Spurgeon’s Sorrows

Is sorrow bad?  How does God use sorrow or depression?  What does the Bible have to say about sorrow?

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In his book, Spurgeon’s Sorrows, by Zach Eswine, he colorfully aims to offer realistic hope for those who are suffering from depression. It traces the life of Charles Spurgeon and his own struggle with sorrow and depression. It might be unknown to many that Spurgeon struggled for much of his life with depression. The author digs into his writings, sermons and teachings and the Scripture to form a practical understanding of sorrow.

The book is divided into three parts:

  • Part 1 – Trying to Understand Depression.
  • Part 2 – Learning how to help those who suffer from depression.
  • Part 3 Learning to Daily Cope with Depression.

Reflections

Sorrow is allowed by God and at times comes from the heart of God. Therefore, it has its good purpose. As the author concludes the book by saying,

“Sorrows are caused by ugly things. But Jesus adopts them as it were. He brings them into His own counsel. The One who loves even enemies puts our sorrows on probation. He gives them His own heart and provision and house. Living with Him they reform and take on His purposes to promote His intentions. In Him, they reverse and thwart foul tidings.” (Kindle Locations 1847-1849).

The author dives into the life of Spurgeon and the Scriptures to help us understand one who suffered sorrow. The author adequately and sufficient dissects Spurgeon’s life and the Scripture to offer one who is walking through a season of sorrow hope.

In my opinion, here were some helpful tidbits and quotes from the book.

Sadness is not laziness nor sin.

“Contrary to what some people tell us, sadness is neither a sign of laziness nor a sin; neither negative thinking nor weakness. On the contrary, when we find ourselves impatient with sadness, we reveal our preference for folly, our resistance to wisdom, and our disregard for depth and proportion.” (Kindle Locations 274-276).

Sadness doesn’t always have a cure.

“In this fallen world, sadness is an act of sanity, our tears the testimony of the sane.” (Kindle Locations 283-284)

“Conversion to Jesus isn’t heaven, but its foretaste. This side of heaven, grace secures us but doesn’t cure us.” (Kindle Locations 382-383)

The grace of Jesus is our greatest medicine.

“It is Christ and not the absence of depression that saves us. So, we declare this truth. Our sense of God’s absence does not mean that He is so. Though our bodily gloom allows us no feeling of His tender touch, He holds on to us still. Our feelings of Him do not save us. He does. Our hope therefore, does not reside in our ability to preserve a good mood but in His ability to bear us up.” (Kindle Locations 392-395)

We are weak.

“The mind can descend far lower than the body, for in it there are bottomless pits. The flesh can bear only a certain number of wounds and no more, but the soul can bleed in ten thousand ways, and die over and over again each hour.” (Kindle Locations 218-220)

God has not deserted us.

“We plead not ourselves, but the promises of Jesus; not our strengths but His; our weaknesses yes, but His mercies. Our way of fighting is to hide behind Jesus who fights for us. Our hope is not the absence of our regret, or misery or doubt or lament, but the presence of Jesus.” (Kindle Locations 578-580)

Find Scriptural language to describe your sorrow.

God is gracious to give us language for sorrow. The author dips into the metaphors of the Psalms to find language for sorrow. For example,

  • Psalm 88 – ‘depths of the pit’, ‘trouble’, ‘regions dark and deep’ ‘overwhelm me with all your waves’
  • Psalm 69:15 – ‘flood sweep over me’, ‘deep swallow me up’

“Even Charles’ sermon titles began to utilize the metaphors that Scripture offers for the sorrowing; titles such as “the frail leaf” (Job. 13:25)16 , the “wounded spirit” (Prov. 18:14, kjv), the “fainting soul” (Ps. 42:6)17 , and “the bruised reed” (Isa. 42:1-3). Jesus is “the man of sorrows” (Isa. 53:3). He does not quit us amid the agony of a fleshly thorn (2 Cor. 12:7).” (Kindle Locations 864-867)

Understanding sorrow helps us to understand the sorrowful.

“we should feel more for the prisoner if we knew more about the prison.” (Kindle Locations 952-954)

Jesus’ sorrow offers hope.

