Coping With Spiritual Depression (Part One)

by Dennis Michelson
(Painesville, Ohio)

Psalm 42


Introduction: The purpose of this study is to teach the sincere believer how he may worship God despite the problems and adversities of life. All of God's people are beset with problems, but the real key to living the Christian life is how we deal with those problems.

One of the most common complaints heard by pastors and counselors is that people, yes even Christians, are depressed. I am not speaking of depression caused by a physical problem or chemical imbalance in the body. The help of a medical doctor should be sought in such cases.

I am referring to what Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones called "spiritual depression." Dr. Jones wrote a book by that same title and it continues to be a helpful resource to many.

For our study of Psalm 42 we shall adopt the following definition for spiritual depression: SPIRITUAL DEPRESSION IS THE PERCEIVED ABSENCE OF THE PRESENCE OF GOD. Such a definition may seem contradictory to the student of theology. He has learned that God is Omnipresent. There can be no place where God is not!

Spiritual depression is no respecter of persons. It comes upon those who are correct in their theology and those who are not. The cause of spiritual depression is not a false theology. It is caused by faulty feelings which dominate our theology.

One might think that a discussion of theology is out of place when dealing with depression. Quite the contrary is the case. Theology has to do with the facts concerning God. Faulty feelings can never be overcome until our feelings are informed by the facts.

In spiritual depression the feelings command, direct and even overrule the facts. Therefore, the believer must come to that point in his mind where the facts of Scripture dominate the feelings of his psyche rather than vice versa. This is the truth Paul declared in Romans 12:2, 'And be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind . . .."

It is never the will of God for a believer to remain in a constant state of spiritual depression. Psalm 42 describes the state of the soul in spiritual depression. The Psalm also directs the believer out of the slough of despond to the place in his life where he can "praise Him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God."

1. There Will Be Depression Apart from God

In the first five verses of the Psalm the writer describes what his feelings are like while he languishes in a mood of depression. Although the superscriptions of the Psalms are not inspired, they can serve as clues to the historical background for many of the Psalms.

The superscription to the Psalm reads "To the chief musician, Maschil, for the sons of Korah." If this information is accurate, then this Psalm was written as a Psalm for giving instruction or teaching to the sons of Korah.

Most conservative commentators ascribe the writing of the Psalm to David. Psalm 42 was probably composed during a period of banishment from Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the site of worship for the Jew. The sons of Korah would have been grandsons of Kehath.

These sons of Korah later became gatekeepers and musicians in the House of God (see Psalm 84). So in effect, the sons of Korah were attendants to an exiled king -- a depressing set of circumstances!

"As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after Thee, O God." The animal described in verse one has been running. Perhaps he had been hotly pursued by an adversary. The animal's throat is parched and its deepest and most immediate desire was for water.

The writer transfers the thought, in a figure of speech, to himself when he states that his soul thirsts after God in the same way that a desperate animal yearns for a drink of water. One of the greatest yearnings or longings a human being can experience is that of thirst.

Nothing will assuage desperate thirst like a drink of cool, clear, water. The writer of the Psalm states his firm conviction that nothing but God will satisfy the intense longing of his soul.

Spiritual depression is a thirsting of the soul which can only be satisfied by God. Augustine was correct when he said that our souls are restless and can only find true peace and satisfaction in God. When one attempts to find spiritual satisfaction apart from God, then he will always fail.

The thing or person substituted in the place of God will only lead a person to an even deeper spiritual depression. The depressed person will ultimately grow more dependent upon this "God-substitute" and less dependent upon God Himself.

This "pseudo-satisfaction" is what the prophet Jeremiah is talking about in Jeremiah 2:11-13 where is asks the question, "Hath a nation changed their gods, which are yet no gods?" Read the entire passage carefully and you will see a major source of much spiritual depression.

It is no accident that Jeremiah states later in the same section " . . .And now what hast thou to do in the way of Egypt to drink the waters of Sihor? or what hast thou to do in the way of Assyria, to drink the waters of the river?" (Jeremiah 2:18)

Jesus announced the only source of soul-satisfaction when He said, "If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink." (John 7:37) The Jews of David's day linked the place of worship with the presence of God.

You will remember the Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat were representatives of the glory and presence of God. Since David was being pursued by his enemies, he was forced to be absent from the worship and the presence of God in Jerusalem. This is why he asks " . . .when shall I come and appear before God?" (Psalm 42:2)

It is generally believed that David wrote this Psalm when driven from Jerusalem beyond the Jordan as a result of Absalom's rebellion. When the psalmist asks "when shall I come and appear", it has specific reference to those appearences in Jerusalem prescibed by the Mosaic Law.

The Hebrew term translated "appear" is the same term found in the Mosaic requirements given in Exodus 23:15-17; 34:20-24; and Deuteronomy 16:16. The psalmist has a soul thirst not just to fulfill some legal requirement.

His soul is parched with spiritual thirst for fellowship and communion with God at the appointed times of worship. When is the last time you experienced such a thirsting of your soul because you were prevented from appearing before God?

The cry of the psalmist was not for music, programs, entertainment or the trappings of religious observance -- his "soul thirsteth for God, for the living God." Nothing less than the presence of God in the life of a believer will remove the feeling of spiritual depression.

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