2014 Lent 34


Psalms 42, 43

Both these psalms from today’s lectionary selection end identically:

“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me?”

In our day, when someone is diagnosed with clinical depression we turn to meds.  It is hoped that the meds will serve a therapeutic purpose, that the patient will only need the meds for a time until getting his or her chemistry back into balance and can then return to a life without them.

But what did people do 2600 years ago?  Apparently depression affected people then as it does today.  Just read the other words of these psalms.  They are riddled with sadness, gloominess, and melancholy.  They suggest despair, or hopelessness.

For that matter, how did people deal with depression a hundred (or two hundred) years ago?  Artists like Frederic Chopin, Edgar Allan Poe, and Erik Satie come to mind.  Depression affected their creations, surely.  But did creativity help them cope?  Maybe depression merely fostered their creativity; but creativity did little to alleviate depression.  I don’t know.  (What I do know, though, is that Hector Berlioz, another depressed composer, turned to opium, a “med” of the nineteenth century.)

Meds help people cope, certainly.  And so one argument fully supports their administration and use.

But, on the other hand, are meds the only way to cope?  Are they the best way to cope?  A Beautiful Mind, the Ron Howard movie from several years ago, suggests that they’re not.

Wherever you find yourself in this discussion–which ranges from seeing pharmaceutical companies as part of corporate and bureaucratic conspiracies, on one side of the spectrum, to blaming vaccination abstainers for potentially widespread fatal contagions, on the other, and a whole slough of (more accurate) interpretations across the middle–many people continue to suffer from depression and are struggling to cope with it.  And the general consensus is that today’s percentage of sufferers is higher than ever.

Turning the corner a bit, let’s talk about the future.  It’s not a rabbit trail; I’ll tie it in shortly.

The thing is, there’s a lot of talk in our day and age about living in the moment, being present, and all that.  Vision, planning, thought toward tomorrow, and all that kind of stuff makes a lot of people uncomfortable.  We should plan for retirement, sure.  But retirement worries us, for what if it won’t really work out?  And what if there’s no Social Security for me when I get there?

Again, we should plan out our wills.  But who really wants to plan for her own death?

And then, if you follow along with the apostle Paul’s apocalyptic reasoning, it’s easy to find little value in the future: the world can seem like it’s going to hell in a hand basket (whatever that means!).

Shouldn’t we therefore just enjoy what we have today, what we’re certain of in the here and now?

This sort of thinking has its place, sure.  But my point is, the future often makes us uncomfortable.  For we worry about what-if scenarios, scenarios that likely will never happen; and thus we bring fear upon ourselves needlessly.

But an optimistic view of the future changes things up a bit, yeah?  What if (here’s my what-if scenario . . .) you have something to hope in, or to hope for?

We say we hope in God.  But what does this mean?  It needs to be more specific, like we hope in God, that God will make all things right in the end, for God is sovereign.  (This might not be your belief.  But for those who believe it, it’s golden with respect to hope.)

Anyway, it strikes me that depression is a present state of hopelessness.  Looking to the future optimistically, even if it means finding only the smallest possibility of hope, is an antidote to depression.  And yes, it might be a very diluted antidote.  But it’s something, a beginning, a foothold to begin scaling the tall wall out of the pit you’re in.  Fight despair with hope.

But that’s not the whole ending–of the psalms, I mean.  Both these psalms end the same way, as I mentioned at the start of this post.  But I quoted only the first half of the final verse.  After asking why his soul is so cast down and disquieted within him, the psalmist concludes with these words:

“Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.”

Every soul needs hope.


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