Psalm 69: Surviving the Winter Blues

holly & Ivy

The holidays are over and spring is a long way off. For some, the snow, cold and lack of sunshine can bring on a winter depression. While the writer of Psalm 69 isn’t familiar with Michigan winters, he is familiar with depression as shown by this lament.

The writer is down and discouraged, “I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me. I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God.” (2-3) He is under attack by numerous enemies who hate him, “More in number than the hairs of my head are those who hate me without cause, mighty are those who would destroy me, those who attack me with lies.” (4a)

There is no justice. He is being unjustly accused of stealing and is being forced to pay back that which he didn’t steal, “What I did not steal must I now restore?” (4b) He is being attacked for doing God’s work, “For it is for your sake that I have borne reproach, that shame has covered my face . . . For zeal for your house has consumed me, and the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” (7,9)

He is willing to admit to his sins, “O God, you know my folly, the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you.” (5)  But when he performs acts of penitence, his enemies jeer at him, “When I humbled my soul with fasting, it became my reproach, when I made sackcloth my clothing, I became a byword to them.” (10-11)

He is wasting away and close to being swept away into the nether world, “Let not the flood sweep over me, or the deep swallow me up, or the pit close its mouth over me.” (15) Depression can feel like you are sinking in a quagmire or pit with no possibility of climbing out.

One commentator describes him as a reformer who is weary from years of labor with little real change. Not only that, he is being punished for his efforts. “Because the reformer is a lonely man, even when surrounded by his followers, he is the easy victim of frustration and spiritual fatigue. He will start out consumed by zeal for the house, the market, the home, the church, and he may end with a poignant cry for rescue from the deep waters.” (Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. IV, p. 368)

Or perhaps the writer is a prophet. Prophets often were ridiculed and punished for speaking God’s word. Whatever the reason for his suffering, he is in good company. When the psalmist is thirsty, his enemies gave him vinegar to drink, “They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.” (21) Jesus on the cross was also given vinegar. (Mt 27:48, Mk 15:36) Jesus know what it is to suffer.

Sometimes Christians have this notion that if they follow God’s commands, they will be blessed and escape suffering. They will be blessed, but suffering is not an avoidable part of life. A woman whose blog I follow, was recently diagnosed with a brain tumor. In light of this and other events in her life, she writes: “I call this “Umbrella Theology”: our often unspoken belief that the crappy stuff in life should happen to other people and not us.

Well, the storms of life have collapsed my umbrella theology, and I’ve been blessed to receive Special Education in Suffering through my experiences with illness, loss of loved ones, and other painful STUFF THAT IS NOT FUN. But I’m not anyone special. You’ve experienced these things too, and if you haven’t yet, you will.” (To read her post click here)

That we will suffer is inescapable but how we deal with that suffering is up to us. In verses 22-28, the psalmist in anger prays for vengeance against those who did him wrong, “Pour out your indignation upon them, and let your burning anger overtake them. May their camp be a desolation, let no one dwell in their tents.” (24-25) He ends by asking that they be wiped out of the divine registry, “Let them be blotted out of the book of the living; let them not be enrolled among the righteous.” (28)

But the psalm doesn’t end there. It ends with a hymn of praise and confident trust in our God, “Let the oppressed see it and be glad; you who seek God, let your hearts revive. For the Lord hears the needy, and does not despise his own that are in bonds.” (32-33)

The writer makes his case to his God, releases his anger through asking for vengeance, then falls back on his trust in the Lord. A helpful prescription for dealing with depression. (Please note: I am not talking about clinical depression which requires professional help.)

In this life, there will be suffering, there will be hard times. Faith doesn’t exempt us from the trials that are part of human existence, but it does help us get through these times when we feel we are drowning. The winter will pass, warm days will return and with faith, we can get through the down times in our life.

How are you handling the dark days of winter?

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