Sad to say, I have the personal resumé to write an extended series of articles about depression.
In reading through Numbers, I was reminded of one potent cause of depression. (No, I don't mean that reading through Numbers causes depression.)
The nation of Israel was dallying in the desert. They were there as a penalty for their unbelief. In these wanderings, they came to Kadesh, and ran short on water (Numbers 20).
This was their reaction to the situation:
And the people quarreled with Moses and said, "Would that we had perished when our brothers perished before the LORD! 4 Why have you brought the assembly of the LORD into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle? 5 And why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place? It is no place for grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, and there is no water to drink" (Numbers 20:3-5)First, I'd observe that their concern had a basis in reality. I've lived in the desert. Water is nothing to spit at. (Pause for laughter to die down.) (Very short pause.) You just don't go anywhere without spare stores of water on-hand. And so here were hundreds of thousands of people, in the desert, and they'd come short on water. This isn't an "Oh, well, what's on TV?" situation. It is a legitimate crisis. Without water, they would die.
Depression doesn't need an objective cause. M'man Spurgeon spoke of causeless depression, and I may add my own thoughts someday. Dealing with free-floating depression is like boxing a fog bank. This was not of that nature. This depression was able to fix on objective realities.
Second, their viewpoint was incomplete, and that in two specifics. Glaringly, the Israelites had forgotten why they were still in the wilderness. They were stuck in the desert because of their own unbelief. Surely you remember the story, from Numbers 13-14. In sum:
God said "Go"So in their response here, they blame everyone — everyone, that is, except themselves. It's Moses' fault. It's Yahweh's fault (cf. 21:5). But of course the truth is that it was their fault, it was the fault of their unbelief. And so, having failed to learn from the previous lesson, they simply repeat their sin.
They said "No"
So God said "No go"
They said "Woe!"
Let me underscore that point.
"For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction," (Romans 15:4), and we mustn't miss the lesson here. Refuse to learn from discipline for sin, and you will repeat both sin AND discipline. This is why Proverbs is so full of thunderous warnings and reproofs for the man (or woman) who bull-headedly refuses to accept discipline, rebuke, correction (cf. 1:24-31; 10:17; 12:1; 15:10; 29:1, etc.).
You and I may stop our ears, stiffen our necks, harden our hearts, and turn our backs. We may even eventually forget. But God doesn't. We can be sure that it will come up again, and again, until we either address the issue or fall under it.
I think of my kids in our home school. On occasion, some kid may give me a bunch of sloppy, slapdash, thoughtless homework. I take my red pen and (as my wife says) proceed to bleed all over it. Then I lecture. Then I add some stiff penalties in terms of lost privileges and/or extra work.
And if that child then clearly seethes with anger at me, I say, "If you blame me for what just happened to you, I guarantee it will just keep happening to you, again and again. Today is a result of the decision you made yesterday. Think and do the same today, and the same (or worse) will happen tomorrow, and for the same reason."
So why were these knotheads still in the desert, in the first place? Unbelief. So how do they respond to the crisis they face, here, in-the-desert-because-of-unbelief?
And in their unbelief, they had left God out of the equation. On the one hand, nobody could argue with part of their assessment of the situation. They were indeed short on water. Without water, an unpleasant death was certain. That's "dire" according to any dictionary.
But what of God? Their thinking did not include Him fully. That miscalculation, from the matrix of unbelief, was the cause and sustenance of their despair.
The essence of depression, and the unbelief that is so often at its root, is not that it is completely baseless. It may have a fragile and tenuous basis, or it may have a large and overwhelming basis. Either way, its vantage point is incomplete. It is incomplete in a way that makes it end up completely wrong.
Suppose I meet this little shrimpy old guy in an alley, and he tries to rob me. I say, "Dude, you're old, and I've got a hundred pounds on you, plus a green belt in karate. You're completely outmatched."
He shrugs and says, "Except for this gun."
"Yeah, well, except for that," I reply, noting sagely that one factor can alter the entire equation.
And so Israel, never having dealt with their sin head-on, never having confronted the abhorrent and appalling nature of their unbelief head-on, and never having estimated God correctly, once again miscalculate. They leave out one crucial factor. They leave out God. And they're depressed.
And so I suggest to you that, at the root of much (not all) of our depression is a similar miscalculation.
But while we're shaking our heads at what nincompoops those dumb Israelites were, we should reflect pointedly on our own unbelief. We have one thing they didn't have. We have their story. Plus a truckload of additional revelation, including the whole New Testament.
So when our own unbelief casts us down into our own depression, let us learn from their example, that we not repeat it. Let us reach into our own coats, and pull out the precious key called Promise. Let us make it ours by faith, use it, escape from Giant Despair, and head for the joy that is our portion.