from the depths Psalm 130
Life with the Black Dog
It’s like trying to swim against the current in a sea of porridge, it’s like there’s a dark immovable cloud over the sun without the promise of the sun breaking through, it’s like having an elephant sitting on your chest; it’s like everything tastes of dust and ashes and all the colours went to grayscale and someone told the birds to sing on mute. You become the centre of your own world, you become your whole world and there’s no hope in it – sadness unrelieved by any kind of joy. Life sucks and what’s the point anyway, what does it achieve? Such is the cloying reality known in a serious almost clinical way to one in every 6 New Zealanders and in a less serious and more temporary way to many more. For some it’s just dealing with the blues, or a vague sense of loss that passes as life calls for more involvement.
The sad thing is that many still try to battle this on their own and tell themselves to get a grip and pull up their socks, because they feel we’ll judge them for being depressed as though it’s somehow shameful, and indication of moral or emotional lassitude. And yet some very important and successful people suffered hugely from depression, including Winston Churchill (who called it his blackdog), and Ludwig van Beethoven – as we know it afflicts prominent sportspeople like former All Black John Kirwan, it also attacks prominent Christian leaders like the late David Watson.
A concerning issue is that Christian people can be especially intolerant of those who suffer from bouts of depression calling it a lack of faith, or the result of repressed sin, or of persistent unforgiveness, or even evidence of demonic oppression. However before we cast the first stone, we need to face that many of us are guilty of all those supposed causes of depression and seem to be getting away with it. While these things will have played a part in bringing a person to that state, they are not the sole or invariable cause.
This is the second most common cause of ill health and premature death in the world according to the World Health Organisation, so how do we as followers of the Light of World answer depression and help those lost in the sea of porridge?
Out of the Depths [Psalm 130]
Out of the depths In the depths of despair, or out of a sea of troubles, the poet feels that he’s drowning in his troubles “being overwhelmed and sucked down by the bottomless waters of troubles.” [J.L. Mays] The all too human predicament of feeling out of reach and out of touch. There is a sense in which it is the result of his own wrongness and the need for a liberating rescuer.
…I cry to You, O Lord “Help God” so says the Message. A cry of “inordinate boldness” [Breuggemann]. Where else should a cry for liberation come than in the midst of troubles; whether of our own making or not? It is the miserable cry of a nobody from nowhere that penetrates the veil of heaven. The assurance of our trust in God through Jesus is that our every cry is received and heard. It is a confession that this situation is more than my poor humanity can handle and thus requires Divine intervention and soon.
Lord hear my voice!…to the voice of my supplications or “cries for mercy” [The Message]. In this cry there is an assumption that God is capable of being touched by such a cry and that He is available to hear and respond – even to those who may not believe they have any right to be heard. [Compare with the cries of lepers and beggars to the passing Jesus, and of His concern for even the “least of these”.] It assumes relationship, or at least a God who relates rather than standing aloof in high heaven.
If You should mark iniquities…who could stand “If You kept a record of our sins, Lord, who could stand?” [TNIV] Contrary to a popular view that God is just waiting to catch us out in an error of some sort, we have here a theology of grace and second chances. Instead of hiding, the poet lays himself bare in his failure and sinfulness before God, revealing that these are the depths to which he has sunk; and with the next breath confesses the answer to his shame; a confession that ought not to surprise the followers of the crucified Lord.
But with You this is forgiveness, that You may be feared “As it happens forgiveness is Your habit – and that’s why You’re worshipped.” [The Message] Any abject confession of unworthiness is quickly overwhelmed by the forgiveness that is inherent to the nature of God; as we know in Christ. This is not because we need it, but because it is the nature of God to be like that (Exodus 34.6). This is the rescuer who delivers us from the danger of the depths that threaten to sweep us away. [Forgiveness] is the first act, the base line, the promise for all else, genuinely out of nothing, seemingly out of nowhere – it is the first act of new life. It is the centre and focus of the whole psalm.
However the goal is not so much forgiveness as the restoration of relationship, and a renewed obedience precisely for which we are liberated, forgiven. Now we no longer relate to God from the depths of despair, but from the infinite depths of His love and grace. This is what “fear” is about, a new vitality in loving obedience to the God who surprise us with his rescue.
I wait for the Lord…in His word I hope wait and hope are yet another confession of trust in the God who doesn’t wait around for us to put a foot wrong, but who watches that He might rescue and release from the depths those who cry out. The poet is waiting like a watchman who knows that dawn is coming and with dawn comes his relief. The fear of the Lord means having confidence that things as they are, having dragged me into the depths, are not as things will be [just as for those who follow Jesus there is the new dawn of resurrection to that overwhelms the storm and darkness of crucifixion.] Our faith in God, our fearful hope is that life will be transformed.
O Israel hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love For our purposes this serves as a reminder that we are a body, a community and even depression is worked out, carried and ultimately beaten with the support of a caring and healing community called and held together by love.
And…? So, first hear that there is no state in which it is improper to yell out to God our need of deliverance – He will hear and He will come to you in grace, not in fury. He will redeem all your suffering with His promised love and light. He will calm your storms, He will blow away the clouds of anxiety, He will heal you and free you from the clutch of the Black Dog…Don’t surrender to the “night”!
from the depths Psalm 130