A Study of Lament: Sorrow & Depression

{I’ve been working on this since the summer and figured now was a good time to post this, maybe with breaks here and there for wedding posts}

Depression was never something I thought about much. I never had any reason to; there was never anything for me to be depressed about. Because of that, I’ve always looked on depression with a sort of puzzled curiosity. This summer I was talking to and praying for people who were dealing with it first-hand and others who were striving to help friends through depression and began thinking about it more – its causes, solutions, and how to help people going through it.
From what I have seen, depression is something that quite a few believers struggle with, though many are slow to admit it. I believe that sorrow is never without purpose and that God is always worthy of our trust. In the following posts, I hope to prove this from scripture and lay out ideas for how believers should approach depression.

“But depression and sorrow are not the same thing,” someone might say. This is true. I know people can be sorrowful but not depressed. And I know there can be people that are depressed but can’t figure out why. But they are often intertwined, whether because one leads to the other, or because the way they are worked through is very similar.

Before I say more I should note that I do think depression is sometimes caused by things like diet, hormone imbalance, and other physical circumstances. These are still very real causes and I don’t want to deny or ignore them, but my focus here is on depression that stems from spiritual circumstances, that can’t be fixed with lifestyle changes, whether it stems from sin, spiritual warfare, life events, or any number of other things.

Different causes require different counsel. And yet they have similarities, and so we can form a general view of depression even though our approach to working through it would be different for each case.
But what should that approach be?
Should the depressed plaster on a smile and “count it all joy,” quipping that we have no reason to mourn because all we have is in Christ so we must not have really needed it anyway? Should we hide hurt under masks because it’s not the kind of thing we usually talk about? Should we just ignore it until it goes away, and if it doesn’t go away be sent to a counselor, put on medication, or be asked if we are really Christians if we don’t have “the joy of the Lord?”
Should the friend of the depressed tell them to “get over it, Christians shouldn’t be depressed” and then expect them to just move on?
Or is there something else?

The more I thought about it and the more I read the words of scripture and wise men, the more I realized the way they handled it seems so different from how we handle it today.
Habakkuk, Job, Jeremiah, and Jesus all sorrowed. They didn’t ignore it or push it aside. In fact, it almost seems as if they dwelt on their sorrows.
In saying that, I don’t want to treat serious depression lightly or say it’s “alright.” But I do want to give some food for thought on how it should be handled, because the Bible treats it differently than we do.
The Bible says it’s okay if we ask God why. Even Jesus, using the words of David, asked God why – “Why have you forsaken me?” Lamentations is called “How” in Hebrew, asking how God could do such a thing.

Michael Card calls this asking how and why “the lost language of lament.”
But that begs the question: what is lament?
Lament is crying out to God. It looks at what’s happening and looks at God’s character and senses a disconnect. It asks God where His love is, but does so in a way that places trust in God. It’s not despair or denial, but a tenacious belief in God’s faithfulness, knowing that whatever He is doing, He is good and loving and that He will come. It’s not murmuring against God as the Israelites did, but an appeal to Him.
It’s a protest, reminding God of who He is – not accusation, but confusion. A cry for Him to be true to His character when circumstances seem to be inconsistent with His love. And then it stays until there is resolution, holding on to Him and Him alone.
In lament, there is total honesty with God. It finds you at the end of your rope, clinging to Him, refusing to turn away, pleading for His mercy. And then there is always a vav. A turn, a change. “But.” The tears turn to worship as we remember where we have seen His hesed, His lovingkindness.

In the next posts, my aim is to briefly look into the lives of Job, the prophets, and Jesus, before turning it to us, and then following the philosophizing with laments of my own.

If you have any thoughts on this, from study, observation, or personal experience, please comment and let me know, or send me an email. This is an ongoing thought process for me, one that has not had much application yet.

Give to the winds thy fears;
hope and be undismayed.
God hears thy sighs and counts thy tears,
God shall lift up thy head.

Through waves and clouds and storms,
God gently clears the way;
wait thou God’s time; so shall this night
soon end in joyous day.

Leave to God’s sovereign sway
to choose and to command;
so shalt thou, wondering, own that way,
how wise, how strong this hand.

Let us in life, in death,
thy steadfast truth declare,
and publish with our latest breath
thy love and guardian care.
– Paul Gerhardt


3 thoughts on “A Study of Lament: Sorrow & Depression

  1. Grace says:

    I’m really interested in what you’ve thought about this! Such a deep, multi-faceted topic…I’ve observed it personally from a psychological, emotional, environmental perspective, but not much in the spiritual way that you’re focusing on. Intrigued by your input! I’m glad I had a snow day today and found time to read this.


  2. Cait says:

    There was a wonderful article after a series at UCCD (I’m not remembering very clearly though), called ‘What Should Miserable Christians Sing?’ I remember it was talked about a lot.


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