DOWN IN THE DUMPS based on Job 3
By Pastor Glenn Pease
A midwestern pastor was cleaning out his garage. He was planning to haul the rubbish to the dump. His two sons were excited about this, because they considered the dump the happy hunting ground. Only those who have ever found an exciting piece of junk there can fully appreciate their feelings. Unfortunately, the father got a call that demanded that he go to the hospital. He told the boys he would have to haul the rubbish away another day. One of the boys kicked the ground, and in disgust said, "I'll never be a minister. You don't even have time to go to the dumps."
It would be a blessing if it was true, that pastors and leaders of the church did not ever have to get down in the dumps of depression. The facts of history indicate, however, that depression is no respecter of persons. You do not escape it by being in the ministry, or by any other profession, however noble. The best of men and women, and the wisest, and most gifted, and most used of God, find themselves going to the dumps. If Job could stay on his ash pile all through history, he could visit with the great of every age, for sooner or later they all sit where he sat-in the dump of depression.
Martin Luther was typical of the great men of God who found themselves in the dumps. Chapter 3 of Job could well have been one of his own songs of the blues. He sounded so much like Job when he wrote, "I am sick of life, if this life can be called life. Implacable hatred and strife amongst the great-no hopes of any improvement-the age is Satan's own; gladly would I see myself and all my people quickly snatched from it." He could not see the future and how his writing would influence millions all over the world.
Many saints have gone through what is called, the dark night of the soul, where they feel God has left them. Saints do not go to hell, but hell comes to them. Depression can be so severe that it is a minor hell-a taste of what it is to be God-forsaken. Some depression is good, for it keeps us in touch with reality, which is full of evil and sorrow. It is sometimes easy to forget this, and go our own selfish way if depression does not bring us down where we feel what is real. Tim LaHaye has written some of the finest books, and one is, How To Win Over Depression. He wrote this book because back in 1969 it hit him, and for two and a half years he went through five periods of depression. The awfulness of it motivated him to seek answers, and to help others to gain victory. Vance Havner went through great depression when his wife died, and he wrote, Though I Walk Through The Valley, to help others who go that same way.
Having great gifts, or excellent character, does not spare you from depression. Sir Winston Churchill had serious bouts with depression. Edgar Allen Poe would fall into a pit of depression after creating a master piece, and Van Gogh cut off his ear in a fit of despair. A list of the most famous and most talented people in the world would also be a list of people who have fought depression. It is a part of life, and is due to the fact that nobody's life is all it was meant to be. Men cannot help struggling with the meaning of life, and the purpose of so much that is evil, and this leads to depression.
Many people read Job and get relief from their depression, but others read it and get more depressed. They see Job suffering as meaningful, for there is a goal, but their own suffering does not seem to have any meaning. It is always easy to think the other guy does not have it as bad as you. The fact is, just because we know Job's suffering had a meaning, he did not know, and had no clue as to what was going on. It was totally meaningless to him. He would not have been able to come out of his depression by mere positive thinking. He needed that, and after his pessimism was expressed, he still had some optimism. But Job expressed severe depression where he felt hopeless.
One of the symptoms of despair is that death looks good. Death is an enemy to those who love life, but those in deep depression look upon death as sweet release from life's misery. Job praises death in verse 13, as the place of quiet rest. He longs for death, and feels it is unfair to have to go on living, when death is so inviting. Such a love for, and longing for death, is not the normal attitude of a healthy man. It is a sign of deep depression. The depressed are pessimistic about life, and optimist about death. A Christian who spends too much time longing for heaven, is probably depressed about life on earth. This poem was found, as an ancient Near Eastern text, and it reveals just how appealing death can become when one is fed up with life.
Death is in my sight today,
Like the recovery of a sick man,
Like going out into the open after a confinement.
Death is in my sight today,
Like the odor of myrrh,
Like sitting under an awning on a breezy day.
Job sees death as a place where the weary are at rest, and everybody is equal, and there is no more oppression. It looks so good to him, he is sad he has to stay in the land of the living. Verse 21 is the climax of his death wish, for he longs for death, and desires it like a man digging for treasure. This might sound like a wonderful view of death, but it is not. It is a sick view, for all Job wants is escape. Death is just a way out of life's trials. It is no virtue to be ready to die gracefully if God wants you to live and fight. Paul did not know which way to go. He did not know if he should die and be with God, or stay and serve his Lord. But he did not long for escape. He loved life, and only thought of death as a door to Christ's presence. Paul was not depressed, but had a healthy view of life and death. Paul wanted more of life, but Job wanted out of life.
