Desperation & Depression

With Sunday’s snowstorm, I wanted to post the message manuscript and audio from the message “Desperation & Depression.” It was an important message for those who struggle with depression or for those who have friends or family who struggle with depression.

Here’s the AUDIO from the message.

1 Afterward Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. 2And Job said,

3 “Let the day perish on which I was to be born,
And the night which said, ‘A boy is conceived.’
4 “May that day be darkness;
Let not God above care for it,
Nor light shine on it.
5 “Let darkness and black gloom claim it;
Let a cloud settle on it;
Let the blackness of the day terrify it.
6As for that night, let darkness seize it;
Let it not rejoice among the days of the year;
Let it not come into the number of the months.
7 “Behold, let that night be barren;
Let no joyful shout enter it.
8 “Let those curse it who curse the day,
Who are prepared to rouse Leviathan.
9 “Let the stars of its twilight be darkened;
Let it wait for light but have none,
And let it not see the breaking dawn;
10 Because it did not shut the opening of my mother’s womb,
Or hide trouble from my eyes.

11 “Why did I not die at birth,
Come forth from the womb and expire?
12 “Why did the knees receive me,
And why the breasts, that I should suck?
13 “For now I would have lain down and been quiet;
I would have slept then, I would have been at rest,
14 With kings and with counselors of the earth,
Who rebuilt ruins for themselves;
15 Or with princes who had gold,
Who were filling their houses with silver.
16 “Or like a miscarriage which is discarded, I would not be,
As infants that never saw light.
17 “There the wicked cease from raging,
And there the weary are at rest.
18 “The prisoners are at ease together;
They do not hear the voice of the taskmaster.
19 “The small and the great are there,
And the slave is free from his master.

20 “Why is light given to him who suffers,
And life to the bitter of soul,
21 Who long for death, but there is none,
And dig for it more than for hidden treasures,
22 Who rejoice greatly,
And exult when they find the grave?
23Why is light given to a man whose way is hidden,
And whom God has hedged in?
24 “For my groaning comes at the sight of my food,
And my cries pour out like water.
25 “For what I fear comes upon me,
And what I dread befalls me.
26 “I am not at ease, nor am I quiet,
And I am not at rest, but turmoil comes.”

How bad does life have to get where you feel something like that? Some of you have actually experienced this kind of desperation and depression… a kind of desperation and depression where you don’t even have the will to keep on living. Charles Spurgeon, the famous British 19th century pastor, often referred to as the “Prince of Preachers,” was prone to seasons of deep depression even amidst enormous success in ministry. He once said, “I am the subject of depression so fearful that I hope none of you ever get to such extremes of wretchedness as I go to.” Every one of us is susceptible to some level of depression. Every one of us has the possibility of experiencing those grey days where things don’t go right and it affects how we see life. On the other extreme some of us experience the pitch-black dark night of the soul, and we rue the day we were born. Most of us have experienced or will experience something in between. Or we have friends or family members who have experienced or are experiencing depression.

What do you do when your desperation turns into depression?

This is the question I want to wrestle through today. Last week, we began a 7-week series called Desperate Days. We’re exploring the ancient book of Job… pressing into some of the most intense questions in life about tragedy, suffering, depression… and where God is in the midst of it all. Last week we were introduced to the biblical character Job and talked about how we respond when tragedy strikes. Job experiences catastrophe after catastrophe. He loses everything. He loses his ten children as they’re killed in a freak storm. He loses his possession. He loses his health. Last week we left him covered in boils, sitting in the city dump, waiting to die, surrounded by his three friends who came to comfort him but could do nothing but sit and weep in silence for seven days and seven nights. And then finally… Job opens his mouth and speaks… and his desperation has turned into a deep depression.

Job’s Wishes

As we explore Job 3, we see that Job has three wishes as his desperation turns into deep depression.

1. Job wishes he’d never been conceived (vv. 1-10). Job is in such mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual pain that he curses the day he was conceived. Notice that Job never curses God. He’s beginning to question God. As we get further into the book, he’ll even challenge God. But he never renounces or curses God. But He does curse the day he was conceived. As the story shifts from narrative to poetry, the images Job paints in his pain are dark. Over and over, he talks about the day of his conception as a dark day… black gloom… dark clouds. He wishes the day didn’t even exist because then he would never had to endure what he’s going through in his life. A quick explanation of v. 8 – the “leviathan.” Job’s talking about a mythological, seven-headed sea monster that when awoken would swallow the sun and the moon. He doesn’t necessarily believe in this mythological creature, but he’s communicating in the language of his day to explain the darkness and turmoil he’s feeling right now.

