Lamentations 3:22-33: Depression

Depressed (610x351)Depression is a vexing condition. It’s part of that huge array of problems that have afflicted us since our first parents fell into sin. Depression is the result of a sin-corrupted body, a defect in how our brains work, just like the fall into sin also affects how our hearts, livers, and stomachs perform. But that doesn’t explain it all.

Events in your life can also trigger sadness, sometimes depression. But why? It’s because we live in a sinful world. Such sin wouldn’t have even existed before the fall into sin. And it’s that sin that forces you to deal with, and experience, what God never created you to experience—sin!

And so we learn that the world isn’t the only casualty of sin. So are we; and because of that, our ability to deal with what this fallen world sends our way is also degraded and diminished. Our sin-corrupted brains can’t handle everything that sin throws our way. We aren’t merely the perpetrators of sin, but also its victims.

And so we experience depression and grief. And, like sin, if we refuse to recognize the problem, then we won’t realize the need for a cure. Think about it.

Jesus told His Apostles to preach repentance into the forgiveness of sins (Luke 24:47). Why did He do that? Jesus told them to preach that way, so we would recognize our sickness, sin, which the Holy Spirit would then use to bring us from repentance into Christ’s forgiveness for us.

Like sin, we need to understand that grief and depression are something real, not invented or imaginary. Then, after recognizing that truth for us, as fallen descendants of Adam, we can then move from there to somewhere else. That moving away from grief is like God bringing you from repentance into the forgiveness of sins.

God will even use the sorrow in our lives for His good purposes. We heard that in our Old-Testament reading. Now, our culture would just have you take anti-depression medication, and be done with it. And maybe that’s needed, but not without dealing with the cause of that grief and depression. Otherwise, you’re just papering over the symptoms, treating them biologically, but refusing to get to the root of the problem.

Grief isn’t just something to medicate away; it’s also something to go through—if you want to come out of the other end in a better state of being. And that’s where the bad can turn into good: God doesn’t abandon you during those times of grief, even when you suffer depression. He even gives you His words for such times as that.

Our Old-Testament reading, from Lamentations, is such a word for those suffering from sadness and grief. When Jeremiah wrote Lamentations, enemies had just invaded Jerusalem, destroying the Temple, forcing the Israelites into exile. Jeremiah was writing to a people who were grieving—if not also suffering from depression!

And, yet, such grief can reveal a faith for living in the real world. Now, that’s not the Christianity that some try to portray. After all, if we have to “sell” Christianity, then the selling point is that, after becoming a Christian, life will become easier, maybe trouble-free. If Christianity is just a product to sell, then you say what you need to say to sell it.

But there’s one problem with that—you won’t find that in the Bible. Our Old-Testament reading says, “It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth” (Lamentations 3:27). “Bearing the yoke” sounds hard. It is; it’s taking what burdens you and carrying that yoke to where it belongs. To do otherwise is not to bear “the yoke,” not properly, not in the way that God would have you bear it.

One should “bear the yoke in his youth.” Jeremiah was saying that we should learn to “bear the yoke” while still young. That way, as you get older, and the yoke of this world weighs you down even more, you’ve already learned how to “bear the yoke.”

Earlier in Lamentations, Jeremiah said that God “has besieged me and encircled me with bitterness and hardship…. He has walled me in so I cannot escape (Lamentations 3:5, 7). God wasn’t being a mean ogre. He was forcing the Israelites to bear their yokes, so they would learn where and how they were to unload them.

It’s the same with us. Like the Israelites of old, we are to bear our burdens, so we may unload them and give them to God. Jesus spoke about that in two different ways. Speaking to His disciples, He said, “If anyone wants to come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). Note that Jesus said that—not to non-believers—but to believers. If you are a disciple of Christ, that includes bearing the yoke of the cross. As His followers, we bear that yoke.

But this bearing of our crosses has a purpose. Jesus also says, “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). We bear our yoke, so we may give it to God, and delight in His rest for us.

