However, sometimes it isn’t that simple. You feel that something is off, and you experience some sort of inner turmoil, but you just can’t put your finger on it.

You examine yourself rigorously, because you understand Scripture commands you to do so, in Christ, so that you will know where to ask Him for help, and guidance. However your prayers don’t seem to “break the ceiling”. Your heart is broken. Formerly you played the part of the victim. You pointed your finger at someone else. However, you know that the kind of warfare isn’t simply flesh and blood. You also know that although you are in Christ, that you possess a sinful nature. You know that when the Spirit cleansed you with the Redemption that Christ purchased on your behalf, He weakened sin’s dominion over you, so that you are no longer ruled in it. You also recognize that there is a remnant of sin that remains in you, which still leaves you capable of committing sins.

At that point it must be realized that our lives are transitory. We’re here, but we aren’t. We want to be here, but we don’t.

“For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked.” (1 Cor 5:2-3)

It’s normal to groan for God in our weaknesses. Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and His ascent accomplished for us the gift of groaning for the sins that placed us at war with Him. We grow by groaning those sins against Him and our neighbor.

“For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.” ( 2 Cor 5:4) 

We are in the tent, and our groaning isn’t (or shouldn’t) be for God to simply take our bodies away, so that we would all float up to God without them. But our hope is that through our  suffering and groaning , we participate in His dwelling in us by His Spirit.

To be in Christ, to be sanctified in His Word  and to know our suffering and groaning, is to know Christ.

To Know Christ, is to be sanctified in His Word  and to know our suffering and groaning.

Our own groaning over our  sin and suffering,  is His sympathetic groaning over our sin and suffering. For instance, when it is said by the LORD  in Exodus 3:7 that He  “know[s] their sufferings,”, it isn’t said from a distance (or to simply make a statement about his omniscience, because He does indeed know everything) . His knowledge of their sufferings indicated an identity with them. An intimate knowing, implying something much more personal than the way Adam knew Eve.

Our clothing, is our glorified bodies. Another way of putting it; Our bodies, glorified. Christ was the first fruits of the heavenly harvest. God raised Him from the dead in a glorified body by the activity of the Spirit.  (Rom 8:11) Christ is the seed that died, so that His death  may bring about the fruit of the full harvest (John 12:24)

To groan is to grow, to be burdened  is to begin life eternal. For this reason we have hope and confidence, even though now it may seem quenched by your sin and/or the effects of sin (there isn’t always a one to one correlation between sin and suffering. It is more complex, and the sting has many barbs). The opposing principle, our indwelling sin, and the death that it brings with be swallowed up in our deaths, but our mortality will be swallowed up by the resurrection of our glorified bodies.

Our confidence is objective, but it has a subjective feature, that is more powerful and more deep than our groaning. In fact, it is the very reason why we can groan over sin, and desire to have it put to death;

“He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.” (2 Cor 5:5)

The Spirit applies what Christ accomplished. This application of redemption comes by the  indwelling of The Spirit of Christ. Christ went away to baptize us with the Spirit. The Spirit is the “fire”.

Avolition: Any Takers?

imgres

I was talking to a friend of mine the other day, and he touched on something that shared my sentiments.

He said “Someone needs to write a book on Motivation”. I agree with a hearty amen!

Whenever someone does venture to write such a title, they should also consider writing a book on “Avolition”. If depression is a common struggle, then avolition would be just as common. Avolition is one of the worst symptoms of depression. It’s one of those “odd filters” .

The DSM provides a pretty simple description of it, saying that it is a “psychological state” characterized by a “general lack of drive to perform activities or pursue meaningful goals”.

When I read that definition, I almost laughed at the brevity of the term. After that I nearly wept, because the term was insufficient to communicate the gravity of the actual experience.

All this to say, I neither laughed or wept. I didn’t have it in me. That’s Avolition.

Avolition is a characteristic of people who suffer depression. It’s that affective “flattening” of emotion. It’s when people say “I can’t feel anything”, but no one hears, because it gets absorbed into the black hole of the perception of apathy.  Avolitionists can’t tell whether or not you care, so they stop trying to speak. They lack energy as it is, so they aren’t going to spend it all on the treadmill of purposelessness.

