Focal Passages: Jeremiah 20:1-13
The dark night of my soul descended on me suddenly in the summer of 1963 — and stayed the whole summer. Why? That’s a book in itself, but my Christian doctor told me I didn’t have a faith problem; I had a physical problem. Though the doctor was mostly right, my mind and spirit weren’t right. A last year of seminary lay before me. My loving wife was expecting our third son. I commuted 225 miles a day to seminary. My loving church listened to me and supported me. What could possibly be wrong? Like Jeremiah, I had more than discouragement; I had depression. Physical exhaustion, hormonal imbalances and whatever led to this dark night of my soul. But God led me to rise above it.
God can use discouraged and depressed people (Jeremiah 19:14-20:13). Jeremiah stood in the heart of Jerusalem and delivered God’s prophetic message of coming disaster upon disobedient Judah. Priest Pashhur heard Jeremiah’s depressing prophecy and got Jeremiah beaten and put in stocks overnight. Upon getting freed, Jeremiah confronted Pashhur with God’s name for him: “Terror-All-Around.” Jeremiah detailed God’s coming judgment for Judah’s disobedience: defeat, captivity, death in Babylon! Pashhur’s own false prophecy was like singing, “God’s good all the time; and He won’t let calamity come to Judah.” Sin results in suffering. Jeremiah spoke truth, but he felt bad.
We can be wrong about God but still right in faith (20:7-13). Alone with God, Jeremiah accused the Lord of deceiving him — or perhaps enticing him to be a prophet. Jeremiah was wrong (see 1:17-19). Pastors like to be liked and get amens. But Jeremiah was crushed to be known as a “Gloomy Gus” prophet. Folks wanted him gone and wanted vengeance on him. And Jeremiah wanted the Lord’s vengeance on Judah (20:10, 12). Though Jeremiah wrongly accused God of deceiving him, Jeremiah never lost his sense of call or prophetic identity. For a time, Jeremiah did decide to silence his prophecy to escape his bad feelings. Judah had itching ears to hear sermonettes instead of prophecy and wanted to plug their ears to his condemning words. But God’s message burned a fire within Jeremiah’s heart and bones he couldn’t hold in. Despite it all, Jeremiah confidently trusted the omnipotent God was with him; deserved praise; and saves those who turn to Him (20:9-13).
God needed to rise above depression (20:14-18). Discouragement and euphoria may be parallel tracks in the ups and downs of life. Feelings tend to be temporary, but depression can come and stay for a season or a lifetime. No one knows the exact chronological order of Jeremiah’s life and prophecy. But here Jeremiah moved from soul-burning prophecy and praise of God to cursing the day he was born. Long before “Don’t kill the messenger” became a cliché, Jeremiah’s feelings were a curse on both the day he was born and the messenger who shared the news of it. Jeremiah’s whole life seems to have been one of discouragement, lamentation and depression. Though he himself would die in captivity in Egypt (not Babylon), God revealed to Jeremiah the amazing grace of a New Covenant beyond Jeremiah’s life. God’s message for you and me and those who trust Christ as Lord and Savior is the same. God wins and we can confidently win with Him in this life and beyond it. God is reason to help us rise over discouragement and depression with faith.
Conquering discouragement: In later 1963 darkness gave way to God’s sunshine. Other dark nights of the soul have come sometimes, but God’s joy is the keynote of my life in Christ! And you too can experience God’s sunshine!
— Godwin, a retired pastor and publisher, is a member of First Baptist Church, Hendersonville.