Leviticus 19:1-20:21; Mark 8:11-38; Psalm 42:1-11; Proverbs 10:17
What a cry for God we find in Psalm 42! This first verse is likely familiar to you - there was a popular song from Marantha in the mid-80s that featured it. Perhaps you, like I, started humming it a bit to yourself. Then - wait! There's nothing about Jesus being my friend and my brother, nor any verse about God being my strength and shield? And where's that refrain that wants God "more than any other, so much more than everything"? What's going on here?
That is a beautiful song, and those are true words (from other portions of Scripture, even), but this psalm is not that. Rather, here we encounter a psalmist who is desperate, is discouraged, is waiting and waiting for God, wondering if God has abandoned him. It's still worship, but it's agonizingly honest in its need for God. It flips frantically back and forth, from the joy of the past and the certainty of God's steadfast love to the self-reflection, fear and pain of the present. Like a deer needs the life-giving provision of water, so the psalmist's soul needs the life-giving provision of God. He's not going to make it if God doesn't show up. He is in physical pain ("my bones suffer mortal agony" - vs. 10), emotional distress ("my tears have been my food day and night" - vs. 3), and spiritual upset ("my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, 'Where is your God?'" - vs. 10). He fears that God has forgotten him, though he remembers the way he used to worship with the congregation of Israel (see vs. 4). The psalmist is in dire need of God, but God doesn't seem responsive.
I've been there; I'm sure you've been there, too. We don't feel God's presence, even though we know he has been active in our past. We're not necessarily doubting God (though we might be); it's more like we can't see him in the midst of our mess. We're scared and lonely and hurt. Jesus himself has been there: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Jesus, though, was truly forsaken by God; we feel that we have been abandoned, but we have not. The psalmist has not. And underneath all his fear and pain, he knows it. Look at what he does.
The psalmist, at this crisis point, turns toward God. Instead of taking the easy road of passivity, he gets active. He encourages himself, almost like a pep talk: "put your hope in God" (vs. 5, 11). He chooses to praise and to declare who God is ("I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God" - vs. 5, 11; emphasis mine). He deliberately recalls the history of God's past work in his life (see vs. 6). He reminds himself of such a beautiful truth - "By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me" (vs. 8). God is with him, day and night; God is aware, day and night; God is attentive and inclined toward him, day and night. These truths are true, even if the psalmist doesn't feel them.
It would be easy, in a difficult time, to float in the pain, moved and tossed around by it. This psalm gives us a different direction, one that is purposeful and God-oriented and, ultimately, more likely to be life-giving.
- Sarah Marsh
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