I mean, who would want to be around such a downer? Avolitionism knew you’d think something along those lines. They’re mind readers. Like Micah, they say; “Woe is me…all of (the people) lie in wait for bloodshed; Each of them hunts the other with a net.” (Micah 7:1-2) Paranoid much? What’s their deal?

Avolitionists are wearied by their own cynicism.
Tired of being ignored, they remove themselves from social gatherings
Tired of being misunderstood,  They quit explaining.
Avolition prophecies rejection, and so they set out to prove its fulfillment

Thus says the LORD: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the LORD.

He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. (Jer 17:5-6)

Avolition knows this from experience: “Cursed is the man!”  That will preach! If anything avolition needs to be carried to God’s Word to complete the thought. You see, Jeremiah 17:5-6 anticipates Jeremiah 17:7-8;

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

This is the beginning of the remedy to avolition.

Depression and Your Social Life

images

in all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; (eph 6:16

One of the most horrific features of depression is the corrosive effect it has on our [my] social life. Along with anxiety, depression can eat away friendships like the swarms of locusts ate away the egyptian agriculture (Exo 10:15). I do not think depression is necessarily sinful in and of itself (at least, not until I experience one of those knock-down-drag-out seasons of it). Depression, however, is a product of the sinful world we live in. It was necessary for Jesus to experience  depression and anxiety (Mark 14:34; Matt 26:38; Isa 53:3,4,12), but He did so without sin (Heb 2:18; 4:15). It was necessary for Him to suffer so that He could be the perfect mediator between God and Man (1 Tim 2:5). This is one of the reasons a distinction is necessary between sin and suffering.

Even though suffering is the “theological seminary”  God uses to sanctify and train us in our obedience (my major is depression [Heb 5:8-9]), Satan would enjoy turning it into a “theological cemetery”  (Job 1:11-12; 1 Peter 5:8-9). My  depression in combination with my  sinful heart can (and will) make for easy prey for the devil’s schemes against God. Let it be known that we are still responsible for the sins that we commit. So even though we are victims, we are also culprits.

Because God created us in His image, everything we are and everything we do is directly relative to Him, and others. This is the reason scripture is so concerned with how we interact with one another (in both Old and New Testaments).

As I “listen”  to my worst bouts of depression, most of the sound stems from issues I’ve had with other people. Whether  they’ve offended me, or I’ve offended them, my concerns fixate themselves on what the person is thinking and feeling. In my effort to “fix” my own problems, the paradigm shifts away from my duty to love/trust/fear  “the LORD who brought me out of the land of slavery” (Exo 20:2;Isa 61:1;Luk 4:18;Eph 4:8), toward a love/trust/fear of man (Prov 29:25; Jer 17:5; Isa 2:22; Psa 118:8; Isa 30:1). The love of God is powerful in that it teaches us how to love. Knowing the love of God in Christ Jesus is necessary to loving others (2 Cor 5:14). His love sets the correct  pattern.

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”  (1 John 4:10)
“We love, because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)
“Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

Augustine makes this point beautifully;

But living a just and holy life requires one to……  love things… in the right order, so that you do not love what is not to be loved, or fail to love what is to be loved, or have a greater love for what should be loved less, or an equal love for things that should be loved less or more, or a lesser or greater love for things that should be loved equally. (On Christian Doctrine, I.27-28)

The biggest threat to love, according to Augustine is when “We fix our love on the creature, instead of on thee, the Creator” . This is why Augustine prayed that God would “Set love in order in me.”  (City of God, XV.22).

My depression often is the target of the fiery darts of satan, however I remain unconvinced that it is the result of the devil and his minions in its totality . Hooligans coming by and tagging buildings doesn’t  provide reason to believe that it belongs to them.

