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Leading Question: Has the follower of Jesus fallen from grace if he or she slips into clinical depression?

The theme for our lesson this week is happiness and healing. It is not difficult to find verses that set the standard high for our joy: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice” (Phi 4:4). That is a wonderful ideal, but what happens when we fall short?

1. Sighing and crying for the abominations in Israel (Ezekiel 9)? Or, giving thanks to the Lord for his goodness (Psalms 136)? Is it possible for us to choose our emotions? The ideal seems to be joy and rejoicing, but the sighing and crying for the evils in Israel is clearly a theme that surfaces from time to time, especially in the prophets. And finally there is simply the deep drop into depression as in Psalm 88. How would each of these three reactions likely affect our health and should we take steps to encourage the “right” perspective and declare the wrong ones to be inappropriate for Christians? What about Jesus’ cry on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” – a quote from Psalm 22. Is that a cry that we could or should pray in the right circumstances?

2. Grappling with deep depression: The Psalmist (Psalms 88) and Elijah (1 Kings 19:2-18).

A. Psalms 88. In his little book, A Cry of Absence, the noted church historian, Martin Marty, tells how he stepped out of his historian’s discipline into the real life of pain as his wife was dying of cancer. Each midnight, at the time for taking pain medications, Marty and his wife would share a psalm. He would read the even-numbered ones, she would read the odd-numbered ones. In the second edition of A Cry of Absence, he reproduces a dialogue that emerged when it was time for Marty to read Psalm 88, certainly the darkest of all the lament psalms. This is the conversation as he recorded it:

Martin Marty, A Cry of Absence (New York, Harper and Row, [1983] 1993), xi -xv [preface in the 1993 edition only: ISBN: 00606554023]:

SHE: What happened to Psalm 88? Why did you skip it?
HE: I didn’t think you could take it tonight. I am not sure I could. No: I am sure I could not.
SHE: Please read it, for me.
HE: All right:

. . .I cry out in the night before thee. . .

For my soul is full of troubles . . .

Thou hast put me in the depths of the Pit,

in the regions dark and deep . . .

SHE: I need that kind the most.

Is that kind of stark realism sometimes necessary for us if we are to maintain our health and happiness? Is happiness really possible in the midst of deep physical or psychological pain?

B. 1 Kings 19: Elijah. After a brilliant victory over Baal and his prophets on Mt. Carmel, Elijah was thrown into a panic by Jezebel’s threats. He fled for Mt. Horeb/Sinai where he hoped to meet a God violent enough to handle his problems. Surprisingly, the God he met there was not a violent one at all, but a God of a very quiet voice (1 Kings 19:11-14). En route to the rendezvous with his God, Elijah slipped deeper and deeper into depression, finally stopping under a solitary broom tree and asking the Lord to take his life. He had had enough (1 Kings 19:4-9). Ellen White’s comments on Elijah’s experience are revealing, noting God’s tender care for those who are thrown into deep depression:

If, under trying circumstances, men of spiritual power, pressed beyond measure, become discouraged and desponding; if at times they see nothing desirable in life, that they should choose it, this is nothing strange or new. Let all such remember that one of the mightiest of the prophets fled for his life before the rage of an infuriated woman. A fugitive, weary and travel-worn, bitter disappointment crushing his spirits, he asked that he might die. But it was when hope was gone, and his life-work seemed threatened with defeat, that he learned one of the most precious lessons of his life. In the hour of his greatest weakness he learned the need and the possibility of trusting God under circumstances the most forbidding. Prophets and Kings, 173

In that same connection, Ellen White notes that our moment of greatest darkness can be the moment when divine help is nearest:

To all who are reaching out to feel the guiding hand of God, the moment of greatest discouragement is the time when divine help is nearest. They will look back with thankfulness upon the darkest part of their way. “The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly.” 2 Peter 2:9. From every temptation and every trial He will bring them forth with firmer faith and a richer experience. Desire of Ages, 528

3. What practical steps can we take to move from the depths out into light and joy?

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