By Timothy Harris
In April of 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that an estimated “1 in 10” American adults suffers from depression. Depressed respondents affirmed experiencing “little interest or pleasure in doing things” and “feeling down, depressed, or hopeless.” Another research group found that “late-life depression” is even more common, affecting 15 percent of Americans age 65 and older. A third study revealed that a staggering 44 percent of American college students report symptoms of depression.
Do you ever feel “down, depressed, or hopeless”?
If so, not only do current statistics suggest you are not alone but as Christians we have a Bible containing many stories of people on the brink of despair. King David, for instance, at times battled melancholy. Psalm 42 is an example of this. In it, David describes his depression; but he also shows us how to fight for renewed hope and joy in God when we too slip into a downcast frame of mind.
The King Runs for His Life
David’s early life was a Cinderella story. Born to humble parents in rural Israel, he spent his youth in obscurity. But in a single day, the harp-playing, sheep-keeping teenager from Bethlehem gained status as a national hero. Even as an aged man writing Psalm 42, he no doubt remembered the surreal moment of standing over the hulking but motionless body of Goliath. He must have recalled vividly the warm blood of the Philistine running down his youthful arms as he raised the giant’s severed head to the sky, and the roar of tens of thousands of shouts and cheers. He became an overnight icon of Jewish valor; so much so that king Saul later made numerous attempts to assassinate him, fearing he might seize the throne. But God protected young David through it all and in due time established him as rightful king over Israel.
Now, in the setting sun of his life, David faces a new, and very different, adversary.
Not a giant warrior. Not the Philistine armies. Not an envious king Saul. But a treasonous son. Midway into his father’s fourth decade as king, David’s second-oldest son, Absalom, revolts against his father and declares himself king of Israel. And his swift rise in popularity and reckless behavior prompt David to fear not only for his throne but also for his life. And so the seasoned king, together with his entire household, servants and devoted followers, flees into the deserts of Israel. There David writes Psalm 42.
The King Remembers His God
We cannot read Psalm 42 without sensing the visceral agony of its author. His heart is broken. His life is in turmoil. His family is a wreck. His kingdom is being stolen. Even some of his closest friends and counselors have betrayed him and sided with Absalom. He writes: “O my God, my soul is cast down within me: therefore will I remember thee from the land of Jordan...” (Psalm 42:6).
The psalmist is wrestling with fear and depression. Yet we see him resolving to remember God.
Please notice these powerful words again: “O my God, my soul is cast down within me: therefore will I remember thee...” Do you ever find yourself downcast? Depressed? Hopeless? Emptied of strength to continue on? In such times, what is your source of help? To what, or to whom, do you turn? We often are tempted to resort to temporary fixes, sometimes harmless and sometimes harmful. David too was tempted in this way, no doubt. But he instead turns to his solid, lasting source of renewed hope and joy. “O my God, I will remember thee.
More exactly, David resolves to remember God’s past deliverances.
He had good reason—even geographical reason—for doing so. He writes, “Therefore will I remember thee from the land of Jordan...” David had just crossed the Jordan River while fleeing Absalom (2 Samuel 17:22). The Jordan region contains rich history of God’s mighty deliverances of his people. Many generations before, God had supernaturally parted the waters of the Jordan so that Israel walked through on dry ground, crossing into the very lands David ruled as king. The remembrance of this miracle at Jordan must have encouraged David. Perhaps he even saw the pile of stones in the middle of the Jordan memorializing God’s famous deed (Joshua 4:5-7).
The hymnist Isaac Watts put Psalm 42:6 in verse, summing it up in this way:
My spirit sinks within me, Lord, But I will call thy name to mind, And times of past distress record, When I have found my God was kind.
Make a list. Have you ever sat down and jotted a list of major events in your life and how God provided for or delivered you in them? John Newton’s famous hymn rightly observes, “Through many dangers, toils and snares I have already come.” Such a recognition is crucial for forward-looking hope. If we do not remember past deliverances, we will not live with the confidence that says, “‘Tis grace that brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home.”
God has not failed us in the past, he will not now.
We must be mindful—specifically, regularly—of the ways that God has come through for us in the past. Otherwise, we waste those experiences! Can you remember a time when God provided for a pressing need? Protected you from some great harm? Kept you from walking away? Saw you through a bleak season? Do you remember ways he has directed you in big decisions you have made? Strengthened you to do something you still shake your head at? Sent you the encouragement of a timely conversation? A surprise friendship? Can you recall when he has spoken to you when reading his Word, or through your pastor?
Let us not waste pains or providences by forgetfulness.
The King Reminds Us of Jesus
Fast-forward fourteen generations after David’s penned Psalm 42. Jesus of Nazareth wades into the Jordan River to be baptized. He crosses into the same desert David trod. And he faces the ultimate adversary. There for forty days and forty nights the “Son of David” submits to incessant taunting, bartering, and cruel temptation at the hand of Satan. There, no doubt, Jesus endured a range and depth of temptation to despair that no other human has or could have endured. Oh, how well acquainted with grief this man of sorrows was!
Further, just as David had fled Jerusalem and Absalom, crossing over the Mount of Olives and weeping as he went (2 Samuel 15:30), Jesus ascends the Mount of Olives one night. He enters a small garden called Gethsemane, the “oil press.” There he laments a crucible more pressing than what David had ever experienced. He prays. He groans. “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.” And the next day, nailed to rugged beams hewn by wicked hands—as God’s offering for sin—Jesus cries aloud. “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
While David’s experience teaches us to resolve to remember God and his past deliverances in our lives, it points us ultimately to remember God in the flesh — a God who knows what it means to hurt deeply. To be depressed. To be sorrowful unto death.
We might think of Jesus as the greater king David, as it were.
The ultimate king who not only rules over the people but became one of the people. And who not only suffered like them but for them. And who not only endured for them but conquered for them.
When we are downcast, like David, let us remember God’s faithfulness to us in the past; and let us remember our Savior. For not only does Jesus know perfectly how we feel, and gives us grace to regain our hope and joy, he will one day deliver us fully and finally from all of our sin and sorrow. Let this hope encourage us even as we await the coming of the King.