Depression can be a helpful indicator to idolatry, and it very well may be why God, in His Divine care and providence  has blessed me with it. Due to the perception of isolation (from both God and people) I’m  reminded of who I was made to be. No matter how small my social failures, their loud resonance within my heart impresses on me my primary need, which is The LORD.  God uses depression to strip me of the fig leaves I use to cover my failure and shame, and remind me of His Son. I get prideful, and in my pride I forget about the LORD (1 Sam 12:9; Jud 8:34; 2 Chron 26:16). When I make the mistake of the man named “YHWH is my strength” [Uzziah], God kindly reminds me of His name: “The LORD our Righteousness” and “Savior” (Jeremiah 23:6; Matt 1:21)

Earlier on, I indicated that I asked God to remove this melancholic tendency. I still ask God to remove it. Then I wait for Him to answer

“My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” 
(Psa 22:1)

“How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?How long shall I take counsel in my soul, Having sorrow in my heart all the day? “ (Psa 13:1-2)

But God reminds me that my sin is the bigger problem (Love needs to be set in order!) .  It certainly doesn’t take away from the experience of  slipping down  into the slough of feeling unwanted, unimportant, self-anger, socially exhausted, untrusted, hopeless insignificant, empty, worthless, and some sort of combination of all of these things (Psa 73:2; Psa 94:18), but even so His “unfailing love, LORD, support[s] me”.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. (1 John 4:18)
Little children, keep yourselves from idols. (1 John 5:21)

The Emotional Turbulence of Depression

This is an addendum (Section III)  to “Life Under the Influence of Depression” .  I have temporarily made it a separate post. 

The central issue of  my depression is the untrustworthiness of my emotional states. Generally speaking, it is out of sync with the reality of the situation. To the people who say “well yes, feelings are no guide to truth”, let it be known that I agree. However, let me state that the problem is elsewhere.

The problem is this; that one can be in agreement with any truth, whatsoever,  but the emotions (or desires)  continually  demand that you go another direction.  The problem with depression is that you can know something to be true, yet go a very long time without feeling something to be true.

I will call it the principle of cognitive dissonance (PCD):

definitions:
Someone = S
Proposition = P
Mind = M
Emotions = E
(exclusive) logic disjunction = v

PCD:
1. S believes P with M
2. S disbelieves P with E
3.M v  E
4. P is true
So,
5. S  holds to the truth of P with M at the expense of E.

I think that the problem of sin causes everyone to experience this disturbance to one degree or another. However, it seems that this struggle is magnified in depression. In my experience  it has lead to seasons where I  distrust my emotions so much, that I experience emotional numbness (to some degree).

Dr. Edward Welch, a christian counselor who is also a licensed neuropsychologist, provides an encouragement to people who have this experience:

“Depression demands another way to live (Hebrews 11:1)….Even though I’ve been a believer for decades, I still live by how I feel. Depressed people encounter feelings and say, ‘why bother, there’s nothing good.’ These feelings demand a radical call to live by faith, rather than by sight. When a depressed person lives by sight, everything is dark.”

Could it be that the Christian’s faith goes beyond the dark and thick smog of the emotional interpretation? I think the Word of God speaks directly to that (Psa 22:1; Psalm 31:11, Psalm 38:11, Job 19:13, Lam 3:1-2) . It is a struggle to remember that faith can “speak the hard things from our hearts to the Lord.” We don’t have to ignore our feelings or pretend that they aren’t there, because God isn’t surprised by them. He speaks to them!

I think the biggest struggle here (at least for me) is the way I relate to others in spite of my emotions. I am required to love others, in spite of this ongoing war in my heart.  Even with the ongoing emotional burnout, I am called to think the best of others (1 Cor 13:4-8). My failure in all of these areas drives me to question the genuineness of my faith. Again, this introspection only leads to more depression.

But scripture acknowledges these differing seasons and experiences  among the the psalmist(s) where “lover and friend” are far (Psalm 88:1), where they are the “object of dread among the closest friends (Psalm 31:11), where “friends and companions avoid [them] because of [their] wounds” (Psalm 38:11)

I think the ambiguity of the nature of the experience in question provides a welcome to every sufferer in the LORD (2 Cor 1:5; Phil 3:10). In the my experience, it’s all too easy to read scorn, ridicule, anger, and/or dread into family, friends, and neighbors when in fact they do not feel that way about you at all. Due to the constant strain of stress, your emotions begin shaping the way you think, and the feelings resemble facts. Sadness, bitterness, and anger become the lens from which you read things.

Faith in Christ, in light of this, is going  to Him to interpret those experiences in light of His own interpretation, because I’ve heard His Word (Rom 10:12-13,17). Repentance takes the painful “limp” of walking contrary to the imperatives of those loud emotional experiences (Eph 2:8-10). Grace is God’s pursuit of us and rescue  from that dungeon of despair (Lam 3:22).

