Theme: More 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
Memories of better days (42:4). The psalmist was also troubled by memories of better days. There is a proper use of memory in times when we are depressed, which we will get to. It is a memory of God’s past acts as an encouragement to believe that he will act for us again. But that is not the first use of memory we find in these psalms. What we find here is the writer’s wistful remembrance of the good days when he “…used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng” (42:4).
It is hard for us to feel the extent of this longing for the exuberant joy of Jewish worship by an ancient Israelite. But C. S. Lewis captures a bit of it in his chapter on “The Fair Beauty of the Lord” in Reflections on the Psalms. He calls it an “appetite for God” and argues that it had “all the cheerful spontaneity of a natural, even a physical, desire. It is gay and jocund. They are glad and rejoice (9:2)….Let’s have a song, bring the tambourine, bring the ‘merry harp with the lute,’ we’re going to sing merrily and make a cheerful noise (81:1, 2). Noise, you might well say. Mere music is not enough. Let everyone, even the benighted gentiles, clap their hands. Let us have clashing cymbals, not only well tuned, but loud, and dances too (150:5). Let even the remote islands (all islands were remote, for the Jews were no sailors) share the exultation (97:1).”4
Our services do not have the same exuberance as the temple religion and there are some good reasons for that. Nevertheless, for many Christians some of their very best memories are of worshiping with other believers in church, perhaps at a special holiday season—Christmas or Easter, for example. The absence of these times as well as their remembrance can contribute to depression.
The overwhelming trials of life (42:7). A bit further on in this psalm the writer speaks of the overwhelming trials of his life, referring to them as “waves and breakers” which have swept over him. We do not know what these trials were, though we can imagine that they were the adverse circumstances that had borne him away from Jerusalem. Perhaps he is seated by a mountain stream, watching the tumbling cataracts and currents. Under other circumstances this might be a delightful experience, one likely to draw out thanks to God for creating such beauty. As it is, he sees the waves as cataracts of evil fortune that have broken on his head.
Failure of God to act quickly on our behalf (42:9). Verse 9 is a painful cry to God for having forgotten him. It reminds us of nothing so forcefully as Jesus’ cry from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (Matt. 27:46)? though the words of Jesus were actually borrowed from Psalm 22:1. It is not unusual in a state of depression for the person who is depressed to feel forsaken by God.
What are proper and improper uses of memories of past days?
What is the psalmist referring to when he writes of “waves and breakers” in verse 7?
Application: Reread Psalm 42:9. Have you ever felt that God has forgotten you, and that he is not answering a cry you keep making to him? What does he want you to do in these times? How can these psalms help you?
For Further Study: For more on the theme of Christian suffering, download and listen for free to a message by Mark Talbot called “Breathing Lessons.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)
4C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1958), pp. 51, 52.