Well, let’s hear more from Jeremiah. “Let him sit alone in silence when it [someone’s yoke] is laid on him; let him put his mouth in the dust” (Lamentations 3:28-29a). Putting your mouth in the dust is being silent before God. It recognizes that we, based on our sin, don’t have a valid word of excuse before God.

Don’t presume when it comes to God. But, as Prophet Jeremiah says, “There may yet be hope” (Lamentations 3:29b). “Because of the Lord’s faithful love we do not perish, for his mercies never end” (Lamentations 3:22). In Old-Testament language, “The Lord is our portion” (Lamentations 3:24).

That means that although you haven’t deserved a scrap of God’s grace, He has an endless storehouse of love and mercy for you. He remains loyal and faithful to His Word and His people. He acts for your good and salvation. And so, you can wait quietly for His salvation, not boasting in yourself, knowing that He is faithful.

Maybe, you look at your life and think that your yoke of suffering is worse than another’s. A friend, my age, suffered from a neurological disease. He once told me that Jesus only suffered a few hours on the cross. He had suffered for years with his disease, as it whittled away his life. What was Jesus’ suffering compared with his?

He misunderstood Christ’s suffering on the cross, thinking that it was only what Jesus physically suffered. Jesus’ physical suffering was nothing compared with what He suffered when He took our sins into Himself to save us. His physical anguish only showed some of what He experienced to give us life and salvation.

My friend recently died. I missed his funeral because I had to do a funeral here. But know this: No one has ever—or will ever—suffer what Christ has suffered. We suffer SOME of the effects of sin; Jesus suffered them ALL! That’s why God the Father raised Jesus from the dead, proclaiming Him the conqueror over sin, the devil, and death—and anything else that could ever cause us grief, including depression.

As with Jesus, so also is it for those who are baptized into His death and resurrection (Romans 6:3-5). When God wants to make alive, He does it through death. When He wants to heal and make you righteous, He first calls out the disease, the sin. That’s because sin can’t be reformed into sinlessness; it must be killed and resurrected in new life. And so the way of Jesus becomes our own.

Jeremiah tells us, “The Lord will not reject us forever” (Lamentations 3:31). “He is not predisposed to bring suffering or grief to anyone” (Lamentations 3:33). God’s real work is saving people, and this He does in Christ Jesus.

When it comes to God, the world thinks in “therefore” language. So, you’ve pleased God; “therefore,” He will bless you. So, you’ve displeased God; “therefore,” He will punish you. That’s how this world of reward and punishment sees it.

But that’s now how God sees it—not in Christ Jesus! God’s steadfast love and mercy come to you “despite” your sinful condition and the sins you commit because of that. Jesus is at the root of God’s mercy and grace for you. “Despite” your grief, suffering, even depression, your hope is in Jesus, who died and rose from the dead. He says, “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Why? Because Jesus says, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28, 30).

And so we come full circle. So, what do you do when the yoke of depression grabs you and won’t let you go? We hear some wise words from a book in the Old-Testament Apocrypha, which was in all our Lutheran Bibles until we transitioned into using English. The book of Sirach tells us: “Honor your doctor according to your need of him.” And then it goes on to say, “The Lord created medicines from the earth, and a sensible person will not despise them” (Sirach 38:1, 4).

So, what do you do? You see your doctor, and you take the medication you need. Doctors and medication don’t compete with God, any more than farmers and grains of wheat compete with God because He uses them to provide for your daily bread.

And yet, you still pray for daily bread. And so, even in the depths of your depression, cry out to God, for He is your God, and you are His dear child. You bear your burdens, so you can give them to God. You see your doctor AND pray. You take your medication AND carry your burdens, bringing them to God. God even uses doctors and medicines to meet our needs until He creates the new heaven and new earth.

But your real and lasting need—eternal life with a perfect, sinless body and soul—only God can give you. And that’s yours in Christ Jesus. So bring your burdens, give them to Jesus, and receive the peace that He gives. Every Lord’s Supper is such an exchange. Despite your sin, Jesus gives you life and salvation. Amen.