This is the newest  addition to “Life Under the Influence of Depression” .  

Life Under The Influence of Depression

 

images-1

I.

There is a lot of material out there geared toward trying to describe the nature of depression, especially when a Christian experiences it.

Everyone gets sad. Everyone experiences grief from some kind of suffering. However, what about those experiencing it over longer periods of time? Why are they still dragging their feet?

This issue is a labyrinth, so moving from generalities to specificities would take a lot of time and patience, and a combination of education and experience.
I do not speak here as one who is completely objective. Rather, I speak as someone who experiences this “labyrinth” daily. Even more confusingly (to some, anyway), I experience it as a Christian ( 1 Corinthians 15:3-4; 2 Corinthians 5:21 ; Galatians 1:4; 2:20; Romans 8:1,2). How could someone who is a Christian experience depression? For many of us (including myself at times) it doesn’t seem right. So you can imagine how a Christian who experiences depression could add layers to their suffering by questioning the integrity of their own faith. “I’m depressed because I’m depressed and I’m a Christian!” gets added into the mix of causes.  That’s been my experience, anyway! Has it been yours?

It’s been good for me to be surrounded by godly influences, so that when I’m not thinking straight, they can speak loving truths gently into my fractured frame of reference. With the help of a few of my own mentors, and a range of biblical counseling sources; I’ve been trying to arrange my own thinking accordingly.

As someone who is under the influence of depression, I can testify that it’s hard to think clearly. I would imagine it’s same with any given believer. In Christ, we have all been given the same Spirit that unites us all into fellowship with Him. On the other hand, “there is a variety of gifts, ministries, and effects (or operations/activities)” (1 Cor 12:4-7). I think this passage could very well account for the variety of personalities in the Church. It may be why  one believer may be of a different “constitution” than another, even though they both have genuine Spirit-wrought faith. I’ve seen this encouraging insight in C.H. Spurgeon (whom also suffered from depression):

“Some minds appear to have a gloomy tinge essential to their very individuality. Of them it may be said, “Melancholy marked [them] for her own”; fine minds withal and ruled by noblest principles, but yet they are most prone to forget the silver lining and to remember only the cloud. These infirmities may be no detriment to a man’s career of special usefulness. They may even have been imposed upon him by divine wisdom as necessary qualification for his peculiar course of service.”

Charles Morton, a 17th century nonconformist minister and educator, has also provided me with insight with regard to the differences among personalities. In “The Spirit Of A Man” he writes of “four special faculties, or acts of mind”. It is the fourth faculty that is most relevant here:

‘Spirit’ is Lastly taken for some qualifications, or inclinations of the mind as united to the body, and conformed much thereunto. This is the product of nature, acquisition and circumstances of life, all which concur to form the genius, temper, or disposition of man. Each man hath something peculiar to himself in this respect [emphasis mine]; as he has in the features of his countenance, stature, shape, meen or carriage of his Body, whereby he is distinguished from any other. So, if we ask, [What Spirit is he of?] we mean, of what temper, inclination or genius? How disposed? How qualified? And the true answers will be as various, as men; of whom one man is (by nature,  acquisition, or both) of a sober, grave Spirit. Another of a quick, active, chearful Spirit. Another of a weak, timorous, careful; Some are gentiel, generous, courteous, open hearted; others churlish, clownish, surly, rough, close and reserved, &c. All these Spi∣rit are viciated by corrupt nature; and may by the Spirit of Grace be so sanctified, as to render men serviceable, tho’ in a different way, and of good acceptance both with God and man. (pg 14-15)

I think it may be helpful to take a “sufferer/sinner/saint, simultaneously”  paradigm (as proposed by Dr. Michael Emlet), with the recognition that sin is our central problem.



II.
My struggles with depression (and anxiety) can be somewhat traced to my heavy tendency toward introspection. Introspection is the process of self-examination. It is “thinking about thinking”. There is a sense in which the Christian should examine themselves  (2 Corinthians 13:5; Lam 3:40); though in my own experience it can quickly morph into a neurotic exercise of self-sufficiency. Without the boundaries of the Holy Spirit speaking through the Word of God, and the communion of other believers, it can quickly transform into a trust in my own abilities to locate the source of the problem and lift myself up by my own “cognitive bootstraps”. Sometimes I need to repent from my own religious scrupulosity.

