Absent Joy, Present God - Geneva College, a Christian College in Pennsylvania (PA)

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March 18, 2022

Absent Joy, Present God

What is depression like?
It’s like drowning. Except you can see everyone around you breathing.

Despair can easily infiltrate one’s mind; depression tends to be its indulgent companion. Attempting to ignore the pain, darkness, rejection, and loneliness would only lead to deeper denial of one’s internal state. At moments, it feels as if you are trapped within a self-created pit, one that you know you must eventually take leave of, yet provides no opportunity for escape. Sorrow envelopes you, providing little freedom or opportunity to take a single breath. Loneliness seems to loom around every corner, ready to let loose a current of insults and lies that hold the power to debilitate an individual and cripple them under falsely perceived rejection. The darkness is great but any strength to fight against it feels non-existent.

Amid the numerous chapters in the Bible filled with hope, joy, and love, there is one Psalm that expresses the true impact of despair and depression. From beginning to end, Psalm 88 is truly hopeless. In this chapter a man who is full of despair, wonders where the Lord is in his life. Regardless of the prayers he lifts up, no answer is provided by the God to Whom he cries out. In this chapter, the Bible brings to light the thick darkness of depression.

It is first and foremost important to state that every human being undergoes seasons of their life that are filled with sadness. It is not sinful to experience these feelings occasionally; it is unfortunately a stipulation of being human. In Psalms 88, Hamen the Ezrahite cries out to God, praying fervently about his circumstance. Despite his efforts, his crushed spirit remains with him. He says, “I am shut in so that I cannot escape; my eye grows dim through sorrow. Every day I call upon you, O LORD; I spread out my hands to you.” He continues, “But I, O LORD, cry to you; in the morning my prayer comes before you. O LORD, why do you cast my soul away? Why do you hide your face from me?”

The Psalmist depicts his sorrowful heart and his various attempts to cry out to God in prayer for mercy and assistance. His soul was deeply troubled. His strength was of little means. Despite his attempts to cry out to God, he experienced a sense of loneliness and rejection. The Psalmist even expressed that he felt as if waves were upon him, leaving him drowning in despair and considering whether it would be better for him to die. This man was truly overcome with darkness and could not find relief for his troubled heart.

When we undergo seasons in our lives that place us in the company of depression, it is good for us to reflect on Scripture, understanding that some of the most prominent Bible stories that we were taught as kids can be applicable in our circumstances. As shown in Psalm 88, a man cries out in despair, yet finds no comfort. In Daniel chapter 3, we stumble upon a story of three men, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. The Bible says these three men refused to obey King Nebuchadnezzar who commanded that they each bow down to an idol. Because of their disobedience, all three were cast into a blazing fiery furnace. All of them should have been consumed by the flames immediately for it was an incredibly hot fire. Yet, the fire had no effect on them.

Amazed, the king stood up and realized that not only did the men withstand the fire, but rather than three men standing amidst the flames, there were four… all unharmed. In Daniel 3:25 it says, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.” God was with these men, literally in the form of the incarnate Jesus Christ, even in the fire.

Moving on to the book of Matthew, we stumble upon another miraculous story. Except in this case, instead of the threatening flames that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego experienced, Peter, one of Jesus’s disciples was faced with the possible fate of drowning in the sea. While journeying in a boat, Jesus and his disciples encountered a storm. Jesus stepped out of the boat and asked Peter to do the same. As Peter walked and kept his eyes on Christ, he remained above the waves. Overcome by the circumstances around him, Peter feared the water beneath him and doubted the power of Jesus Christ in that moment. He began to sink. Despite Peter’s unbelief, Jesus did not let him sink beneath the waves. He reached his hand out and pulled Peter out of the waves saying, “…O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31).

The terrifying reality of faith is that it requires you to make a choice, regardless of feelings or emotions. A choice to believe regardless of circumstance. Although God may sometimes remain silent in times of darkness, He has not and will not abandon you. This is proven countless times in the Bible. The story of Peter and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are only two examples. Isaiah 43:2 brings these two stories to our minds when describing this relationship between God and mankind, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”

The reality is, when you felt like you were overcome with the flood waters of life, God had not let you sink below the waves. You simply were looking at the waves rather than Him and His trusting, outstretched arms. While you thought the flames were burning you up, leaving you helpless and consuming any bit of hope or joy in life, God was in the flames with you. As I was with your forefathers, so He is with you. The moments of doubt are normal. The pain you may experience is normal. Even as Peter sunk deeper into the waves, unable to save himself, Christ was present and was willing and able to reach out and lift him above his circumstances.

In the darkness, in the hopelessness, in the times of fear and worry, trust in the God that created you. He not only loves you but has a purpose for you, a purpose that you need to complete. Regarding those flames that you feel are consuming you… they may be painful now, but they are also refining. Christ was in the waves with Peter, Christ was in the flames with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Christ is surely with you now.

Learn more about the integration of faith and learning in higher education – Geneva.edu.

-Abby Forton ‘22

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