Summary: The psalmist was downcast in spirit and gave voice to Dejection but after an outpouring of grief it gave way to Reflection on God’s gracious provision, which led him to Restoration in hope in God.
ENTERING THE DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL - AND ITS EXIT
Do you ever feel "in the dumps?" This happens when the "feel good factor" has worn thin. There could be any number of causes that bring this on. "If people don’t feel good, they’re discouraged and discontented. Yes, feelings are important. If we’re a bit off colour; if we’re facing a head wind in the daily routine of life’s journey, there’s a great temptation to succumb to "feeling down".
I must tell you that "there’s nothing new under the sun". Certainly, the psalmist David has been there before us. In Psalms 42 and 43, which are really one poem in three verses with a refrain repeated three times, we have a vivid portrayal of someone who’s feeling downcast. Even the saints of church history have known what they would describe as the "dark night of the soul". Lesser mortals like you and me would say "we’re in the dumps" or "we’re pretty fed up with our lot"!
I wonder if you ever talk to yourself? It’s said that to do so is the first sign of madness; and the second sign is when you begin to answer! I don’t think that’s true. It can be a very sensible thing to do. To speak to yourself can be very therapeutic because you’ve begun the process of identifying the problem and can then go on to find help in solving it. First find the cause and you’re on the way to getting its cure.
That is what David did in this poem. "Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?" The words occur three times. It’s quite likely that he wrote them at the time when he was an outcast, being hunted down by King Saul. Our own circumstances are different but I’m sure we’ve all known at some time or the other what it is to struggle with disappointment. We’ve found ourselves in what John Bunyan described in Pilgrim’s Progress as "the slough of despond". We’ve had to face that grim antagonist, "Giant Despair".
How does it feel to be discouraged? It’s sometimes difficult to put it exactly into words, but we’re out of sorts with the world, in fact "cast down" like the psalmist. Let’s see if we can benefit from his experience by stepping into his shoes and learning what he felt like, how he reacted and the remedy he found. In the first place we learn of his:
DEJECTION IN BEING THOROUGHLY DOWNCAST
David gives vent to his feelings by drawing three pictures of himself: "I’m parched" (42:1-3); "I’m overwhelmed" (6-7, 9-10) and "I’m misjudged" (43:1-2).
"I’m parched" he cried. In Britain, we generally take rain for granted unless there’s a drought, and then we complain. But usually rain is bad news. In Palestine the reverse is true - they get too much sun! From May to September it beats down ceaselessly and bakes the land. There’s no rain and the rivers dry up; the wild animals are often in considerable distress. The psalmist draws the picture of the deer panting for water. That’s how David felt in relation to his God, "As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God" ( 42:1-2).
David longed for fellowship with his God, but there was a problem. He was very conscious of his vulnerable position as a fugitive from King Saul. It would have been dangerous for him to go to the holy meeting place in Jerusalem, what he calls "the house of God". He remembers with gratitude the times, he says, "how I used to go with the multitude leading the procession ... with shouts of joy and thanksgiving" (4).
Life at one time had been so full and satisfying, but now all had changed. He felt deprived of what once had been the joy of his heart. But now it wouldn’t be safe for him to there and he’s sad and downcast. Life can play vicious tricks: one moment all appears to be well, as the saying goes, "God’s in his heaven and all’s well in the world", but suddenly fortunes change. An illness, an accident, a lost job and it seems that the bottom has fallen out of life. David had that kind of experience in his banishment from the royal court, and so he cries to God. And yet the fact that he’s speaking to God even as he makes his lament confirms that God is there with him in his distress - in the drought of his spirit.
One of images which remains with me is the sight of the Nile valley seen from 35,000 feet up when returning from the Middle East. There was a green fertile strip on both sides of the river and then nothing but sand - and that’s where David felt he was. When I was preparing this message television was showing The Open (golf championship) at St Andrew’s, Scotland. Some contestants had the misfortune of playing the ball into the rough or a bunker. That’s where David felt he was - and, perhaps, us too. And yet God is there.