Catastrophizing is one particular manifestation. This pattern of thinking  takes the form of a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Take any event and predict a negative outcome of that event. Given the negative outcome, a catastrophe will be sure to follow. (A common test-case this in Scripture is 1 Kings 19.) Catastrophizing is usually more geared toward the future.  It is a virtuous ability when used by the godly to avoid problems that could arise from a course of action. It is good to know the consequences of the behavior of ourselves and others. However it can become a vice when we forget that we are not like God and do not know the future, yet continue to think as if we do. This can fuel depression and anxiety, and you can understand why. We were not created to know every possible outcome for any given event.  Though we are tempted to say with Job; “For what I fear comes upon me, And what I dread befalls me. “I am not at ease, nor am I quiet, And I am not at rest, but turmoil comes.” (Job 3:25)

Another pattern of thought for this depressive introspection has it’s eye on the past-present. This is memory-rehearsal. This happens when we replay our memories on the big-screens in our heads, and analyze everything that went wrong, and how we could have done better. It isn’t always sinful, in that it can be useful for us to biblically analyze our faults and sins, and take action to “put them off” in the newness of life given to us by the power of the gospel. However, I  can become overwhelmed with unnecessary burden when I don’t take all of my past failures and sins to the cross of Christ, where he became my curse. “He will not always accuse” (Psalm 103:9) “Nor will I always be angry” thus says the LORD (Isaiah 57:15-16) “His anger lasts only a moment” (Psalm 3o:5). We should not harbor anger against our neighbors or ourselves (Leviticus 19:18). I don’t easily forget and forgive my sins (or the sins of others for that matter), but the Lord says that He does (Isaiah 43:25).  The constant rehearsal of my faults and the faults of others can often be  due to my unwillingness to forgive.  So, “‘Vengeance is Mine’ says the Lord” (Deu 32:35; Lev 19:18; Romans 12:19) is a call to peace for my troubled  heart.



III.

The central issue of  my depression is the untrustworthiness of my emotional states. Generally speaking, it is out of sync with the reality of the situation. To the people who say “well yes, feelings are no guide to truth”, let it be known that I agree. However, let me state that the problem is elsewhere.

The problem is this; that one can be in agreement with any truth, whatsoever,  but the emotions (or desires)  continually  demand that you go another direction.  The problem with depression is that you can know something to be true, yet go a very long time without feeling something to be true.

I will call it the principle of cognitive dissonance (PCD):

definitions:
Someone = S
Proposition = P
Mind = M
Emotions = E

PCD:
1. S believes P with M
2. S disbelieves P with E
3. P is true.
I think that the problem of sin causes everyone to experience this disturbance to one degree or another. However, it seems that this struggle is magnified in depression. In my experience  it has lead to seasons where I  distrust my emotions so much, that I experience emotional numbness (to some degree).

Dr. Edward Welch, a christian counselor who is also a licensed neuropsychologist, provides an encouragement to people who have this experience:

“Depression demands another way to live (Hebrews 11:1)….Even though I’ve been a believer for decades, I still live by how I feel. Depressed people encounter feelings and say, ‘why bother, there’s nothing good.’ These feelings demand a radical call to live by faith, rather than by sight. When a depressed person lives by sight, everything is dark.”

Could it be that the Christian’s faith goes beyond the dark and thick smog of the emotional interpretation? I think the Word of God speaks directly to that (Psa 22:1; Psalm 31:11, Psalm 38:11, Job 19:13, Lam 3:1-2) . It is a struggle to remember that faith can “speak the hard things from our hearts to the Lord.” We don’t have to ignore our feelings or pretend that they aren’t there, because God isn’t surprised by them. He speaks to them!

I think the biggest struggle here (at least for me) is the way I relate to others in spite of my emotions. I am required to love others, in spite of this ongoing war in my heart.  Even with the ongoing emotional burnout, I am called to think the best of others (1 Cor 13:4-8). My failure in all of these areas drives me to question the genuineness of my faith. Again, this introspection only leads to more depression.

