In the midst of severe trial, our thoughts and desires become so broken and twisted that it seems impossible that our sorrow should ever end. We see this in Psalm 77, where Asaph writes:
Psalm 77:1–4 (ESV)
1 I cry aloud to God,
aloud to God, and he will hear me.
2 In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;
my soul refuses to be comforted.
3 When I remember God, I moan;
when I meditate, my spirit faints. Selah
4 You hold my eyelids open;
I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
Note the way in which Asaph speaks of God in these verses: He calls out to God, for he knows that God alone can solve his trouble. Yet, at the same time, the though of God becomes the basis for further woe:
When I remember God, I moan;
when I meditate my spirit faints.
The deepest depression for the Christian comes not from circumstances, but from the thought that God has abandoned me. The one whom Asaph would hope to protect him seems to be the one who troubles him.
Here is the important part: The way Asaph thinks about God determines the way in which he experiences his circumstances. This is the “secret” which Paul speaks of in Philippians 4:11–13 (ESV)
11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
Now consider Asaph’s heart most closely: when he comes to the place where he cannot sleep due to his mind running over his trouble. There in the midst of his trouble he begins to focus his attention:
Psalm 77:5–6 (ESV)
5 I consider the days of old,
the years long ago.
6 I said, “Let me remember my song in the night;
let me meditate in my heart.”
Then my spirit made a diligent search:
This of course is the matter of self-preaching
By directing his attention, Asaph then begins to ask the right questions:
Psalm 77:7–9 (ESV)
7 “Will the Lord spurn forever,
and never again be favorable?
8 Has his steadfast love forever ceased?
Are his promises at an end for all time?
9 Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” Selah
Consider these questions carefully:
Will the Lord spurn forever? No.
Will the Lord never again be favorable? No.
Has his steadfast love ceased? No.
Are his promises at an end? No.
Has the Lord forgot to be gracious? No.
Has the Lord shut up his compassion? No.
In the midst of depression, Asaph feared most that God had abandoned him. Yet, when he examines his heart — by asking questions about how he understands the Lord — Asaph undoes the strongest basis for his depression.
[Side note: Yes, there are times when people suffer depression on the basis of physiological trouble. One of the most godly men I have ever known — a man who never doubted the goodness of God — suffered from a very serious depression which was unrelated to his circumstances. Therefore, be careful on how you understand what is happening in another’s heart.]
Note that the circumstances have not changed, but the meaning of the circumstances have changed. This helps us understand such inexplicable commands such as:
James 1:2–4 (ESV)
2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
The circumstance seen alone is an evil. But when we remember the theological context, when place our trials in view of God’s continued steadfast love and goodness, then we know that the trial cannot solely be a mere evil — even if we don’t see the good, we must know that God is working good for us.