One of the ironies of today’s highly connected world is the personal isolation that many feel. Indeed, an extreme sense of personal isolation can lead to despair and even suicide.

And there are times when a sense of isolation can overwhelm God’s people: prayer is difficult, and any talk of joy and peace seems empty. God feels more like a distant relative than a heavenly Father.

Psalm 42 begins: As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?

My tears have been my food day and night, he continues, while people say to me continually, “Where is your God?” (42:3).

The writer of Psalms 42 and 43, removed from his home city of Jerusalem and the temple, asks three times, Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you so disquieted within me? (42:5,11; 43:5).

Alone. The psalmist felt he had no-one to confide in. Indeed, those around him taunted: ‘where is your God?’ It’s easy to trust God in the security of a good home and church. But now the song writer who seems to have led the Temple worship was alone, without personal encouragement and emotional support. Loneliness can make us feel distressed. We are social creatures made for personal relationships, and when we lose our support networks it can really impact us.

He also experienced physical isolation: 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, with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival (42:4). We sense his grief for the time he was part of a joyful throng. Now he was alone.

It doesn’t take much imagination to see how separation might lead to loneliness. Even in the large cities of the world people can experience personal isolation.

Disturbed and downcast the psalm-writer lacked energy; he felt anxious and overwhelmed: Deep calls to deep at the thunder of your waterfalls; all your waves and your billows have gone over me, he writes (42:7).

He felt alone from God: I say to God, my rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I walk about mournfully because the enemy oppresses me?” (42:9). Torn with a sense of loss, he was like a jilted lover or a widow grieving for her husband.

‘I believe’ he is saying, ‘What’s happened to me?’ As we dig into this psalm we realize that here is a man of spiritual integrity who is willing to ask questions.

Which leads to his significant question: Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? (42:5,11 and 43:5).

Many who feel lonely, sad and depressed try to find escape by turning to alcohol or drugs, online gambling or pornography. It’s important to notice what this psalmist does: he admits his feelings. We need to do the same. And we need to encourage others to do so as well.

It takes courage. If we’re feeling lonely or depressed we need to acknowledge it. If we feel guilty about something, we need to own up to it before God. If we’ve lost someone we loved, we also need to articulate our loss. There’s nothing to be gained by running away.

Look at the way the psalm writer responds in v.9:  I say to God, my rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I walk about mournfully because the enemy oppresses me?” ‘God, where are you? God, you have let me down. Why?’

It’s an important question to ask. Not because there’s always an answer, but because we need to express our frustration. We need to tell God what we feel.

There’s a very moving incident in Pieter de Vries’ novel, The Blood of the Lamb. The main character has a daughter who dies of leukaemia on her 12th birthday. Her father is devastated. Holding a birthday cake he was taking to her in the hospital he looked up at a crucifix on a church wall. Suddenly he exploded and hurled the cake at the face of Christ.

In one sense it was a blasphemous act. Yet in another sense it expressed the very reason why Christ was once on that cross. For there Christ is the representation of God’s just anger against all the injustices, sin and evil in the world. In one supreme act, Christ on the cross perfectly satisfied God’s just anger and, once and for all time, making it possible for him to be reconciled with a sinful world.

When we feel angry with God we need to remember this. God is no stranger to pain. He knows what it is like to feel alone in an unjust world. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” the dying Jesus had said (Matthew 27:46).

With the psalm writer we need to question ourselves when we feel alone: Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? (43:5) The greatest danger when we are feeling alone and ‘down’ is self-pity and to become self-preoccupied. ‘Speak to your soul, your inner self’ the psalm advises, ‘and ask questions’.

And there is something else: prayer. Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people… (43:1); and Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me… (43:3). The psalm writer is confident in God’s love and light. He is assured of the day when, again filled with joy, he will sing songs of praise to God.

Indeed, through the lens of the New Testament we can see this more fully. God, who exists in three persons, has been and is fully involved in serving us through his work of restoring men and women everywhere into relationship with him. “For the Son of Man came,” Jesus said, “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).

Furthermore, God is not only building us back into relationship with him, but also with one another as his offspring. Church is a special gift from God. When we are part of a community of God’s people we can find support and encouragement. God’s delight is that we find and enjoy relationship with him and with one another.

Whoever we are, whatever our situation in life, when we belong to Christ, we are never alone.

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.

Almighty and everlasting God, you have given us your servants grace by the confession of a true faith to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and by your divine power to worship you as One: we pray that you would keep us steadfast in this faith and evermore defend us from all adversities; through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

© John G. Mason