Job's view is that of a pessimist. We know he had good reason, but still it is not a view of life and death that is healthy for the believer. It is like the Greek pessimist. Sophocles, the ancient Greek, sounds just like Job.
Not to be born is the most
to be desired, but having seen the light
the next best is to go whence one came
as soon as may be.
This is pagan thinking, and when a believer gets depressed, he tends to develop pagan thinking. That is why it is always wise to reject your thoughts, and your feelings, when you are depressed.
True men of God often develop negative theology because they are depressed. They lead others to think that way, as if it was Biblical thinking, but in reality it is pagan thinking from the pit of depression. Lets look at some of the major causes for depression, for knowing these can help us understand ourselves, and understanding ourselves, is the key to coping with depression. One of the primary causes is-
This is where it all begins. We have so many dreams and hopes in life that never go as we plan. You don't get depressed when everything goes your way, but since so often things go the opposite of what you planned, you get depressed. The more you are disappointed, the more likely you are to get depressed. If you favorite plant dies; your cat scratches the leg of your dining room table, and your son comes home with two F's on his report card, all in the same day, you may find yourself heading for the dumps. That is too much disappointment to handle cheerfully. Think of what Job's mind was handling. He had all his dreams of the future shattered in one day. No human being alive can take that kind of disappointment and escape depression.
Tim La Haye, in his book on depression, puts his finger on a major source that helps us better understand Job. He tells of how people who seldom express depression have terrible spells when they face divorce. He quotes one man as saying, "It took me almost a year to get over it! I had never been depressed in my life until my wife left me. Suddenly the carpet was jerked out from under my whole life. For weeks I just wanted to die." This is a common reaction, and La Haye says, "The root problem with those caught in despair is almost always the rejection of the person they love most." Disappointment in those we most love is the quickest way to the dumps.
If we apply this to Job, it does fit. Back in chapter 2 Job rebuked his wife for her pessimism. She was being weak, and he was being strong. That very rebuke of the one person left in his life, his primary source of love, could have added greatly to his own depression. Job had every reason there is to be depressed, and to be badly depressed. We will never have as good a reason as Job had, but any disappointment is sufficient to produce some degree of depression.
What can we do to off set it? We can expect to be disappointed. It is not so hard to take, if we plan for it. If you have a goal to achieve, and circumstances, or people, fail you, be prepared with a second goal, or back-up plan. Expect that you may be disappointed, and be ready to adjust. If you are not flexible, and instead, expect every plan to go your way, you are planning to be depressed. Instead, plan to escape the effects of disappointment by being ready with an alternative. This is superficial counsel to those in grief like Job, but it fits so many of life's disappointments, and even covers tragedy if you think about it. If death takes a loved one; if your house if destroyed; if you are forced to change your profession; if war should come to our country; all of these possibilities need us to be prepared. It is wise to give thought to how you would handle such things, for being prepared to adjust to disappointments, however tragic or trivial, is the key to winning over depression. Secondly, consider-
2. LACK OF SELF-ESTEEM.
If you cut yourself down, and think you are unworthy of being loved, you will struggle with depression. It is not what others think, but what you think of yourself, that really matters. Job sees himself as a misfit. He feels it would be better had he never been born. Abortion would have been a blessing he thinks. His self-image is poor, and he is depressed.
When his friends begin to accuse him of being a sinner, Job snaps out of his depression, for he has a good self-image, and he defends his righteousness. Your self-image can be both the cause and the cure of your depression. Job went into the dumps because his self-image began to fade, but he was lifted out of the dumps when his self-image was attacked, and he had a high enough view of himself to come to his own defense.
A Christian needs to develop a healthy self-image as a child of God, so that no matter what happens, and how badly he fails, or how much disappointment he faces, he can say, "Life is still worth living, for I care, and I can be used to be part of God's answer in this needy world. This is the key factor in helping yourself get out of the dumps."