Daleth – Depression, Grace and Freedom


In Ps 119:25 the Psalmist says “I am laid low in the dust”, and then in verse 28 “My soul is weary with sorrow” (one commentator paraphrases “I have collapsed with intense sorrow”). These days we’d probably diagnose him with depression and pack him off to the doctors to get some happy pills. But for the writer of this Psalm, there is no question where he will turn first for comfort and strength – the Word of God.

25 I am laid low in the dust;
   preserve my life according to your word.

28 My soul is weary with sorrow;
   strengthen me according to your word.

Of course, I in no way want to trivialise the very real issue of depression, or glibly claim that a few hours of Bible reading will automatically fix it, but it does raise the issue of where we do we turn in times of sorrow. Part of the battle with depression is the battle for the mind (see Matt Hosier’s excellent prayer for depression), and to fight that battle effectively we must fill our minds with truth.

Grace and Truth

The reason the Psalmist turns to the Word of God when he is feeling low is that he knows that it is a source of grace and truth:

29 Keep me from deceitful ways;
   be gracious to me through your law.
30 I have chosen the way of truth;
   I have set my heart on your laws.

This is an interesting combination of terms since in John 1:17 it says that “the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” John is not denying that the law contains grace and truth, but is claiming that the fullest expression of God’s grace and truth is found in Jesus. This is why a christological approach to Scripture is so important. The Bible leads us into grace and truth as we let it point us to Christ.


The final verse in Psalm 119:25-32 (“the Daleth strophe”) is perhaps favourite in the whole Psalm, although it would appear that the translators can’t quite agree on how the second phrase should be translated. I like the NIV 1984’s “you have set my heart free” and think it fits well with the metaphor of running:

I run in the path of your commands,
   for you have set my heart free.

It is often assumed that a life of following commands must be one of drudgery, but for the Psalmist, the opposite is true. For him, it is when he is “running” in the path of God’s commands that he is free from anxiety and fear. Running in God’s way is both liberating and refreshing. I think the Psalmist would agree with the sentiment of Eric Liddell in Chariots of Fire when he says, “when I run I feel His pleasure”.

James 1:25 The “Law of Liberty”

But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. James 1:25

Laws forbid us from doing certain things, or command us to do things. By their very nature, therefore, they restrict our freedom to do whatever we like. So when James uses the phrase, “the law of liberty”, we might be tempted to think it is an oxymoron, a bit like saying “the chains of freedom”.

To understand this phrase, we first need to ask what “law” James is referring to. We might assume that he refers to the law of Moses, to the 10 commandments and the other rules and regulations of the Old Covenant. But commentators are broadly agreed that this is not in fact the case. Douglas Moo puts it like this:

James’s “law” does not refer to the law of Moses as such, but to the law of Moses as interpreted and supplemented by Christ.

In other words, James is referring to what we might call the “New Covenant law”, or the “law of Christ”. Elsewhere James calls it the “royal law” (James 2:8) and here in James 1:25 he calls it the “perfect law”. It is the law “written on our hearts” that Jeremiah prophesied (Jer 31:33). So the “law” essentially refers to God’s will for the way we are to live. It is as the Spirit fills us that we are given the three things we need to live according to this law:

  1. The knowledge of what God’s will for our lives is
  2. The desire to live in a way that is pleasing to God
  3. The power to overcome sin and temptation and to do God’s will

But that still doesn’t full answer the original question. How is living this way “freedom”? The answer surely is that true freedom comes when we do what we were made to do. “Freedom” to sin isn’t freedom at all – in fact, Jesus makes plain that sin leads to the very opposite of freedom – slavery (John 8:34). The question for us is are we willing to believe this? The most liberating way of life that is possible is one that gladly submits to the gracious constraints of God’s law. What seems like a straightjacket to the carnal-minded person, is glorious freedom for the God-obsessed.