Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray with Me”.
I first looked at Psalm 42 when I was in my early twenties, thanks to the book Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure (London: Pickering & Inglis, 1964) by D. Martin Lloyd-Jones. At the time, I was looking for solutions to depression, loneliness, and introversion. In the first chapter, imaginatively titled “General Consideration”, Lloyd-Jones said, “[Psalm 42 gives] an extraordinarily accurate picture of spiritual depression. You can see the man looking cast down and dejected.” You see that drawn, haggard, vexed, troubled appearance (Lloyd-Jones, p. 13). At that point, for better or worse, I was hooked on the book and on Psalm 42.
Three aspects of the psalm spoke to me.
First, the poet describes his depression. His emotional experience is turmoil, confusion, despair. Twice he says,
Why are you downcast, my soul,
Why so disturbed within me? (vv. 5, 11)
His spiritual experience is also in disarray. He says his tears have been his food day and night, and people keep asking, “Where is your God?” (v. 3). In his sadness he says to God, “Why have you forgotten me?” (v. 9).
The poet’s social experience is a disaster too. He continues:
“Why must I go about mourning,
oppressed by the enemy?” (v. 9).
The poet’s friends and enemies both say, “Clearly, God is not showing up to help you,” (vv. 3, 10) and his own soul echoes the question, “Have you forgotten me, God?” (v. 9) and “When can I go and meet God?” (v. 2). This is the poet’s depression: lonely, troubled, taunted by enemies, no help from his friends, his thoughts and life in turmoil, his relationship with God non-existent.
A second part of the psalm that spoke to me is the poet’s surprising awareness of things that encourage and give him hope. He starts the poem with an amazing upward and outward picture:
As the deer pants for streams of water,
So my soul pants for you, my God (v. 1).
His depression is not only a dark, inescapable pit. It is also a thirst, thirst for God. Perhaps God will give him a drink of water if he asks.
Later he says to God,
Deep calls to deep
In the roar of your waterfalls
All your waves and your breakers
have gone over me (v. 7).
The poet feels himself drowning, but he hears God’s voice in the waters, “Deep calls to deep” (v. 7). In his trouble and depression, he feels God’s waterfall speaking to him, God’s waves washing over him. It seems God is both the storm that drowns him and the water that saves him.
The third thing I found helpful in Psalm 42 is how the poet manages his depression. He manages it by talking to himself! Perhaps that’s a skill I need to learn. When the poet’s dark feelings talk to him, he talks right back to them with a different message. He doesn’t submit to feelings hopelessness, he doesn’t sink into despair. He questions his feelings, he questions himself, he redirects the conversation.
Why are your downcast, my soul,
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God. (vv. 5, 11).
The poet also speaks to God, questioning God’s silence.
I will say to God my rock
“Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning?” (v. 9).
The wonderful message of this psalm is that when our experience is dark, when God seems silent and uninterested, we can still talk to him. We can invite him into our darkness, we can call on him to resume caring for us.
Our Father, so often in the psalms we have been stuck in the pit of despair, our feet lodged in mud, our mind imprisoned in darkness. But today’s psalm brings the language of hope to our prison. Perhaps our unquenchable thirst is our heart panting after you. Perhaps our feeling of drowning is your waves and your breakers washing over us. Perhaps our painful and vulnerable situation can be addressed to you, “God, you are my rock, why do you let my feet slip and my enemies harass?”
With the psalm we say,
By day the Lord directs his love
at night his song is with me (v. 8).
And with the poet we pray,
Why are you downcast my soul?
Put your hope in God
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God (v. 11).
I’m Daniel on the channel “Pray with Me”.