Today, I find myself drawn back to a psalm that has meant so much to me over the years. We tend to do that with the psalms, don’t we? Because they cover the full spectrum of human emotion and experience, we are able to navigate through and around them as our hearts, circumstances, and temperament direct us. Psalm 42 has become, for me, a place of refuge. Not because it’s particularly joyful or uplifting. It isn’t. Psalm 42, as well as 43, is a song of despair and depression meant for our instruction. Interestingly, it doesn’t teach us how to get out of depression, but rather, it teaches us how to respond while in it.
So, what is in this psalm of despair that I find encouraging? Very much, actually, but more than anything else, there’s a twice repeated phrase in 42 and again in 43 that provides, not so much an cure for despair, but a path to endure it.
“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation,” (Psalm 42:5, ESV).
This small phrase in the last half of verses 5 and 11 give us an answer to our desperate state in which we can so often find ourselves. Our depression can either be the result of known circumstances and trials; or it can be, as for this psalmist, of some hidden cause or reason. Within this phrase, we have a three-fold response to our down-trodden condition–and a response to it is better than a reason for it.
Hope in God
Our Creator made us for the purpose of glorifying and enjoying Him. He made us, by His own pleasure, to be drawn into the joy of His presence; and outside of His presence is where true despair resides. The Lord God must have exclusive claim on our hope. Our hope, is that we will again know the joy of His presence.
There are times in a believer’s life when God “feels” far off and unreachable. In those times, if we are honest, we find that it is not God who has moved away from us, but rather, we have moved away from Him.
…again praise Him
Regarding the phrase, “…I shall again praise Him,” I’ve heard it said that the psalmist is saying something to the effect of, “I cannot praise you now, but I know someday I will.” I know this has been expressed by men of much higher exegetical abilities and training than I, but I don’t think that is what the psalmist is expressing, nor do I think it’s what should be our takeaway from this most important phrase.
First, the Hebrew word for again can also be translated yet or still. Even in English again could easily be interpreted to mean now as in the past. This takes the verse from being something to look forward to in the future, to being an answer for the present.
Perhaps the most obvious indication that he is not referring to some future ability to praise God, is the praise that he offers within the psalm itself. In verse 2, he calls God “the living God”; in verse 5 he refers to His acts of salvation; he calls Him “the God of my Life,” and “God, my Rock.” Clearly, in the midst of his despair, the writer continues to offer praise to his Lord and Creator, just as we should.
His presence–my salvation
Translations may vary, and one can appreciate the fact that interpreting an ancient text can be a daunting task. That being said, it seems abundantly clear that the end of verse 5 and the end of verse 11 tells us that the key to enduring the despair of life in this fallen world is the saving presence of Almighty God. The nearness of God is my salvation in times of personal darkness and depression.
Psalm 42 teaches us how to respond to the inevitable times of spiritual depression when God feels far away. So much of life is out of our control and it is not unusual for life’s circumstances to seem too heavy to bear. We don’t choose despair, but we must choose to hope in God. We must choose to praise Him. Psalm 42 teaches us, more than anything else, that God is worthy to be praised–no matter what.