We’ve seen the kind of treatment people have devised in order to relieve the suffering of depression: medicine and counseling (see blog, October 28). Although we welcome the advances in medicine and in counseling to help people, Christians may wonder if there’s also a remedy God uses. Job’s story is one of the most extensive case studies written in Scripture about depression and how God treats depression. In 42 chapters, the author details the causes, symptoms, interventions, and outcome of a test of faith so severe it threatens to overwhelm one of God’s faithful servants. In my Tragedy Transformed: How Job’s Recovery Can Provide Hope For Yours (available at http://www.amazon.com and http://www.tragedytransformed.com), I pay careful attention to Job’s slow recovery and eventual transformation. But let’s look at the general steps God took to address his servant’s despair. This helps us learn God’s attitude toward us when we face our own despair.
- Allowing Expression. In Chapter 3, as a result of his rapid succession of losses of everything and everyone important to him, except his wife, Job curses the day of his birth and the night of his conception (vv. 1-10). Life with its suffering is unfair! We admit we feel that way at times. Job then asks the favorite question we all ask, “Why?” five times in vv. 11-26 NIV. (Only four whys are in the Hebrew text, but a fifth is understood, v. 23, inserted by NIV). Except, perhaps, for Elijah in I Kings 19, no chapter of Scripture is as chock full of the 9th symptom of major depressive disorder–the desire to die. What interests me is God’s willingness to allow Job full and free expression of his most life-hating thoughts.
- Friendship/social support. God also uses Job’s wisdom colleagues for support. When they hear of his tragedies, the three of them meet, come together, and sit with him silently seven days and nights in a stunning display of non-verbal social support. Even after they disputed him, argued with him, attacked him, and accused him through their dialogues, they remain. The colleagues stick with Job until the end in Chapter 42. When we’re depressed, where can we gather friends to support us?
- Patience/withholding response. In Job’s exasperation at God’s silence, absence, and even hostility, God keeps his cool. He listens with patience as Job unloads a series of five major images that expresses his terror–of God. “The arrows of the Almighty are in me,” he says for example, “my spirit drinks their poison” (6:4). God the Archer attacks Job with poison-tipped arrows. Job wants to meet God to get answers about his innocence, but at the same time fears doing so. Yet through it all, God maintains silence. He does not retaliate, defend himself, or rebuke Job. God demonstrates his great patience with Job and with us even when we also rail at him for our suffering.
- Reality/What is, is. This is a tough one. When God finally speaks in Chapters 38-39, he reminds Job of how little control humans have over physical nature or over the animal kingdom. God in Chapters 40-41 then raises the specter of two humongous monsters, Behemoth and Leviathan. They symbolize chaos, immovable forces out of human control. Only when Job is ready to listen, then, does God forcefully remind Job that in life, some things are out of his control. That’s a valuable lesson for us as well. We cannot control accidents, illness, natural disasters, or wars. At times forces beyond our control also humble us. Again, note God’s compassion in timing his response until after Job had opportunity to express himself fully. To have done so prematurely would have depressed Job even more deeply. We must also be careful in timing this step with compassion.
If you are experiencing depression right now, where do you find hope to go on? Like with Job, you may find life miserable, but God a very present help in trouble. Or if you know someone who feels depressed, what encouragement, support, and hope can you provide? Human treatments for depression help greatly, but God is not unaware, as Job thought. He provides his own insight into the nature of life and his own presence when our life careens out of control.
[Sources: Images: telesurtv.net; vimeo.com]