Depression - A Case Study - Job
I have to admit that one of Job’s early comments has always puzzled me. Shortly after the arrival of his friends, he says, ‘The thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me’, 3. 25. What puzzles me is identifying what it was that he feared the most, and then scratching my head over why a loving, shepherd-hearted God would visit that fear, of all fears, upon the servant in whom He delighted.
It is probably safe to say that the loss of all his children and material possessions, heavy though that blow was, and all on the same day, was not Job’s greatest fear; he seems to have coped with the loss better than did his wife. Even the loss of his health is something he seems to take in his stride, and in so doing proved Satan wrong in his assessment of him, 2. 4-5. Would God that all of us could react in the same way as Job, and say, when facing huge material loss, ‘The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord’, 1. 21; and, when facing sudden and inexplicable ill-health, ‘Shall we receive good at the hand of God and shall we not receive evil?’ 2. 10. Was it the loss of his good name, which followed on from the other two blows, in so far as even the children in the streets thought his misfortunes came because of secret sins which God had so evidently and so startlingly made manifest, chapter 19? After all, ‘a good name is better than precious ointment’, Prov. 7. 1.
I think not, since though these things were dear to Job, there was something even more precious. His greatest fear, surely, is loss of contact with his God. Listen to him as he sits on his ash heap. ‘Lo, he goeth by me, and I see him not: he passeth on also, but I perceive him not’, Job 9. 11. ‘Behold, I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him: On the left hand, where he doth work, but I cannot behold him: he hideth himself on the right hand, that I cannot see him’, 23. 8-9. Yes, Job does wrestle over God’s dealings with him, and struggles to understand why a man as righteous as he, though not sinless, should suffer when the wicked around him prosper. But the heart of a righteous man suffers most at the loss of communion with his God.
Verses 1 to 8 of chapter 1 show us Job’s testimony; he brought pleasure to the heart of God. From verse 9 of chapter 1 through to verse 13 of chapter 2, we see his testing. Chapter 3 shows us his turmoil. He regrets the day he was born, longs for death, and struggles with the providence of God. Many of God’s saints have not sat where Job sat, nor, like his ‘friends’, have they understood his grief, but some have. Depression, even despair, is an illness hugely misunderstood by the people of God! For those of you who have not been brought low, it is hard to empathize with those of us that have. ‘Pull yourself together, man’. ‘Why can’t you just trust?’ ‘Faith overcomes everything’. But all the theological arguments of Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, Fred, Cuthbert and Dora cannot help. In the end, it is the return of the presence of God that gives Job relief. ‘I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye seeth thee’, 42. 5. His God has come back!
Depression can be brought on by many things. For some, it may be genetic, for others, trials, pressures, illnesses, the failures of our children, the closing of the little assembly we love, any or all of these can bring us to the brink. For some it is the sharpness of another’s tongue, the gossip circulating behind our backs, the cruel unkindness we hand out as believer to believer, the irrecoverable loss of a good name or a testimony. It is astonishing how we treat one another. ‘Why do Christians shoot their own wounded?’ someone once asked. We even do it in the name of Christ, and claim it is ‘for the work’s sake’! One of the biggest blows to me, many years ago, was the way in which erstwhile ‘friends’ and brothers turned away from me, without even getting in touch to ascertain and verify facts for themselves.
Depression is a very lonely, insecure, frightening place to be, bringing with it tears, panic attacks, bewilderment, disorientation, physical weariness, insomnia, and no sense of self-worth. The trouble is, once experienced, it often returns over the succeeding years. It was the loving, patient, kind support of our assembly and brothers and sisters in it that remains a fragrant memory. I shall never forget, after the struggle and loneliness of a particular trauma, the tears that poured down my cheeks as we arrived home to a warm house, furnished for us by believers with flowers, cards, and a hot meal. I was in a deep despair and very close to a breakdown. What I had feared most had come upon me. It took several years for me to gain confidence and strength once again, though that is still not as it once was. A kind and wise Christian woman gave me hope. ‘Remember Elijah’, she said. ‘He was instructed by the angel to eat and sleep. Both of these things are essential to a full recovery. And don’t be afraid. You will, one day, meet your God again on Mount Horeb’.
The deepest, darkest moments are when we despair of feeling the presence of God again. We ask ourselves, what have I done? Why is this happening to me? How has God allowed so-and-so to treat me like this? Did Joseph always have that total trust and confidence in God that he expressed, many years after his troubles, when he said, ‘Ye meant it for evil, but God meant it for good’? Did Job always have the confidence to believe that, ‘He knoweth the way that I take. When he has tried me, I shall come forth as gold’, 23. 10? At times, when we are overwhelmed, physically, emotionally, spiritually, we are with the sweet psalmist of Israel when he wrote, ‘From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I’, Ps. 61. 2; and, with David and Job it is a comfort to say, when we do not even know where we are any more, ‘When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then thou knewest my path’, Ps. 142. 3. Our God knows exactly where we are, even when we don’t know it ourselves. And, dare I say it, when no-one else will sit with us amongst the ashes, He is not far from us. Though we may not sense His presence, the Shepherd is always in the valley of the shadow with His sheep.
And why did God bring upon His servant his greatest fear? Search me! Was it, perhaps, to show him, and us, that, even when a believer is down and almost out, faith and faithfulness still hold us fast. The faith is ours in our God, that divine gift of faith given to us, which will flutter and beat, be it ever so weak; the faithfulness is our God’s to us, who will never let us go. Even in the valley of the shadow, the believer falteringly holds on to the sublime truth that we are ‘kept by the power of God’, 1 Peter 1. 5. And oh! the comfort, the enormous, blessed, rest-inducing comfort, of the words of our dear Lord to His Father, initially of the eleven disciples but surely of all His own, ‘those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost’, John 17. 12!