My Bible reading today included Jeremiah 19 and 20. Jeremiah is called the “weeping prophet,” and earlier in the book (chapter 9) he bemoaned that he didn’t have enough tears to cry for his beloved people.
If anyone had good reason to be depressed, it was Jeremiah. Israel had been one of the preeminent nations, with vast riches, wise rulers, the blessing of God Himself, and a temple (Solomon’s) that was incomparable.
Now the nation was oppressed by those surrounding it, many had already gone into captivity, and Jeremiah had the duty to prophesy the imminent captivity of the remaining tribe of Judah and the destruction of Jerusalem, because of their abandonment of their God in every way, even to the point of offering their children as sacrifices to other gods.
God even instructed Jeremiah not to take a wife or have children, because of the upcoming desolation for the nation.
Here he goes from praise to utter despair (in 20:13-14):
Sing to the Lord, praise the Lord!
For He has delivered the soul of the needy one
From the hand of evildoers.
Cursed be the day when I was born;
Let the day not be blessed when my mother bore me!
All sorts of bad things were still to come for Jeremiah… he had a pretty good reason to be depressed.
It’s a bit puzzling that the US ranks the highest in the world for “lifetime prevalence” of depression. Most of the other top 10 nations are poor, war-torn, or both. One possible cause is the widespread use of hormonal contraception here (see the recent study cited below). But to me the 17% percentage rate quoted by Wikipedia for the US (also see below) might even seem low. I know close family members that suffer from it, and I sometimes suffer myself.
The one sure thing I know from experience is, “This too shall pass.” (I know, that’s not a Bible quote.) I have learned that a “dark night of the soul,” while it seems at the time will last forever, is always followed by daybreak.
The prophet Jeremiah noted this in Lamentations 3:
Remember my affliction and my wandering, the wormwood and bitterness.
Surely my soul remembers
And is bowed down within me.
This I recall to my mind,
Therefore I have hope.
The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,
For His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
“Therefore I have hope in Him.”
The LORD is good to those who wait for Him,
To the person who seeks Him.
It is good that he waits silently
For the salvation of the LORD.
And later in the book of Jeremiah he speaks of the “Branch” (Jesus) who would rule over and restore the kingdom.
No matter how dark it is, the Light of the World is still there, still cares, still saves.
When I experience that “dark night of the soul,” I try to remember:
- I’ve been there before
- I’ve come out of it before
- God is sufficient to carry me through it
- God is good to those who wait for Him.
All that being said, we are not an island unto ourselves. Take advantage of the community that God has provided for you (that Jeremiah didn’t have), and especially if your depression leads to feelings of self-destruction. There is pastoral and medical help for those feelings, and in less serious instances your communication with your immediate church family/small group will likely encourage others as much as they encourage you.
After reading Jeremiah I was perusing music on my phone and chanced to play “Eleanor Rigby,” perhaps one of the Beatles’ most depressing songs. Better to listen to Loreena McKennitt’s interpretation of this poem…
Wessel Skovlund, Charlotte (September 28, 2016). “Association of Hormonal Contraception With Depression”. JAMA Psychiatry. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2016.2387. Retrieved October 7, 2016.