Psalm 43: Realism

Vindicate me, my God,
    and plead my cause
    against an unfaithful nation.
Rescue me from those who are
    deceitful and wicked.
You are God my stronghold.
    Why have you rejected me?
Why must I go about mourning,
    oppressed by the enemy?
Send me your light and your faithful care,
    let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy mountain,
    to the place where you dwell.
Then I will go to the altar of God,
    to God, my joy and my delight.
I will praise you with the lyre,
    O God, my God.

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 43

Psalm 42 and 43 come as a pair. The refrain that ends the first Psalm (42:11) also ends the second (43:5); unlike most of the other Psalms there is no introduction to Psalm 43; and the line about mourning and being oppressed by enemies is repeated in both (42:9, 43:2). There’s a bit of a déjà vu feeling reading Psalm 43, but that fits in with the general mood of both songs – when you’re depressed that’s what happens: you feel you’re stuck in a rut and you feel you can’t get out of it.

In Psalm 42 the poet has expressed his intent to take his pain to God but it is really only in Psalm 43 that he actually gets round to it. In the previous Psalm he wisely acknowledged his feelings and talked to himself, encouraging himself not to be submerged by waves of introspective despair but to look to God who has the power to change his circumstances (vv. 1, 2).

In particular the Psalmist prays that God will send his light and his truth (vv. 3, 4) to lead him back to the place where God dwells so that he can worship again without the heaviness that lies upon his heart. There may well be times in all of our lives when we feel downcast like the Psalmist. We know (and he probably did as well) that the God who says, ‘Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool’ (Isaiah 66:1) cannot be confined to one space of sacred turf (Acts 17:24). Nonetheless we can still feel cut off from God’s presence. Maybe we can’t always join with others in worship, maybe like the Psalmist we actually don’t live where we long to be, maybe there are those who mock us or circumstance in our lives which cause us to feel exiled and downcast.

The fact that much of this Psalm echoes the previous one reminds us that feelings of sadness do not shift easily. Realism doesn’t mean ignoring feelings of depression but it doesn’t mean surrendering to ‘the black dog’ (Churchill’s phrase) either. Realism says we live in a fallen world, we get caught up in that but realism also says that when we are down God is still with us. He is our Rock (42:9), and sometimes the weather of our life is sunny, sometimes there are just howling gales. However bad the storms we can find shelter in him. As Augustus Toplady wrote, he is our ‘Rock of Ages, cleft for me’ – so don’t sink under the breakers, ‘Put your hope in God, and you will yet praise him, your Saviour and your God.’