~ Why Are You Downcast, O My Soul ~
Psalms 42 and 43, originally one psalm, begins Book 2 of the Psalter (Psalms 42-72). In Book 1, God is addressed with the tittle “Elohim” in Hebrew. Book 2 switches to the sacred name of “the Lord of my salvation” or Yahweh. Psalm 42 is the first of a series (42-49) attributed to a choir, appointed by King David, of Levitical priests descended from Korah, “The Sons of Korah.”
“As the deer pants for
streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, O God” (Psalm 42:1, NIV).
I love the images and reality of forests and streams surrounding me. But when I close my eyes and pray this verse slowly, through the eyes of a thirsty, panting deer, the idyllic beauty of stream and forest dissipates into the palpable sense of death. Such panting is not mere desire for refreshment. It arises out of the depths of mortality and imagining what separation from my Lord, Yahweh, would feel like. The panting of my soul is for love and life, without which the panting would grow into the heaves of the dying.
“My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?” (42:2).
Loneliness and despair prepares the soul for a living relationship with a dynamic God. I ponder a tiny, barren tree, looking like a dead, forked stick, half-buried in wind blown snow. It dreams of meeting the springtime, when it can push new shoots from the tips of its branches and unfurl fresh leaves to soak in life-giving sunlight. “I go and meet with God” is always an anticipation of transformation.
“My tears have been my
food, day and night,
while men say to me all day long,
‘Where is your God?’” (42:3).
My tears are the panting of my eyes, pants of love and yearning streaming out of my soul. The question, “Where is your God?” hurts deeply, especially when asked by those who claim to know the answer and follow Him. “Don’t you see where He is?” I ask, pointing to my tears. Don’t try to relieve me of my tears and panting soul. They belong to God. They are my food.
“These things I remember
as I pour out my soul:
How I used to go with the multitude,
leading the procession to the house of God,
with shouts of joy and thangsgiving,
among the festive throng” (42:4).
The multitude doesn’t shout with joy and thanksgiving much anymore. Too often they only murmur, proceeding in the silence of obligation or desire to look pious to others. If they do shout, it often is not from holy joy, but to impress others with the appearance of holiness. Then they look at others like me, pointing to our tears, remarking in self-righteous pity, “Where is your God?” I point and sometimes they look, but don’t see. They just keep shouting, making sure others look at them. God remains unseen. Few notice where He is.
“Why are you downcast,
O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?” (42:5)
“Good people always find enough reason to have sorrow and to weep; for whether they look at themselves or think about their neighbor, they realize that no one lives in this world free from affliction; and the more thoroughly they look into their own hearts, the deeper will be their sorrow” (Thomas a Kempis, Imitation of Christ, circa 1400).
Why so many zillions of stars in zillions of galaxies? Why such immeasurably diverse life forms? Why such infinitely profound depth of divine love? Why me? Many “why?” questions are not meant for answers, but just to be experienced.
“Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.
“My soul is downcast within me;
therefore I will remember you” (42:5b-6a).
“Be silent and endure for a while and you will experience the help of God in your need. No doubt about it, for God knows when and how to deliver you. So put yourself in His care. It is up to God to help and deliver from all dilemma. However, we should realize that often it is good for others to know our defects and call us to order for them, for it keeps us humble…If you wish to reach the height of perfection, never think of yourself as being virtuous until you know sincerely in your heart that you are the least of all…
“Those who love Jesus and the truth, who lead an interior life free from unruly affections, can turn to God at will, lift themselves up in spirit and repose in Christ with joy” (Kempis, c.1400).
As apostle James alluded to in his letter, people with vibrant faith won’t walk past a cold and hungry person and cheerily greet him with “God bless you! May all be well with you!” A person of faith will not strut through huddled, suffering, impoverished people on Christmas Eve singing, “God rest ye merry gentlemen, let nothing you dismay”!
When I am in such hovels of despair and pain, my soul is downcast, and “therefore I will remember you,” my God. When I am alone, or with others who are truly in procession “with shouts of joy and thanksgiving,” I rest in the joy of Christ, and “therefore I will remember you,” my God. The result of faithful living in our exile on earth is not continuous joy, but continuous remembrance.
Throughout Psalms 42 and 43 of the Sons of Korah, and at their conclusions, the exclamation is, with my soul downcast or cast up… “I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”
John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
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Weekly Reflections © March 15, 2003
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