How Long, O Lord? (1) (Psalm 13)
Depression is an ugly word, and difficult to define. We've all faced it, some worse than others. Even if we don't understand it, we know what it feels like. The confidence that God is behind you has vanished. The courage to face anything life might throw in your path has given way to the horrifying suspicion that God has forgotten who and where you are.
Where is he now when you need him most? Where is he when your life is enveloped in darkness and you can't find the light switch?
David was no stranger to depression. Listen to his anguished cry. Perhaps you may find in him a soul-mate.
"How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, ‘I have prevailed over him,' lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken" (vv. 1-4).
Although it's painful to read of someone suffering like this, I'm also encouraged by it. It tells me that the Bible is going to deal with me where I live, that I don't have to pretend everything is o.k. when it's not. I find hope in the fact that "there is no attempt in Scripture to whitewash the anguish of God's people when they undergo suffering. They argue with God, they complain to God, they weep before God. Theirs is not a faith that leads to dry-eyed stoicism, but a faith so robust it wrestles with God" (Carson, How Long, O Lord? 73).
Is life a bother for you right now? Is it a burden? Is there an ache in your soul that won't go away? When you look up do you see hovering overhead that same depressing dark cloud that dogged your every step yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that? Has it gotten to the point that when someone like me comes along and says, "God loves you," your first instinct is to punch ‘em right in the nose?
"God loves me? You've got to be kidding! If he loves me so much, why won't this pain go away? If he loves me like you say, why am I all alone? He couldn't care less! And here I am, trying to believe, and all my enemies make fun of my faith in a God who seems to have forgotten where he left me!"
Sound familiar, perhaps painfully familiar? What are we supposed to do when God and his love seem hidden and we're left all alone? David has some words of insight and encouragement.
Four times he cries out, "How long, O Lord?" Four times! Don't just read the words. Listen to the confusion behind them. "O Lord, will it ever end?"
It's important to note that David's feeling of abandonment is not related to some sin he's committed. We read of no confession, no contrition, no acknowledgment of personal guilt, no repentance that might shed some light on why God's blessings are missing. This isn't to say David was perfect. But at least in this case the cause for his turmoil must be traced to something other than overt transgression.
As with David, there are going to be down times in your life that are unrelated to specific acts of sin. Unfortunately, this makes it even more difficult to handle! If you had sinned you could understand and live with God's absence, knowing you deserved to be chastised. But when God seems to disappear for no apparent reason, the perplexity is unbearable.
David feels as if God has forgotten him. Has he? "Can the God of knowledge have a memory block? Can the only wise God be absent-minded? Is it possible that the Omniscient can forget, even for a moment, one of His children?" (Ron Allen, 152).
David is convinced he can. David is convinced he has! And he's frightened that God's forgetfulness might last forever.
But this was David's mistake. We must never permit our feelings to be the standard by which we measure biblical fact. God had most certainly not forgotten him, nor has he forgotten you.
Can God misplace one of his own children? Can God get so busy running the world and keeping the stars in space that he fails to remember our pain and our need? In all the complexities of life and the bustle of each day, can a Christian "slip God's mind"?
David sure thought so. He felt as though God had hidden his face from him. Since the "shining" or "showing" of God's face signifies blessing and favor (cf. Numbers 6:24-26; Psalms 4:6; 31:16; 67:1; 80:3), for it to be "hidden" is to suffer his withdrawal.
A few years back a friend of mine had been rudely and unjustly dismissed from the pastorate of his church. Several families left the church with him and began a new ministry in the same town. He was describing to me how badly it hurt when so many of his former flock went out of their way to avoid contact with him. "For months," he said, "they wouldn't even look me in the face."
That's exactly how David feels. But in his case, it's worse. Here it is God who David believes has turned his face away. "You have said, ‘Seek my face.' My heart says to you, ‘Your face, Lord, do I seek. Hide not your face from me. Turn not your servant away in anger, O you who have been my help. Cast me not off; forsake me not, O God of my salvation!" (Psalm 27:8-9).
He lies awake at night "wrestling" with his thoughts, searching his mind for some explanation of God's absence. But to no avail. "All the while, like slow, circling vultures, his enemies hover above, waiting for his fall - and their meal!" (Allen, 155).
David wasn't the only one of God's people to feel forgotten and abandoned. Consider Moses. The first forty years of his life were anything but boring. He had been raised and educated in the palace of Pharaoh. He had access to all the power and prestige and wealth and entertainment and education that the greatest monarch on earth could provide. But it didn't last.
The next forty years were of a different order. After killing an Egyptian, he fled to Midian to save his skin (Exodus 2:11-14). For the next four decades he toiled in utter obscurity, tending the sheep and goats of Jethro, his father-in-law. Day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, sheep and goats, goats and sheep, for forty long, tedious, quiet, boring years.
Gone? Yes. Forgotten? No. Simply because one of God's own is, for the moment, unused, does not mean he is unloved. J. I. Packer tells us that "one of the disciplines to which the Lord calls us is the willingness, from time to time, not to be used in significant ministry" (Rediscovering Holiness, 217). It may seem as if God has forgotten us. It may seem as if we've been interminably shelved (no doubt Moses thought this of himself). But not so. Packer gives us an example to consider.
"Imagine, now, a devoted and gifted Christian woman, whose ministry has been precious to her, finding that for quite a long period the Lord sidelines her so that her potential is not being used. What is going on? Is this spiritual failure? It is probably not spiritual failure at all, but a lesson in Christ's school of holiness. The Lord is reminding her that her life does not depend on finding that people need her. The prime source of her joy must always be the knowledge of God's love for her -- the knowledge that though he did not need her, he has chosen to love her freely and gloriously so that she may have the eternal joy of fellowship with him. Regarding her ministry, what matters is that she should be available to him. Then he will decide when and how to put her to service again, and she should leave that with him" (217; emphasis mine).
God hadn't forgotten this lady. He hadn't abandoned Moses or David. Nor has he forsaken you. So what can be done in the meantime?
To be continued . . .