|Sunset on a stormy day--photographed at Moscow, Idaho--|
an appropriate visual for spiritual hope in life's dark times
“Well, they have ‘down-in-the-dumps’ right,” I reflected after reading Psalms 42 and 43. At some time, I’d probably whined my own version of the psalms’ refrain: “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted ["disturbed" in NIV] in me?” (42:5, 11; 43:5). I was the guest of honor at my personal pity party. Then the refrain’s conclusion grabbed me with its remedy for being down-in-the-mouth: “Hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance.” The “cure” for those downcast, “poor me” times was turning attention from myself to the hope I have in the Lord. These psalms need to be read together. Indeed, in early Hebrew manuscripts (before the assignment of chapter-and-verse headings), they were linked. Attributed to the “sons of Korah” (temple musicians), there’s no historical subtitle. But the imagery and intense language transcend time as they speak to us today, particularly when we feel depressed.
THIRSTYPsalm 42 opens with a picture of desperate thirst: “As the hart [deer] panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.” Unlike camels, whose fatty humps help them survive long periods in desert terrain, deer must have regular access to water. I live in “high desert” with miles and miles of rocky scrublands, bisected by a life-giving river. The highway along the river is a death trap for deer trying to get to water. Despite warning signs for drivers, deer still get hit. When I see a deer carcass while traveling, I’m reminded of Psalm 42 and its truth through this image that our true spiritual survival depends on sating our thirst for “the living God” (42:2).
Spiritual opposition can heighten our thirst. The psalmist tells of non-believers who scoff, “Where is thy God?” (42:3). Deceitful and unjust people jeer the believer (43:1). The psalmist also pines over missing the festive worship at the temple in
LONESOMESome scholars think the psalm’s author may have been far away, near Mount Hermon, about a hundred miles from
Thinking about God’s attributes encouraged the psalmist. Embedded in both Psalms 42 and 43 are numerous names for the works and character of God. He is “the living God” (42:2, a phrase found in another yearning-for-God psalm, number 84). He is “my God” (42:6, 11: 43:4), with the pronoun “my” indicating a personal connection to this great God of all. He is “the LORD” (v. 8), rendered in small capitals in English Bible translations to indicate the name that Jews considered so holy that they would not speak or write it. We know it as YHWH or “Jehovah.” The psalmist also addresses God as “God of my life” (42:8), suggesting submission. He is “God my rock” (42:9), a solid and reliable God, a term that shows up in nearly twenty other psalms. He is “God of my strength” (43:2), the source for “keeping on.” He is “God my exceeding joy” (43:3), who will bring me out of that “downcast” condition.
Even before studying this psalm, I had begun a practice of meditating on the names and attributes of God. When problems kept me awake at night, I started going through the alphabet, recalling the names of God that gave me courage and encouragement. I considered Him as the “Almighty One,” my Burden-bearer, my Compassionate Comforter—and on and on. By “Z,” peace and sleep would usually come. The practice reminded me that God, in the fullness of his deity, is far greater than any problem I might face.
FACE-BRIGHTENERThe last part of the psalms’ thrice-repeated refrain also reminded me of God’s care in difficult experiences: “Hope in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.” One more recent translation renders this “my Savior and my God” (NIV). The idea is that the God who lifts our saddened faces to show us His profound love is indeed the One who “saves” us from this despondency.
For me, the refrain’s key word is “hope.” The apostle Paul reminded us “we rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:2). He emphasized that life’s tribulations can lead us, in God’s plan, to hope that never disappoints (“maketh not ashamed,” Romans 5:5 in KJV).
Psalms 42 and 43 are no longer the “despondency” psalms for me. Yes, they describe someone who is downhearted. But the psalms’ refrains don’t leave me stuck on “downcast.” They remind me to hang on to hope. As John Stott remarked in Favorite Psalms (Baker, ’88, ’03, p. 50): “The cure for depression is neither to look in at our grief, nor back to our past, nor round at our problems, but away and up to the living God.”
Next week: Psalm 46.