I have read that some Christians find certain Psalms disturbing, so much so that those Psalms have been dubbed the “uncomfortable Psalms.” In these Psalms, we see the writers lamenting over grievances and apparent injustices, describing the pits of despair and anguish, and even crying out to God and questioning His decisions, actions or apparent lack or action. I think many find these Psalms uncomfortable because they cannot accept that all people will go through periods of suffering.
Having had a difficult, sickly childhood, and later suffering from depression, otosclerosis and epilepsy, I have found great comfort from the uncomfortable Psalms.
Psalm 77, written by Asaph, is one of those Psalms. Asaph is so disturbed that he cannot sleep and spends the night crying out to God. Even so, he cannot find any comfort and only grows weaker. Smitten by chronic insomnia during the early days of depression, I too spent many a night begging God to hear my plea to end my suffering.
I cried out to God for help;
I cried out to God to hear me.
When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
at night I stretched out untiring hands
and my soul refused to be comforted.
I remembered you, O God, and I groaned;
I mused, and my spirit grew faint.
The weight of Asaph’s troubles is so great that he can no longer see God as a loving God who shows favour to His children. Asaph thinks of better times when He could feel God’s presence and love, and he begins to direct accusing questions towards God. “Will you reject me forever? Will you never show your favour to me again? Has your love for me disappeared forever too? What of your mercy and compassion – are you angry with me?” These are all common reactions for someone suffering from depression.
The fact is that acute suffering such as depression destroys our worldview - we look at everything through depression-coloured glasses. Everything, including our perception of God, looks bleak.
You kept my eyes from closing;
I was too troubled to speak.
I thought about the former days,
the years of long ago;
I remembered my songs in the night.
My heart mused and my spirit inquired:
"Will the Lord reject forever?
Will he never show his favor again?
Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
Has his promise failed for all time?
Has God forgotten to be merciful?
Has he in anger withheld his compassion?"
But Asaph does not stop there, and neither should we. Well aware that he cannot feel God’s favour, love, mercy and compassion because of the severity of his sufferings, Asaph responds by reminding himself of God’s past faithfulness. He starts to recall and meditate on the miracles God did in setting Israel free from slavery when He brought them out of Egypt. That is something that we can do too. We can think back to when we placed our faith in Christ, of the times God provided for our needs, when we found comfort in His Word, when we basked in the knowledge of His love and presence. We can also reflect upon the miracles of God's provision recorded in the Bible, of the way in which Jesus ministered to and cared for the lost and hurting when He came to the world. We can remember Christ's death and resurrection, and what this means to us personally.
Then I thought, "To this I will appeal:
the years of the right hand of the Most High."
I will remember the deeds of the LORD;
yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
I will meditate on all your works
and consider all your mighty deeds.
Your ways, O God, are holy.
What god is so great as our God?
You are the God who performs miracles;
you display your power among the peoples.
With your mighty arm you redeemed your people,
the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.
And as we remind ourselves of God’s past faithfulness, we need to remind ourselves that He has not changed - the only thing that has changed is our perception of Him. God is the same God today as He was before we suffered from depression, and will be the same God when we have recovered. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Hebrews 13:8.
So let our reflections upon His past faithfulness and the knowledge that He has not changed, not only encourage us in the here and now, but also give us hope for the future. Jesus will never let go of us, He will never abandon us, and although we cannot see His footprints, He is there leading us by the hand.
The waters saw you, O God,
the waters saw you and writhed;
the very depths were convulsed.
The clouds poured down water,
the skies resounded with thunder; your arrows flashed back and forth.
Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind,
your lightning lit up the world;
the earth trembled and quaked.
Your path led through the sea,
your way through the mighty waters,
though your footprints were not seen.
You led your people like a flock
by the hand of Moses and Aaron.
“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand." John 10:27-29
All verses from the NIV.