Black Dogs and Slate-Colored Skies


It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.
—Ecclesiastes 7:2-4 ESV

Greater Cincinnati broods under a pall of slate-colored skies for much of the winter. That frigid, monochromatic season arrives like a boorish houseguest, and his anticipated departure encapsulates the entire household's hope. Slate-colored skiesAs for me, I've never been one for a perpetual grayness that obscures the colors of life. Cerulean skies and a smiling sun are more my style.

I've noticed a trend in talking about depression on several Godblogs. Brad Hightower of 21st Century Reformation discusses depression and the creative process, Nathan Busenitz looks at failed secular answers to confronting depression, Dan Phillips of Team Pyro observes forty years of desert wandering, while Lisa Samson chronicles her own battle with the affliction. Various reasons for depression exist. B.H. ties it in with the ever-popular tortured artist effect, N.B. for the lack of a godly foundation, D.P. goes for the unbelief angle, while L.S. attributes it to artificial sweeteners. I can definitely see all four causes as possible culprits.

Winston Churchill, the peerless political hero of WWII, referred to his depression as his "black dog." Man's best friend took on a Stygian demeanor, but Churchill's affliction undergirded the hope that lifted his entire nation in evil days. Out of his own personal abyss, he saw a light in the distance and led his countrymen to it.

The patron saint of a majority of the Godblogosphere, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, fought depression most of his life. Several people died at one of his preaching events when some fool hollered "Fire!" in the crowded theater. Those deaths haunted the "Prince of Preachers" for much of his life. Later, Spurgeon dealt with respected Christian ministers who belittled his ministry. Then came his declining health. He writes:

I know that wise brethren say, ‘You should not give way to feelings of depression.’ … If those who blame quite so furiously could once know what depression is, they would think it cruel to scatter blame where comfort is needed. There are experiences of the children of God which are full of spiritual darkness; and I am almost persuaded that those of God’s servants who have been most highly favoured have, nevertheless, suffered more times of darkness than others.

As the nights grow longer and the news around the world tells ever more grim tales of hate, fear, loss, and death, many go into "the most wonderful time of the year" with sad faces. Nothing weighs the heart than to fall into the recessed corners of life while others decorate brightly-ornamented trees and sing festive songs.

The Christmas carol "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" begins

Oh, come, oh, come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

Four hundred cursed years without the voice of God speaking life into His chosen people. The heavens were as brass, sealed with bars of cruel iron. Yearning and mourning, but to no immediate satisfaction.

I believe that one of the dark secrets of our churches are the countless souls stumbling through fog under slate-colored skies, black dog at their side. Maybe they've failed to believe in their hearts, or maybe they never should've downed that Diet Coke with a Splenda chaser.

Or perhaps they are simply people who know the deep, deep love of Jesus, but weep with Him for a world rent by injustice, want, and human savagery. For the True Light of the World is also the sinless Man of Sorrows. 

Are we ministering that Light to others? Have we tasted of the heavenly sorrow that brings wisdom so we can speak the voice of God into the yearning barrenness of another?

Spurgeon again:

I would, therefore, try to cheer any brother who is sad, for his sadness is not necessarily blameworthy. If his downcast spirit arises from unbelief, let him flog himself, and cry to God to be delivered from it; but if the soul is sighing–‘though he slay me, yet will I trust in him’–its being slain is not a fault.

This Christmas, take a moment to look around. Someone you know is struggling with depression, I can guarantee it. Find out why. Better yet, shine the light of Christ in the midst of his or her darkness.

Wintertime cannot prevail. One day the Lion of Judah will return and this perpetual chill we dwell under will surrender to eternal Springtime.


In sibilant winter winds hear the answer

To the questions, to the groanings of the trees,

"How long, how long must we slumber

And the nights saunter on without number

While we sleep away day and we slumber

As the hours roll by as they please?"


And from the ice-stifled brook by the woodside

With the echoes of its runnings frozen still,

"What time, what time will I waken

To the courses and swells now forsaken,

To meander my way when I waken

From the grip of this dire winter chill?"


See, hibernating, the vole in the meadow

In its dreaming, in its breathing whispers, too,

"Enough? Enough in my larder?

Will the length of the winter make harder

My assault on the stores in my larder;

Will I have all I need to get through?"


Listening in on the widower weeping,

Hear the anguish of a young man turning old:

"Oh who, oh who will be waiting,

And my shattered heart anticipating,

As I live out my winter here waiting

For the rest of my life to unfold?"


In sibilant winter winds comes the answer,

"There's a splendor to the coming of that day

When the trees' dormant hands will applaud me,

And the streams' many voices will laud me,

And all creatures below will applaud me

When the wintertime passes away."


"Winter" © 2002 by Dan Edelen, Ethereal Pen Productions, LLC.

8 thoughts on “Black Dogs and Slate-Colored Skies

  1. schizophrenic

    Hi dan.
    Thank you. the article is lovely. As a sufferer, I have often wanted to tell off people who tell me that “gods children should not be depressed”, have been trying hard to spread awareness about it too.
    Thanks also for the comments on the blog. will be thinking seriusly about it.
    phil the schizo

    • Phil,

      You’re welcome.

      I hope you don’t think of yourself as “Phil the Schizo.” God can work wonders in a person’s life if he puts aside negative labeling.

      “Phil, Child of God” sounds a lot better.


  2. “while L.S. attributes it to artificial sweeteners.”

    I attribute part of my depression to this. Genetics started it, post-traumatic stress from a restroom miscarriage made it worse, death of both parents keeps it going. The lack of sweetener takes that horrible edge off it that makes me want to not get out of bed in the morning. I fight against this disorder every day, and fight hard. When I stop certainly dietary behavior, I find I have a little heavier ammunition with which to do so. Thanks for the mention, Dan! And to all of you who suffer, especially this time of year when loss seems compounded, my prayers are with you.

    • Lisa,

      I don’t know how women handle miscarriages. They’re always horrible stories.

      I lost my parents close together right at the point that they became grandparents. That really hurt because they weren’t there when we needed them most. Plus, my son will never remember them since he was on four months when my Dad died and eight months when Mom passed.

      I had a Christian Education prof who was so disabled by depression that he was bedridden for an entire year. I think depression ultimately killed my Dad.

      I tend to be one of those Seasonal Affective Disorder people. When I was single, I used to think that I hated mid-February because it contained Valentine’s Day. Now I know I was just reaching the end of my emotional rope due to the ever-present overcast day here in SW Ohio.

      I really love to see crocuses, let me tell you!

    • Laura,

      Ironically, the Vitamin D issue is intrinsically linked to the lack of sunlight issue. Our bodies make Vitamin D naturally from exposure to sunlight. Not enough sunlight = Not enough Vitamin D.

      The question is whether Vitamin D supplements supplant the natural role of sunlight. Researchers aren’t entirely convinced. I get more than enough Vitamin D in my diet and haven’t found it to be helpful during the overcast winter months.

      Thanks for the suggestion!

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