Thinking Out Loud
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you. Psalm 139:8-12
The very first time I experienced the starkness of the dark was when Kellie and I first made our way across eastern Wyoming on the way to Hot Springs. Even with headlights on, the darkness on either side of the pickup appeared to be as a black curtain beyond which nothing existed.
As a shepherd in the middle east, David knew this sort of darkness, perhaps even more so than we. Thus, he wrote the above. But the darkness of which he wrote was likely not the darkness of the night, but rather the darkness of his own soul. You don’t need to read too far into the Psalms to notice that David had very strong emotions, and that often those emotions experienced great sorrow. For example, throughout Psalm 42 David writes, Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? (5, 11) My soul is cast down within (5), Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy? (9)
This darkness of the soul is not unique to David. We call the prophet Jeremiah, “The Weeping Prophet.” The Apostle Paul spoke of being utterly burdened beyond… strength and of despairing of life itself (2 Corinthians 1:8). The Reformer Martin Lutherwas afflicted with a melancholy that threatened to destroy him. The prince of preachers, Charles Spurgeon suffered from depression for many years, even in the midst of a thriving ministry. His wife, Susannah Spurgeon wrote, “My beloved’s anguish was so deep and violent, that reason seemed to totter in her throne, and we sometimes feared that he would never preach again.”1 Of course, the prophet Isaiah describes Jesus as a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. Jesus said in the Garden of Gethsemane, My soul is very sorrowful, even to death (Matthew 26:38). This is not to indicate our sorrows to equal that of Jesus, but to point out that Jesus identifies with us in affliction.
Sorrow, affliction, despair, depression… whatever you’d like to call it, is a reality of life in a fallen world, even for a Christian. This is why passages such Psalm 139:8-12 is such an encouragement. Let me make just a couple of observations and then encourage you to look at it yourself.
First, notice that although David spoke of personal emotions, the primary focus of the passage was the Lord, not himself.
Second, notice that David was speaking of the omnipresence of God. Specifically, he spoke of God’s omnipresence in his life (or the life of every person). This is not just in a spacial sense, but in the omnipresence (omniscience) of the whole of who you are (read the entire chapter).
Third, notice that God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5).
Finally, notice that there is no mention that the darkness that overcomes is ever removed. It may be, in the sense that in God’s presence, His light dispels the darkness (John 1:5)… but maybe not. It doesn’t actually say. What it DOES say is that wherever I may be, even in darkness of soul, your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. Ponder that for a moment…
The confidence of the psalmist was not that the darkness would be removed, for God’s purposes may be to work in the midst of the darkness rather than in its removal. Because the Lord is omnipresent, the confidence of the psalmist was that He would be with him in the midst of it all… even when it didn’t feel like it.
If you find yourself in a dark place (or before you get there), be encouraged to read and to meditate on Psalm 139 and Psalm 42-43. Read it numerous times, marking it and making notes of what you learn. Also, I found the following articles to be helpful in thinking through these matters from a biblical perspective.
Did You Know That Charles Spurgeon Struggled with Depression? by Michael Reeves (https://bit.ly/MRonSpurgeon)
Spiritual Depression in the Psalms by John Piper (https://bit.ly/PiperonPsalm42)
Spiritual Depression: The Dark Night of the Soul by R. C. Sproul (https://bit.ly/SproulonDepression)
Honesty About Depression by Heath Lambert (https://bit.ly/LambertonPsalm102)
—Soli Deo Gloria! (To God Alone Be Glory!)