Jesus himself is the man of sorrows. Spurgeon agrees,

“The sympathy of Jesus is the next most precious thing to his sacrifice.” (Kindle Location 1092) Also the author says, “To feel in our being that the God to whom we cry has Himself suffered as we do enables us to feel that we are not alone and that God is not cruel.” (Kindle Locations 1114-1115).

“To feel in our being that the God to whom we cry has Himself suffered as we do enables us to feel that we are not alone and that God is not cruel.” (Kindle Locations 1114-1115).

The promises of God fuel our hope.

“The promise isn’t a bare word, but the word of God.” (Kindle Locations 1292-1293) Again, “Promises aren’t magic. They resemble love letters more than incantations, statements of truth more than immunity passes. They often forge, not a pathway for escape from life, but an enablement to endure what assails us.” (Kindle Locations 1321-1322) (also see Psalm 138:7; 73:26; 145:14)

Good comes from sorrow.

“I am sure that I have run more swiftly with a lame leg than I ever did with a sound one. I am certain that I have seen more in the dark than ever I saw in the light, – more stars, most certainly, – more things in heaven if fewer things on earth. The anvil, the fire, and the hammer, are the making of us; we do not get fashioned much by anything else. That heavy hammer falling on us helps to shape us; therefore let affliction and trouble and trial come.” (Kindle Locations 1796-1799).

“I am sure that I have run more swiftly with a lame leg than I ever did with a sound one. I am certain that I have seen more in the dark than ever I saw in the light, – more stars, most certainly, – more things in heaven if fewer things on earth. The anvil, the fire, and the hammer, are the making of us; we do not get fashioned much by anything else. That heavy hammer falling on us helps to shape us; therefore let affliction and trouble and trial come.” (Kindle Locations 1796-1799).

The chapter that I would like to see expanded or further explained is chapter 10 on Natural Helps. The author dabs into laughter, retreats, medicines, stimulants and teachings. While there is not one thing there that is meant to be the cure-all, there are a myriad of helps available to try. They aren’t meant to stand alone, but dependent on grace of Jesus.

Chapter 11 on suicide did not leave any stone unturned. It was a difficult topic to address, but a necessary one. Most authors would skip over the subject, yet the desire to die often comes with sorrow and depression. Even some of characters in the Bible expressed this. In the end, we are meant to choose life. I am glad the author touch on this topic and brought with it so much hope.

Personal Response

First, the book helped me understand a struggle my wife has had from time to time, even during our marriage. My wife has had seasons of depression that sometimes come without warning or cause. This book helped me understand that sometimes the causes to sorrow or depression aren’t so obvious nor the cure so plain. In the past, I’ve tried to understand my wife in order to fix or find a solution for her, but that hasn’t always been helpful or what she has needed. She’s more often needed a friend who seeks to understand or an encouragement from God’s precious promises.

Second, the book has helped me understand my own seasons of sorrow.  Even recently, I’ve been a season that has required endurance and trust in the promises of God. These were difficult seasons and I had looked at them in a new light, as I’ve read in this book. I gain a lot of hope in “the Man of Sorrows” and his grace that is sufficient for all seasons. As I look back, I see God’s goodness. This helps as I move ahead.

Third, the book reminded me to be more sympathetic and understanding to those who are suffering from sorrow or depression. Using the example of Jesus and others from Scripture it is clear that there is a purpose and example to follow. God offers real hope as he walks with those living within seasons of sorrow.

Conclusion

The book is an easy yet hard read. It is easy because the chapters are short and well illustrated. It is hard because of the content. If you are one acquainted with sorrows it may rub some old scars, but may offer some deep healing in the process.

I strongly recommend this book to any pastor or counselor who works closely with people. I also recommend this book to one who have walked through the valley or one who is walking with a friend through the valley. My wife and I read this book together. She says it is one of the best and most hopeful books on depression from a Christian she’s read. The book doesn’t give claim to having all the answers, but it does help one to get into the mind of a sufferer and the mind of God when suffering.

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I want to be sorry like that…

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My daughter Justus is only two and a half years old. She is old enough to know when she wants something she is not suppose to have to weigh the consequences of what will happen if she were to have it. Today, she weighed the consequences right before my eyes. I told her not to drink my coffee. She thought about it for a nanosecond, grab the cup of coffee and took a swig. Not only did she gulp down her first bit of coffee in disgust, she looked at me and began to cry out in sorrow. She didn’t have to say, “I’m sorry daddy.” I knew she was sorry. She knew she disobeyed and she immediately had sorrow over it.

