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Down, Discouraged, Dispirited, Depressed, Disheartened. And Very Lonely.

February 19, 2012
No one cares for my soul.

The Text

1With my voice I cry out to the Lord; with my voice I plead for mercy to the Lord. 2I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him. 3When my spirit faints within me, you know my way! (Psalm 147:1-3a ESV)

A Closer Look at the Text

Hiding in the Cave. Life can be miserable. Sometimes we find ourselves down.  Or worse, discouraged or dispirited. Even worse, depressed. Or worst of all, disheartened. Along the way, we often feel more and more lonely, even when other people are nearby.

When David wrote this Psalm, he was hiding in a cave, as disheartened as any human being has ever been. He had lost everything. He lost is job in the royal court with King Saul, as well as the respect and acceptance of the king. He lost his best friend, Jonathan. He lost his spiritual mentor (Samuel). He lost his wife (Michal). He fled from his own kingdom, into enemy territory (Gath) to avoid being killed by King Saul … where he was mocked for being a so-called former military conqueror. He had to pretend to be insane to save his own life, and so he had lost any sense of respect (including self-respect). When he writes this Psalm, he is mindful of complete and total loss.

David was in a literal cave, but in his heart he felt as if he were in a prison (verse 7). The actual cave was symbolic of the emotional and spiritual hole that he was stuck in. In this Psalm, David starts crying out to God in a time of complete desperation. As he prays through the Psalm, he begins to look upward to God, and by the time he gets to the fifth verse he has rediscovered and remembered that God is his refuge (machaceh) and his portion (cheleq). He transitions from desperation to reaffirmation of who God is, to a restatement of his faith that in the end God’s righteousness and perfect justice will prevail. He is praying to God, but as he does so, he is preaching to himself, reminding himself of God’s presence and power and providence.

Some Observations about the Text

Being Discouraged. Any number of things can trigger discouragement in our lives. Job loss. Failing health. Loss of a loved one. Rejection by family, friends, current or prospective employer, and others. Envy. Chronic, habitual sin. Roof leaks; worn out shoes; broken eyeglasses; breakdowns of cars, home appliances, etc. Being financially broke. Hurtful relationships. Failures of any and all kinds. Isolation.

Even success, including “spiritual success” and “mountaintop experiences” can be followed periods of depression. This often happens to pastors who experience “blue Mondays” after doing the Lord’s work on Sunday. This is what happened to Elijah: within a day or two after he brought down fire in a spectacular show of God’s favor and power (1 Kings 18), he found himself running for his life, terrified, lonely and depressed (1 Kings 19:3-4). This is also what happened to David, as went from the high of 1 Samuel 17 (with people dancing in the street and singing David’s praises) to the low of 1 Samuel 22 where he is being hunted by (former) friend and longtime foe alike.

Crying Out and Complaining Loudly. In the cave, in his time of desperation, David cries out to God. Loudly. The Hebrew word for “crying out” (za`aq) actually means “crying out, very loudly.” Enough to be heard in the next county (Isaiah 15:4). As when soldiers cry out so loudly that their voices are heard above the din of battle (1 Chronicles 5:20). Or as when someone who is grieving so much that they are wailing loudly (Esther 4:1).  Or as when a ruler shouts commands (Ecclesiastes 9:17).

David’s cry to God was not a simple whelp of temporary frustration or an emotional spike. He identifies his own prayer as a complaint (siyach), but it is not a simple gripe about this our that. It is a complete list and description of his desperation, and it is not simply  set forth or stated impassionately. It is poured out (shaphak). And once it is poured out, there is nothing and no one left to deal with David’s plight except God Himself.

The Perception is the Reality. Even though David had 400 men with him, he felt completely alone. And so his loneliness was as real as if nobody else was in the cave with him. One reason that he felt alone, was that he was the person being hunted, not them. He had fallen from national hero to fake lunatic, not them. And he had lost family, friends, fame and potential fortune. Not them. He was indeed alone in many ways.

When David did consider the 400 men that he did actually have with him, he was not encouraged. After all, they were a bunch of losers: they were bankrupt malcontents and misfits whose track records reeked of failure (1 Samuel 22:1-2). And even though God would eventually use these same men to achieve great victories — so much so that they would become known as David’s “mighty men” of valor (1 Chronicles 11:10-47) — that’s not what David saw as he looked around in the cave.

The Memory is the Reality. David’s reality did not match his perception. He was not as alone, and his circumstances were not as desperate ,as he felt. One of the reasons that his emotional state was unrealistically down, was that for at least some period of time he had allowed himself to forget how God could and did use David in desperate times like this. This was a memory problem for David. In the cave David did not have the “memory device” of Goliath’s armor, which he had kept in his tent back home as a reminder of God’s faithfulness (1 Samuel 17:54). He had forgotten that God was his refuge and strength, and this Psalm serves as David’s reminder to himself.

Gospel Apologetics

Few circumstances are as reliable at triggering depression and loneliness as social exclusion. We are social creatures, and we crave acceptance and respect from others. When we don’t get it, and especially when we suffer a sudden loss of credibility and respectability, we tend to experience social anxiety, jealousy, loneliness, depression, and low self-esteem. It’s how we are wired.

Nothing is more common to the human experience than loss. We all suffer loss. We lose our jobs. We lose friends. Some of us have lost spouses and even children. There have been times in each of our lives when we have suffered reputational loss, loss of credibility, loss of respectability.

The question is not whether or even when we will experience these types of losses. They will occur, and for most of us, one or more of these types of losses will occur at some level sometime soon. It’s just the way life unrolls for us.

The question is to whom do we turn when these things happen. For those who do not have faith in God, they can only turn to others around them. People are unreliable, though. Therapists are expensive and seldom provide the emotional satisfaction that we seek. Hobbies, material things, vacation spots, cruises, sports, gambling, drugs and alcohol and other efforts to distract ourselves from our own discouragement or dull our pain don’t work. We remain discouraged, and we are still lonely.

Followers of Christ have a different paradigm. We understand that Jesus Christ endured the greatest social exclusion of all: he suffered the abandonment of God his Father as he hung on the cross and accepted the weight and responsibility of the sins of the world. The previous night Jesus had prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me (Luke 22:42).” And as he experienced the pain of rejection from his Father while on the cross he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me (Mark 15:34)?”

Followers of Christ also recognize that because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, no matter how often and how vilely we have sinned and have rejected God, he does not reject those who fear Him and have put their trust in Him. We are assured that “that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).”  We are told by God,  “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me? (Hebrews 13:5-6).”

This is good news at any time of the day or night. At any location. But it is especially good news when we are, like David, in the cave.

Audio MP3 Discussion of this post is available here.

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