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Exploring the Psalms
Psalms 42 + 43
Being Honest With God




Exploring the Psalms



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Exploring the Psalms
Psalms 42 + 43 


Read : Psalms 42 + 43 

It is tempting to think of the Psalms as songs of praise. The opening psalm at the beginning of a morning service was invariably chosen to be just that. However, when one comes to read psalms like the two we are looking at today, we realise that they are truly laments. There are others which fall into the same category, Psalms 55 and 77 are examples. Written by different psalmists, they are nonetheless the work of people of faith and do not provide reading of unrelieved gloom because there is always hope and a trust in the saving power of God.  

Psalms 42 and 43 are clearly of a piece, with their identical refrain, and even the section in the second which we take out of context and use as praise, is the psalmist looking back wistfully to better times and wishing they would come again.  

Such is the power of association but many people of my generation in St Cuthbert's will remember times when, at a quarterly communion, there were few spare seats on the ground floor and the procession of elders was long in order to serve so many people. The opening psalm was often 'O send thy light forth and thy truth' to the tune 'Invocation'. It was uplifting and inspiring and the singing was powerful; indeed 'a multitude keeping festival'. Exactly the sort of occasion the psalmist remembers. 

This poor man is writing from the depth of despair and the utter isolation of depression. We are not told what the real problem is, but he claims his treatment has been unjust and deceitful. We are told that he had been a person who rejoiced to be going to the house of God, singing and shouting with 'a multitude keeping festival'. A known believer, his unbelieving friends are now mocking him for apparently having been abandoned by his God. But his faith does not let him down; he pours out his soul to God, expressing a dogged and persistent hope that 'I shall again praise him, my help and my God.' 

In preparing this, I was struck by the similarity between the topic for this month and that of December, when we last met. Then we were looking at the splendid Advent hope and the importance of light in darkness. Now we are dealing with a different kind of hope and someone who, in the darkness of depression, desperately needs some sort of light in his darkness.  

Many people in today's world suffer from depression, some from manic depression. We hear such a lot about it we are inclined to believe it is increased by the lifestyle of today and consider it a 'modern' complaint. Judging by the psalmist, it was around in his day and probably always has been, under different names.  

Anyone who has been depressed even briefly will recognise 'all your waves and your billows have gone over me', the reference to sleepless nights in verse 8 of Psalm 42, and the fact that he is often in tears. The last people one would wish to be surrounded by are the mockers; there is a great need for true and steadfast friends, not the bossy bracing variety, but those who are there for you, holding out a candle in the darkness. 

In reading these psalms, I am struck not by the psalmist's weakness but by his strength. He is not afraid to be honest with God. He knows where strength and vindication are to be found and he is not ashamed to go on hammering on the doors of heaven.  

To him, the presence of God is as vital as water to all living creatures. In a dry dusty country like Palestine, rivers and streams are an important source of life, hence the vivid picture of the deer longing for the flowing streams (a sentiment difficult for us to appreciate when we are surrounded by unwelcome floods). 

psalm 42

What he is invoking is a very powerful image of a basic need, not just something desirable which it would be very pleasant to have. The psalmist cannot understand why God appears to have cast him off and allowed misfortune to overtake him. Yet he is a fine example of the well known words of Mother Julian of Norwich: 'He said not: Thou shalt not be tempested, thou shalt not be travailed, thou shalt not be afflicted; but he said: Thou shalt not be overcome.'  

So he hopes on and he pleads on, and he is sure that one day God's light and truth will shine on him and banish the depression, the deceit, the injustice. Once again he will go to the altar of God with rejoicing and 'a multitude keeping festival'. 



Bridget Cameron, 2016

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