Book Review: Deserted by God?, by Sinclair Ferguson
Where do you go when you're feeling depressed, disconsolate, overwhelmed by sin, discouragement, loneliness, painful afflictions, dark valleys of despair? For the believer, there is no source of comfort that can compare to the psalter, that blessed â€œanatomy of the soul,â€ an apt description of the Book of Psalms first given by Calvin and referred to by Sinclair B. Ferguson in his book of remedies for the trials of this life, Deserted by God?. Happily, Ferguson is well aware of the rich cures of the psalter for every kind of painful affliction of the soul, and he spends the entire book walking through the darkest psalms of lament, distilling the precious cordial of hope from the bitterest agonies of the very human psalmists. For that reason, it is not just another book about depression â€“ it is a book that cannot fail to help all who take its instructions to heart, no matter how deep their trials may be.
Ferguson is a spiritual physician that knows to prescribe only the medicines that really do cure. He speaks compassionately, with empathy â€“ but what really matters is that he speaks the truth, truth that is living and active and able to help all who listen. If you struggle with depression, no matter the precise cause or form it may take, then read this book. It will help you, by God's grace, even when nothing else can.
I appreciate the fact that Ferguson is not naively optimistic or nauseatingly super-spiritual in how he addresses those who are overcome by despair, and yet he still does not buy into the nonsense that it's somehow ok to be angry with God and vent your sinful frustration in foolish words of accusation. Speaking of the idea that a good Christian will never doubt or be in despair, he states, â€œNor is this biblical spirituality; it is a false 'super-spirituality' that ignores or denies the reality of our humanity. We live in frail flesh and blood and in a fallen world which, John says, 'is under the control of the evil one' (1 John 5:19). There is much to discourage. Jesus felt that. To be free from the possibility of discouragements would be more 'spiritual' than Jesus â€“ and therefore not truly spiritual at all.â€ So yes, Ferguson would say, pour out your complaint to God and seek his mercy, as the psalmists did â€“ but there is a humble, reverent, and appropriate way to roll even your deepest trials on the merciful and loving God who is ready to take them upon himself for your greatest good.
What makes the book applicable for any discouraged person, no matter what he might be struggling with specifically, is that it simply walks through a few well-selected psalms, giving a straightforward and accurate exposition and application. And no matter what a person is dealing with, even when it feels like no one else has ever experienced the same thing, the psalmists dealt with something similar, and found hope and relief at the end of their journey. Ferguson's keen psychological acumen makes him able to probe what was really happening in the psalmists' perplexed souls, and give fitting application to modern humans who have the same trials.
Whether you struggle with guilt over sins in your past, feelings of abandonment and betrayal, physical illness or affliction, bereavement, unfulfilled dreams, or any other similar problem, you will probably find a chapter that speaks directly to you. Personally, I was greatly helped by the chapter, â€œCan I Be Pure?â€. My discouragement comes most poignantly from shame and frustration over falling into the same old sinful attitudes and actions that I thought I had left behind â€“ and there are psalms that deal with that! Whatever causes your despair, there are psalms that you'll find apply most aptly to you to.
The most outstanding portions of the book look ahead to Christ our great Champion and Savior, who took our weaknesses and infirmities, and who very often speaks through the psalmists who were types and foreshadows of him â€“ my only regret about the book was that, although there was much of this, in my opinion there wasn't always as much as there could have been. But when Ferguson does look ahead to the unspeakably wonderful Messiah, heaven comes down and fills the soul. I conclude with a quote from one of those times:
In asking for â€œmercy,â€ David, you are asking that God will show it to you, but withdraw it from Jesus.
In asking to experience God's â€œunfailing love,â€ you are asking that Jesus will feel it has been removed.
In asking to taste God's â€œgreat compassion,â€ you are asking him to refuse it to Jesus as he dies on the cross.
In asking God to â€œblot outâ€ your transgressions, you are asking that they will be obliterated by the blood of Jesus.
In asking to be washed, you are asking that the filth of your sin will overwhelm Jesus like a flood.
In asking to know the joy of salvation, you are asking that Jesus will be a Man of Sorrows, familiar with grief.
In asking to be saved from bloodguilt, you are asking that in your place Jesus will be treated as though he were guilty.
In asking that your lips will be opened in praise, you are asking that Jesus will be silenced, as a sheep before her shearers is dumb.
In asking that the sacrifice of a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart be acceptable, you are asking that Jesus' heart and spirit will be broken.
In asking that God will hide his face from your sins, you are asking that he will hide his face from Jesus.
In asking that you will not be cast out of God's presence, you are asking that Jesus will be cast out into outer darkness instead.
Oh, the depths to which Jesus went to bear our burdens and carry our sorrows! When we see such a Savior as that, what trial could we ever suppose will finally overcome us who are recipients of so vast a love?