Depression, doubts … and God!
John the Baptist was languishing in prison. See the story in Luke 7:18-23. The stench of the prison, the darkness and dampness of the prison, the prison food or lack of it, the inevitable dark thoughts that had settled upon his soul with fears concerning his future fate – all the circumstances of his present condition were totally depressing.
John was battling depression. He had been questioning whether his Cousin, Jesus of Nazareth, was after all the Messiah who would deliver Israel from their oppressors and enemies. After all, he hardly felt free with his arms and legs tightly in the grip of prison shackles.
So he sent some of his disciples to Jesus, hopefully that he might find some relief for these troubling questions plaguing his depressed mind.
Jesus graciously responded by citing clear evidences of OT messianic prophecies that were being fulfilled through His ministry. Jesus’ answer made sense to John, so John would have died in the quiet assurance that Jesus was indeed the Messiah who would fulfil all God’s promises.
Jonah’s experience has some similarities to John’s. He had personally experienced an amazing and miraculous intervention by God. God had rescued him from certain death by drowning by bringing along a great fish to swallow him alive, exactly at the moment the ship’s crew had thrown him overboard.
He made it through alive three days and three nights swimming around in the belly of this great fish, and then was spewed out on to the shore. God had powerfully and sovereignly rescued His servant.
Jonah’s response is a song of deliverance – see Jonah 2.
But then his circumstances worked out very differently to what he had expected or hoped. Contrary to his prophesying about impending doom and judgment upon Nineveh, God again stepped in and showed mercy upon this pagan people, and did not then pour out His wrath upon them.
Instead of rejoicing in God’s kindness, Jonah fell into a pit of dark depression, offended at God’s kindness and mercy upon these evil though repentant Assyrians.
His depression fuelled by his self-centred, sinful nature so clouded his vision that he could not see beyond his own woes. Furthermore, in his depressed state he became very disappointed, even angry with God. The story of Jonah ends abruptly with Jonah still sulking and depressed.
There are times when the depressing circumstances of life can knock us down severely. Life is so dark and dismal to our perception that we fail to see or experience any sense of God’s loving hand and presence.
In the past we trusted in God, we prayed fervently with all the faith we could muster, for a breakthrough in some “imprisonment” of the soul or body – whether that be our own imprisonment in a diseased body, or someone else’s experience – or the imprisonment of hopeless, seemingly impossible circumstances.
At moments like these when we think God’s just not listening or not interested in what is going on, when we can’t find soul-satisfying answers for our heart-wrenching questions, we are easy prey to depressing, unbelieving thoughts. At moments like these, we can begin to question the kindness and faithfulness of God – even after we have repeatedly tasted His kindness and goodness in the past.
But has God promised to fulfil His promises in our own time frame or in the ways we want? His promises still stand, and His character remains unchanged – perfect, holy and faithful. What He has promised, He will fulfil and we will see that fulfilment – perfectly. But we can’t dictate how and when He fulfils His promises.
So our faith is continually being tested. Will we hold on in faith to God’s faithfulness, or allow our unanswered questions, sometimes fuelled by our depressed soul, to cut us off from God, our one and only hope?
We need to listen to and heed Jesus’ final word to the crowds and especially to the disciples of John the Baptist that day: “And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” (Luke 7:23 (ESV)
So also today, blessed are we when we cannot fathom God’s dealings in our lives or in the lives of others very dear to us (I wonder if John’s disciples also had begun to have their doubts concerning Jesus as their Messiah), we don’t throw in the towel of faith but keep holding on to God our Rock and to the certainty of His faithfulness to fulfil all His promises.
Let’s refuse to allow any depression, disappointment, frustration or impatience with God’s ways and lack of immediate answer to our prayers and longings to rob us of the hope we have in God our Saviour, lest we give an opportunity to the tempter to drag us into even deeper spiritual darkness and gloom.
7th October 2009