Scripture: Psalm 42
Key verse: (1) “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.”
Reflection: Seeing Psalm 42 in today’s lectionary I immediately thought of the song, “As the Deer.” It’s a beautiful praise chorus that was part of contemporary Christian music back when my generation was contemporary (1984). It’s based on the first verse of Psalm 42. I sang it at Montreat at Youth Conferences, and in seminary when chapel had a more contemporary flavor. I love it. But when I read the whole psalm I was reminded it’s really nothing like the song. Psalm 42 is a lament. It is filled with pathos and sadness. Verse 3, for example: “My tears have been my food day and night, while people say continually, ‘Where is your God?’” That didn’t make it into, “As the Deer.” Or verse 9: “I say to God, my rock, ‘Why have you forgotten me? Why must I walk about mournfully because the enemy oppresses me?’” That didn’t make the contemporary song either.
Truth be told, the Psalms of Lament don’t make it into the liturgy of the church either. They are not among people’s favorites. They are sad. They are depressing. Yet they are about a third of the 150 Psalms in Scripture. (See Psalm 22, 43, 77, and 88 for more examples.) If the Psalms represent the hymnal of the Jewish people, then they are not afraid to include these sad songs in their liturgy. The Hebrews are honest about the sadness that inevitably is part of life. They do not edit it out of their hymnal.
Neither should we. Sadness is part of life, and so it is part of faith. Too often faith seems to demand a “happy face.” By God’s grace, life can be filled with joy and thanksgiving and praise. One-third of the psalms reflect this reality. But life can also be hard, and so our faith can reflect this reality. Every Sunday I see a spectrum of emotion on the faces of worshippers. Some seem happy, some content, some angry, and some painfully sad. Psalm 42, along with the other 49 Psalms of Lament in Scripture, make a place for sadness and despair in the life of faith. Without them, our faith is not complete.
Almost every psalm of lament has within it a strain of hope. It’s usually born of a remembrance, thinking back on a time when God’s presence was readily felt, when times were happier and more hopeful. We see that in verse 4 of Psalm 42. Remembrance of God’s presence in the past, brings hope for a better future, which sustains us in the present. “Hope in God,” sings the Psalmist, “for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.”
If you are in a good place today, praise God. Disregard this devotion and pray Psalm 100! However, if you’re in a sad place today, a place that feels even God-forsaken, pray Psalm 42…or 22, or 43 or 77. If that place is too dark even to remember God’s presence in your yesterdays, then pray Psalm 88. God can take it. In the end, even the deepest lament is an act of faith, for at its heart it is still a cry to God.
Prayer: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God. Amen.”
Author: Joe Clifford
[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].