But scripture acknowledges these differing seasons and experiences  among the the psalmist(s) where “lover and friend” are far (Psalm 88:1), where they are the “object of dread among the closest friends (Psalm 31:11), where “friends and companions avoid [them] because of [their] wounds” (Psalm 38:11)

I think the ambiguity of the nature of the experience in question provides a welcome to every sufferer in the LORD (2 Cor 1:5; Phil 3:10). In the my experience, it’s all too easy to read scorn, ridicule, anger, and/or dread into family, friends, and neighbors when in fact they do not feel that way about you at all. Due to the constant strain of stress, your emotions begin shaping the way you think, and the feelings resemble facts. Sadness, bitterness, and anger become the lens from which you read things.

Faith in Christ, in light of this, is going  to Him to interpret those experiences in light of His own interpretation, because I’ve heard His Word (Rom 10:12-13,17). Repentance takes the painful “limp” of walking contrary to the imperatives of those loud emotional experiences (Eph 2:8-10). Grace is God’s pursuit of us and rescue  from that dungeon of despair (Lam 3:22).



 

IV

In conclusion, remembering how God addresses my depression and anxiety, whether it be sin or suffering, does not erase my experience of it. I’ve asked the Lord more than just three times to take it away. To which He answers, “My grace is sufficient to you”. Depression/anxiety may be my thorn for life, left with me by the providential hand of God as mercy to keep me from being more of an egotistical jerk than I already am. It may be there to deflate me from being too easily arrogant (which is very easy for me).

These two verses  in “God Moves in Mysterious Ways” have been very comforting to me. They were penned by William Cowper, who experienced a few breaks with reality in his own life:

“Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.” 

Ain’t No Killer Like “I”

“Ain’t no killer like I ” is a line in “War Inside”, written by Switchfoot.

In this song, they powerfully convey the inner struggle of our thoughts and emotions.

Can you identify with the speaker of this powerful song?  I can.

It’s tempting for me to trace my every struggle to the externalities. In desperation, I will spin the facts  to alleviate myself from my own responsibilities. It is the natural instinct of a heart marred by sin, but being impaired by sin doesn’t excuse me from my guilt. This is why I need a Savior.

Paul saw this war in himself;

“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. or I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”  (Romans 7:18-24)

Paul stood in daily need of a Savior.

James saw the same thing going on within the Church;

“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask” (James 4:1-2)

James traces the biggest enemy that I will ever fight to the home front. My passions. My desires. My jealousy. My envy.

I don’t know about you, but the following thought has crossed my mind many times: “Everyone else is doing something great except me”. That kind of thinking is the sound of a misdirected prayer. Looks like the Word of God  caught me right in the act.

Novelist and comedian, David Baddiel, coined  a german term to capture that line of thought. He called it “Erfolgtraurigkeit”;

“It’s actually a much more common feeling than Schadenfreude — even though we do of course feast like jackals on the fallen. In order to provide the ingredients for the banquet, modern culture requires an almost constant stream of new successes. It is also, I would contend, a somewhat less malignant one. Schadenfreude seems to me to be the coldest of emotions, an expression of nothing but bitterness, whereas Erfolgtraurigkeit has at least the virtue of sadness, the others’ success having thrown the desolation of your life into bad relief.” 

This line of thinking is the perfect soil for the seed of despair. It’s the noose at the end of the rope, around the Christian’s neck. It’s just one example of the war I fight within myself.

With Paul I cry out to my Savior, Jesus Christ, who is the God who fights for me (Exo 14:14, 15:3; Deu 3:22; Col 2:11; Gal 5:24), with a constraining love  that conquers all. ( 2 Cor 5:14, Romans 8:35-37, 1 Cor 13:7,8,13)

May “I” shrink, and Christ be magnified in me.

Quicksand Depression

Vincent Van Gogh (1890)
Vincent Van Gogh (1890)

 

“Mire”, “Quicksand”, and “Slough”, “Prison”, “Trap”  are just a few of the well known tropes used to describe the experience of depression. This literary depiction of depression is most likely derivative from the imagery in Psalm 40:2;

“He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings.”

