Black dog meets the Light of the World
why so downcast
Psalms 42, 43
Down in the dumps
In “the Message” Eugene Peterson translates the refrain of Psalms 42 and 43 as:
Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul?
Why are you crying the blues?
Fix my eyes on God—
soon I’ll be praising again.
He puts a smile on my face.
He’s my God.
what is a dump but a place where we dump what we no longer want, or want to remember or have in our lives anymore. It’s the place of decaying and broken things, of rotting memories, of carrion picking over the remains of living on this earth. While we wouldn’t choose to live in a real dump, those encountering depression as a reality often find themselves dragged down to the dumps of emotional hell. In fact it’s interesting that one of the Jewish words for Hell is also the name of a famous, ever-burning rubbish dump outside the walls of Jerusalem: the fetid fires that are never extinguished. A place of thirst, of longing for relief, for a sight of hope, of meaning. This emotional rubbish dump is also a place where there is only a polluted and disappointing past and a seemingly empty future. Is there any relief for one so entrapped and oppressed?
Hanging out for refreshment. As the deer longs for flowing streams In the desert environment a deer can be calling out it’s frustration at the disappointment of its thirst. There is a God-designed thirst in each of us for the life that only the living God can provide which can be very demanding and incorrectly perceived and addressed leading to addictions and self-destructive behaviour. As Jesus says in Matthew 6.33 seek first the Kingdom of God; and then things will get put in their right priorities. Tears have been my food Another great expression of the dynamic of depression…pain and grief that one’s vitality seems to have evaporated and that this primal thirst is the only reality anymore. The trouble is that some of us try to answer our thirst with things and relationships that only intensify our loss – where on earth can we turn?
When shall I come and behold the face of God in his heart of hearts the poet knows what he needs, it is a restoration of his intimate and thirst- slaking relationship with God. What is the way back, seems to be his question. Where is your God? And then both the well-intentioned and the malevolent just make the ache worse by questioning our faith or at least our place in our faith. Possibly the loudest challenge comes from the voice within us. The public symptoms of my depression seem to have become an occasion for abuse.
…I remember…how I went with the throng…with glad shouts and songs of thanks… while we might expect this memory to be an anchor for hope it also taunts with the suggestion of how far one has fallen from where one was. There is always in the soul thirst a deep sense of longing for what was or might have been.
Then comes the refrain which I will deal with as a conclusion, as it is the vessel of faith that reassures and provides hope.
Deep calls to deep…your billows have gone over me. Picture a pool at the foot of a waterfall…deeply disturbed, boiling with the energy of all the water that has crashed over the abyss that forms the fall. The poet is thinking of the source waters of the Jordan, chaotic and disturbed…that’s how his soul feels as he tries to depict it in relationship with God. Overwhelmed, helpless, at the mercy of another. And yet the calm comes as...the Lord commands his steadfast love. Even in the midst of turmoil, the poet is, almost perversely, assured of the love of His seemingly absent God.
Why must I walk about mournfully because the enemy oppresses me? Why must it be that trouble decides who I am and how I appear to others? All it does is invite that taunt where is your God…and intensify the sense of desertion. The taunting is working like a deadly disease, robbing the poet of vitality and freedom.
…defend my cause against an ungodly people…it is clear that those who are using his suffering to taunt him are not working as people who know or respect God, they are working contrary to His purpose to save and heal.
You are the God in whom I take refuge is a desperate confession of faith in the God who seems to have gone missing, who is withholding the sort after refreshment. O send out your light and your truth maybe at last the supplicant is ready to look for and listen to God in his extreme suffering. At some point we realise that only hope is in the light and the truth that is the healing and enlightening presence of the eternal Saviour. It is the same God who seems distant who will lead us to the place of healing reassurance to rest and revive and then return with hearts filled with praise and honour for the One who hears and delivers.
Why are you cast down, O my soul I love the Message version; why so down in the dumps. It is like asking myself, “what are you doing here of all places?!” Strangely the answer comes from within; Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my help and my God. It is as if the presence that was always there at last speaks up and does so to encourage a renewed burst of faith and rejoicing in the Lord who is faithful even in the darkest and most tumultuous of times. God alone is my hope of deliverance, rescue and healing; God alone will bring back where I belong and where I thrive; worshipping and celebrating the God of grace among His people.
What? To me a part of the message of this psalm, as well as encouraging the grieving that there is light behind the dark clouds, is to enjoin the rest of us to love and encourage our struggling friends to believe that God is there for them no matter how deserted they feel. This is not a license to abuse them for seemingly not trusting God, but to love and care for them.
But it is also to give some theological depth to that very important phrase that comforts many in the turmoil of depression, “This to will pass!” It will because the Lord has every interest in setting you free and bringing you to the freedom for which He both created and saved you.
Black dog meets the Light of the World