Exposition of Key Texts: Applying the Gospel to Depressed People.
There’s certain key texts, I think, that are appropriate in helping depressed people. I don’t have an hour each for this texts, but these are passages that are worthy sometimes, of an hour, of an entire session, to just go through these passages very slowly and expound them, and to fix them in the heart of the counselee.
If it’s an issue of sin, where this person is feeling guilty, and they’re like David in Psalm 32, feeling far from God because of sin, Psalm 32 is a great place to go, and how David is, when he says, “I acknowledged my sin to You, “My iniquity I did not hide. “I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’ “and You forgave the guilt of my sin.” So, David’s depression was lifted upon repentance. And even the promises of God that, “If we call upon Him while He is near, “seek Him while he may be found, “He will abundantly pardon.” Isaiah 55. And so, sometimes, it’s that simple. And the hope that our sin is not counted against us because it is imputed to Christ for those who believe.
If someone is depressed because of circumstances, or a sense of injustice, Psalm 73 can be a great Psalm to go to, where, in the first 14 verses, he’s describing that he was envious of the arrogant, saw the prosperity of the wicked, describing all they seemed to be getting by with. And sometimes, people are depressed, they just, they were treated unfairly by the doctor, the employer, the judge, the ex-spouse and it just seems so unfair, and so frustrating. Or the economic crisis, and they’re the victim. And there is, the Psalm says it, there is much evil in the world. It says, “My foot almost slipped as well.” But he also described how he came out of it. He says, “Until I came to the sanctuary of God, “then I perceived their end.” And the psalmist, the answer wasn’t that circumstances changed and the world became fair. The answer was as he gained the divine perspective, he put himself in the heavenly sanctuary by faith, and saw from God’s perspective, finding his satisfaction in the Lord, but also realizing the injustices that he hates so much, God will deal with that. And, he can hope in that, he can rest in that. And in the end of the Psalm, in Psalm 73, he actually says, “Whom have I in heaven but you? “And besides you, I desire nothing on Earth. “My flesh and my heart may fail, “but God is the strength of my heart and my portion “forever.” So, at the end of the Psalm, the world is not a better place. The wicked are still prospering, but because he’s drawn nearer to God, he now has recovered his joy.
Psalms 42 & 43
Probably my favorite place to go with a depressed person is to Psalms 42 and 43. Especially, let’s say you’re not really sure why the person is depressed. This covers all of it, or if it’s related to circumstance, you don’t wanna jump to Psalm 42, which is about depression because of sin if you don’t see some clear example of sin that’s actually causing the depression. But, in Psalm 42, and I think Psalm 42 and Psalm 43 are actually tied together, there are three cycles in which there’s the same refrain. In Psalm 42, Verse Five, Psalm 42, Verse 11 and Psalm 43, Verse Five.
And as you read this Psalm, I think it’s comforting to the depressed person because, as the psalmist is describing his own experience, it’s one to which depressed people immediately relate. He says, “As the deer pants for the water brooks, “so my soul pants for You, oh God. “My soul thirst for God, for the living God.” And so this depressed person, he’s feeling dry, he’s feeling like this isn’t some happy Bambi in the forest and everything is great. This is Bambi, he’s being chased by the hunter, he’s in the wilderness, he hasn’t had a drink for days, and he’s dying. And the psalmist is describing, he feels far from God, he feels abandoned by God, he later says that “deep calls to the deep at the sound “of Your waterfalls. “All Your breakers and Your waves have rolled over me.” And, so, in one sense he’s so dry, he’s dying of thirst, he’s drained, and then the next, there’s a flood, overwhelming him.
This is the same language used in the Book of Jonah, when Jonah was cast into the sea, and the waves are breaking over him, and he writes this Psalm to God. And so he’s overwhelmed, and just, for a depressed person, it’s not one thing, it’s not three things, it’s five, 10, one after the other, just overwhelmed, just like you’re drowning and the waves are crashing over you. A description he also gives is how the oppression of the enemy, and feeling that God is not listening. “For You are the God of my strength, “why have You rejected me? “I will say to God, my rock, ‘Why have You forgotten me?'” The believer who’s struggling with depression, he’s crying out to God, and like the psalmist, he’s not hearing the answer that he longs to hear. His faith is being mocked by unbelievers. And yet within the Psalm, the psalmist has an answer.