2. Job wishes he’d never been born (vv. 11-19). In v. 11, the “why” questions begin. Job asks, “Why didn’t I die at birth? Why did the knees receive me?” He’s talking about sitting on his mother’s lap while he was feeding or possibly sitting on his father’s knee as he received his father’s blessing. If he would have died when he was born, he’d be experiencing “quiet and rest.” He’d be in the grave, like great kings who built these extravagant graves that have now become ruins. Job states that death is the great equalizer. It doesn’t matter if you’re great or small, king or slave, rich or poor. One aside from these verses… Job and the rest of the Old Testament don’t have a developed view of the afterlife. Death was simply death… an end to life. There are glimpses of the afterlife is some Old Testament writings, but we don’t get a fully developed view of heaven and hell until we get into the New Testament of the Bible. So from Job’s limited perspective, death is a release from the pain and suffering of life.

3. Job wishes he’d die now (vv. 20-26). Job’s last wish is that he could die right now. More “why” questions surface. In v. 20, “Why is light (i.e., life) given to him who suffers?” He’s asking why God sustains someone’s life if they’re going through this intense suffering. In great pain, people look for death or for a way out, but it doesn’t come. I’ll talk about this more in-depth in a moment, but notice that Job doesn’t consider suicide. He simply wishes he’d never been conceived or born… or that God would allow him to die right now. In v. 23, God feels like he’s lost his way… he feels like God has “hedged” him in. Back in Job 1:10, Satan accuses God of putting up a “hedge” of protection around Job. And now Job feels like God has boxed him in and backed him into a corner of extreme suffering… and he can’t escape. In v. 24, we see that he’s lost his appetite and when someone tries to bring him food, he wails loudly. His worst fears have come true. His nightmares have become a reality. He’s lost everything dear to him. He doesn’t feel at ease or safe and secure. He’s not experiencing that longed for rest. He’s in turmoil, an agitated state (lit., “a rumbling of thunder”) that comes from a complete lack of peace. And he wishes he’d die right now so he doesn’t have to endure it any more. His desperation has turned into a deep depression. He’s in a dark place right now, and doesn’t seem to be getting better anytime soon.

That’s what Job’s going through, as his desperation turned to depression. In your life, what do you do when depression turns into depression?

When You’re Depressed

If you’re struggling with depression, whether it’s simply the winter blues or the pitch-black, dark night of the soul, here are five things that you need to remember. And please hear me on this… they won’t necessarily alleviate the depression, but they will give you some moorings when it feels like your being tossed to and fro by the tempest of life.

1. Be honest and don’t try to fake it. Job let it out… he was honest about what he was feeling. So often in the Christian community, we walk around with these plastic little smiles, and when asked how we’re doing by our friends, we tell them that everything is fine. Inside we’re crumbling. Inside we’re absolutely falling apart. While I can appreciate trying to maintain as positive, optimistic, faith-filled outlook as possible, so we’re not viewed as a constant Eeyore or Puddleglum… when you’re going through depression, be honest and don’t try to fake it, especially with your friends and family. When you’re struggling with depression, you’re already low on emotional energy. It’s not worth expending what energy you do have on trying to look like you have it all together. Be honest and don’t try to fake it.

2. You may say and do things you regret later. I wonder what Job thought about everything he said in chapter 3 once the storm passed. I wonder if he thought, “Okay, I was in a lot of pain in that moment… the lowest I’ve ever felt in my life, but there are some things I said that I regret.” Pain often makes us forget the joys and blessings of the past… because the present is so overwhelming… and the future feels so hopeless. In chapters 1 and 2, even amidst the catastrophe and suffering, Job rightly says that God is to be blessed whether He gives or takes away, whether it’s a season of good or a season of adversity. But the depression hits, and in the pain, he seems to forget all of the good things God has done in his life. I think he says some things that he later regrets. If you’re going through depression right now, remember that. Once again, don’t try to fake it… but just be careful… be discerning about what you say. If one of your friends or family members is going through a season, don’t be surprised when they say something that sounds over-the-top. Be attentive to their feelings and what they’re saying, but realize that because of the pain they’re experiencing, they may say and do things that they might regret later.

