Psalm 42:1–11 As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. 2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? 3 My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” 4 These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng. 5 Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. 6 My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you from the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar. 7 Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.8 By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me— a prayer to the God of my life. 9 I say to God my Rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?” 10 My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, “Where is your God?” 11 Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.
If you take Oprah’s Lifeclass, you’ll hear about it there. People say it will be your Aha! moment in the class. If you read that copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People you’ll read about it there too. It will be the theme of the book. If you pick up that copy of The Secret that your grandma bought you and 18 million other people bought too, you’ll better understand this supposed truth. That’s what one historian said this week in a post that went viral. You know what she was talking about? She was talking about a movement that has its roots way back in the late 1800’s called the New Thought movement. The movement said if you have positive thoughts you will have positive circumstances and if you have negative thoughts you will have negative ones. That movement was so captivating that some preachers in America even tried to Christianize the idea. A guy by the name of Pastor Kenyon was its founding preacher. He taught his congregation a mental mantra that he promised would make them all rich and perfectly healthy. He told them, “Say to yourself, “God’s health is mine. His success is mine. I am a winner. I am a conqueror.”
And in a way those ideas make an awful lot of sense to us as Christians. God is good. He wants what’s best for us and, therefore, if things aren’t going well for us, then it must be because God wants us thinking differently about our lives and about him. Because, like we said before, God is good and Jesus died so that we would live with abundant wealth and health. That’s how the thinking goes. That kind of thinking is awfully captivating. It’s nice to think that God’s world is kind of like the coke machine in the corner. That if we just put the right things into it that it’ll spit out exactly what it should. That refreshing coke called the good life. Until we find out that that’s not quite how it works. Until people with great attitudes get cancer. And the most positive Christian you know gets into a car accident. And the most faithful prayer warrior you can think of loses her daughter. And even when you go to church and you pray the right prayers and you do your utmost to think the right Christian thoughts you lose your pension. It’s nice to think God’s world is exactly like a coke machine. Until you start living life and you realize that’s not how it works.
That’s this psalm’s quandary. That no matter how faithful you are God; or how positive your thinking; or how right your faith is that there will be deep pains in your life. Psalm 42 is about the quandary that even the Christian’s life on earth is one with many struggles. Jesus himself pointed out how troublesome this was especially for new Christians. He said they often fall away when life starts hurting. They think, “I’m a Christian now and I still hurt? I’m a Christian now and this still happens? I’m a Christian now and my new faith is rewarded like this?” I’m not sure the questions ever perfectly go away either just because we’ve been Christians longer and we’re more mature in our faith. Sometimes I think it can get even tougher for mature Christians because thoughts come like, “Why is this pain still here a decade later? What is there still to learn from it?” Or, “Shouldn’t there be a time when I outgrow trials? Shouldn’t there be a time when they stop because God finally has me where he wants me spiritually?” Or, “God, can you just let me rest for a minute? I’m pretty beat up. I’m so used to things going wrong that I’m constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop in life even when I’m feeling pretty good.”
That’s the person that shows up in this psalm – a person with a crazy amount of pain. He’s totally down. His face has the creases of devastating depression. His eyes have lost all their sparkle. His way of doing life is totally listless. This guy’s so depressed that he says he’s crying all day and all night. And he’s got this question – this aching question! – that keeps circling his mind and this psalm, “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?” (v. 5) And there that question so thick with over-the-top pain just hangs. Not just in his soul, but also in this psalm. There the question just hangs. There’s no quick therapeutic solution in the psalm. No pat answer. No Zoloft prescription. No pastoral wizarding that makes everything immediately all ok. There the question just hangs in the air. You know why the psalmist does that? Because so much of life is like that. Our hardest questions, our deepest depressions, and our most profound sadnesses hang in our souls without perfect answers. Earlier this week a 35-year-old Christian woman with a wonderful husband and a beautiful 3-year-old wrote an article about dying from cancer. She talked about her neighbor came over and confidently announced to her husband, “There’s got to be a reason.” And her husband very sweetly, but directly said, “And what is it?” And the question just hung there.
We need to understand that. If there’s anything this psalm helps us get, it’s that. We live life as God’s children, but not as God himself. We can influence his decisions and the ways in which he guides our lives through prayer, but we don’t ever make the call. And that leaves us with questions about why he makes the calls he does. Sometimes we catch a glimpse of what he’s up to, but an awful lot of the time we can’t see the plan and we almost never do as its happening. Why that surgery? Why that abuse? Why that temptation? Why this sickness? Why that death? Why this misstep? Why that trashed ministry plan? Why this ruined vision? And why did he spare me emotionally in that moment only to drown me in this one? Or to use the language from the psalm: Why did he let his “waves and breakers” (v. 7) sweep over me like this? Why does he let me “go about mourning,” (v. 9) right now? Why does he let other people see me apparently “forgotten” (v. 9) and then let them bash my God with questions like, “Where is your God?” (v. 10) Do you see the point? In this world very real questions about our lives go unanswered. They just hang in the air.
