A few years ago, I read a book about Ernest Shackleton’s failed mission to be the first explorer to cross Antarctica. His plan was to sail as far south as he could and then walk a hundred or so miles across the South Pole. But there was an early freeze, and the ship got caught and crushed in polar ice several hundred miles from their destination. For more than a year, Shackleton’s group fought to stay alive in subzero temperatures. But the worst thing for these men was not the temperature. It was the darkness. At the South Pole, you see, the sun goes down in mid-May and doesn’t come back up until August. Those who have experienced this say that there is no desolation so devastating as the polar night—darkness all the time. Weeks upon weeks of no light at all.
The prophet Jeremiah described how he felt driven to a place of “darkness without any light”:
I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of his wrath; he has driven and brought me into darkness without any light; surely against me he turns his hand again and again the whole day long. He has made my flesh and my skin waste away; he has broken my bones; he has besieged and enveloped me with bitterness and tribulation; he has made me dwell in darkness like the dead of long ago … though I call and cry for help, he shuts out my prayer.
– Lamentations 3:1–8 ESV
No light. No hope. That’s how Jeremiah felt, and maybe you can relate. The “he” that Jeremiah is talking about is God. Maybe you’ve also felt like God is not listening—or, even more, you wonder, “God, are you behind this terrible circumstance? At the very least, you’re not doing anything to stop it.”
Jeremiah goes on to say, “My soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, ‘My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord’ … My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me” (vs. 17–20).
As you read those verses, you may think, “Is this the Bible? Shouldn’t an editor have weeded this out? This is Jeremiah, after all—the prophet of God! Jeremiah, this is not you at your best. Why don’t you take a nap and a shower and take another swing at this tomorrow?”
Jeremiah could have edited this out. Thank God he didn’t.
You see, it’s easy to think that what we need is more positive and encouraging psalms like David’s about the Lord being our Shepherd and still waters and cups running over and lions lying down with lambs and stuff like that. That’s what the people like. That’s what sells.
But God put the book of Lamentations in the Bible, even though it’s depressing and most people will never memorize it, because he wants those of you who suffer in the darkness to know that he knows how you feel. And, like Jeremiah, it’s OK for you to express those emotions to God.
You see, this lament is honest, even though it is incomplete. It is an honest reflection of how Jeremiah feels, even if it doesn’t fully account for everything God was doing. When you cannot see or understand how God is working in your life—through your pain, even—it’s OK for you to be deeply honest with him.
Sometimes, I think we can be too quick with our answers in church: “Are you feeling sad? Life got you down? Well, that can’t be from God! Just pop on some K-love, ‘cause everything in the Christian life should be positive and encouraging all the time.”
But when you are experiencing depression, you don’t need a quick encouragement. You need a God who walks through pain with you.
One of our Summit church planters tells the story of when he first felt called to ministry, how he resigned from his job in Tennessee and moved his family to North Carolina to attend seminary, only to have everything fall apart. His marriage came within inches of destruction; he went into bankruptcy. The worst, he said, was holding his newborn son as he died in their arms. He said, “I had no words. All I could ask God during that season was, ‘Why?’ I didn’t want to talk about God or preach the words of God. I only wanted to rage against God. All I’ve done is try to follow him, and this is how he treats me?”
When you are experiencing depression, you don’t need a quick encouragement. You need a God who walks through pain with you.
Many believers have gone through dark chapters and thought the same things as Jeremiah, but they’ve suppressed those emotions, telling themselves, “Real Christians don’t ever feel like this.”
The prophet Jeremiah was a real Christian, and he said his soul was depressed within him.
Charles Spurgeon was a real Christian, and he told his congregation, “I have spent more days shut up in depression than probably anybody else here.” He was said by many to be the greatest preacher to ever live, and he frequently considered quitting the ministry because he was so depressed.
Martin Luther was a real Christian, and he went through times so dark that his wife would remove all the knives from their home for fear he’d kill himself. “For more than a week I was close to the gates of death and hell,” he wrote. “I trembled constantly. I could find no thoughts of Christ, only of desperation and blasphemy of God.”
Can you see you are not alone in your thoughts? The greatest Christians in history were not those that God delivered from all pain and misery but those he delivered through their pain and misery. He is ready to walk with you through the darkness and do the same for you.