If we are Christians then we will know fine well what means for us to feel far from the presence of God, to feel that our souls are not at ease and that something is wrong, we can be comforted in knowing that this is nothing new to the people of God. In fact, throughout the Scriptures, and particularly in the Psalms, we see the people of God expressing these feelings to God in prayer.
In order to see this clearly we can look at Psalm 42, in this Psalm we can clearly see a man that is under extreme stress, he is exhausted, he is crying out to God, he is under attack from those around him, he is being mocked and derided, he feels utterly abandoned.
What we have here is a man with a sick soul, a soul that is unwell and is in desperate need of care, his soul is not perishing, he obviously knows God and in fact worships him as his Rock.
This is not the cries of the pained unsaved and dying soul, it is the cries of a soul that is in need of restoration and healing. This feeling of a sick soul is something that we have all experienced, in one way or another we have all had to echo the Psalmists question to his soul:
“Why are you disquieted within me ? OR EVEN “Why are you in turmoil within me ?”
We all know just how desperate we can feel at these times, times when God feels so far and when times of blessing and joyful serving seem far gone in the past.
The Psalm does not address why the Psalmist is undergoing these trials, as we know ourselves, sometimes it can be a trial from God and other time it can be a chastisement from our loving father.
This Psalm sums up all these feelings and situations for us , it shows us plainly the symptoms of a sick soul :
1. The sick soul is a thirsty one (v.1 + 2)
We know that God breathed life into us and from that he gave us our soul, the further we are from God the more our soul longs to be satisfied, we see that and we know that from our own experience , before we were saved our souls were distant from God , they were thirsting and we tried so hard to fill them with something, anything to stop and abate the thirst that was in us. It is different for the Christian, our souls can never really run empty because we are fed from the one who gives eternal drink, Christ who promised the woman of Samaria “ if you drink form this water you will never thirst again”.
So how can we then say the Christian is thirsty ? The Christians soul will never run empty, but it will feel as though it is dry – as we have it in Psalm 63:1 :
“O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water”
God will never go back on his promises , the living water never leaves the soul of the saved one , it cannot – but God will remove our sense of its filling, the Puritans called this ‘God’s Desertions’, those moments when your soul feels dry, it feels as if it is lifeless and has lost all of its vitality.
The Psalmist uses the illustration of the deer looking for a a river to drink from, we must always remember nothing from God’s word is accidental, the deer is not jut looking for a drink of water, even for a drink of water from a pool, but the deer is looking for a drink of water from a flowing stream, most translations use the word flowing instead of just water brooks – Christ promises a spring of eternal water , and just like a deer is searching for this flowing water, the soul that is sick looks again for this stream it used to know and drink from regularly.
Although we may not be looking deeply at the cause of the symptoms it might be good to note that a well that is not often used will soon become clogged and almost unusable, the water is still there but the well soon becomes stagnant.
2. It is a longing soul (v.4+6)
In verse 4 we see a heart wrenching phrase from the Psalmist:
“When I remember these things, I pour out my soul in me”
The is the pain of the Psalmist as he laments where he used to be and the roles he had performed with joy,with a voice of praise, they are now just a memory to him.
It does not necessary mean that he does not still preform these same roles , but it does mean that they are no longer done with a voice of praise and joy – it done out of plain duty, done to keep up appearances – the desire to serve God has gone.
When our souls are sick we do not necessarily fall away from Church, from the prayer meetings or from our duties in the Church, but we no longer do these things to praise God, but instead just to put on a good face, to show people we are doing okay – even though the truth may be quite the opposite.
The sick soul will also often think back to times of past blessing, there is of course nothing wrong with doing this – it is a joy to see how God has dealt with us , but the sick soul does this because it can find no current pleasure in God.
In verse 6 we find the Psalmist writing :
“O my God, my soul is cast down within me;
Therefore I will remember You from the land of the Jordan,
And from the heights of Hermon,
From the Hill Mizar.”
