Theme: The Cure
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
Attacks from ungodly, deceitful and wicked persons (43:1). The second of these two psalms brings in another cause of depression. It is attacks by unscrupulous and deceitful enemies. These are probably the same persons who taunted the psalmist earlier, asking, “Where is your God?” But in this section we learn that they had also been attacking him unjustly, since he prays for vindication and a pleading of his cause by God. Most of us can relate to this too, since it is not unusual for those who try to live for God to be unjustly accused, attacked and slandered. Jesus said, “You do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you…. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (John 15:19, 20). It is an unusual person who will not be depressed by malicious and hurtful treatment, at least at times.
And what about those many additional causes of depression that the poet does not even mention? We could add the ones listed by Martyn Lloyd-Jones in the book I mentioned at the start of this study: temperament (some people are just more inclined to depression than others), physical conditions (we can be affected by adverse physical health), a down reaction after a great blessing (an example is Elijah after his great victory over the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel), the attacks of Satan (one of his strategies is to get us to take our eyes off God), and simple unbelief (probably the most significant cause of all).
Maybe you have some things of your own to add: a great disappointment in life, some personal failure, the burden of getting old. The list is probably endless.
But we have looked at the causes of depression enough. What is the cure for spiritual depression? We are aware of many false cures the world turns to. Some people try to escape the depressing realities of their lives through divorce, excessive entertainment, or frequent vacations. Some pop pills. Some are on habit-forming drugs. There must be millions who echo Mallory of the television program “Family Ties,” who said, “When I get depressed, I go shopping.” They buy a new dress or a Miata. All these “cures” are ineffective. At best they merely lift our spirits for a time.
It is different when we study what the author is teaching us in this important two-part psalm. The psalm tells us how the godly person can win out over depression.
He takes himself in hand. The most important thing to be said about the approach to depression taken by the author of this psalm is that he does not give in to depression or self-pity but rather takes himself in hand and wrestles through it. He reminds himself of what he really knows and finds that “no reasons for being cast down are so strong as those for elation and calm hope.”5
In the volume I referred to at the beginning of this study, Lloyd-Jones makes a great deal of this point, stressing that talking to ourselves is the very essence of wisdom in the matter. It is a case of the mind speaking to the emotions rather than the emotions dictating to the mind. “You have to take yourself in hand, you have to address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself. You must say to your soul: ‘Why art thou cast down’—what business have you to be disquieted? You must turn on yourself, upbraid yourself, condemn yourself, exhort yourself, and say to yourself: ‘Hope thou in God’—instead of muttering in this depressed, unhappy way.”6
In a similar vein, J. J. Stewart Perowne speaks of “the struggle between the spirit of faith and the spirit of dejection, between the higher nature and the lower, between the spirit and the flesh.”7
From Lloyd-Jones’ book on depression, what are some additional causes of it that he mentions?
What should the believer say to himself during bouts of depression? What might the mind say to the emotions?
Application: Do you know someone who is depressed and needs encouragement? How can you use these psalms to minister to them?
5Alexander Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, vol. 3, The Psalms, Isaiah 1-48 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1959), part 1, pp. 304.6D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), p. 21.7J. J. Stewart Perowne, Commentary on the Psalms, 2 vols. in 1 (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1989), vol. 1, p. 351. Original edition 1878-1879.