Roaming Hell’s Hollow:
Trusting God in Spiritual Depression

Believers who have gone before us can attest: spiritual depression is an agonizing, confusing trial. It may be regarded as one of the most frightening periods of a Christian’s life. After all, “at its core,” Zack Eswine writes*, “spiritual depression concerns real or imagined desertions by God.”

Such a notion cannot help but threaten spiritual wreckage on a nuclear scale.

Of his depression, Martin Luther wrote, “I spent more than a week in death and hell. My entire body was in pain, and I still tremble. Completely abandoned by Christ, I labored under the vacillations and storms of desperation and blasphemy against God.”

Spiritual depression is an ominous ailment of soul, no doubt. Yet, there is a heavenly undercurrent to this perceived divine distance: we aren’t roaming hell's hollow aimlessly.
If we believe God has left us in our miseries and hardships, there is a torment within the breast which I can only liken to the prelude of hell. 
– Charles Spurgeon
The Redemptive Benefits of God’s Gymnasium
When all consolations are washed away by depression’s wake, the believer becomes keenly aware of their spiritual thirst. It feels like a black wilderness because it is one: a dry, barren midnight without refreshment or delight (Psalm 42:1-2).

Yet, the wilderness has always been used by God as a training ground for his people (Deuteronomy 8:2). D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones called it “God’s gymnasium”*–a place where believers go to build the muscles of their faith. He emphatically preached that spiritual depression yielded the redemptive benefit of developing a deeper trust in God. “We naturally trust him,” he writes, “when he is smiling on us, but a day comes when the clouds are blackening the heavens and we begin to wonder whether God loves us any longer.”

Jones encouraged sufferers to exercise their trust in God by declaring eternal biblical truths to their sorrowful selves:
"I know God is good, I know Christ died for me, I know I belong to God, I know my inheritance is in heaven, I cannot see it now but I know is it there, I know God is keeping it and that no one will ever take it out of his mighty hands."
If God’s temporary silence feels like the removal of spiritual training wheels, then clinging to gospel truths is the way we learn to balance on trust instead of perception (Psalm 77:19). In Christ, we know God’s resounding silence can result in resounding Christian maturity:

"And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you." (1 Peter 5:10 ESV)
“It may be that you suffer from a mental sickness in the form of depression of spirit...However exceptional and unusual your trial, yet, with Job whisper these words, “Though he slay me, yet I will trust him.”
– Charles Spurgeon
Trusting the Promise of Divine Enablement
While spiritual depression can feel like roaming Hell’s hollow, the Holy Spirit will use mustard seeds of faith to anchor us in divine enablement–God, in all his mystery, will hold us fast and guide us through (Psalm 139:10). Every meagre step forward in faith brings us closer to the promised dawn (2 Peter 1:19).

It’s true our depression may not allow us to feel comfort from God’s promises, yet we can trust them still (Job 13:15). The truth of these consolations aren’t rendered void by despondent dispositions, they are merited solely because of Christ’s perfect life, atoning death, and victorious resurrection (Romans 8:17). Through him, we know all God’s promises are, “Yes!” even–and perhaps especially–in spiritual melancholy (2 Corinthians 1:20).

The gospel guarantees that God can be trusted when we wander the Great Despond in search of him. The Father who gave nations for us is also the Father who guides us in the darkness, though his footprints are not seen (Isaiah 42:16, 43:4, Psalm 77:19). He gave nations for us because of his love, and he guides us because of his love (Hebrews 12:10-13). Let the cross of Christ convince you: he's not unconcerned about your sorrows.

We may feel forsaken, but Christ was forsaken. God cast away his one and only Son (Matthew 27:46) so that we, his adopted children (Galatians 4:5-7), would never roam the real hollow of Hell (Romans 6:23). On the contrary, he is working this very moment to transform the wilder- ness before us into a luscious, fruitful ground (Isaiah 51:3). And in time, the seeds sown by our tears of trust will reap priceless sheaves of unspeakable joy (Psalm 126:6). “These are the things I do,” says our faithful Father, “and I do not forsake them.” (Isaiah 42:16)
*Disclosure: Bear in mind that some of the links in this post are affiliate links and if you go through them to make a purchase I will earn a small commission. Keep in mind that I link to these resources because of their quality and not because of the commission I receive from your purchases. This does not affect the cost of the resource, and the decision is yours whether you choose to purchase them from my link or not. Thanks for your support!
Christine M. Chappell
Christine Chappell is the author of Clean Home, Messy Heart, and is a guest contributor at Desiring God. She writes frequently about mental health topics at her blog, has completed biblical counseling certificates with the Institute for Biblical Counseling & Discipleship, and is currently pursuing certification with the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors.
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