Depression and God

Sometimes I feel depressed and in those times, if I take a moment to consider instead of reacting to my feelings I realize that it’s my focus that’s not right.  My place, my purpose is to be a self-cognizant creation; one who isn’t self-reliant and one designed to heap praise on a being more worthy than I.  My feelings come from forgetting my place in the universe and focusing on things I cannot change.

When I stop reacting and start thinking I often consider what looks like my “plight;” the thing or things that have me depressed (how powerless I feel to help my loved ones, how stupid or incompetent I feel before those I would care to impress, etc.) and I’m challenged to remember that I’m a creation, not the ultimate creator.  I can make things like babies or art or thoughts but only as a shadow of God who can speak things into existence; my role isn’t to be God and have others praise me.  It is the mistaken identity I have of who I wish I was that leads me to these moments of frustration and depression.

When I’m willing to rise to the challenge of dealing with my feelings I’m drawn to certain Biblical characters.  Job in his extreme case of loss or Abraham who was given a child in his old age and then told to sacrifice him for God.  I remember Elijah who performed miracles for God but then quelled and ran away only to find God not in a storm or an earthquake but in a small wind on the side of a mountain and he was humbled.  Tonight I remembered Jeremiah because I wanted to think, “The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.” (Lam 3:22-23 NASB)

Jeremiah was a young man whom God chose to be a prophet but he was a prophet to a nation that had turned its back on God.  Like many prophets, for the wonderful joy of being hand-picked by God, Jeremiah got to tell the folks around him that God was going to bring destruction (Jer 1:13-19).  Here are some salient points about the job Jeremiah got:

  • God is going to bring people who aren’t Israelites into Israel and let them come right up to Jerusalem and then He is going to use them to teach Israel a lesson
  • God will use these people who are not His chosen people to pronounce His judgements on His chosen people
  • Jeremiah is supposed to go tell the Israelite kings what was about to happen and then what was happening as it occurred (keep in mind that the nation of Israel was broken into two kingdomes at this time)
  • God promised Jeremiah that the kings just would NOT like what he was going to say to them but that he better not be scared of them or else God would give him something to be scared about
    Now, gird up your loins and arise, and speak to them all which I command you. Do not be dismayed before them, or I will dismay you before them.” (Jer 1:17 NASB)

So far this doesn’t sound like the kind of life I want.  It certainly doesn’t afford the employee, Jeremiah in this case, much time to wonder if ol’ Bob at work thinks he’s a complete idiot or not; Jeremiah already knows going into his new profession that the people he will be talking with are NOT going to like him.  Mmmm, I don’t know about you but that would definitely make me want to get out of bed in the morning and hustle on in to work. 

“Hey, king.  Say, I get the whole bowing and scraping before you thing but, and keep in mind that this isn’t so much my opinion but more my boss’.  You suck.  Your reign sucks and the way you’re leading the nation sucks.  You suck so bad at your job of leading the nation of Israel that my boss, your God, is going to bring a bunch of heathen, ungodly, demon-worshipping, non-Israelites to kick your army’s butt and then they’ll sack your cities ’cause God’s all like, ‘Israel is my nation and if they don’t follow me I’ll spank ’em like children and whatnot.’  So, in conclusion, you suck, your leadership sucks and God’s gonna whip the stuffing out of you.  Now, anybody want to run to Applebee’s for lunch today?”

Yeah, that’s about how I think that conversation would go, too. 

For the sake of brevity (good luck on that, I’m the one writing), let’s fast forward a little bit and jump over to Jeremiah’s second book, Lamentations.

In Lamentations 1 we see Jeremiah depressed.  His nation has been conquered, his people are in exile (Lam 1:3).  If you read this chapter you get a great idea just how depressed Jeremiah was.  There was no consolation for him; he was seriously depressed.  He says things like:
[Jerusalem] was a princess, now she’s a slave (Lam 1:1)
She has no lovers left, her friends betrayed her (Lam 1:2)
Her priests are groaning, her virgins are afflicted and she is bitter (Lam 1:4)
Her enemies have become her masters and they prosper from it because God wants to punish us (Lam 1:5)
and on and on and on he drones listing the bad things that have happened to Jerusalem (and the kingdom of Judah for which it stands as the capital)

This guy won’t shut up about it either.  By verse 20 he’s telling God how upset he is and then he points out that his enemies have heard how depressed he is and they’re happy about it.  He asks God to deal with those who take pleasure in his sadness (Lam 1:22).  Jeremiah spends the next chapter going on again about how God appears to have taken a cosmic dump on His chosen people, the Israelites.  He finishes Lamentations 2 up with statements like

“… You killed the young men because You were angry, you slaughtered them and didn’t spare them … there was no one who escaped or survived in the day of the Lord’s anger.  Those whom I bore and reared, my enemy annihilated them.” 

Apparently God didn’t even spare Jeremiah’s family. 

