I have always loved the line in Psalm 30: “weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” (v5b KJV) This particular verse has brought me much comfort, and also caused me some conflict. I have experienced plenty of weeping when depression has brought me low, and for me it is generally worse at night, when I have too much time on my own to think. I have spent too much time lying in my bed, hit with insomnia, feeling awful and seeing endless pictures and a little voice inside telling me to hang myself, or overdose, or self harm.
I have also known what it is like – like most of us – to wake up to a new day, particularly when the sun is shining and everything seems new and hopeful. I have always thought it a reflection of Creation, a pale reflection of what it must have been like to see all things newly made, and a reflection of when we will see the heavens and the earth made new again (2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1 and others). I am, then, joyful.
There are many times where joy has not come in the morning for me. Times when I have been in a depression, rather than a case of the “blues” or feeling a bit “off”, but clinical depression which, sadly, will not lift after a night of weeping but is a long-term thing. At times this verse seems to mock me with its message of hope, a cruel reminder of the way life should be, were I not a mentally ill person, were I normal. Then I think about whether the Bible really speaks to someone like me, whether God cares.
This is, of course, too narrow a reading (I have a tendency to resort to cherry-picking verses and taking them literally when I am ill). We can tell from the Psalm itself that David is speaking more figuratively than literally.
Psalm 30 is a Psalm of healing, David says:
Psa 30:2 LORD my God, I called to you for help, and you healed me.
He was evidently recovered from a serious illness, as he wrote that God brought him from the place of the dead (v3). David wants to sing praises – and for his people to sing praises – of God for his healing, for his rescue. He gives, later in the Psalm, an indication of why he was ill. He says:
Psa 30:6 When I felt secure, I said, “I will never be shaken.”
Which has suggested to many commentators that David was trusting in his own power, that he failed to give credit to God from whom all his power came. David says in verse 7 that it was God who made him stand firm, but God then turned his face away. Some people I have read suggest that this was when David ordered a census of the Israelites to be taken, against God’s instructions, the results of which are in 1 Chronicles 21:7. David then reasons with God, that the dead cannot praise him (as Christians we believe Jesus enabled the dead to live, and they praise him continually) and asks for mercy. All in a moment, God healed David and turned his mourning into dancing. He says he will praise the Lord forever.
So what do I learn from this Psalm? Firstly, that God hears and answers prayers (even ones which are bargaining with him!), that God heals, and that God is merciful. I believe God can and will heal me of bipolar disorder – when, I do not know. Perhaps not in this life, but certainly in the next. It is something I continue to pray for, and pray for others. God said in Exodus 15:26 “I am the LORD, who heals you” and that is a promise to hold on to! I also learn here that God sometimes allows illness to happen by turning his face away from us, in response to things we have done. It is super-important not to assume that everyone/anyone in particular has committed a sin and is being punished by illness. I cannot stress that enough – it is most hurtful, and can be harmful, to suggest to someone already in pain that God has turned from them, that they are sinful above others, that there is something wrong in their life or character. However I do not believe we should ignore that the Bible says that God does allow illness for two purposes:
- Chastening: God allows illness to strike a person in order to make them change their ways, by bringing a sin they are committing to mind, by showing them that this is wrong. I personally believe that in this case you would be able to figure out what that sin was, and what you had been doing wrong, fairly easily. I am thinking of the fruitless hours I spent trying to figure out what sin I was committing to be punished with depression, when I could not find any and just made myself feel worse.
- Discipline: God allows illness in order to make us better servants of his, in order to show his glory and to work in us. Perhaps this seems harsh, that an illness could be his will, and from his love, but it is what the Bible tells us. The Bible also says that God can turn curses into blessings, and perhaps, when all is done, we will look back on our conditions and say that they were helpful, long-term. I have written before of my own belief that bipolar disorder has made me better in some ways, despite how awful it has been, and certainly my first episode made me come to faith, which is rather valuable!
There is a purpose to our lives, and a purpose to our illnesses – which we may not be able to see, and we may not see until we go through physical death and talk to Jesus face to face.
Going back to v5:
Psa 30:5 For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favour lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.
The Pulpit Commentary translates this as “for a moment (is passed) in his anger, a lifetime in his favour.” However long our bad times last, in the grand scheme it will seem just a moment. Although weeping may take lodgings with us for the night – in the morning it will be gone. That reminds me of some other verses, for instance Jesus saying: Matthew 5:4 Blessed are those who mourn,for they will be comforted.
I also remember Paul writing:
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
Trouble may be in our lives for a short time – but not forever. Isaiah 54:8 says that although God may hide his face for a moment, he will have compassion on us with everlasting kindness. He will not always accuse us, not chide us for sin (Isaiah 57:16-18) but, one day, we shall be free of all those troubles, either in this life or the next.
I like to remember that Jesus is coming, soon, though I do not know when (and neither does anyone else but God) and that hope is perhaps more sweet to me through not having had the health I wanted, than it is to another. One day, as C S Lewis wrote, we will hear the words:
“The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.”