Last week we reflected on the reality of the depression many experience – and not least in these surreal times of the Covid pandemic. Psalms 42 and 43 testify to this very real experience. The psalms are an example of the timeless wisdom and counsel that we find in the Bible.
They are a cry from the heart. The writer asks why he is depressed. ‘I believe’ he says, ‘Why then should I feel as I do? Why am I so inwardly disturbed? What’s happened to me?’ Three times he asks: Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? (Ps 42:5, 11; Ps 43:5).
Speaking about his feelings, the poet doesn’t do what many who are depressed do: he doesn’t try to bury his emotional distress. And certainly, he doesn’t turn to alcohol, drugs, or some other diversion. Nor does he try to pretend he’s doing well: he admits his feelings.
We find here a very helpful lesson. It takes courage to identify that we have a problem. Men especially find this difficult, for generally they don’t like to talk about their feelings or admit to what might be perceived as weakness. Both Psalms 42 and 43 imply that if we are depressed, we need to acknowledge it. We don’t have to announce it on Facebook, but it’s worth speaking with a trustworthy friend, a pastor or a physician. And there may come a time when we will want to tell a wider audience – by way of testimony.
The point is that if we are lonely, or feel guilty about something, or if we have lost someone dear to us, we need to talk about it. There’s nothing to be gained by brushing it off or burying it. Look at the poet’s response in Psalm 42:9: I say to God, my rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I walk about mournfully because the enemy oppresses me?” He’s almost making an accusation: ‘God, where are you? You’re supposed to be my rock and my security. Well God, the rock has moved. You have let me down. Why?’
Now, it’s important that we ask questions like this. Not because there’s necessarily an immediate answer, but because we need to express our frustration, even despair. Indeed, there can be times when we’re depressed because we repress our anger. One psychotherapist speaks of it as ‘frozen rage’.
When we feel angry with God, we must remember that he is no stranger to emotion. He knows what it is like to be treated unjustly and to be sinned against. And he certainly knows what it is like to feel alone. We should never forget Jesus’ own cry of dereliction that he uttered from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).
We cannot even begin to understand the depths of aloneness Jesus experienced over three hours as he suffered the full power of God’s justice that we justly deserve. Time would have seemed to stood still as Jesus, the eternal Son of God, suffered the full force of the horrifying darkness and separation from all that is pure and good, from God, his eternal Father, as the weight of human sin was laid on his shoulders. In our moments of despair, it is easy to forget the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. Every day we need to keep it before us.
Remember. To return to the psalms we are considering, in Psalm 42:4 we read: These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I went with the throng, and led them in procession to the house of God,… Recalling past blessings brought comfort to the writer in his spiritual drought. Many people find it helpful to keep what some Christians used to speak of as a journal of the soul. Reading it in the tough times can be a great encouragement.
Address our soul: Throughout the two psalms the theme cry is: Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? The conscious mind of the poet is speaking to his inner self. Talking to yourself is sometimes reckoned to be a sign of mental aberration. But the poet is telling us that there are times when this can be a way to climb out of the pit of despair. A great danger for someone who is depressed is self-pity. Ironically, so self-preoccupied can we become that we can even relish in our misery. ‘Speak to your soul’, the poet advises.
Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, a renowned 20th century English preacher wrote: ‘The main trouble in this whole matter of depression is that we allow our Self to talk to us instead of us talking to our Self.’ The writer’s soul has been depressing him, crushing him, so he stands up and says, ‘Soul, listen! I will speak to you: “Hope in God; I shall again praise him, my help and my God”.’
This is not the same as saying to anyone who is depressed, ‘Pull yourself together’. That kind of counsel won’t help. But, if we’re depressed, it would be helpful to say to ourselves, ‘Look to the Lord, for he is my light and my help. My hope is in him’.
Throughout these two psalms there is a movement from depression, to admission, and to self-exhortation. But there is something else: Prayer.
In Psalm 43:1 we read: Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people… And in verse 3: Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me…
The psalm-writer is confident in God’s grace at work in his life. Because of this he knows that the day will come when, again filled with joy, he will sing songs of praise to God.
Psalms 42-43 urge us to move beyond believing things about God, to sensing the Lord’s living presence in our lives – whoever we are, and whatever our situation in life.
A prayer. Almighty God, who taught the hearts of your faithful people by sending them the light of your Holy Spirit: so enable us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things and always to rejoice in his holy comfort; through the merits of Christ Jesus our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
© John G. Mason