Melancholia balneum diaboli
I have been doing a peer review of a fantastic book by a 17th century theologian named Herberger. I pray that this volume will be published by CPH or someone else within the next year, because it is packed full of wisdom from God’s Word. Nearly every page seems to be full of gems like this one:
To have a sick heart is the greatest trouble on earth. Many may have not a single sick soul in the house, but in the breast there is a sickbed in which an ailing heart lies, letting out great groans. There laughter is stifled. Hence St. Paul calls it “Satan’s messenger”; for “the devil truly avails himself of the melancholy of the pious.” Melancholia balneum diaboli. He climbs on top of what is cast down, and pours out more onto what is already soaked, just like a true sadist. He turns a little infraction into a great, terrifying sin unto death. He has to do everything to the extreme: out of a speck of dust floating in the sunbeam he makes a huge mountain. He sharpens all thoughts into daggers and spits for the heart, making man to despair of bringing out the best of the situation.
We have certainly reflected long and hard here the relationship between physical depression and spiritual distress. Here Herberger seems to have an understanding of this hundreds of years ago. Depression is the playground or bath in which the devil loves to work. Depression turns us inward, makes us overfocus and blow every little setback so far out of proportion that is hardly recognizable. Depression can easily lead us to despair even of our very lives.
But Christ calls us back from peering over the edge. There is a sickness, but it is not unto death. There are problems, but they can be overcome. No matter what the difficulty you face, whether it is personal, financial, medical or spiritual, Christ is with you. He will see you through it.
Thanks, Doctor Herberger. Your words bring into focus how God can use these things to our benefit. We pray with you:
“O my dear Lord Jesus Christ, who said: ‘Pray, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you’; by virtue of this Your promise, O Lord, grant to me who pray not for gold or silver, but for a strong, firm faith. Let me find, for I seek not pleasure or worldly joy, but comfort and new life through Your blessed, comforting, wholesome word. Open unto me who knock. Nothing do I desire that the world counts great and high, for by such I am not made a hair’s breadth better before You: Instead, give me Your Holy Spirit to illumine my heart, strengthen and comfort me in my anguish and distress, preserve me in true faith and trust in Your grace until my end. Amen.”