The Scriptures speak of a kind of sorrow that is a “howling” of soul (Ps. 77:3), a wounded or crushed spirit (Prov. 18:14), and an overwhelmed heart (Ps. 61:2; 77:3; 142:3). This deep sorrow or depression may be due to a sudden loss or shock to the soul, unresolved guilt, or an abusive relationship. It can be accompanied by devastating effects: sleeplessness, inability to speak or explain one’s state, allergic and auto-immune reactions, and a sense of being forgotten by the Lord (Ps. 77:4-9).
The first and hard truth about sorrow is that the Lord does not always want us happy, however one defines that illusive and overused word. Sometimes, our Lord wants us sad, even, as we see in Job, unexpected and inexplicable sorrowful. In the midst of his sorrows, he lamented: “He has fenced up my way that I cannot pass, and he has set darkness in my paths” (Job 19:8).
Job did not understand God’s higher purposes in his afflictions, but he felt acutely the loss, pain, and sorrow. He did not feel “loved,” and he certainly was not happy. Intense personal grief, sorrow close to the point of madness descended upon his soul. It was not his circumstances that drove him to such a state as much as his sense of being forsaken and unjustly treated by the Lord. Nevertheless, the Lord did not love him any less because Job felt no peace, love, and light in his soul. Job unwisely accused the Lord, but the Lord was patiently loving and afflicting Job. This is an important truth that we must believe, trust, and cling to in times of discouragement, mourning, perplexity, and pain. Our Father loves us and is working good for us in our sorrow (Rom. 8:28). His love is true whether or not we feel loved.
To cling to this truth is more important than getting relief from sorrow. Every child of God, whatever his circumstances, is to “hope in God” (Ps. 42:5,11). We are to remember his past faithfulness, mediate upon his mighty deeds, and expect him to lead us through the wilderness of hopelessness and testing, as he has always done (Ps. 77:10-20). The Lord does not cease to be our shepherd because his paths lead us through the valley of affliction. He has good reasons for leading us there.
God’s main support in our sorrow is to trust him, cast our cares upon him, and cry to him. Deep sufferers will find this is their spiritual battle while they are passing through his dark valley – will we trust the Lord’s promises, wisdom, and love? The Lord’s working in us is not primarily to remove the sorrow so we feel good again. Feeling good, feeling “normal,” whatever that is in this fallen world, is an idol that must be toppled and mortified in the believer’s life (Col. 3:5). The Lord wants us trusting him. He wants to be our hope, our peace, and our light.
This was his answer to Job. As far as we know, the Lord never told Job about Satan’s evil schemes. The Lord never said, “There, there, Job, what I did to you was a little harsh. Perhaps I should have treated you better.” He revealed the glory of his sovereignty to Job, his mighty works in nature, his constant providence, and Job’s littleness.
When we feel our littleness in times of sorrow, it is easy to slip into unjust views of our Father. Is it fair for others to enjoy the best of health, while some believers are always in pain? Should we have liberty to worship God while many portions of his church are bitterly persecuted? Others may have more money, while we always struggle to make ends meet. Some believers have many children, but he does not give others even one child. We envy believers who seem to have an easier time in their relationships, while we are never comfortable around others. These are hard burdens to bear, the individual and corporate cross we must take up to follow our Master.
Those who enjoy more outward blessings can become self-deceived as to their bigness. David confessed, “In my prosperity, I said I would never be moved.” He quickly added, “You hid your face, and I was troubled” (Ps. 30:6-7). When everything goes well, we quickly slip into presumption. Life should always go well. But, it will not always go well, for the Lord will test the righteous. He may for wise, good, and holy purposes unknown to us hide his face for a time. In some believer’s lives, his testing seems endless. If we fall into bitter complaining, our crosses become heavier. The sorrow deepens. Discontent, discouragement, and despair consume our souls, and the Lord seems far away. Then, we find no joy in the word of God, in his word preached, or in the fellowship of the saints. We feel like we are outsiders to these blessings. Other believers are smiling and seem to live in the house of rejoicing.
Job craved compassion from his friends, not answers. A wise believer knows that our Father does not always give answers. He may be chastening us for our sins. Some of our deepest sorrow is due to sin’s guilt and our unwise responses to our sins that deepen our guilt. This is only removed by the blood of Jesus Christ, confessing and forsaking our sins by his strength. His chastening for our sins hurts, and we will cry. Lord, do I really need testing here? More testing? Do you now want me joyful in you?
Yes, he does, but remember two things. First, he knows his complete plan. Our lives belong to him, and it is our highest wisdom and humility to leave to him the government of our lives, even if in the short term his workings are hard to us, make us sorrowful, and seem to have no end.
Second, he sees us in heaven and knows the joy he has prepared for us. Then, our crosses will be seen for what they are – necessary for his glory and our good. Through them, he is working for us an “eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor. 4:18). Once Job saw a little of this, he was quiet. He remained childless, impoverished, and covered with boils, but he saw more of the glory of God, and this was enough for him. God was enough for him. He found that the grace of his Redeemer was sufficient. He never brings one thing into our lives that will not work, in the end, good for us.
Knowing these things, we must hope in God. This is not to bandage depression’s gunshot wound with tissue paper. We have more than Job did. We have God’s completed word, his reigning, interceding Son, our Mediator, and a promised, good future. We have the history of the church, testifying powerfully that the Lord will not forsake his people. Therefore, each one of us, in times of blessing or sorrow, must arm ourselves with God’s promises. His word is our food. His word is also the sword of the Spirit which is powerful against our despair and will sustain us in times of sorrow.
It is telling how few of us really give ourselves to God’s word. We do not meditate upon it day and night, which is the source of real fruit in the barren desert of this world (Ps. 1:2-3). Our minds must be renewed (Eph. 4:23), so that every despairing thought is met with the light of truth, the hope of God’s faithfulness, and the certainty of his help. His word transforms us. It is the same word by which our Savior lived, fought off his own despair in Gethsemane and the horrors of the cross.
He was the man of sorrows. He had every reason for despair, discouragement, and depression. There has never been sorrow like his sorrow (Lam. 1:12). He fought with his Father’s word – believing it, obeying it, and hoping in his Father (Ps. 22:9), even when he was mocked for his hope (Matt. 27:43). He calls us to the same fight. Your sorrow does not require a label. It must lead you to cast your cares upon the Lord. He will sustain you (Ps. 50:22). The Lord has never forsaken the one who hopes in him. This hope is our anchor in the veil of his presence, even when all other hope is extinguished. He is your future. Hope in him.
“But now, thus says the LORD, who created you, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isa. 43:1-3).