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.

The Battle for Brokenness


A few years ago, we were confronted with the twisting of our language by forces seeking to redefine everything we believe when the most powerful politician in the world said, “It depends on what your definition of ‘is’ is.”

We continue to fight for the vitality of our language because, for Christians at least, words have real meaning. Co-opting words and finagling definitions have brought us to the “Newspeak” days of George Orwell’s 1984. How else can quoting from the Bible be branded “hate speech” except that we have altered the very definition of love itself?

The Church is not immune to this. One of the current trends in many Christian circles is to confuse brokenness with, well…brokenness. The rise of inner healing ministries in the 1970s resulted in a modification of the definition of “brokenness.” What has occurred is that we now consider brokenness to be a reflection of all the painful events we’ve incurred in life rather than the traditional, Biblical meaning of brokenness.

The Lord speaks through the prophet Isaiah:

For thus says the
One who is high and lifted up,
who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
“I dwell in the high and holy place,
and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly,
and to revive the heart of the contrite.
For I will not contend forever,
nor will I always be angry;
for the spirit would grow faint before me,
and the breath of life that I made.
Because of the iniquity of his unjust gain I was angry,
I struck him; I hid my face and was angry,
but he went on backsliding in the way of his own heart.
I have seen his ways, but I will heal him;
I will lead him and restore comfort to him and his mourners,
creating the fruit of the lips.
Peace, peace, to the far and to the near,” says the LORD,
“and I will heal him.
But the wicked are like the tossing sea;
for it cannot be quiet,
and its waters toss up mire and dirt.
There is no peace,” says my God, “for the wicked.”
—Isaiah 57:15-21

True spiritual brokenness is a reflection of a life given to humility, a contrite spirit, and an understanding that we are like brute beasts before God unless we allow Him to break us like the horseman breaks a stallion. Real brokenness is the man who acknowledges that he is no longer his own; he has been bought with a price. Such a man yields himself to God to be broken and formed into the image of Christ.

See how this plays out in the life of the prideful man who experiences true brokenness:

All this came upon King Nebuchadnezzar. At the end of twelve months he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, and the king answered and said, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” While the words were still in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, “O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: The kingdom has departed from you, and you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. And you shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” Immediately the word was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws.At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever,
for his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;
all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
and he does according to his will among the host of heaven
and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand
or say to him, “What have you done?”
At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and splendor returned to me. My counselors and my lords sought me, and I was established in my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.
—Daniel 4:28-37 ESV

Here is the natural man broken by God. His pride is broken, his position is broken, his self-worship is broken. And in the place of all these comes praise to God for being broken by Him.

Contrast this with the “brokenness” we so often hear spoken of today in Christian circles. We are fragile not because they are being broken by God, but because we dwell in the pain of our circumstances. This is not to say that God does not use circumstance to break prideful people, but too often we who revel in our pain exhibit a pride in displaying just how broken we are! No one has been as hurt as badly as we have been. No one has endured the tragedies we have endured. In short, we become immune to the very brokenness God desires to instill in us so long as we make an idol of our pain.

Acolytes of this “new” brokenness must always talk about it, wear it as a badge of honor, and retreat into it whenever anyone questions the need to dwell in the pain. Worse yet, we can use our pain as a way to assuage our guilt before the Lord. We make ourselves appear downtrodden when we are anything but, refusing true brokenness and holding instead to the mire of our own making.

Such is not God’s brokenness, but a counterfeit that leads us away from real healing and growth in Christ. Dying to self means abandoning even our pain, no matter how great, to take on the image of the Savior. Only then can the scales drop from our eyes and we be raised up to stand in true brokenness before God.