Theme: Causes of Spiritual Depression
In this week’s lessons we learn from the psalmist some reasons why the Lord’s people get depressed, and what their spiritual response needs to be.
Scripture: Psalms 42-43
These two psalms give at least six reasons for depression, and they indicate the cure. What are the causes of spiritual depression? There are undoubtedly more than these psalms list, but the place to begin is with the causes that are given.
Forced absence from the temple of God, where God was worshiped (42:1, 2). We do not know from the title of this psalm who the particular person was who composed it. He is presumably just one of the Sons of Korah. But whoever he was, we know the chief thing that was bothering him. He was far from Jerusalem and its temple worship on Mount Zion, and he felt himself to be cut off from God. The psalm begins with his panting after God “as a deer pants for streams of water” when he cannot find it.
We do not know exactly where this unknown author was or why he was there, but we can come close to answering the first question. He says he is writing “from the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar” (42:6). Mizar means “little hill (or mountain).” We know of no hill by that name. However, “the land of the Jordan” is the region beyond the Jordan to the north and east, where Mount Hermon is. So Mizar was probably a lesser mountain in the Hermon range. This area is pretty far from Jerusalem, and some writers have suggested that if a traveler (or captive, which the author could be) were headed east in the direction of Babylon, this is the last point from which he might glimpse the familiar mountains of his homeland to the south.
So the psalmist is far from home and feels that he is also far from God. He still believes that God is everywhere, and that God is with him. He is praying to God, after all. But his being away from home has gotten him down, and his depressed state has made him feel that God is absent. There is another dimension in this sense of alienation too. The employment of the Sons of Korah was at the temple in the performance of the temple music (cf. Num. 26:11). So the author’s forced absence from Jerusalem was also an absence from his work and therefore from his sense of being useful. It reflected on his whole purpose for living. Perhaps you have felt the force of that in one way or another. I am sure you have if you have ever lost a job or perhaps are stuck in a dead-end job. An early forced retirement will lead to depression like this for some people. So will old age, when a person feels that his or her useful days are done.
The taunts of unbelievers (42:3, 10). In this distant land the psalmist was also surrounded by unbelievers who taunted him with the biting challenge, “Where is your God?” This must have hurt him a lot, because he repeats the line twice in this composition. In ancient times almost no one was a true atheist. The first real atheism came with Greek philosophy. So the taunt did not mean that God did not exist but that God had abandoned the psalmist. It meant, “Where is your God when you need him? Where is your God now?”
That is a cause for deep depression. Where is God indeed? Where is God when I am in a far country, separated from my usual work, taunted by enemies? Why doesn’t God seem to hear my cries? Why doesn’t he intervene to change my circumstances?
What are the first two reasons for the psalmist’s depression, and what explanations are offered for the context of these psalms?
How might these reasons be evident today?
Reflection: What are some reasons why you have experienced depression? How did the Lord bring you out of it? What did you learn as a result of it?