Subterranean explorers speak of darkness that can be felt. Any sojourner struggling with depression knows the feeling – that heavy sense of meaninglessness and hopelessness that blackens the light of life. Such lurking darkness is nothing if not resilient. Churchill’s black dog knows how to find us wherever we go, whatever we do.
It may seem inconsistent to say I believe in Christ, the Light of Life, while still struggling with a sense of meaninglessness and despair. I can only say that my already faith is not yet complete, and that with St. Paul I presently look through a glass darkly. More often than not I find my self praying with the epileptic boy’s father, Lord “I believe, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).
Wherever my depression comes from, personal sin or other factors (usually both), I’ve come to see how it provides a strategic opportunity for the enemy. I recall a particularly intense period of darkness in my seminary years. Regrettably, somewhere during my course of study I left God’s path for one of selfish ambition, isolation, and overdrinking. Looking back I don’t remember taking that unmarked fork in the road, veering off gradually, softly descending into the gloom. But after what I can only describe as a series of demonic dreams and experiences, a forceful question arrested my mind: “Can Christ really know your type of despair? Can he truly empathize with your particular plight?”
Of course, I knew Scripture’s assurance about Christ’s ability to sympathize with our weaknesses, being tempted as we are, yet without sin (Heb 2:17, 18; 4:14-16). But it was precisely that bit about him being without sin that gave the question its looming power. After all, if he had never felt the shame and defeat of a Peter or a Judas, had never broken covenant with his Father, and had never been a prodigal God, how could he empathise with my darkness. These thoughts lingered for weeks, even months. My faith began to unravel. I considered embracing the darkness, of living with nihilism. Contemplating a life without transcendent beauty, purpose, and meaning I frequently thought about suicide.
But one day, completely unsolicited, light in the form of an answer to the dark question came. Suddenly, out of the recesses of my mind I heard a country preacher say, ” Iron trellises that bend and then break haven’t known the full extent of their load. Only those that bend but don’t break know the full weight of the burden.” That was enough. I instantly recalled how Christ in his incarnation faced the full onslaught of the enemy’s powers without bending the knee (Matt 4: 1:11). Deeper still, I knew that upon the cross he bore the weight of sin and death without renouncing his eternal communion with the Father. I instantly knew Christ could sympathize with darkness much more profound than mine. He knew exactly where I was. He knew exactly what I needed to hear.
If you’re in the dark right now, don’t give up! He knows the precise cavern you’re in, the loss of life’s light you feel. Christ’s temptation and death is not the end of the story. He conquered death and broke the bars of Sheol, liberating his ancient people from the pit (Jonah 2; Matt 12:40; Rom 10:6,7; Matt 27:51-53; Eph 4:8; Rev 1:17, 18). Those faithful faces long shrouded in death’s darkness eventually saw his glory. If Jesus overcame the grave, he certainly knows how to illumine your lamp, how to lighten your own kind of darkness (Ps 18: 28). Even if Churchill’s black dog proves resilient, look expectantly with Elijah toward the mouth of the cave, for Christ is faithful, his light will dawn and the morning star will rise in your hearts (Luke 1:68-79; 2 Peter 1:19)!!