The Flooded Cistern
By Anthony Casperson
For the past couple of months, I’ve really felt the pressure of The Depths of Darkness. While I tend to dwell in that realm of “negative” human emotional experience most of the time, a few areas of thought have pushed at me and heightened the sense of depression. (The specifics of those thoughts don’t need to be stated at this time and place.)
It’s nothing new. Thoughts, lies, and misapplications of certain truths aim to hurt and destroy me. Just happens to be one of the harsher realities of life when God leads us through the valley of death-like shadow.
A place where I’m not alone. Many people have experienced similar, or worse, issues in life. There likely are several others who have dealt with their own raising levels of pressure.
And need to be reminded of truth from the God who leads us.
It amazes me, every time I require it, how often we who spend a lot of time in The Depths need to be reminded of God’s presence with us. We’re so busy trying to get out of the watery darkness that we miss the presence of the only one who can give us life.
The realization of his presence doesn’t automatically mean that our situation is resolved, or even that the pressure is lessened. But it does cause us a chance to breathe when all we want to do is struggle.
Words from the prophet Jeremiah during my morning bible reading came as one of these recent reminders for me. He wrote the book of Lamentations as a funeral dirge for the city of Jerusalem as it fell to the Babylonian invasion that conquered it.
He’d been there. As the walls fell and the city crumbled. The location on earth where God had chosen to place a symbol of his presence. He suffered because of the rebellion of other people, not his own.
And the prophet had known it was coming. For decades, he’d proclaimed the coming fall in hope that the people would listen to him. Then, none of them would need to suffer. But they continued their rebellious path. And so he was lead through The Depths right along with them.
Those who rebelled against God’s ways needed to learn the ramifications of their sinfulness and repent. But Jeremiah was led into those dark waters to learn another lesson. One which he teaches us in Lamentation 3:53-57.
As I read it, the words reminded me very much of the symbol of deep, dark waters that I use for describing the death-like shadow that surrounds emotions like depression and anxiety.
He writes that they silenced him in the pit. Made to “disappear” from life as Jerusalem’s leaders wanted to shut him up and threw him, literally, into a cistern. The deep hole that collects water for the times when the other sources of water dry up.
While it was likely that even the cisterns were low and muddy when the prophet landed in it (because of the siege against the city), he still speaks of the place as watery.
Jeremiah recalls that the leaders had thrown stones atop him, causing the water levels to flood over him. And the pressure left him sure this would be his end.
Then, he did what most of us do when we’re in trouble. He called on God for help. He wanted out of The Depths. This place where God’s path for him had led. It sucked. And could mean the end of his life.
He knew that the plea wouldn’t remain unheard. God was truly able to do something about it. But the prophet wasn’t led to the watery pit just so God could showcase his amazing strength and ability. Rather, God desired for the prophet to learn something else.
In Lamentations 3:57, Jeremiah reveals in his poetic verse a piece of what he came to understand while waters flooded over his head. He writes that God came near when the prophet called. It wasn’t deliverance that arrived, but presence. The God of the universe drew close, breathing life into the drowning man.
Though in Jeremiah’s specific case God would lead him out of this watery depth, the emphasis isn’t placed on that aspect. Instead, the nearness of God is. He’s there with us in the flooded cistern. Not with promises of leading us out, but words that call us to not be afraid.
This place is his leading. He knows what he’s doing. And even if it should be our actual end, our obedience in following him brings great glory to our God.
I’m sorry that this all sounds less preferable to the standard human promise of things getting better. Mainly because I’d like that human perspective to always be true. But that isn’t the path down which God leads every one of us.
And for we who dwell with water flooding over our heads, being reminded of God’s presence and his glory is far better than running from his presence in rebellion as we attempt to escape out of the deep waters where he led us.
So, if you’re with me in The Depths, feeling the pressure more than normal, I want to remind you of what Jeremiah did me. God is near. He’s right there leading us in this dark place for his glory.
And close to him is the best place we can be.