If you’ve ever had questions like that or pains that deep, then you should know Jesus did too. He knew the truth of what this psalmist was saying about life for God and under God. He knew this psalm’s power. You know how we know that? Jesus used language from this psalm to describe his feelings. You know when he did that? When he felt his most perfect depression. When he was dealing with his most profound sadness. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus grabbed for the words from his Bible that are only found in Psalm 42 to say, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” (Matt. 26:38) Do you see those words I put in italics? That’s just one word in Greek that literally means “above pain.” Jesus was literally saying to his friends, “My soul pain is so fierce right now that if a nurse asked me to rate my pain on a scale of 1-10. I’d give it a 100.” Jesus’ sadness was off the scales. It was so deep and so powerful that it had him pinned down to the point of death. And do you know where Jesus got that word from? He got it from his very own Bible, a translation of Psalm 42.
And this wasn’t Jesus being a drama queen. This was how he really felt. He felt so much anguish that we’re told that his blood pressure freakishly spiked to that point that his pounding heart was forcing sweat tinged with blood to leak out of his pores. That’s how intense this was for Jesus; how real. And why? God was placing all the pain, all the suffering, and every sin onto the soul of his Son. And sin is that bad. It’s what has made a mess of God’s world, our souls and our bodies. It’s what has made all our relationships challenging and our work environments just plain stink sometimes. There in that moment God was laying all of that on Jesus. Think about that. God just couldn’t have us born into this brokenness and this pain with no hope of ever escaping it. God just couldn’t bear the thought of us being headed for that kind of brokenness and pain forever. God just couldn’t and he wouldn’t ever let that happen to us. But he would let it happen to Jesus. And that weighed on Jesus in Gethsemane with a pain so heavy and so intense that it had him quoting Psalm 42 to express what it felt like to him.
Now I need you to understand something. I’m not telling you that so that you say to yourself, “Well, at least, I’m not alone in my suffering. Jesus suffered too.” Because on the same night that Jesus told his closest disciples about his greatest pain, he also told them what to make of it. You know what he said to us just before he headed into Gethsemane? He said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) That was his last statement to us before he walked into the Garden of Gethsemane and quoted Psalm 42. That statement right there. Do you see what that means? Jesus didn’t want us to just understand that he suffers alongside of us. Jesus wanted us to understand that he suffers for us. That in doing so he was overcoming the world and its pain and its questions by giving us peace with God. That in doing so he was making us all winners. And that must mean – that must mean! – that all of our sufferings and all our pains are somehow working toward a victorious and glorious end. They have to be.
Do you see what that means? That means that the only question about your life that finally matters is already unquestionably answered. Everything must be happening because God loves us. Everything must be happening because God’s governing for us. Everything must be playing out because it fits his kingdom plan. Everything must be going this way because he’s got us headed for glory. How the jigsaw all fits together? That I don’t know. Why it all happens just the way it does? No clue. But the one big question? That one that asks: Is this God out to get me or is this God being for me? That question? That one’s been unquestionably answered. Jesus didn’t head to Gethsemane on a whim. Jesus didn’t feel soul crushing to-the-point-of-death pain for nothing. He headed there so that in the greatest pains of our lives we could still say, “God is for me in this too.” He must be. We don’t completely understand why everything happens, but we do know that in all things God must be for us.
That is what we are to remember. That is what we are to hold on to. That is what we are to trust even and especially in the moments when we hurt the most. Did you know that that’s been every Christian’s strategy for millennia dating back all the way to this psalm? Remembering. “I will remember you from the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon - from the Mount of Mizar. Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.” (v. 6–7) Do you see what the Psalmist saying? He’s saying, “I’d rather be anywhere except where I’m at. I want to be in Jerusalem. I want to be in God’s presence. I don’t want to be here in the backwaters of the Jordan. I don’t want to be locked away on the heights of Hermon. Anywhere in life, but here. But here God has me.” And as along as God has him there he says, “I’m going to remember God. Right from here. Right from the place in life I don’t want to me. I’m going to remember his mercy.” Because sometimes in life God has us in a place where it feels like his breakers and his waves are going to take us out. Like life is just one big tidal wave. Like my soul is going to need to be mopped up off the floor. And when we’re there – when we are in the places in life where we don’t want to be, God wants us to remember his mercy in Jesus.
No, this world isn’t a well functioning coke machine that’s constantly spitting out the refreshing coke known as the good life. No, it doesn’t always happen that God’s greatest saints experience only health and wealth while they do life. The truth is that I may very well have the right faith and the proper trust and still get painful results. And that will leave us with some questions, but not with the big question. That’s been unquestionably answered. Take one look at Jesus in Gethsemane and you can see that God is for me. So I’ll remember that. I’ll remember that from my surgical bed. I’ll remember that from my anxiety. I’ll remember that from my not-so-great-job or my difficult relationships. I’ll even remember that when life comes at me like a cyclone. In fact, I’ll remember him especially right from there. From my own personal Hermons. From my own lands of the Jordan. From the emotional and spiritual places where I don’t particularly want to be.
You know what we call that? We call that living with hope. And that’s how we do life. Not always with happiness, but always with hope. Not always grinning, but always trusting. Remembering that Jesus overcame the world for us. And that’s why I’ll have hope. And that’s why I’ll confidently preach to myself and to you the closing words of this psalm as powerfully and as vigorously and as often as I must, “Put your hope in God. I will yet praise him.” (v. 11) I may not have all the answers about my own life or answers for you about yours. But what I need to know I know. He is my Savior and he is my God. And he’s yours too. Amen.