Deep calls to deep
in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
have swept over me.
– Psalm 42:7
It is striking that the psalmist does not doubt that God is in control: he speaks of “your waterfalls,” “your waves and breakers.” What he is experiencing is not simply bad luck; it is all under God’s soverign control and direction. But that thought brings confusion, not comfort. He says, in effect, “God, what are you doing? You’re crushing me; you’re overwhelming me and I can’t take it.” He feels like a pebble at the bottom of a waterfall, battered relentlessly by all that God throws at him. He is desperate for a stable place on which to stand, but as he cries out to God his rock, he hears no answer. It is as if he has been abandoned and left to cope on his own:
I say to God my Rock,
“Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning,
oppressed by the enemy?”
– Psalm 42:9
His feelings are so intense that they have a physical expression: “My bones suffer mortal agony’ (v. 10).
. . . . .
You are my God my stronghold.
Why have you rejected me?
Why must I go about mourning,
oppressed by the enemy?
– Psalm 43:2
C.S. Lewis describes his experiences after the death of his wife in a starkly honest book, ‘A Grief Observed’. He writes:
Meanwhile, where is God? Go to him when your need is desperate, when all other help is in vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence.
God does not abandon his people, but that is sometimes what it feels like. Even the most faithful believers can experience deep depression and a sense of spiritual desolation. Charles Spurgeon, who suffered from frequent bouts of depression, once said: “There are dungeons beneath the Castle of Despair.” We should not be surprised if this is an experience we have to undergo. It is not a sign that our faith is weak nor is it something to be ashamed of and kept to ourselves. The example of the psalmist is an encouragement to express our feelings. We might not want the whole world to know but, at the very least, we should talk to one or two trusted friends. And we should talk to God and tell him how we feel. He knows anyway, so there is no point in pretending. He understands us perfectly and loves us deeply.
. . . . .
Send forth your light and your truth,
let them guide me;
let them bring me to your holy mountain,
to the place where you dwell.
Then I will go to the alter of God,
to God, my joy and my delight.
I will praise you with the harp,
O God, my God.
– Psalm 43:3-4
If the psalmist could look to the future with hope surely we today, who live after the coming of Christ, have even more reason to do so. We are bound to think of Christ when we read this psalm. It is likely Christ was alluding to it when he cried out in the garden of Gethsemane: “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow” (Mk. 14:34); “My heart is troubled” (Jn. 12:27). He was thirsty as he hung on the cross and felt submerged, overwhelmed by the waters of judgement. He did not just feel forsaken by God his Father – he really was forsaken, as he faced the penalty for human sin. We worship the Messiah who knows what it is like to suffer, and his suffering far outweighed even the agony of a deep depression. Yet he put his hope in God and was vindicated. God raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in heaven. Because he died and rose again, all who trust in him can face the future with great hope, no matter how difficult our present circumstances may be. Our tears may be our food day and night, but the day is coming when Christ will wipe away every tear. We may go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy, but the day is coming when there will be “no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (Rev. 21:4). And there will be no more enemies; even the great enemy, the devil, will be banished. Then we will enjoy life forever in God’s perfect new creation. Nothing will spoil it: neither physical ailments nor mental anguish. Then, at last, all the deep longings of our hearts will be fulfilled. We will no longer be panting or thirsting for God. We will see him face to face and will have eternity to drink our fill from the river of life.
Meanwhile, we may have to suffer greatly. God does not promise an easy ride for the Christian. It may be that we have to endure dark days of depression. If so, we should let these psalms encourage and challenge us. We are to express our feelings, at least to God and a few trusted friends, rather than bottle them up. And we should address our feelings: looking in, looking back, and looking forward:
Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Saviour and my God.
– Psalm 42:5,11: 43:5