Posts Tagged ‘Psalm 43’

Where Is God?

May 2, 2015

In the midst of adversity and affliction, and disease, disaster, death, despair and distress, and sorrow and suffering, where is God? Ever felt like that? Distress and depression make us feel cast down, helpless, hopeless and lonely – abandoned by family, friends and even God. This was the experience of the psalmist of Psalms 42 and 43. Both Psalms 42 and 43 are, in fact, a single Psalm.

The psalmist described his plight by envisaging a deer in a dry place thirsty for water. Like a thirsty animal in a dry land he desired for God. He longed for a refreshing drink, but tasted the bitter water of tears (Ps. 42.3). It would be enough had all he faced was the sense of absence and distance of God. But his distress was intensified by his enemies’ taunts: “Where is your God?” (Ps. 42.3). The psalmist’s misery was aggravated by the mockery of those who regarded his sickness as evidence that God had forsaken the sufferer. That was why the writer of Psalm 22 cried: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?” (Ps. 22.1 cf. 22. 6-8).

Further, the psalmist says, “My soul is cast down within me” (Ps. 42.5-6, 11). Literally it may be rendered, “My soul prostrates itself upon me.” Here the picture is “the soul bent double upon itself,” a vivid portrayal of a downcast and disconsolate person. Instead of refreshing water, the psalmist encountered overwhelming power of water. When the rains came and the water poured down the River Jordan, he realized the great power of water in the “cataracts” or waterfalls. He thought of even greater power of water of the deep ocean, and his troubles seemed like the waves of the sea rolling over him (42.7). “His woes were incessant and overwhelming. Billow followed billow, one sea echoed the roaring of another; bodily pain aroused mental fear…outward tribulation thundered in awful harmony with inward anguish; his soul seemed drowned as in a universal deluge of trouble” (Charles Spurgeon). He was powerless under his problems. The situation seemed hopeless.

When dark hours of life emerge, many cry out with Paul Laurence Dunbar:
A crust of bread and a corner to sleep in,
A minute to smile and an hour to weep in,
A pint of joy and a peck of trouble,
And never a laugh but the moans come double;
And that is life!

As the Psalm progressed, the psalmist’s despair also intensified: I can’t get to God (42.1-2), God had forgotten me (42.9), and God had abandoned me (43.2). “I came to you to take refuge, but you have shut the door and left me out at the mercy of my oppressors” (43.2).

Tears, downcast, disturbed, disquieted soul, helplessness, loneliness, feeling of being forgotten and abandoned even by God – these are the symptoms of a man in depression. Thrice the psalmist asks, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me?” (42.5, 11; 43.5). Remember Elijah when he battled the prophets of Baal on the Mount Carmel. This confrontation had sapped his energies. He was exhausted physically and mentally, and not ready for another challenge. At that very moment a new challenge came from the queen Jezebel: “So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow” (I Kings 19.2). The one, who faced four hundred and fifty Baal’s prophets on the Mount Carmel and witnessed God’s consuming fire that instantaneously made people to prostrate and acknowledge “The Lord indeed is God; the Lord indeed is God” (I Kings 18.38-39), ran for his life to Beersheba after the threat from Jezebel. Prophet Elijah was depressed. Notice the symptoms: he went to a solitary place, wanted to die, and had self-pity (I Kings 19.4, 10, 14). He needed food and sleep (i.e. rest), which God provided him (I Kings 19.5-8).

The most common symptoms of depression include :
• Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
• Feeling worthless, inadequate, bad
• A sense of self hatred. Constant questioning of thoughts and actions and a constant need for reassurance
• Feeling vulnerable and being oversensitive to criticism
• Sense of guilt
• Loss of energy and the ability to concentrate and be motivated to do even the simplest tasks
• Harming oneself
• Sudden loss or gain in weight
• Sleep disruption or a need to sleep very long hours
• Agitation and restlessness
• Physical aches and pains
• Violent behaviour
• Anger and frustration

Most people suffer only two or three of these symptoms at any one time. People with severe depression may also experience suicidal feelings, stop eating and suffer from hallucinations.

Although the Psalm appears to give an impression of depression as a static condition of the psalmist, the reality is that there is a movement from depression to surging confidence and hope.

The psalmist turned his mind from the disease to the cure, from despair to remembrance (42.4, 6, 8; 43.3-4). He pulled himself together and regained his composure to preach to himself. He deliberately recalled to mind God’s faithfulness and grace (that’s why he along with others praised God with “glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving”), and his joyous participation in the festivals at Jerusalem temple (42.4). This memory was, no doubt, bittersweet experience, for it would both aggravate his distress (because his present condition was that he was sick and far from the temple) and alleviate it (would give confidence that he would return again in the future).

