This is the fourth, and final, article in our series on Depression and Suicide. At the outset, we acknowledged that there are no quick fixes to these complex issues, but our hope is that these brief articles will be of some help to those who suffer and also equip us to support one another better.
In this series, we have tried to maintain a balance, by showing the relationship between medical and spiritual factors in both causing symptoms and being complementary parts of the solution. Andrew and Carol are currently working in the field of psychiatry, so they can see the benefit of the medical and psychological help available, but they also are quick to point out the massive need for spiritual help. Carol periodically reminds me that her medical experience reinforces the need she sees for sufferers to have spiritual help. It is therefore appropriate to conclude this series by focusing on one of the Bible passages we referred to in the first article. We don’t have space here for a full exposition of Psalms 42 and 43, but I will try to give some helpful pointers.
A depressed Psalmist
One of the great things about the Psalms is their honest realism. Some people seem to think that Christians should never be depressed but ‘be happy all the day’. However, the Psalms show us the reality of life in this fallen world. The Psalmist here is a believer who is longing for God (v1) and yet there are clues that he is struggling through depression. Not only are his tears evidence of the misery he feels but the fact that ‘his tears have been his food day and night’ (v2) shows us that both his appetite and his sleep are seriously affected. The reference to the past, in verse 4, and the place names mentioned, in verse 6, indicate that he is away from the fellowship of God’s people in Jerusalem. Isolation from good influences often makes depression worse.
Talking to yourself
Some people think that talking to yourself is the first sign of madness, but it is actually a very sensible thing to do! We have examples of it in the refrain of 42:5,11 and 43:5: ‘Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.’ Did you realise that the person who is most influential in your life is the person who speaks to you the most? Since we are carrying on a conversation with ourselves from the moment we wake up in the morning, the person who has the most influence in your life is you! So, make sure you are speaking truth to yourself. Reminding yourself of where you must place your hope is an important part of recovery. We can easily slide back into despair, if we are too focused on other things, even good things like our family, our job or our service for the Lord. We need to relocate our hope in God alone. We saw in the article on medication that, although medicines do have their place, we should avoid pinning all our hopes on them. This requires perseverance, as the repetition of this refrain shows us. It can be so tempting to use a drug or some other quick fix, but these short cuts are dead ends, which can prevent us from working through the things that God is doing in our lives, during times of depression.
Looking to Jesus
Although others can try hard to understand what we are going through in our depression, no one really understands. These psalms, however, point us forward to one who really does understand. He felt the ultimate thirst (v1). He felt the pain of those who questioned his relationship with God (v3). He suffered the worst ever pain. So, Jesus really can understand all that we are going through. What’s more he actually was abandoned by God, his Father. The psalmist’s mood brightens in Psalm 43, as he thinks of the altar of God. This is the place of sacrifice that points us forward to the cross. When we look there, we can be sure that, because Jesus was abandoned there in our place, we will never be abandoned by God, in spite of all our failures. This can give us hope and enable us to persevere though the dark times.
Whether you are suffering yourself or helping others who suffer, we pray that these reflections will be of some benefit to you – ‘put your hope in God, for I will yet praise, my Savour and my God.’
Note: This article first appeared in the April/May 2016 issue of abcinsight.