Depression is both ancient and universal.
Hippocrates, the ancient physician, wrote a treatise on melancholy.
Winston Churchill, a bastion of strength, underwent severe bouts of depression.
Edgar Allan Poe is said to have been depressed after writing “The Pit and the Pendulum.”
Stalin’s daughter said that he was the victim of deep and dark depression.
Charles Spurgeon, a great preacher suffered lengthy bouts of darkness and melancholy.
My favourite poem is Keats ‘Ode to Melancholy’
Depression knows no moral boundaries or social distinctions; all alike are subject to bouts of melancholy. The Bible has a ‘Miserable Majority’ too: at critical moments in their lives many of God’s greatest servants were depressed. Moses, Job, Elijah, Jonah all pleaded for God to take their lives.
The Psalms are full of people sunk in the pit of despair.
“Why are you downcast, O my soul? and why are you in turmoil within me?” Psalm 42:5
And then of course we have Jeremiah. We even talk about people being a ‘Jeremiah’ don’t we, his nickname being a prophet of doom. This passage in Jeremiah 20 really is a miserable description of the effects of depression. Jeremiah has hit rock bottom and his experience should be helpful to anyone who ever has to deal with depression.
This passage is actually a favourite of mine because I find the enormous depth’s of Jeremiah’s discouragement encouraging. It is good that it is there in the Bible, something that can be spoken of and not hidden away. And perhaps the biggest encouragement is that God chose him for a tremendous and difficult job. Despite depression God was able to use him.
Why was Jeremiah depressed? Obviously there are many reasons for depressions but in Jeremiah’s case the reasons are clearly stated in v7
“O Lord, you deceived me, and I was deceived;
you overpowered me and prevailed.
I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me.”
Jeremiah felt that he had been deceived.
Jeremiah felt he was mocked and ridiculed.
Let’s look at those things one at a time.
Being deceived is awful isn’t it? It can have bad effects that last a long time – for ever sometimes.
I can remember visiting a family once to arrange a funeral service for a grandmother, someone I didn’t know. They asked for the ‘Birdie Song’ to be played at the end of the service. I said that I didn’t think it wasn’t really appropriate: why would they want that? Well, it was real family favourite, they all remembered many a happy holiday at Butlin’s, where, each evening ended with her doing the dance with the grandchildren. It would be so good to end the service with those memories for the grandchildren’s sake. Being a doting granny myself, I caved in and said yes. The day after the funeral service I was at a coffee morning where the WI were out in force. I was of course accosted by them. Why had I allowed such a dreadful piece of music at funeral? I relayed the story. Uhh! They said, she was the most miserable individual you would ever want to meet. Apparently that was the family’s way of waving two fingers at granny.
I had been well and truly deceived. And I felt dreadful. That’s how being taken makes you feel. Imagine though feeling you had been duped by God? That’s a whole lot worse. In Jeremiah’s case it was all understandable though.
Jeremiah was a most unlikely super-hero. There he was sitting around one day minding his own business and God says “You will be my appointed spokesman to all the world. To this Jeremiah responds “You cannot be serious?” Ok Not Exactly how he responded but in effect! Jeremiah was only 12 or 13 at the time! Jeremiah had made it plain to God that he didn’t feel up to the job but God said he didn’t need to worry because He, God, is in control. There were times in Jeremiah’s life, like this passage, when he seemed to forget that and but you can't really blame him.
He has just spent time in the stocks for the crime of preaching the mind of God; he had just been punished as result of righteous teaching. He had experienced confrontation with the power structure of the nation who refused to do right and who refused to heed the warnings of God. He been thrown in a cistern and left there. Jeremiah has invested two decades preaching - to no avail; the people are no nearer God than when he started and God is no nearer than when Jeremiah began. The Babylonians are still on the march and the religious leaders are still playing at being church. Cruel oppressors were still in control of daily life and conspiring to exclude God from everything.
Jeremiah’s speaking God’s words has made him an object of ridicule, insults and cruel treatment. The saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” is an absolute lie! Broken bones and bruises mend and fade. Words wound deep within and can cripple for a lifetime.
