Depression is Biblical

Psalm 88Depression carries a stigma for those who suffer under its weight. On top of the burden that already exists for those who live with it, we place shame and doubt and frustration. It’s cruel and unnecessary.

There is a particular stigma that exists within the Christian subculture that depression is somehow wrong. People are led to believe it is somehow a sign of not having enough faith or not being inside God’s will or having done something to displease God.

That idea is not biblical. Not in the slightest.

I challenge anyone who says that depression is outside of the experience of a person of faith to read Psalm 88. These are the words of someone who is in the midst of deep anguish. In fact, at the front end, the Psalm declares itself “A song to be sung to the tune 'The Suffering of Affliction.'”

Listen to the words of Psalm 88 from the New Living Translation.

O LORD, God of my salvation,      I cry out to you by day.      I come to you at night. Now hear my prayer;      listen to my cry. For my life is full of troubles,      and death draws near. I am as good as dead,      like a strong man with no strength left. They have left me among the dead,      and I lie like a corpse in a grave. I am forgotten,      cut off from your care. You have thrown me into the lowest pit,      into the darkest depths. Your anger weighs me down;      with wave after wave you have engulfed me.      Interlude You have driven my friends away      by making me repulsive to them. I am in a trap with no way of escape.      My eyes are blinded by my tears. Each day I beg for your help, O LORD;      I lift my hands to you for mercy. Are your wonderful deeds of any use to the dead?      Do the dead rise up and praise you?      Interlude Can those in the grave declare your unfailing love?      Can they proclaim your faithfulness in the place of destruction? Can the darkness speak of your wonderful deeds?      Can anyone in the land of forgetfulness talk about your righteousness? O LORD, I cry out to you.      I will keep on pleading day by day. O LORD, why do you reject me?      Why do you turn your face from me? I have been sick and close to death since my youth.      I stand helpless and desperate before your terrors. Your fierce anger has overwhelmed me.      Your terrors have paralyzed me. They swirl around me like floodwaters all day long.      They have engulfed me completely. You have taken away my companions and loved ones.      Darkness is my closest friend. 

This is not a Psalm of easy answers. It is filled with brokenness and pain.

I think this Psalm teaches us an important lesson: let’s stop trying to fix people. This Psalm does not have platitudes. It does not pretend things are explainable. It does not fix. It does not resolve.

Psalm 88 sits in pain with its singer. Its words come alongside like a friend, offering the safety of honesty and presence.

Parker Palmer has written about his experience as a Christian suffering from depression and how people responded to him. Many people visited him during his darkest days, trying to help, but many of them just added to the hurt.

But one friend, one friend brought his presence in the most beautiful way.

“Blessedly, there were several people, family and friends, who had the courage to stand with me in a simple and healing way. One of them was a man who, having asked my permission to do so, stopped by late every afternoon, sat me down in a chair, knelt in front of me, removed my shoes and socks, and for half an hour simply massaged my feet. He found the only place in my body where I could still experience bodily feeling—and feel connected with the human race.

He rarely spoke a word, and when he did, he never gave advice but simply mirrored my condition. He would say, “I can sense your struggle today,” or, “It feels like you are getting stronger.” I could not always respond, but his words were deeply helpful: They reassured me that I could still be seen by at least on person, life-giving knowledge in the midst of an experience that makes one feel annihilated and invisible. It is almost impossible to put into words what my friend's ministry meant to me."

Let’s follow this example. Let’s enter with people in their pain and not try to fix them. Let’s give those who are suffering space to simply be without adding the burden of shame to their already heavy load.

Psalm 88 shows a God who wants to be present with us in the midst of it, without easy answers. Let’s provide that presence for one another.

That was my reflection on Psalm 88. Link up with your own reflection below. Or stop back next week with a reflection on Psalm 89.