I’m trying to communicate something magnificent here but I keep typing platitudes. “God meets us where we are.” Sigh. I think it was Gregory the Great who compared preaching to seeing a great blaze, then trying to display it for others but only giving off pathetic little sparks.
OK, I’ll stick with it. “God meets us where we are.” That includes terrible and seemingly ungodly places. The Psalms are a traditional part of daily prayer because in them God breathes words we might be too ashamed to offer. He comes to free us from pious constraints and to enter His presence in Spirit and Truth through Jesus.
This morning I offered a portion of Psalm 143. I’m down, dealing with (being dealt with by?) depression. So there was mercy and freedom in God giving me these words to pray,
The enemy has pursued my soul;
he has crushed my life to the ground.
He has made me dwell in darkness
like those long dead.
My spirit is faint within me;
my heart despairs.
So God meets us where we are. But he doesn’t come to leave us there. Elijah was in dark isolation when God came to renew him and send him out with power,
But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” And he lay down and slept under a broom tree. And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, “Arise and eat.” And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and lay down again. And the angel of the LORD came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.” And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God. (1 Kings 19:4-8 ESV)
Depression can become an idol. We might choose to adore it. The whole suffering artist/sensitive soul schtick. Like it’s cool to name drop Sylvia Plath, even if you’ve never read a syllable of her poetry (she wrote poetry, right?) God meets us where we are, even in depression, but doesn’t want us to stay there.
St. John of the Cross likened the Christian spiritual life to the ascent of a mountain. St. Teresa of Avila expressed it as moving from the outer to inner chambers of a castle. No place along the way is the ultimate destination – God is always calling us away from what was and toward what will be in Him.
A peeve of mine is the superficial citation of “dark night of the soul” (John of the Cross) as a meme for depression or just having a lousy day,
“Man, my boss is a jerk. I don’t know why I took this job in the first place.”
(Friend makes caring, “pastoral” face and says) “You’re really going through a dark night of the soul.”
That has zero to do with what John was describing. I won’t even try to convey it in a puny blog. But the “dark night” he describes is beyond depression or ecstasy or anything else that mires us in self awareness. It involves a profound, mysterious and God-given suspension of self so that intimate unity with God is enjoyed.
So while God will meet us in depression, which feels quite dark, that’s not where God wants to leave us. There’s a more profound but much better darkness toward which the soul is beckoned. That’s John’s dark night,
One dark night,
fired with love’s urgent longings
– ah, the sheer grace! –
I went out unseen,
my house being now all stilled.
Depression is dark. But by the grace of God, there is a better darkness into which we can come. I don’t know that he was after this same idea, but Bob Dylan expressed it well,
Shadows are falling and I’ve been here all day
It’s too hot to sleep, time is running away
Feel like my soul has turned into steel
I’ve still got the scars that the sun didn’t heal
There’s not even room enough to be anywhere
It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there