Then the psalmist’s mind turned from remembering the good times of journeying with pilgrim crowds and participating in festivals at Jerusalem temple to remembering God (42.6, 8). There was a deliberate effort on the part of the psalmist in his depressed state to remember God: “Therefore, I remember you…” (42.6). This action was very significant, because at the heart of the psalmist’s despair was an awareness of the absence and distance of God. By remembering his experiences of God’s presence in the land of Jordan, Hermon and Mount Mizar (42.6), he wanted to dispel that sense of absence and distance of God. He reminded himself of God’s steadfast love (42.8).

Though the stress of his circumstances was still upon him, the pain was still present and adversaries still taunted him, he affirmed, “Hope in god, for I shall again praise him, my help and my God” (42.5, 11). Hope in God! Hope is not only being expectant, straining anticipation for God’s deliverance from the present ordeal, but also the ability at the lowest point in life to sense and feel a single string of hope (i.e. our unbroken relationship with God) that gives us strength to move forward in the darkest hour of life. Even if the harshest present reality twists and distorts our vision of God, God is still “God of my life” (42.8), “my rock” (42.9), “my help” (42.11), and “my God” (42.11). He is “the living God” (42.2). The psalmist’s outward situation had not changed but his outlook had. Outlook determines outcome, and attitude determines action.

The change in his outlook had made the psalmist to talk to God directly, because God was his God. The change from remembrance or introvertive reflection to an appeal to God for deliverance reflects an upward movement in the psalmist. First he prayed about his enemies, who were “ungodly”, “deceitful” and “unjust” (43.1-2). Rather than merely lamenting on their enmity, he asked God to act as his defense counsel and vindicate him in the face of their taunts and oppression. He wanted God’s healing of his sickness so that he might be vindicated before his detractors. The psalmist further asked God to “send his light and truth” not only to dispel the darkness of oppression, but also to lead him into divine presence (43.3). The prayer gave him confidence: “I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy; and I will praise you with the harp, O God, my God” (43.4). Though the situation that created anguish and depression in him had not changed, his prayer to God had not only strengthened his faith and hope, but also restored the life of praise and joy. The psalmist couldn’t change his circumstances, but he could change his focus from himself and his overwhelming situation to God. By the end of the Psalm his circumstances hadn’t changed, but his attitude had, because he had deliberately focused on God.

Although the question at the end of the Psalm is same, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? (43.5), the response was given with the conviction that God had heard and answered his prayer:

“HOPE IN GOD, FOR I SHALL AGAIN PRAISE HIM….”
BECAUSE GOD IS “THE LIVING GOD”, “MY GOD”, “MY HELP”, “GOD OF MY LIFE”, “MY ROCK”, AND “MY EXCEEDING JOY”.

As some of us enter into the New Year dreary with low hovering clouds of despair, remember that God has a light to guide us into the unknown future. The beautiful beach of Cape Comorin is called “Land’s End”, because this is actually where the land of India comes to an end. Nothing stretches before you except the broad expanse of rolling waters. This is the place where three oceans meet – the Indian Ocean, the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. As day comes to an end, in the west we see the magnificent sun, a great cosmic ball of fire, as it appears to sink into the ocean. Just as it is almost lost from sight, we see another ball of scintillating beauty – the moon appears to be rising from the ocean. When the sun finally passed completely beyond sight, darkness engulfs the earth, but in the east the radiant light of rising moon shines supreme.

When the light of the day vanishes, leaving us in some dark and desolate midnight – moments when our highest hopes are turned into shambles of despair, during such moments our spirits are almost overcome by gloom and despair, and we feel that there is no light anywhere. But when we look toward the east and discover that there is another light which shines even in the darkness, “the spear of despair” will be transformed into “a shaft of light”.

As we continue our walk in the days ahead with an audacious faith and hope in God, let us gain some strength from the words of Charles A. Tindley:

Verse 1
Beams of heaven as I go,
through this wilderness below.
Guide my feet in peaceful way,
turn my midnights into days.

When in darkness, I would grope,
Faith always sees a star of hope.
And soon from all life’s grief and danger,
I shall be free some day.

Chorus
I do not know how long ’twill be,
nor what the future holds for me;
but this I know, if Jesus leads,
I shall get home some day.

Verse 2
Often times my sky is clear,
joy abounds without a tear.
Though a day so bright begun,
clouds may hide tomorrow’s sun.
There’ll be a day that’s always bright,
a day that never yields to night;
and in its light the streets of glory,
I shall behold some day.

Verse 3
Harder yet may be the fight,
right may often yield to might.
Wickedness awhile may reign,
Satan’s cause may seem to gain.

There is a God that rules above,
with hand of power and heart of love.
If I am right, He’ll fight my battle,
I shall have peace some day.

Verse 4
Burdens now may crush me down,
disappointments all around.
Troubles speak in mournful sigh,
sorrow through a tear stained eye.

There is a world where pleasure reigns,
no mourning soul shall roam its plains,
and to that land of peace and glory,
I want to go some day.

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