To many people Justus’ disobedience might seems like something small and insignificant or her response was overly sensitive. Yet God taught me a lesson in her response. I want to be sorry like that. I want to have immediate sorrow over my disobedience. Like my daughter, I too commit sin openly and shamefully despite the consequences, but in my pride I am not immediately sorrowful.
Too often, I am on the other end of the disobedience spectrum. I hide my sin and enjoy it in secret without thinking about the consequences of being caught. When caught, I want to respond like David,

Psalm 51:1 “Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!

3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
6 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.”

Sin is serious. It offends a holy God. Since it offends God He has to do something about it. Sin has consequences that are immediate and/or delayed. I want a heart that sees sin as God sees it and is soft enough to respond immediately rather than delay my confession.

When we confess our sin, God covers us with His mercy. Proverbs 28:13-14 says, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy. 14 Blessed is the one who fears the Lord always, but whoever hardens his heart will fall into calamity.” In other words, what I cover up He uncovers, but what I uncover He covers with His mercy. Isn’t that a bold, yet beautiful picture of God.

After Justus downed my dark brew and bust out into tears, I couldn’t help but comfort her. I learned this from God. He shows mercy to the brokenhearted (cf. Psalm 51:17). His mercy restores. I want to be like that too.

* Coffee picture taken by friend Anne Rock.

thumb lick [1.14.12]

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mercy for haiti

The pictures and reports coming from Haiti are heart wrenching. We cannot imagine the carnage and devastation they are experiencing. We cannot smell the rotting corpses, hear the weeping in the light of the moon, hunger after a meal you are unsure you will receive, and feel the rage of those have lost ones they love. How can this happen? Where is God in all of this? How should we respond?

Haiti is broken. Rescue is coming. Revival is possible. Christ is King.

I plea to God for mercy. With David in the midst of tragedy and doubt, I sing a song. I praise the God who is in control of creation and thank him that it was not my home that was shaken and torn. I plea for His mercy over Haiti and me.

1 To you, O Lord, I call; my rock, be not deaf to me,
lest, if You be silent to me, I become like those who go down to the pit.
2 Hear the voice of my pleas for mercy, when I cry to You for help,
when I lift up my hands toward Your most holy sanctuary.
3 Do not drag me off with the wicked, with the workers of evil,
who speak peace with their neighbors while evil is in their hearts.
4 Give to them according to their work and according to the evil of their deeds;
give to them according to the work of their hands; render them their due reward.
5 Because they do not regard the works of the Lord
or the work of His hands, He will tear them down and build them up no more.
6 Blessed be the Lord! For He has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy.
7 The Lord is my strength and my shield; in Him my heart trusts, and I am helped;
my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to Him.
8 The Lord is the strength of His people; He is the saving refuge of His anointed.
9 Oh, save your people and bless Your heritage! Be their shepherd and carry them forever.

Psalm 28

real men cry

man weeping

Real men cry: a study of lamentation

Sure men cry. I am not talking about the tear shed from watching Bambi, a favorite chick flick, seeing your team lose the Super Bowl or cutting an onion for dinner. What about the true gut wrenching weep of sorrow. Men can be painfully shy. To pouring out their hearts before God to be seen as less than masculine.

What I am talking about is sacred sorrow. The kind of sorrow you have at injustice or self-inflicted judgment and the only thing you can turn to is God. The book of Lamentations is a fitting thesis for sacred sorrow. The theme of Lamentations is the God who is Righteous and Faithful. The author of these poems is a real dude who is really crying. And you can see why:

The scene depicted in Lamentations is so bad that the author has to find some simile to relate to what is reality. He can still smell the rot and hear the wailing of horrific bloodshed. Jerusalem is desolate. Jerusalem is pictured as a lonely widow, weeping the death of her beloved. She once was a queen, full of splendor, invisible to attack, but now is a abandoned as a slave. She is like a raped virgin that has been rejected and cannot find anyone to comfort her. No one is invincible to God’s wrath, not even His own people. The question is not “why” has this affliction occurred for the people know God is punishing their sin.

