Tag Archives: Depression

Psalm 77 Searching for God in a Shattered World

Marc Chagall, Solitude (1933)

Psalm 77

<To the leader: according to Jeduthun. Of Asaph. A Psalm.>
1 I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, that he may 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 I think of God, and I moan; I meditate, and my spirit faints. Selah
4 You keep my eyelids from closing; I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
5 I consider the days of old, and remember the years of long ago.
6 I commune with my heart in the night; I meditate and search my spirit:
7 “Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable?
8 Has his steadfast love ceased forever? 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
10 And I say, “It is my grief that the right hand of the Most High has changed.”
11 I will call to mind the deeds of the LORD; I will remember your wonders of old.
12 I will meditate on all your work, and muse on your mighty deeds.
13 Your way, O God, is holy. What god is so great as our God?
14 You are the God who works wonders; you have displayed your might among the peoples.
15 With your strong arm you redeemed your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph. Selah
16 When the waters saw you, O God, when the waters saw you, they were afraid; the very deep trembled.
17 The clouds poured out water; the skies thundered; your arrows flashed on every side.
18 The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind; your lightnings lit up the world; the earth trembled and shook.
19 Your way was through the sea, your path, through the mighty waters; yet your footprints were unseen.
20 You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

The shattering of the world that we know can often lead to a crisis of faith where we wonder if God is present or if God’s ways have changed. Like the other Psalms of Asaph that open book three of the psalter, it is likely that this psalm originates in the world-shattering experience of the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of the Jewish people in Babylon. Perhaps to a person sitting in a sheltered place these agonized meditations about the faithfulness of God in the moment may seem dangerously close to heresy but this is a place where the solidness of the tradition handed on to the psalmist is challenged by the acuteness of experience (Brueggemann, 2014, p. 335). The very question of God’s identity is at stake for the psalmist as they move between the agonizing questions their present evokes and the narrative of God’s covenant they received throughout their life.

The initial verse is more jagged than translations, “my voice unto God” is repeated twice as the psalmist tries to bring their pain into a coherent speech. In many places I have written about a heartbroken God who mourns the state of the people, but here we have the utterances of a heartbroken psalmist who feels abandoned and forsaken by God. Prayer has given way to these agonized meditations which are seeking to make sense of their world which has been shattered. They are unable to sleep in this anxious state of questioning as they sit with their feelings, prayers, broken dreams, and questions not only about the future but also their relationship to God.

The acuteness of their experience has made them question whether God has changed and whether the covenant still holds. Has God spurned the individual forever? Has God broken God’s promises? Is the LORD no longer faithful? Had God’s anger and wrath overwhelmed the motherly compassion God has for the individual and the people? The wording of these questions reflects a person formed in the faith of Israel. In particular they reference the thirteen attributes of God which are seen first in Exodus 34:

“The LORD, the LORD,
a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger,
and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,
7 keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation,
 forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin,
yet by no means clearing the guilty,
but visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children
and the children’s children,
to the third and the fourth generation Exodus 34: 6-7

When the psalmist asks, “Has his steadfast love ceased forever? Are his promises at an end for all time? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up compassion?[1]What is being referenced are key pieces of this identity that God declared for Godself. In addition to these three attributes of God is the irrevocable promise/covenant that God made with the people. The right hand, the action of the God of Israel, has changed towards the people causing the psalmist grief[2]. The psalmist in their meditation questions the justice of God’s withheld action, grace, compassion, and steadfast love. In Melanchthon’s famous phrase, “To know Christ is to know his benefits.” (Melanchton, 2014, p. 24) In the psalmist’s situation where the benefits and characteristics of God are unknown or unseen they begin to wonder if they truly know the LORD their God.

The psalm’s tone changes abruptly in verse eleven and this has led some interpreters to question if this is two psalms joined together. The two sections make sense as a part of a common meditation where in the acuteness of their experience the psalmist again attempts to hold onto the solidness of the tradition. In a time where God’s hand is turned away they go back to the memory of times when God’s strong arm redeemed the people. In a time of disasters, they remember the wonder working God. In a time where the holy places have been defiled they cling to the holiness of their God. The theological crisis posed by their experience and highlighted in their meditation is not met with logic but with memory.