The Psalmist looks back to three occurrences where God dealt with the people of Israel:
1. The land of Jordan, the promised land which God gave to his people.
2. The heights of Hermon, where Israel defeated many of their enemies, as we have it in Joshua 12:1-2:
“”Now these are the kings of the land, which the children of Israel smote, and possessed their land on the other side Jordan toward the rising of the sun, from the river Arnon unto Mount Hermon.””
3. Lastly the Psalmist mentions the hill of Mizar, there is debate about where this hill his – most commentators believe that it s a smaller hill from which you can clearly see mount Sinai, where God Met with Moses, and where the law was delivered.
3. It is a soul that has shrunk away, it feels utterly overwhelmed. (v.7)
The psalmist is drowning, he describes his soul to be attacked by the very waterfalls of God, it is interesting here that the word waterfall can also be used for the word ‘waterspout’ – a waterspout is like a tornado that occurs at sea, the water is lifted up and spirals round, as the wind picks up the water spout only grows more and more until it collapses with a roar. These were and are still common along the Mediterranean sea.
The psalmist proclaims that deep calls unto deep, the sky is thundering as the sea is roaring , there are great columns of water, he is using this image to show us the state of his soul, it is overwhelmed, and he is in fear.
He declares that the waves of God have broken over him.
This feeling of an overwhelmed soul may be very familiar to us, we may know what it is to have it feel as though even nature itself is against us, that the waves of God have indeed broken over us.
In all this we must read carefully what the text says, it does not just say THE waves and billows have gone over me, it say’s YOUR waves and billows. God is still in control and he will never inflict this type of struggle on his children for no good reason, God is still in control, full control.
4. It is a soul that still sings and gives praise to God (v. 8)
Like we said , the sick soul is not a dying soul, it is regenerate, it has been cleansed, it is not dead. And because of that it will and must still praise God.
We see an odd phrase from the Psalmist, he says that:
“God will command his loving kindness in the daytime”
with all the turmoil that the Psalmist is going through, it may seem odd that he says that he is in the midst of God’s loving kindness . The Psalmist can only say this because he knows that God is still God, regardless of what he may be experiencing.
Now the Psalmist himself knew whether this was a visitation of God’s chastisement or a time of testing, either way he knows it is from God and therefore it can be endured.
Surgeon points out that God never leaves his beloved, he is is his “loving kindness in daytime and his song at night”. In all his trails the Psalmist can still say that God is “The God of his life”.
5. It is a soul that is attacked (v.9 + 10)
Lastly we can say that the sick soul is a soul that is more easily attacked, the attackers will never prevail but they can and will do damage.
The Psalmist likens the attacks to the breaking of bones (v.10), with the enemy continually asking “where is your God ?”
Is this not a question that we know well, when we are at our lowest ebb does this question not creep into our mind ?
“Where is our God ? Does he not care ? Has he taken you this far to just leave you here ?” e.t.c.
It is a thought planted by the enemy and it is one of his best attacks. It makes us question God’s care for us, his love for us and his control over the situation that we are in.
It would be a very dire message if that was the end of it, if the Psalm only described the symptoms but gave no cure.
But we do OF COURSE have the cure provided to us !
In God’s wonderful workings, as the palmist poured out his heart on the page he was led by the Spirit to twice include the cure for his sick soul, whilst he is crying out for help he is already writing down the answer that God gives him.
Verses 5 and 11 reveal the simple cure to us:
HOPE IN GOD
Although his trials were many and he was going through a time of extreme testing, he knew that his only hope was still God, like we said before he still praised God, he still knew that God would look after him.
He looks to the future, “for I shall yet praise him”.
Whom else will he praise even though the current situation is not good , he looks forward to the future where he knows he will again be able to praise God with a heart full of Joy.
He will not do this by his own efforts, only God can heal the soul, and only God can reveal his presence again to the one who feels far from him.
Because God himself is the very definition of truth, he keep his promises, and he promises to never abandon his children. We may go through great trials and testings, our souls may be in great turmoil , but we can know that God will help us. Then we can conclude as the Psalmist concluded:
“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 and my God.“