God who was seemingly absent is now back with vengeance as an angry “enemy” who has “cast down the splendor of Israel” and “in his anger has set the daughter of Zion under a cloud!” (2:1) God who had once protective presence upon His people had now become a fierce storm cloud of anger. He use to fight for them, but now He is against them as their enemy as He has “thrown Israel down without pity” (2:17).

And then in the midst or ruin and rubble comes the turning point of the lament. A glimmer of hope. Exhausted towards God His enemy (3:18) the author pours out one of the richest lines of hope in God (3:22-24):

“The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they     are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, therefore I will hope in him.”

The author praises God despite being bruised and bloody, hungry and destitute. “It is good to wait quietly for Him…to hope in Him…to seek Him.” Can you get any more realistic than this? There is hope in a God who is his enemy, but whose “compassion never fails.” The author may be left alone in silence, may have to bury his face in the dust or give his cheek to the one who strikes, but God promises “men are not cast off by the Lord forever.” (3:28-31)

The author acknowledges that they are now orphans, weary, hungry, bearing the punishment for their fathers sins, women are ravished, princes hung by their hands, ruled by slaves, joy has ceased, and their dancing has turned to mourning. He pleads in prayer to the the LORD to “remember” them (5:1) that they might be “restored” (5:21). In the midst of their cataclysmic circumstances there is hope in the LORD who “reigns forever” and whose “throne endures to all generations” (5:19). This God, the only God, is again to begin again with the people.

What can we learn from Lamentations?

A theology of Suffering from A to Z. Lamentations reveals a complete and exhaustive expression of sorrow. The suffering of Lamentations explains the ways of God to humanity. Human suffering always brings about probing questions about God. The faith of many Jews must have been shattered by the events of Jerusalem’s destruction for they believed that Jerusalem was invisible and that God’s temple could not be destroyed because He dwelt there.

Lamentations gives us a glimpse into individual suffering (Ch.3) and national suffering (Ch.5). Lamentations that helps us gain a perspective on suffering when we see the famine, warfare and genocide in places like Cambodia, Columbine, Congo, and countless others. Suffering can make you bitter towards God or better understand God’s purposes.1 From the personalization of the author and front-row-seat depictions of the nations suffering we see suffering mixed with hope. Lamentations is a “theodicy”: despair amid suffering should always give root to hope in the presence and rule of God. Here are some principles Lamentation offers as a theology on suffering, when suffering comes:

  • Confess your sins (1:5, 8, 18, 20, 22).
  • Recognize who is the Judge (2:1-8, 17).
  • Give special attention to God’s leaders (4:16).
  • Pray for the future (5:1, 21-22).
  • Hope in God (3:21-42).

A Balance between God’s Righteousness and Hesed. Throughout the painful memories of Lamentations God’s righteousness is never throw to the wayside. God’s judgment is not viewed as wrong by those who strolled through Jerusalem’s ashes, rather they see their sinful ways. God keeps His promises of punishment for disobedience. “The LORD has done what he purposed; he has carried out his word, which he commanded long ago” (2:17).

His righteousness demands that sin be dealt with fairly. He is also faithful to Israel and will be their hope for the future (3:22-23; cf Deut.30; Is.65-66; Jer.30-33; Ezek.36-37). His faithfulness (hesed) demands His promises to be kept. God’s righteousness and faithfulness are equally relevant facets to the nature of God, which are illustrated horrifically and beautifully in Lamentations.

Sacred sorrow is okay as long as one acknowledges that God is righteous and faithful. Praise God in the midst of pain (3:21-42). There must come a point in our lamenting that is it turned to joy. In the case of Lamentations, out of the destruction rose a song of praise for the faithfulness of God.

“How” not “why”. When sin is in the “camp” we must not question God’s vengeance for it is the inevitable promise for disobedience. Rather we must access the consequences of how His vengeance is displayed in our lives and how we will will respond. Jerusalem’s wounds were self-inflicted. The book of Lamentations is one long illustration of the eternal principle that “a man reaps what he sows.” (Gal.6:7b)

When all is gone, all you have is all you need. Everything is destroyed, the days seem dark and God distant He is still there. We have a hope in the God who reigns forever. God does not abandon those who turn to Him for help.