John Bunyan, in “The Pilgrim’s Progress” depicts it this way;

‘This miry Slough is such a place as cannot be mended; it is the descent whither the scum and filth that attends conviction for sin doth continually run, and therefore is it called the Slough of Despond: for still as the sinner is awakened about his lost condition, there ariseth in his soul many fears, and doubts, and discouraging apprehensions, which all of them get together, and settle in this place; and this is the reason of the badness of this ground” (1)

A powerful imagination is a terrible foe to someone suffering depression.  William Cowper (author of the hymn “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood” ) described one of his many bouts with depression along the same lines of Bunyan’s “Slough” :

“Conviction of sin took place, especially of that just committed; the meanness of it, as well as its atrocity, were exhibited to me in colours so inconceivably strong that I despised myself, with a contempt not to be imagined or expressed … This sense of it secured me from the repetition of a crime which I could not now reflect on without abhorrence … A sense of God’s wrath, and a deep despair of escaping it, instantly succeeded” (2)

When depression comes, the desire to fight it is quite natural. Who would want to sink into the darkness and the gloom of themselves? However, the more depression is fought, the lower the descent. Work up enough energy to change to change the circumstances, and it will just backfire.

The speaker in Lamentations 3 certainly experienced it:

He has walled me about so that I cannot escape;
    he has made my chains heavy;
though I call and cry for help,
    he shuts out my prayer;
he has blocked my ways with blocks of stones;
    he has made my paths crooked.” (v. 7-9) 

 

Seeing Backwards

"There is nothing new under the sun" (Ec 1:9)
“There is nothing new under the sun” (Ec 1:9)

If you’re like me, you want to get ahead in life. You want to succeed. If you do not succeed, you at least want to be recognized. You want to be known. You want to be loved.

So for as long as you can remember, you’ve pursued these things because you’ve found them to be valuable. If you associate yourself with valuable things, then people will find you valuable. If people find you valuable, then you will be recognized, you will be known, you will be loved. When you possess these things, you will live happily ever after (or so you thought.)

You’ve had your hand in the treasure box before. You’ve held valuable things.

a. You do the things that people love, and so you are the thing that people love. It’s a great life.

b. You have a significant other (you’re in a dating relationship, you’re engaged, or perhaps you hit the jackpot and got married.)

c. Your grades in school are/were outstanding.

d. You play a crucial role as an employee of your dream job.

e. You are financially comfortable (even after you buy all the things that cause people to love you more.)

You’ve probably achieved one of these things. Maybe you’ve achieved a combination of these things. If you’re really lovable, you’ve done all of them. All of these things make you happy, because having all of these things make you valuable. (Again, so you thought)

Au contraire mon frère

Thinking on those terms will lead to failure and despair.

If I believe that my worth equals the sum total of my possessions, then what am I to believe when they are taken away?

Here is how the thinking goes:

a. No one seems to be interested in the same things that I’m interested in. Socially, I can’t seem to get my foot in the door. Everyone keeps shutting me out. The more I try, the more I get burned! What’s the point? What’s wrong with me? I’m worthless!

b. I’m the only one in my friend group who doesn’t have a significant other. Everyone else in my circle of friends is  either dating, engaged or married, but I keep blowing it. What’s wrong with me? I’m worthless!

c. I’m a failure when it comes to school. I can never get the grades that I want. Look at my peers, they aren’t struggling at all. They make it look like a piece of cake. Some of them are talking about all of their awards. Here I am working my heart out, and I have nothing to show for it. What is wrong with me? I’m worthless!

d. My life is falling apart. I can’t get the dream job. My plan B didn’t even come through. Now what? I’m of no use to society. I have nothing to contribute to anyone. What is wrong with me? I’m worthless!

e. I don’t have the cash. I can’t do the things that I want to do because the lack of money prevents me! I can’t even provide my own basic needs!  How am I supposed to pay for food, drink, clothing, or shelter?

Do we strictly find our identity in our possessions? Answer that question by monitoring how you handle loss, failure, and disappointment.

When your dreams are shattered, and you find yourself running about tearfully, trying to salvage whats left of the pieces, you’ll find out what it is you value.

“Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25)


Should you then seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them. For I will bring disaster on all people, declares the LORD, but wherever you go I will let you escape with your life.'” (Jeremiah 45:5)

“Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun. (Ecc 2:10-11)

“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” (James 4:1)