Psalm 42: Talk To Yourself

As the deer pants for streams of water,
    so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
    When can I go and meet with God?
My tears have been my food
    day and night,
while people say to me all day long,
    ‘Where is your God?’
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[d]
with shouts of joy and praise
    among the festive throng.

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Saviour and my God.

My soul is downcast within me;
    therefore I will remember you
from the land of the Jordan,
    the heights of Hermon – from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep
    in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
    have swept over me.

By day the Lord directs his love,
    at night his song is with me –
    a prayer to the God of my life.

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 Saviour and my God.

– Psalm 42

Talking to yourself is the first sign of madness – or so it has been said. In fact, it’s nothing of the sort. All of us carry out a powerful internal dialogue, and that is what is happening here.

The Psalmist is far from where he wants to be. Where he wants to be is in the holy city, Jerusalem, where God dwelt with his people. The Psalmist is full of sorrow (v. 3) as he looks back to happier days when he worshipped with the festive crowds at the Temple (v. 4), but those days are past.

For whatever reason the Psalmist is ‘up north’ where the waters of the Jordan River tumble across boulders and over falls, not far from their source near magnificent snow-capped Mount Hermon (v. 6).

The pain of his physical dislocation is magnified by the attitude of those who are around him, who taunt him asking, ‘Where is your God?’ (v. 3). This pain might be made worse because as their words echo inside his head maybe he also begins to ask that question himself.  There is a sense of both physical and spiritual exile, of longing, of homesickness, expressed powerfully in the opening image of the deer desperate for water in time of drought.

The poet doesn’t cover up his feelings but gives voice to them. When it comes to feelings we can swing from one extreme to the other, either being completely obsessed with our emotions or ignoring them entirely. Neither approach is healthy.

The feelings of sadness and depression here are not denied but neither are they allowed to swamp the poet like the breakers he mentioned earlier (v. 7). There’s not one person reading this who will not and has not suffered some unhappiness in their life, who doesn’t know what it feels like to be depressed, to feel the waves of sadness breaking over our heads. When we’re down it is a good idea to talk to ourselves, to realistically acknowledge how we’re feeling, to ask what might be the cause of our unhappiness but most of all to take those feelings of sadness to the Lord rather than just relying on our own inadequate resources.