3. Suicide is never an option. Even though Job wishes that he would have died right then, throughout his story, you never get a whiff that he’s considering taking his own life. He never picks up a broken piece of pottery and slices his wrist. He never asks his friends to do a mercy killing. Even in the desperation and depression, Job was a man of faith, and suicide was never an option. If you’re in the darkest place you’ve ever been, you need to take any thoughts of suicide out of the equation. And if you’re having those kinds of thoughts, you need to get some help immediately. After the message, I’ll give you a way to get in contact with our LIGHT ministry. We can get you some help. Regardless of how deep the pain… how overwhelming the suffering… how desperate the depression, suicide is never an option.

4. Live on promises not explanations. Did you hear all of the “why” questions flood out of Job’s mouth? As I frequently say (because I’ve read and studied the book of Job several times), “God rarely answers the ‘why’ questions.” If you’re wondering why you’re going through depression, please hear me on this… with all pastoral compassion… God doesn’t “owe” you or me an explanation as to “why.” If He chooses to reveal that to you, awesome. But I often find that He doesn’t answer the “why” of suffering. This past year, when I was struggling with depression, several people asked me “why” I thought I was going through it… what was God trying to teach me. And those questions were asked out of a genuine concern. And there were days (and months) when I asked God the same question, especially when I’d done everything I knew how to do and it still wasn’t helping. But quite honestly, I’m not sure “why” I was going through the depression. I know what I learned from that season… things that came to the surface… some during… but most afterwards. And in all of it, God didn’t owe me an explanation. But what God did give me before, during, and after were promises. So even in the dark days, I chose to live on those promises… that one day (and who knew how long that would take), light would again shine through the clouds… that I could take all the pain and confusion to God and that He’d hear me. And here’s the most important promise that you need to live on if you’re going through depression…

5. God is there. In Philip Yancey’s book Disappointment with God, he tells the story of Christian Reger, a German Christian who survived the World War II concentration camp Dachau. Here’s what Yancey writes:

During the final winter, when coal supplies ran low, the ovens were finally shut off. Prisoners no longer had to put up with the constant stench of burning comrades. Many died of exposure, however, and the bodies were stacked naked in the snow like cordwood, a number stenciled on each with blue marker. Reger will tell such horror stories if you ask. But he never stops there. He goes on to share his faith, and how even at Dachau he was visited by a God of love. Reger said, “Nietzsche said a man can undergo torture if he knows the Why of life. But here at Dachau, I learned something far greater. I learned to know the Who of my life. He was enough to sustain me then, and is enough to sustain me still.”

Even in the most difficult, desperate, depressing times, God is there. The Apostle Paul reinforces this in Philippians 4:5b-7.

The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (emphasis added)

Many of us know vv. 6-7 (“be anxious about nothing… don’t worry… the peace of God which surpasses all understanding… guarding our hearts in Christ Jesus”). But we separate it from what comes immediately before, “The Lord is near.” God is there, even in the midst of the desperation and depression. There will be times when it feels like He’s not there… but please hear me… let your “theology” (your thoughts on God)… the reality and conviction that He is there… let that interpret your experience, even in desperation and depression. God is there.

The desperate days often produce depression… sometimes it’s a low-grade depression where it feels like the gray skies won’t let the sunshine through… and sometimes it feels like the darkest black night with no seeming hope of a sunrise on the horizon. Job went there… and there are times we will as well. There are times when a friend or family member experiences deep depression. In all of this, we need to be prepared as possible… especially when the desperate days turn into desperate weeks, desperate months, and even desperate years. In those seasons, we need to remember Job’s story. Be honest and don’t try to fake it. You may say and do things you regret later. Suicide is never an option. Live on promises not explanations. And the most important thing… God is there!

At the beginning of the message, I mentioned the wretched depression that Charles Spurgeon experienced. Here’s the rest of what Spurgeon had to say:

I am the subject of depression so fearful that I hope none of you ever get to such extremes of wretchedness as I go to. But I always get back again by this—I know that I trust Christ. I have no reliance but in Him, and if He falls, I shall fall with Him. But if He does not, I shall not. Because He lives, I shall live also, and I spring to my legs again and fight with my depressions of spirit and get the victory through it. And so may you do, and so you must, for there is no other way of escaping from it.

If you need help with depression, please contact Northshore’s LIGHT & Community Support Ministry.

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