Godly Depression

I was reading Psalm 143 (one of my favorites) the other night and came to that amazing verse 11 once again: “For the sake of Your name, O Lord, revive me.  In your righteousness, bring my soul out of trouble” (NAS).

This verse follows on the heels of other verses that indicate that David is greatly troubled in spirit:

“The enemy has persecuted my soul; he has crushed my life to the ground; he has made me dwell in dark places, like those who have long been dead” (verse 3).

“…my spirit is overwhelmed within me; my heart is appalled within me” (verse 4).

“I stretch out my hands to You; My soul longs for You, as in a parched land” (verse 6).

“Answer me quickly, O Lord, my spirit fails; Do not hide your face from me, or I will become like those who do down to the pit!” (verse 7).

David is clearly in distress; his spirit is in need of revival.

A HEART FILLED WITH GODLY LONGING

But notice something.  David’s heart is filled with godly desires.  The things David is requesting in the Psalm are all things that every Christian should be filled with longing for.  In the midst of his distress he sets his mind on the wonderful things God has done for him (verse 5), something the apostle Paul commands believers to do (Phil. 4:8).  And, notice how God-centered David’s prayers are: “Answer me…”, “Teach me…”, “Do not hide Your face from me…”, “Deliver me…”, “Let me hear your lovingkindness…”  David knows that nothing and no one else can meet his needs but God.

David longs after God.  David realizes that the real promise of prayer is God Himself.”  That “being in the presence of God is the greatest reward of prayer.”[1]  To be so low, David’s heart seems to be in a remarkably godly place.

The prayer of verse 11 is the ultimate evidence that David’s heart is in a right position before God: “For the sake of Your name, O Lord, revive me.”  Paul writes in 1 Cor. 10:31 that all we do should be for the glory of God alone.  David lives for God’s glory.  So much so is David’s heart concerned for the glory of God that in a moment of agony, he asks for the pain and the fear to be removed not just for his own comfort, but that God’s name might be exalted in his life.

So if David’s heart is basically right, then what’s the problem?

Is it sin?  Has David done something to distance himself from God?

David does seem to be in a position of repentance in verse 2: “And do no enter into judgment with Your servant, for in Your sight no man living is righteous.”  But this could just be a general acknowledgment of David’s unworthiness of God’s attentiveness to his prayers (see verse 1), and a recognition that if God were to incline himself only to “good people,” he would have no reason to ever answer a single prayer.  We are all sinners (Rom. 3:23).  But this prayer is only more evidence that David’s heart is in a right position before God and inclines us to believe that his struggle is deeper than a simple matter of personal sins.

SO WHY IS DAVID DEPRESSED?

So what explains David’s lowliness?  What explains this state of spiritual and emotional depression that he seems to be in?

There is an “enemy” that David speaks of throughout the Psalm that seems to be causing much of the distress.  But exactly what kind of enemy this is or what they are doing is up for debate.  These enemies are said to be “afflicting” and “persecuting” David’s “soul” (verse 3, 12).

Whatever it is, it does not seem to be a sinful heart.  As we have seen, David’s heart is filled with desire for God and repentance.  His mind is filled with thoughts of God greatness and his favor towards David in the past.  He knows that in God alone life can be found.

This stands in stark contrast to what most of us are inclined to think.  We are like Job’s unhelpful counselors who quickly condemn Job when he has done little wrong.  When we see someone who is battling with financial difficulties we tend to assume that they have done something unwise with their money.  When we see someone dealing with health issues many conclude that they have done something sinful to warrant God’s judgment.  And likewise, when folks continue to struggle with emotional challenges, many of us are quick to assume that their hearts are in a sinful disposition.

Sometimes that is exactly the case… but in David’s situation here in Psalm 143 that doesn’t seem to explain things.

So here’s the conclusion I drew the other night.

Depression often befalls very godly people.

Sometimes mental, emotional and spiritual struggles are not the immediate result of personal sins.  Sometimes darkness overcomes us and there is little explanation.  Sometimes our hearts are right before God and filled with longing after His glory in our lives, and yet we still struggle to rise in the morning and smile.

Sometimes the best response during seasons of depression is not to agonize over our sins or grate our consciences with guilt and remorse over our imperfections.  Sometimes all we can do is cry out to God for deliverance like David did: “In Your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble.”

Some days the fog will lift in an instant.  In other seasons it may take years…

But in the meantime, Christians who don’t struggle with depression are called not to stand aloof and judge, but to get alongside these hurting brothers and sisters and help them bear up under their pain.

 


[1] Derek W.H. Thomas, “God-Centered Prayer,” in TableTalk. April (2012), 14.

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