The dynamic of the life of faith moves between experience and memory. In times of crisis the belief that things will change is often rooted in the experience of times of faithfulness in the past. Often the life of prayer is a life of calling upon God to be God, to exhibit the characteristics that God identifies Godself with, to recall the covenant and deliver the people. The words that desperately cling to faith in the difficult time may seem impertinent in times of peace, but that is a part of the rich gift of the scriptures which attempt to witness to the life of faith in both the times of peace and the times where the world of the author has been shattered and they are attempting to make sense of their world, their life, and God’s place within it.


[1] Hesed (steadfast love), hannot (gracious)t, and rahamim (compassion) in Hebrew, rahamim is translated as merciful in Exodus 34:6

[2] Literally sickness in Hebrew


Roland H. Bainton’s classic, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, is one of several Luther biographies I have on my shelf and it is a classic work, even if it is a little dry to read. I want to focus in on an insight from one of the last chapters called ‘The Struggle for Faith’ in most of what I write below but first I’m going to indulge a bit of nostalgia since this was also the first book on Luther’s life that I read many, many years ago while I was in middle school. I remember giving a presentation, it was required that we do a biography on a historical figure, and since I knew very little about this person so important they named the denomination I grew up in (and continue to be a part of) I remember finding this book and choosing it from the library. I also remember my verdict on the book, it was boring (to a middle schooler much of the impact of the theological debates was lost). Still over three decades later I find myself once again returning to this classic bio of Luther and finding a new insight from it.

Anfechtung, the spiritual struggle that Luther endured throughout his life which included both elements of depression and self-doubt combined with a struggle for faith, was a continual if frequently unwanted partner in Luther’s life. Luther’s struggle to find a gracious God would provide strength and hope for many people but it also came at a high cost for Luther. Luther’s impact and talent were prodigious and he became an inspirational figure of faith for countless people and yet in his personal life he was in a continual struggle for faith. He proclaimed that God was always good and yet he struggled to accept this gospel for himself. He until the very end felt unworthy of the grace he proclaimed. A quote from Luther and then Bainton that I found helpful:


If I live longer, I would like to write a book about Anfechtungen, for without them no man can understand Scripture, faith, the fear or the love of God. He does not know the meaning of hope who has never been subjected to temptations. David must have been plagued by a very fearful devil. He could not have had such profound insights if he had not experience great assaults. (Luther)


Luther verged on saying that an excessive emotional sensitivity is a mode of revelation. Those who are predisposed to fall into despondency as well as to rise into ecstasy may be able to view reality from an angle different from that of ordinary folk. Yet it is a true angle; and when the problem or the religious object has been once so viewed, others less sensitive will be able to look from a new vantage point and testify that the insight is valid. (Bainton, 283)


I have sometimes admired those for whom faith is simple, who seem to be unquestioning in their trust but that is not my experience of faith. I have often questioned my own struggles of faith, depression and have occassionally viewed them as crippling to my ministry. Yet, perhaps what may be an excessive emotional sensitivity may also be a critical part of my hermeneutical insight, my pastoral presence and my preaching’s relevance. Perhaps it is the vulnerability that allows questions and doubt that allows grace to enter in through my own weakness. Perhaps it is this quality that makes the Lutheran theological tradition resonate with me even today.

Who Cares if One More Light Goes Out? I Do

Who cares if one more light goes out
In a sky of a million stars
It flickers, flickers
Who cares when someone’s time runs out
If a moment is all we are
Or quicker, quicker
Who cares if one more light goes out
Well I do
From Linkin Park’s song one more light

