Shouldn’t my faith be able to handle this? Why am I so upset? The psalmist does not deny the reality or the validity of his pain and distress, what he does is remind himself to keep his eye on the eternal.
The writer of Psalms 42-43 (from among the sons of Korah) expresses something all of us have felt. He asks the question repeatedly—it’s really bothering him. This is what today we would call self-talk, something we know to be very powerful, affecting our attitudes, our decision making, and our behavior. The psalmist’s words resonate with us. There are certainly times in every believer’s life when we are down like he is.
Looking carefully at his self-talk, we see that there are two levels to his distress. First off, he is “cast down”. The word means “pushed down”—which is the literal meaning of our word “depressed”. He is in “turmoil”, which is a very strong word in Hebrew, meaning to be in great tumult, in mourning or in rage, literally or figuratively giving loud voice to distress, moaning. All of this is the first level.
The second level, the actual question he asks himself, is why he should be in this state of depression and turmoil. He doesn’t think he is reacting appropriately, but the depression and upset are very real, and at least initially he is at a loss to understand his own state of mind.
the depression and upset are very real
Does this sound familiar? We all get to the first level at times, and I think most go on to the second level. Shouldn’t my faith be able to handle this? Why am I so upset? The psalmist has hit the nail on the head. Let’s read on, because he doesn’t stop with asking the question of himself. His self-talk isn’t finished.
Three times, he tells himself, “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” He does not deny the reality or the validity of the pain and distress. What he does is remind himself to keep his eye on the long term, in fact the eternal.
How can he know he will come through, and on the other side will actually praise God? Because, I think, it has happened before. And that’s likely true for us. We’ve been in distress, depression, turmoil…and then having come through it, we praise God. The psalmist is comforting himself based on his own experience. And he is writing this down, so that it will be a comfort to others. It really is, isn’t it? Isn’t it a help to know others have been here and have come through?
The psalmist looked forward, all the way to the end.
There are other consolations, he reminds himself. He remembers sharing the fellowship of many others in song and celebration of his God. He reminds himself of the mighty forces that are beyond us, but that God controls. The taunts of others make his bad situation feel even worse. It looks to him as though God has forgotten him, but in reality he knows that’s not true.
And he prays. He prays for deliverance, for vindication of his trust in God. He prays,
The light and the truth—this would be God’s word, both the written word and the living Word, Jesus. They can indeed lead us, bring us to God.
Do you think these psalms speak at all for the Messiah to come? I do. In Gethsemane:
His soul is truly cast down! He is in anguish and turmoil. From Luke’s account:
What got him through this? I don’t know if he specifically thought of these psalms, but he well might have, and certainly the things expressed by the psalmist did help him. As the Hebrews writer tells us, “For the joy that was set before him endured the cross…” (Heb 12:2) Or as the psalmist put it, “I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” He looked forward, all the way to the end.
And I’m sure the other things expressed in the psalmist’s self-talk helped him too. The fellowship of others was a help to the psalmist, and Jesus asks those around him to be there supporting him. He would quote from Psalm 22 on the cross the next day, but I wonder if he didn’t start thinking about it in the garden—seeming to outward appearance to be forgotten, but confident it’s not true. And Jesus prays, as does the psalmist. Among other things, he prays that God’s light and truth would go forth. That trust in these will be vindicated.
What do we take away from all this? It’s possible we are facing distress right now. Even if not, we can be very sure it will come again sometime. Whether now or later, we can take the encouragement offered in these psalms, echoed in Jesus’s time of greatest turmoil.
It isn’t hollow, it isn’t just easy-to-say but empty words. An important response, it seems to me, is to engage in the kind of self-talk the psalmist does. OK, I’m depressed, I’m upset, I’m in real trouble. I don’t pretend those things aren’t true. And then I ask myself, why am I so upset about it? There is a glorious time to come, in which I will praise God. So I can get through this, not on my own strength, but on the strength of God’s light, His truth, His promises, His love.