It seems that many today in the West are searching for identity – be it in terms of race or ethnicity, gender or orientation. And an outcome of this quest can be guilt and fear, deceit and anger.
In our changing ‘identity-seeking’ world, it is easy to feel the pressure of doubt and the darkness that it can bring. It’s therefore encouraging to meditate on what the Psalms tell us about where our true identity can be found. Let’s consider Psalms 42 and 43 – the two psalms that form the beginning of Book II of the Psalms.
The writer had been forcibly taken from his home city of Jerusalem into exile – probably at the time when king Jehoash of the northern kingdom of Israel, defeated king Amaziah of the southern kingdom, Judah (2 Kings 14:14).
As a deer pants for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God… Psalm 42 begins. The imagery of a deer desperate for flowing water, not a camel or wild animal, introduces the pathos of the psalm – a yearning for the living God. God seemed as remote as water in a desert. Any talk of joy and peace seemed futile.
Far from home and from the temple in Jerusalem where it seems he had led the worship, the writer asks three times: Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you so disquieted within me? (42:5, 11; 43:5). He was depressed, disturbed and vulnerable in his relationship with those around him. They taunted him with the haunting question that we can hear today: “Where is your God?” (42:3)
Many of us know what it is like to move away from the comfort and security of family and friends, or to lose our job or watch someone close to us suffer. A good part of how we respond will depend on whether we believe that a good and loving God has not only made us in his image, but has also rescued us. This understanding will affect our spiritual awareness and our sense of identity – as is happening in these two psalms.
The Psalm writer points us to the beginning of a solution when he says: I say to God, my rock, “Why have you forgotten me? (42:9). As with most experiences in life, we need to begin by admitting our feelings to God, even asking him questions. This requires honesty and courage.
Furthermore, we learn that we need to address our inner self, our soul. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, a renowned 20th century English preacher wrote: ‘The main trouble in this whole matter’ of feeling downcast ‘is that we allow our Self to talk to us instead of us talking to our Self.’ The psalm-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”.’ We mustn’t allow the taunts of others or our own feelings to dominate.
Throughout these two psalms we see the movement from darkness, to admission, to self-exhortation, and then to prayer: Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people, the writer says; Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me… (43:1, 3).
Confident in God’s love and mercy, he is assured of the day 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 actually sensing God’s living presence, whoever we are, and whatever our situation in life.
The one true God, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, is the source of our true identity – not our race or gender, not our social status or political disposition. Our true identity is grounded in God who is our maker and our redeemer.
When we have this assurance ourselves then we can begin to communicate it to family and friends around us.