I was a late comer to the Linkin Park phenomenon. I didn’t find their music until 2010 and the album A Thousand Suns. I have needed different types of music at different times in my life and music has always been one of those ways I could connect with what I was feeling on the inside. In 2010, after having seeing a dream fail to materialize, suffering from anxiety and depression after living in a stressful work and home environment for several years, seeing a marriage that I thought would last forever fall apart and finding myself raising my son on my own and my daughter living in another state I needed a different kind of music. I gravitated back to rock and metal after a decade or more of listening to primarily country because I needed something that resonated with the pain, the anger, the frustration and the fear inside. In 2010 the rapid fire rapping of Mike Shinoda and the at times hauntingly beautiful and at other time primal dissonant scream of Chester Bennington paired in a way that touched the emotions I felt at the time. I quickly went back and purchased Hybrid Theory, Meteora, Minutes to Midnight and Road to Revolution and they were played over and over. I wrote down the lyrics and they wrote themselves on my mind as I screamed out some of my own sense of powerlessness. Slowly my life came back together but my love for the band’s music remained. I loved that each album was different and how they continually experimented with new sounds and yet there was still something unique to the music they made. In 2015 I had the opportunity to see them in Dallas. They were one of the groups I had wanted to see and the opportunity came and I am glad I took it. It was September in Dallas and the night was hot and sticky but Thirty Seconds to Mars and then Linkin Park both came. Linkin Park’s set was intense as they moved from hit to hit and I left wishing they could have played a few more. I had tickets to see them again this August with the One More Light tour, a tour that was cancelled after Chester Bennington’s suicide at 41.

Music and musicians touch us. I had friends who were devastated by the loss of Michael Jackson, Prince, or Chris Cornell. I think all of them were great musicians but their music never was the music I sang over and over again. I never met Chester, but I grieve for the loss of him. I’ve walked with family members after a suicide and I can only imagine what his family and his bandmates are feeling. Even though I know a little of his story, I consider myself very fortunate that even at my darkest moments thoughts of suicide were fleeting and quickly pushed aside. I am thankful for the emotion he put into his work, his band’s music, his performance and all of these helped me express what I felt at a time where I needed it. Paper Ships is my own small tribute to a person we lost too soon. Thankfully I can carry hours of his music on my phone and play it and it still resonates. If One More Light is the last light we hear from Linkin Park I am thankful for the music they have produced over the past seventeen years. #RIPCHESTER and may those left behind eventually find the peace in this life that you never did.

Paper Ships

Another paper ship sinks amid depression’s black sea
Too fragile to withstand the storms it encountered
Absorbing the waters it intended to sail upon
Drinking in the inky waters of the abyss
Leviathan lurks below the water’s edge
And the Kraken picks off its prey from the deep
Even the bravest and best captains are lost at sea
In the uncharted lands where the dragons hunt
Many brave ships pass through these waters
They let down their nets hoping to bring up a catch
Or they cross through these waters looking for new lands
And some are desperately trying to find the way back home
These icy waters can freeze the soul and stop the heart
Storm can be violent and the doldrums deadly
Sometimes the sea demands its sacrifice
And another paper ship feeds the sea’s unending hunger

Grey Days        

There was a time when the rain fell softly every day
When the cool dampness soaked beyond flesh and bone
And the cold water dimmed the fire of my soul
While the earth around me seemed to drink in the drops
Bursting forth into forests of deep green that blocked out the sun
I am a creature of the sun baked plains and the heat of summer
And the life in the forest made the air too heavy to breathe
Now I’ve returned to my natural habitat, to the place where I can thrive
Perhaps a place to hot and dry for many but it warms my bones
And in this place the fire of my soul was rekindled and burns brightly
Yet, on those grey days where the thunder rumbles and clouds collect
And the lightning flashes across the sky announcing the coming
Of the large grey drops that drench the earth and flood the plains
For a time I am returned to the dampness of that forested place
And the fire within sputters under the impact of the downpour
But in this place of dust and sun the rains last only for a time
Shortly to be replace by the arid heat and the drying wind
But without the grey days, without the chilling rain and cool wind
The life of the plains shrivels and dies and even the creatures of the sun
Need those times of being soaked soul, flesh and bone
To enjoy the life in the midst of the valley of the sun

The Man I Tried To Be

Titian, Sisyphus (1548-1549)

Titian, Sisyphus (1548-1549)

