Reading: Psalm 42
When I was much younger, I thought the opening of Psalm 42:1 was an expression deep passion for God. “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.” I suppose that was partly due to not reading it in context carefully (my greatest exposure to this verse was from lyrics in a song), and partly due to my own experience of life. Depression was far from me and life was all before me. I am generally optimistic.
However, the experience of life and many times of reading Psalm 42 have made clear that the deer in this psalm is a deer that is dehydrated and is about to pass out. This deer is in a dessert place and all is dry—not dripping with passion. This thirst for God (Psalm 42:2) is not a deep, intense, longing desire, but a deep, intense desperation. It might be expressed as, “I'm going to die if God doesn't show up and meet with me.”
Why? Why is the psalmist feeling as if it is “God, or bust!”? In contemporary terminology we would say he is depressed—seriously, clinically, actually, whatever other term you'd like to apply, depressed!
My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, "Where is your God?" … (Psalm 42:3)
The psalmist is experiencing life in such a way that those looking on question what's wrong with him. “Where is your God?” expresses their doubt about whether his God exists, or whether he has been forsaken by God (due to sin). Jesus experienced this kind of ridicule and mockery (Matthew 27:43). That was what he experienced from the outside. But worse still was what he experienced from within.
Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me. (Psalm 42:7)
From within, the psalmist experienced doubts about God's intentions toward him. Though the language may seem foreign to us at first, it is not so difficult to comprehend what is meant. The psalmist's experience of life right now is as if he is in the sea, trying to find shore, but God keeps pummeling him with wave after wave crashing in on him. Every time he comes up for air a wave pummels him again.
The word for deep is also the word for the sea, or the abyss. This is the “pit”— the pit of despair. The psalmist is going from one pit to another, one depth of despair to another, because, as far as he can tell, God is directing the storm to pummel him. Are you in that place in now? Have you been? Do you know someone who is? This psalm is written for you and me in times like this. It is written to help us pray when we are in despair, and to help us know how to pray with others when they are.
In his despair the worshiper remembers when things weren't as they are now. He remembers times when he participated with the people of God in joyous praise and festivities before God. He recalls the time when all was bright. (Psalm 42:4) But now, all is dark for him.
The psalmist then does something instructive. He speaks to his own soul, to his own thoughts and heart. “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” (Psalm 42:5) Sometimes it just helps to vocalize this truth. To remind ourselves of God's promises though our feelings are screaming otherwise.
However, the psalmist doesn't merely tell himself truth that he doesn't feel. He also is honest to God about how he feels. He brings his toughest questions to God also.
9I say to God my Rock, "Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?" 10My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, "Where is your God?" (Psalm 42:9-10)
And then he repeats the instruction to his own soul. (See Psalm 42:11)
When we are in the place of despair, depression to the point of feeling we will die if God doesn't answer us, when it seems we have been living on our tears, we must remember that there were better times, we must speak truth to our souls about God's promises for our future, and we must be honest with God about what we are suffering and experiencing. Bring your worst fears to God. Bring your depression to God! But also bring His promises. This is a prayer for the depressed. This is a prayer for all of us as we learn how to pray with and for each other.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,