The Psalmists’ Rich View of Depression
It’s interesting to ponder the Psalms and how they view “depression.” It is such a rich view. Honestly, it makes a DSM-V view of depression seem quite flat and shallow by comparison.
Richness in Definition/Descriptions of Depression
In the Psalms we discover a great variety of descriptions of depression. Some of it is what church history has called “spiritual depression.” That is, depression, despair, and doubt brought on by “the dark night of the soul” such as in Psalm 88 when God seems absent.
Some of the depression in the Psalms is situational—despair, doubt, agony, hurt, crushed dreams, and so much more—all in response to enemies and evil.
Some of the depression discussed in the Psalms is brought on personal sin—unconfessed sin. Psalms 32 and 51 are just two examples of at least seven Psalms of Confession. Unconfessed sin can crush both the body and the soul.
Richness in the Impact of Depression
That leads to another area of richness in the Psalms related to depression—the impact is seen as varied. Depression impacts the mind, the soul, the sense of self, the body, the emotions, the will.
This is not to say that depression “controls” the aspects of the human personality. But there is no doubt that the Psalms demonstrate the interconnection between depression and the affections, soul, mind, will, emotions, and body.
Richness of Prescription for Depression
Depression in the Psalms is never simply seen as an “emotional response.” Depression is always a whole-person response to God, life, others, and self.
Depression, regardless of the potential etiology or cause, is always viewed as “in-relationship-to-God. That’s because the Psalms, like all of the Bible, view all people as always “in-relationship-to-God-beings.”
That richness is part of what always saddens me when Christians emphasize secular theories of people, problems, and solutions—they leave the circumference of our existence out of the picture—God. As Jay Adams said in A Theology of Christian Counseling, God is our environment.
So, whether depression is seen in the Psalms as in some ways related to personal sin, or related to being sinned against, or related to the dark night of the soul—God is always on the lips, minds, and hearts of the psalmists.
Richness of Compassion for the Depressed Soul: Seeing Depression through the Lens of Suffering
It’s instructive to note that other than the seven Psalms of Confession, most Psalms that look at depression, doubt, and despair, do so through the lens of compassion for the suffering. In other words, the default response is not, “You are depressed; you must have an unconfessed sin.”
Again, in seven Psalms, that is clearly the diagnostic category. But in many other Psalms, the diagnostic category is not “hamartiology” (personal sin), but “sufferology” (being sinned against and/or living in a fallen world and experiencing the impact of that fallen world).
As biblical counselors, we would be wise to take note of this. Is our default lens for depression always, “It is a sin that is unrecognized or unconfessed”? Do we always assume that, “The depression must be addressed as a sinful response to life situations”?
Often, Psalm-like-depression is depression that must be addressed as normal, human responses to the horrors of being sin against, of living in a fallen world that often falls on us. In many ways, this type of “depression” is agreeing with God that, “This is not the way it is supposed to me!”
The Psalmists are not ashamed to lament. Nor do they rush through their laments. Sometimes they are even brave enough and trusting God enough to end a Psalm still confused and struggling—like Psalm 88.
When someone comes to us lamenting life—lamenting to God, then “spotting sin,” or “identifying the idol of the heart,” or “exhorting more emotional maturity” is not the Psalm-like response. The Psalm-like response is “climbing in the casket”—lamenting with people, staying with people, being there for people—compassionately. As we climb in the casket with suffering people, we also move with them toward hope—“toward celebrating the resurrection” from their “casket experiences.”
In other words, let’s be like Job’s counselors the first seven days when they lamented with Job. Let’s not be like Job’s miserable counselors when they spent the rest of their time “sin spotting.”
Comprehensive, compassionate biblical counseling is the most holistic care that we can offer anyone struggling with depression. It’s Psalms-like compassionate, comprehensive care. It sees depression through rich lenses; it sees the person through compassionate lenses; it sees all of life through the infinite, hope-filled lenses of Christ.
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