So to recap, God told Jeremiah to go tell people something they wouldn’t want to hear and that they would fight against him but that Jeremiah better not be scared of them or else He, God, would give Jeremiah something to be afraid of and then when Jeremiah did what God told him to do, God destroyed Jeremiah’s country, his home and even allowed Jeremiah’s loved ones to be destroyed by Jeremiah’s worst enemies.  Yeah, that’s a pretty bad job description from where I’m sitting. 

Skipping on in this wonderful little story of joy I’m going to check out chapter 3 and there we find … Jeremiah whining even more.

“Oh, God’s got a target on my back; He’s decided to crush me.” (my paraphrase of his whining)

I’m not saying God hadn’t but seriously, more whining?  Uhmmm, maybe not. 

In verse 20 we see a transformation.  Jeremiah remembers something and finds his humility.  He remembers in verse 21 and he gains hope.  We have to ride along with Jeremiah in his journey through his self-titled book, Jeremiah, and the first three chapters of his second book, Lamentations, until we get to the point of his story to us.  God may choose to punish us in this existence upon Earth.  He may let bad people have good things happen to them and even good people; those we would consider to be innocents, have horrible things happen to them but God’s lovingkindnesses, His mercy, His compassion do not fail.  They never go away completely.  His mercy is renewed every morning.  God is faithful to us in a way we cannot understand because we aren’t nearly as faithful.  God will not allow evil to exist forever.  He is the Lord and we are those who praise and serve Him.  He is the Creator and we are the creation but he will not force us to endure without His mercy and the gifts of His love.  He will see us in our distress and have compassion on us.  It’s true that we don’t order God’s timetable and sometimes things seem really, really crappy.  Loved ones die when we wish they wouldn’t, jobs evaporate when we have children at home to feed and care for, our bodies or minds fail us just as we decide to spend some time with friends and loved ones.  Bad things happen and it truly looks like God may be ambivilent or even malicious towards us but the reality is that His love and mercy are new and evident every day and that it is our mis-shapen view, our screwed up perspective that cause us to see it like we’ve been put upon.  God was the one that gave and gave to Israel and they turned their backs on Him.  Look back in Jeremiah 2:4,5 when God tells Jeremiah to go say to the kings of Judah (who were as yet not defeated and in exile and could have repented),

“What injustice did your fathers find in Me that they went far from me and walked after emptiness and became empty?” 

 

God tried to make the point to the Israelites (through their kings and leaders) that He gave them all He promised them and had fulfilled His blessings on them.  He led them from slavery in Egypt into a land where He gave them victory in battle after battle.  He empowered Moses and then Joshua & Caleb and even later judges to lead them and finally even gave them a king and at no point were they happy with what He gave them and they walked away from God.  It wasn’t God’s fault, the Israelites walked away from the relationship. 

Don’t get this twisted; it isn’t just the Israelites.  How often today does God want to give you good things and yet you (if you’re like me) want to turn away to seek stupid things like me wishing I could make someone be impressed by me?  How often do I wish God would grant me the power to heal those I love or take care of those for whom I care? 

The reality is I don’t want God’s job.  I don’t want to love billions of people day-after-day only to watch someone in Atlanta throw his life away by shooting drugs into his veins while I stand beside him and love him and wish he would turn to me.  I don’t want God’s job.  I don’t want to stand beside a woman in Seattle who feels so desperate she will ruin her life in trying to serve others when what I want is for her to want more of a relationship with me.  I don’t want God’s job; I just want Him to do what I want when I want it. 

My feelings of depression come from times when I forget that I am the creation, not the Creator.  I’m the one who should be humbled by all that God gives me.  My family, my health, my experiences with God in this life have all been gifts God has given me and the people He puts me around are so that I can fulfill my purpose to work for Him whether it be delivering papers or making pizza or doing what I do now.  He’s given me the desires of my heart and the fact that I’m not satisfied is my fickleness not His failure to be generous to me.  God is not at fault when I’m not happy any more than it was His fault when Jeremiah felt like his whole world had been turned upside down.  It’s an injustice to God to shake a fist at Him and say

“Why God?  Why did you take this person from me, you bastard?  You Suck!  I hurt and you suck.”

but that’s how we are isn’t it?  It’s how I am.  I want to blame Him when the reality is that He could have given me to a family that didn’t care for me as much as the one I’m in and even then He would have been there to watch over me and give me opportunities to know Him and have a life with Him.  He could have given me a job that feels more difficult but even then He would have been there to listen to my childish railings and comfort me.  He doesn’t promise that things will be the way we want but he does promise that He loves us and will be with us.  It’s a sad indictment of me that in His mercy and love, He is the one that gets blamed when I (and I presume I’m not the only one) blame Him even though I’ve never gotten any good thing that He didn’t want me to have before I even knew of it and then He set a plan in motion so that I could have it.

My poor attitude is becasue I forget my place in the universe sometimes.  I’m the creation, God is the Creator.  I’m not God nor would I want the broken heart He endures waiting on each of us to turn to Him and accept the gifts He has for us.