All I wanted was to feel loved the way I tried to love
Trying to make a person happy that knew unhappiness
And for a while I succeeded and the shadows lifted
From the soul of another who dwelt in the deluge of depression
But the sunshine was quickly concealed when the rains returned
And as the raining season deepened a cold north wind blew
Yet, I tried again and again to recreate the magic of summer
Holding onto sunrises and sunsets, pointing to each ray of hope
Every rainbow of promise that the storms might someday end
Yet, even on the cold and rainy days I tried to dance and sing
To celebrate the gifts of each day no matter the sky’s disposition
Yet, even the eternal optimist learns their limits in time
They too feel the heavy dankness entering into their souls
When their image is continually reflected back
In the storm filled soul of the one they love
And although I tried to be that man who could weather the storms
Some Promethean hero bringing light and heat into the dark world
Yet, no heroic or banal act ever seemed to bring the light back
And so Prometheus found himself rolling the stone of Sisyphus
Unable to roll the stone away to the point where new life might be found
Eventually, the storms left me treading water as the heavens cried
And I searched for some ark to place within it all the lives
Consumed by the floods that seemed to never end
And as painful as the ending of a world is by necessity
For me, it was only seeing the man I tried to be die
That allowed me to return to who I was before the fall
Before the flood, before realizing that I too was flesh and blood
Yet, in the aftermath of the deluge the sun returned
The climate changed and the dankness slowly retreated
It was a long journey into the new world
A journey from which I gained much but never desire again
But it was a journey from the man I tried to be
To being satisfied with the man who I am

Neil White, 2014

Magnificent Desolation


The strongest man in the world is not the one who always towers over his challengers
Boasting the undefeated record, whose has never met a challenge that he didn’t overcome
Or the woman who manages to look perfect, act perfect and construct the perfect web
Of relationships and security, of appearances and approval, an image of perfection
Rather it is those who have faced the magnificent desolation of failure and rose again
Who can encounter the magnificent desolation and learn to see its beauty
Past the judging eyes of those caught within their own insecurities and crystalline lives
Who have had their worth, their beauty, their strength, and their very souls questioned
Those who watched their past lives vanish in a flash of light and out of the remnants
Rose again to reenter the arena, to risk again to create, to love, to try, to fight and to fail
Who have endured the gaping maw of anxiety and the abyssal pit of depression
Who may still feel the black bile occasionally creep back into their veins threatening to consume them
Or at random times have to remember to breath and quiet their heart as it pounds within their chest
Learning how to live in the aftermath of both failure and success
And find a way to learn from the past without letting it define them
Who know the grace of not needing to seek a better past or a perfect present
And can look to the future without losing sight of the gifts of the day
Who have the courage to lean on others at the times when their minds or bodies fail
And the compassion to stand with others in their desolations and celebrations
Neil White, 2014

Dark Days


There are days where the emptiness takes over
And nothing can fill the abyss inside
When the successes of the past are transformed
Into the bars that the future can never measure up to
And the idealization of the way things were
Steals the joy of the present and the hope of tomorrow
And the emptiness of the house echoes
With the hollow sounds of failure.

When my own insatiable expectations overwhelm
My all too limited time and abilities
Where my spirit chastises weaknesses
Weaknesses others never see

Then as inexplicably as the appearance
Of the dark clouds the sun re-emerges
The dark day passes and the flowers
Of new life emerge in its light

On my journeys I know that the dark days
Pass and that the sunlight returns
Yet, my heart aches for those who dwell
Trapped within the darkness of their own minds
Isolated from their own brightly burning light
And I pray that their dark days
May pass into the breaking of a new dawn

Neil White, 2013

purple rose 01 by picsofflowers.blogspot.com

Anxiety: A Poem

The Abyss by Alexiuss at deviantart.com

The Abyss by Vitaly S. Alexiuss (alexiuss) at deviantart.com

I stare into the abyss of a future created by the demons of depression

It is not reality, it is not what will happen,

And yet as I cling to the precipice of sanity it is all I see

A nightmare that roams in the day consuming the green meadows of springtime

It saps the passion of the blood and fills my veins with ice

My heart pounds in rebellion, confined within the cage of my chest

Yet I move not

The very things that would free me are denied me

Hope is consumed by the illusion of despair

For it is not real…it is not real…it is not real

You are a liar granting me titles and names that are not mine

I am not worthless or weak or crazy but for your lechery

You are a parasite feeding off my life energy

Consuming the power of my dreams


You are a murderer and my soul is your mark

Locked into your arena, you call on me to yield

To proclaim you the victor

To give up

But you will not last

You will not steal this day and so I fight against my own mind

I name thee, I know thee, and again I rise

Sapped but still standing

Weakened but stronger than thou

For as I walk through your illusion, into the present that is present

I will again find hope and joy

And you shall be vanquished back to the depths of the pit you dwell in

Composed Neil White, 2013

purple rose 01 by picsofflowers.blogspot.com