Darkness and Self-Condemnation
by Joe Holland
Spiritual depression is the absence of God’s delighted presence. To ward off spiritual depression, we must put those last two words together: God’s delight and presence. When I’m spiritually depressed, I can think of God angry, near me or not, and feel the self-imposition of a condemnation I impute to God, and the deepening darkness. And I can think of God delighted but far away, off somewhere with someone or something delight-worthy, but not delighted and near me. Those are the thoughts that settle on me when the cloud of spiritual despair descends on my heart.
David is a good companion for moments of dark despair; his psalms are a solace to my macabre heart, reminding me that someone understands what I’m feeling. And so David wrote Psalm 22:1: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?”
I often wonder what David might have been going through when he penned that psalm—the death of a child, the weight of his sin, a military loss, the betrayal of a friend, or just that hauntingly sudden despair that shows up in the human experience like an undiagnosed wasting illness. However, David’s penning of Psalm 22 was not the last time those dark words would be mentioned in Scripture.
There was a darker day than either David or I could ever experience, the worst day of all time, the day on which the worst suffering happened to the best man. Jesus suffered and died, allowing God’s full wrath for sin to fall upon Him. In those moments of agony, He said little but what He said was significant. He gave vent to His soul with the words of Scripture, while hanging, literally, dying on a Roman crossbar, pinned by metal barbs. He cried out Psalm 22:1, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46).
I’ve often thought on that moment with perplexity and confusion. Jesus was experiencing the stampede of unrelenting divine wrath and the loss of the feeling of God’s delighted presence. Jesus’ experience means that we will never be forsaken by the Father. As a result, we never have to believe the lies and whispers of spiritual depression: “God has left you. His delight is gone.”
In that moment, by taking that psalm to His lips, Jesus graciously took the thoughts I use to condemn myself in my dark moments. I want to think God has left me. I want to believe that His delight is far off and distant. But it isn’t. Jesus made sure I would never be able to say truthfully, “God has left me.” He experienced that reality once for all on my behalf, so I would never have to experience it. I will still get sad, believing in those moments all kinds of lies to stoke my heart-fires of self-condemnation and self-loathing. But into those moments speaks my Psalm 22-crying Savior, “Dear one, God is near and delighted. I’ve secured that for you.”