Jeremiah heard the mocking whispers as he passed by: “Terror on every side.” Had become his nickname. Even his friends were against him. It’s painful enough when those we don’t know laugh at us but when our close friends mock us the wounds can feel intolerable.
Jeremiah responds, v9, by retreating from service: “I will not mention Him or speak any more in His name.”
He then curses the fact that he’s alive and, not for the first time, wishes himself dead. (15:10)
It is a very dark place to be in when a Christian wishes themself dead. The focus is on the situation with the belief that maybe God doesn’t rule over all?
What helped Jeremiah get through/out of this mess? What can help us in dark despair comes upon us - even we are doing God’s work?
Telling someone at the bottom of the pit to cheer up and pull themselves out of it is not a good thing to do! They are not likely to listen to such sentiments!
What can we do? Jeremiah had two great resources which are available to each of us.
His first resource was the confidence that even in the silence God is working. Many people operate under the assumption that if God is at work we will be in constant communication - there will be a constant dialogue between God and us.
But when Jeremiah begged for intervention there was only silence. Its the same story in the Psalms, the prayers offered in greatest desperation were seeking God’s face but notice how often the Psalmist’s cries are met by silence?
‘O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,’ Psalm 22:2
God frequently appears unmoved by the Psalmist’s pleas. He remains silent.
The Psalms that speak of heaven’s silence always conclude with the victorious note that God has been at work all along! The lesson we need to learn is that God works in silence. Think of Elijah, when he fled from Jezebel, discouraged, defeated and depressed, he was ready to end it all.
After going a day’s journey into the wilderness he sat down under a broom tree and asked that he might die. Then God revealed Himself to Elijah, not in the wind, the earthquake or the fire but in a low whisper. God works in the quiet time. Be still, and know that I am God Psalm 46:10.
We neglect the command given Israel when Pharaoh and his armies threatened the people of God as they were departing Egypt. Moses said, “The Lord will fight for you; you must be quiet” Exodus 14:14.
Now, musicians, when reading music carefully observe the rest signs. It might well be that there is no music in a rest, but, there is the making of music in that rest. Without the rest there’s a constant cacophony/din – rather like the wretched vuvuzelas in the hands of South Africans at a football game.
I know it can be hard when God appears to be silent but we must never think that because God doesn’t thunder from heaven that He’s incapable of working or that He doesn’t care about us. God was silent even when His own Son cried out in agony from the cross, ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?’ Was God unable to work? Did He not care? Remember in the silence of those six hours, God provided for mankind’s redemption.
Another precious resource that Jeremiah drew upon was that however bad he felt he kept talking to God. His prayers, like the psalmists were not ‘nice polite’ ones. But he kept talking, he kept asking for help. Is God offended by the raging cries that come from wounded hearts? Of course not – but I suppose He might be by our trying to be polite and saying nice things when it wasn’t really truthful?
God hears us. He works to bring relief. What else can the promise mean, “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose”
But Jeremiah found the greatest relief from depression when he discovered something in the midst of his darkness to express as an act of praise to God.
V13 Sing to the Lord! Give praise to the Lord! He rescues the life of the needy from the hands of the wicked.
There is power in remembering God’s mercy and in praising His Name.
When, if we find ourselves in a depression, I believe we all do at times, think of Jeremiah’s ways of responding:
Jeremiah learned that God works even though He is silent.
Don’t despair and assume that because God doesn’t answer immediately He doesn’t care or that He is incapable of intervening. He may even at the moment of your greatest distress be in the process of sending relief. God is too good to ever needlessly hurt us and too wise to ever make a mistake.
Keep on talking to God. Your prayers may not be models for Sunday services, but keep on talking. Cry out your pain and your sorrow, but do allow them to turn to songs of praise.
If you’ve seen Him work in days gone by, take comfort and strength in the knowledge that He’s intervened before and He will do again. Keep a diary recording special times when God intervenes so you’ll have a record of the acts of God.
We must turn to Him again and again, sobbing our sorrows, crying our discouragement, until He provides an answer. In the midst of despair Jeremiah discovered that being beaten down and flat on our back, a child of God discovers there is but one direction to look.
Jesus asked His disciples: “Do you want to go away as well?” Peter replied: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” Regardless of how difficult the trial we experience, to whom shall we go, if not God? Amen