There’s actually a famous sermon about this Psalm, these Psalms, in Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones’ book called ‘Spiritual Depression’. And Lloyd Jones has a statement about these Psalms, he says, “You need to stop listening to yourself, “and you need to start talking to yourself.” That’s exactly what this psalmist does. In these three cycles in Psalm 42 and 43, he begins, as he’s talking to himself, sorry, he’s listening to himself, and he’s describing how hard it is, and how miserable he is, and how abandoned he feels, but then comes the refrain in Verse Five. “Why are you in despair, oh, my soul, “and why have you become disturbed within me? “Hope in God, for I shall again praise him, “for the help of my presence.” And the same refrain is in Verse 11, and then in Chapter 43, Verse Five, and so the psalmist’s answer is, when his heart is telling him of his troubles, when his heart is crying out in pain, and emptiness, and misery, and he’s– “I’m crushed, I’m overwhelmed.” Rather than giving into his circumstance, he turns to God, he remembers his fellowship with God, he remembers, as he says, “Why are you in despair, “oh, my soul?” And the answer being, “I shouldn’t be disturbed.” “I need to hope in God.” This is practical eschatology, practical prophecy in the sense that he says, “I will again praise Him.” One day, this will be over, one day, I will again be in the presence of God. I’ll remember his loving kindness to me, and that is what enables me to endure when it’s really hard.
Another feature of Psalms 42 and 43 that’s quite remarkable is that the psalmist needs to tell to himself the same thing three times. And this is so typical depression. Sometimes, when you tell a depressed person, “Hope in God,” or whatever you tell them, they say, “Well, I’ve already tried that” or “I already knew that.” And, this is typical. Sometimes the right answer doesn’t work right away. And the answer isn’t to go and find a new answer, the answer isn’t to take a bunch of pills, and in the Psalm, three times the psalmist has a lament when he’s listening to himself, three times he gives the same answer. And, for us, whatever the depressed person is saying, or whatever depression is saying to the depressed person, he needs to keep hearing, “Hope in God!” “Why are you in despair? “Hope in God, I will yet praise Him. “He is my God.” And to be reminded of these things, but sometimes it just doesn’t go away right away, and we shouldn’t slam the depressed person for that. And looking to God. He’s the one who will satisfy us.
The psalmist, in the end of Psalm 43, he’s beginning to have hope, he says, “Let them bring me to Your holy hill, “as You send Your light and truth, “let them leave me to Your dwelling place, “and I will go the altar, my God, “to God, my exceeding joy. “And upon the liar, I shall praise You, “oh, God, my God.” And, gradually he’s lifted up to realize he will again praise God, and by the end, again, like in Psalm 73, he is hoping in God. Not that his circumstances have changed. He doesn’t say, now, all of a sudden, the enemies aren’t there anymore, and life is good, and he’s among the community again. What’s happened is in his own heart. He’s been transformed from despair to joy, as he hoped in the Lord.
And, I think it’s also important, as I said before, in all of our counseling, to bring in the Gospel. It can be done everywhere, but in this Psalm, who suffered the ultimate spiritual thirst of feeling abandoned by God? It was our Lord Jesus himself. He said, literally, I thirst, but he said, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” He was rejected by men, he was overwhelmed with grief, he was forsaken by God, he was mocked by his enemies on the cross. And yet he did that so that we, who would otherwise be in despair, would be lifted out of our despair. And, really, when the psalmist is praying for God to deliver him, Jesus is the answer to that prayer. He is the one in whom we hope, he is the one who will help us, and will satisfy us. Other, Psalm 42, 43, worth more than an hour in a counseling session. Well worth going through, verse by verse, with your counselee.
I’ve already mentioned Psalm 88. I think it can be helpful for a depressed person to see, as they read in the Psalm, and there are many Psalms that bring out the different emotions, but especially this one, how deep and long-lasting depression can be even for a believer. And yet they need to endure.