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Psalm 13, Depression, and Feeling Abandoned


I’ve been reading through volume 1 of James Montgomery Boice’s commentary on the Psalms (Psalms 1-41, book one of the Psalter), a past free monthly book offer from Logos software, usually two psalms per week.  (The commentary comes from Boice’s exposition of the psalms; for psalms after the 41st, I may return to listening to the original sermons.) This psalms commentary is a great combination of technical information and excellent application.

The commentary on Psalm 13 also ties in with another recently read book—from Christian counselor Ed Welch, another Kindle sale deal: Depression: Looking Up from the Stubborn Darkness.  (See previous posts of Welch’s books here and also here.)

Some highlights from Welch’s book:  our greatest need is forgiveness; having a purpose statement for our life; and recognizing that perseverance is one of the attributes of God.  Thus, our suffering and the consequent perseverance, is another way in which we are conformed more and more to God’s image.  The sovereignty of God, especially in suffering that comes from, at least in part, our own past choices, also has greater value and importance than the mere “academic” idea of it:

Although life before a sovereign God assures us that God is in control, accomplishing His good plans even through our poor choices, it is easy to lose sight of this reality.  When we do, we can feel as if an unwise decision has forever doomed us to a path that is second best.

Returning to Boice, it is interesting to see how much helpful material can be found within the context of a few pages of commentary on a particular text.  Here Boice addresses several considerations, examining the psalmist David’s feelings and the three parts of the psalm.  One interesting point is the feeling of abandonment described, and Boice (writing in the late 20th century) observed that among Christian authors dealing with the topic of depression, even Martyn Lloyd Jones, they don’t address the issue of feeling abandoned—perhaps because of the deeply ingrained idea that, of course, Christians are never abandoned and should never have such experience.  As Boice observes:

Although this is a common problem, I have not been able to find much helpful literature about it, particularly by Christians. Even D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones in Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure does not specifically deal with feelings of abandonment.

Why do you suppose this is? I think it is because we have been taught that Christians are not to experience such things, that we are only to have “life more abundantly” or to “live victoriously.” In the last chapter I quoted the dying French atheist Voltaire, who said, “I am abandoned by God and man.” We are not surprised to hear an unbeliever say that. But if any of us should admit to such feelings, many of our friends would look askance at us, shake their heads, and wonder whether we are Christians. Isn’t that true? Isn’t that the chief reason why you do not talk to other Christians about this or about many other problems?  How good then to find that David does talk about it! David is a giant in Scripture, a person “after [God’s] own heart” (1 Sam. 13:14). Yet described here is a time when David felt that God had left him entirely. And he doesn’t cover up his feelings.

Following the outline of Psalm 13, the commentary describes several reasons why people feel abandoned:

Prolonged Struggle

We still believe God is there. It is different when the short-term experience becomes a long-term pattern, and we begin to wonder whether God’s silence may endure “forever.”  … Andrew Fuller, another of the earlier commentators, said, “It is not under the sharpest, but the longest trials, that we are most in danger of fainting.”

Lack of Apparent Blessing

A second cause of depression, leading to feelings of abandonment, is an extension of the first: a prolonged period in which the blessings of God given in an earlier time seem to have been removed.

Boice lists several areas of such impact in our lives:  family relationships (“the happiness of the early days of a marriage has been replaced by the stress of trying to work out personality conflicts or other difficulties”), as well as in our work, our church life, and in our spiritual life and progress.

Dark Thoughts and Uncontrollable Emotions

The third time David asks, “How long?” he refers to a combination of what we would call dark thoughts and uncontrollable emotions. When we no longer sense that God is blessing us, we tend to ruminate on our failures and get into an emotional funk. And when our emotions take over it is always hard to get back onto a level course. This is because the best means of doing this—calm reflection and a review of past blessings—are being swept away.

You know that God deals with us by grace. But the lack of blessing has continued for so long that you have become morbidly introspective. You have been dredging up past sins and have been wondering, “Is God punishing me for what I did then? I confessed the sin and believed he forgave me. But maybe he is bringing it up again and putting me on hold because of it.”

Often what we learn comes from meditating upon God’s word and its application, from considering new information from multiple sources (such as Christian articles, books, and selections from Bible commentaries), and connecting it all together.  Both of the above resources – James Montgomery Boice’s commentary on the Psalms, and the Ed Welch book, Depression: Looking Up from the Stubborn Darkness, are helpful for study.  The Psalms study includes the lament type Psalms, and Welch teaches through many scripture examples and real-life examples of people applying scripture to their real-life problems.

  1. July 11, 2019 at 3:05 am

    TY

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