Last week, I imagined that the writer of Psalm 42 began writing his spiritual complaint while watching a deer search for a fresh source of water. He compares the deer’s desperate search with his own search for God.
He is yearning for a sense of God’s presence to be restored to him. He is lamenting a spiritual dearth of heart-felt communion with the Lord. Last week, I presented his problem and then moved fairly directly to resolution that comes at the end of the psalm. This week, let’s look again, but focus on the center of the psalm.
My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you from the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon — from Mount Mizar. Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me. (42:6-7)
Earlier in the psalm, seeking relief from his yearning for the divine presence, the psalmist had called up joyful memories of public worship in Jerusalem — the city he loved (v. 4).
Now, in the portion quoted above, he appears to be transported by memory and imagination to Northern Israel. He visualizes the lofty snow-capped Mount Hermon rising gloriously above the horizon; the flooding Jordan nearby cascades over its successive drops, often overflowing its banks after heavy rainfall.
The air is filled with the thunder of tumbling waterfalls. In one sense, nature speaks of only what is seen. But she also often calls forth a response of the human soul. Thus, he writes:
Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me. (v. 7)
God has many ways of speaking to his disconsolate children. Often, when we are impoverished by separation, loneliness, or doubt, the mystery of God breaks upon us afresh in the wonders of nature.
After the demonstration of nature’s wonders the psalmist’s spirit seems to brighten. It seems that he has been made aware briefly of the imponderable wonder of nature’s God. And at the same time the mystery of his own humanity, created by God and made for the worship of him. Thus, deep indeed calls to deep.
And there is further reassurance:
By day the Lord directs his love; at night his song is with me — a prayer to the Lord of my life. (v. 8)
In his quest, the majestic mountain and tumbling waterfalls seem to dispel the shadows. Then, he affirms that the Lord is with him whether in the brightness of the day or the shadows of the night. He can sing to the Lord of his life even in the darkness. But he is not yet freed from one unanswered question:
I say to God my Rock “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?” My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, “Where is your God?” (vv. 9,10)
His burst of faith hasn’t yet told him what he also wants to know: Why am I not protected from the enemies of faith? The skepticism of his foes seems not to go away. The question is there all day long.
So where does this psalmist end his quest? How does he get relief from the residual dryness of his faith? Where all questions of faith should end: with a burst of determination to trust God in hope of better days. As I often heard in my childhood, “We trust God even where we cannot trace Him.”
Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed in me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. (v. 11)
Photo credit: Henning Supertramp (via flickr.com)