Psalms. Job. Second Corinthians. These are the books of the Bible that I turn to when I’m hurting. During my first depressive episode I couldn’t focus, couldn’t think, couldn’t fight the fog in my head. Couldn’t read for more than a few seconds before losing my train of thought. Couldn’t read God’s Word for understanding or meaning.
Normally, I’m a left-brained intellectual nerd. So after becoming a Christian, I considered it the most natural thing in the world to want to learn all I could about this new faith. (Giving myself the credit, not realizing how much the Holy Spirit was prompting me and encouraging me and guiding me.) I started reading the Bible from cover to cover even before finding a church to attend. Within a few years, I was frustrated by the lack of depth in most evangelical churches, but I found that depth in God’s Word. I pushed myself to gain knowledge, gain understanding, gain wisdom.
Maybe even to the point of turning it into an idol.
At least to the point of legalistically insisting that a good Christian must read, must learn, must grow. Must work hard at it, mustn’t miss a single day’s devotional time.
Then the depression hit my brain, and everything changed. Unable to focus, feeling guilty for the struggles, going for weeks without reading the Bible due to the physical and mental exhaustion. Until I rediscovered the Psalms. Suddenly I could read again, if only one Psalm at a time. I could feel the authors’ pain and confusion and God’s incomprehensible compassion.
“In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears. . . . He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters” (18:6, 16). “This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles. . . . The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (34:6, 18).
“For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death. He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight” (72:12-14). “In my anguish I cried to the Lord, and he answered by setting me free” (118:5). “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made” (145:8-9). “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (147:3).
Then came Job. The wonder and relief that a righteous man could voice his doubts and question God. The vivid example of how it feels to be surrounded by people who don’t understand some kinds of suffering.
More recently, after losing any sense of God’s presence for months at a time, feeling a strong connection to Job’s words: “Why do you [God] hide your face and consider me your enemy? Will you torment a windblown leaf? Will you chase after dry chaff?” (13:24-25). “[God] has blocked my way so I cannot pass; he has shrouded my paths in darkness” (19:8). “But if I go to the east, he is not there; if I go to the west, I do not find him. When he is at work in the north, I do not see him; when he turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him” (23:8-9). “I cry out to you, O God, but you do not answer; I stand up, but you merely look at me” (30:20). That’s how I felt.
These two books helped me express my doubts and confusion and pain before God. Second Corinthians provided a necessary antidote to the self-focus, a view of the big picture, of how our sufferings fit into God’s greater purposes. A taste of the good and the hope and the strength that is there even in the worst of times. He “comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (1:4, italics added). “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might rely not on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead” (1:8-9).
“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (4:8-9). “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (4:16-18). “Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything” (6:10). “‘My [Jesus’] grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ . . . For when I [Paul] am weak, then I am strong” (12:9-10).
No denial of the sorrows in this life. In fact, Paul reveals his own difficulties (physical and emotional) more in this book than in any other. And yet he also makes the strongest statements regarding both the benefits to others because of his pain and the triviality of that pain compared to the spiritual blessings of this life and the next. If his suffering is really as intense as he describes it as being, what does that say about the many times greater intensity of the joy and glory that can come through that suffering?
Thank You, Father, for the richness and variety of Your Word. Thank You that different books and verses minister to me at different times in my life. Whatever my need might be, the Bible provides passages that meet it. During the times when I need to be taught, rebuked, corrected, or trained in righteousness, Your Word is there (2 Timothy 3:16). But it’s also “living and active” (Hebrews 4:12) in my times of pain and sorrow, soothing my soul as only You can do.