Many commentators on the story of Job feel that the sweeping change that overcomes Job, from the top-notch, numero uno believer to king of doom-and-gloom, isn’t quite believable. Yet, by this stage, it should be obvious that an entirely new trial has begun. It is the trial of depression, of deep mental and spiritual trauma. So far, Job has weathered the terrible disasters quite admirably. Now the battlefront has shifted, from outside to inside. It is now Job’s inner character, his very spirit that is under direct satanic attack. In the words of Proverbs 18:14, “A man’s spirit sustains him in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?”
Is it true that God would allow Satan direct access to the very heart of a believer for the purpose of unhindered oppression? Well, Jesus told Simon that Satan asked to sift him as wheat. “But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. When you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” Notice Jesus did not say “no” to Satan’s request, he simply said that when it happens, Simon’s faith not fail. Listen to what John of the Cross says about this: “In proportion as God is guiding the soul and communicating with it, He gives the Devil leave to act with it after the same manner.” Elsewhere John states that God certainly does “permit the Devil to deal with the soul in the same measure and mode in which He conducts and deals with it Himself . . . Thus the Devil cannot protest his rights, claiming that he is not given the opportunity to conquer the soul, as was his complaint in the story of Job.”
It is important to realize that nowhere in the story are we given any reason to believe that Job’s depression, in and of itself, is ever viewed by the Lord as being his own “fault.” On the contrary, in view of the clear mandate for unlimited harassment (short of death) that was given to Satan, we have to see that Job’s emotional crisis is part and parcel with his other trials. It is just one more of Satan’s assaults on his faith. Remember Satan’s aim is to steal Job’s faith in the Lord. Perhaps this attack will drive Job to desperation. Maybe it will cause him to be desperate for wisdom; desperate for freedom; desperate for victory. It has been said that “only the desperate are truly hopeful.”
I recognize there are forms of despair and depression that are without hope and full of godless self-pity and destructiveness. There is also a kind of despair that when confronted by certain situations, seems to be the only authentic response that can be made. There is also a realistic, courageous, and persevering despair that is in the highest degree. This is the type of attitude a person will have when he knows things are wrong—that they are all wrong—and that they absolutely must get better or else he will die. The reason he despairs, then, is that he knows in his heart that there is a better way, and he has made up his mind that he will not rest until he finds it. He will not settle for anything less. Such a person reaches a point of staggering abandonment, being prepared to live with an inconceivable weight of sensual and psychological deprivation for the sake of holding out for deep spiritual truth.
This is not despair; this is hope. It is like a spiritual hunger strike, an all-consuming protest staged against the world’s complacency. A lazy and self-satisfied person will never despair like this. Only a person who believes ardently in God will have the courage to endure such despair. Only a person who hopes with all his heart, and whose soul cries out day and night to the living God for help, can live with spiritual famine. George Rouault wrote, “I believe in suffering; it is not feigned in me. This is my only merit. I was not made to be so terrible.”
What sort of hope do most churchgoers have today? Is it anything more than a grim stoicism, the ability to keep a stiff upper lip in the midst of life’s fray? Is it the sort of hope that hides from reality? If the average Christian fell into despair, would he even know it?
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