Escape Despair Now
Escape Despair Now! (Psalms 42-43)
The old spiritual says, "Sometimes I'm up, Sometimes I'm down, standin' in the need of prayer." In these psalms the psalmist expresses three times that he is "down." If you have never been down, you do not share the experience of Moses, David, Jeremiah, Jonah, Paul—even Jesus. Psalms 42–43 are one unit of experience. The writer is down because he is far away from the place where he meets God and faces the taunts of unbelievers who chant that God has abandoned him. The whole is filled with the tension of despair fighting with faith.
The psalmist finds a way out of despair. He calls on past memories of God's faithfulness, present gleams of God's presence, and expects the future active intervention of God. You can escape despair now.
Escape Begins When You Remember Past Encounters with God
You may indeed experience present depression. The psalmist is depressed because of both inward and outward circumstances. Inwardly, he is thirsty for God. He is away from the place where he meets God and cannot go back. He may have been exiled or simply sick and could not go to the temple. His thirst reminds him of the hind that languishes by a dry river course, expecting but not finding living water. He thirst for nothing less than absolute reality of God as He really is. He is down because he cannot find the place to meet God.
Outwardly, he is depressed because unbelievers taunt him, "Where is your God?" (42:3) His inward emptiness is worsened by the jeers of the unbelieving world outside of him. Although he thirsts for God, his tears are all that he tastes. Are you down because God seems distant and the unbelieving world does not understand or sympathize with you?
A believer can remember past celebration. Do you not remember when God was present and life was a joy? The psalmist remembered earlier days when he went three times a year with the dense crowd of pilgrims to the worship festivals in Jerusalem. These were times of ceaseless joy and elation. Suddenly, he remembers that in the past God had been real and present. This abates his despair. Can you not remember times when God was so near that nothing was closer? These can sustain you when He seems far and others do not understand.
Escape Continues When You Experience the Present Faithfulness of God
Once again, the psalmist turns to present tribulation. That tribulation is expressed in terms of distance and difficulty. You may feel distant from all that is nurturing and sustaining. The writer is far away from church, home, family, and friends. He is somewhere in the far north of the Holy Land where the Jordan has its sources near Mount Hermon. He acutely feels this alienation. When we are alone we are often down. Added to that he feels deeply his difficulties. He was in an area where cataracts and waterfalls sounded on both sides of a deep valley. These roaring waters only reminded him of the difficulties that seemed to swallow him (v. 7). The roar of waters without him reminded him of the difficulties within him. Isn't despair just like that? Whatever you see when you are down reminds you that you are down.
Yet you can experience present elation. In the midst of it all, there are glimpses of God's loyal love throughout the day. After such days the psalmist spends the night thankful for God's loyal love. Your present experience with God is not all despair. If you will reflect, there are tokens of God's faithfulness all around. These present gleams of glory in the midst of gloom should help you out of despair.
Escape Arrives When You Expect God's Future Intervention
Memory of past encounters and looking at present mercies are not enough to escape despair. Both of these activities only turn you in on yourself. Real escape comes when you turn out in active seeking of God's intervention.
The whole mood changes when the psalmist says, "Vindicate, . . . rescue. . . . send forth your light and your truth" (43:1, 3). As he begins speaking to God rather than to himself, the whole outlook changes. He had been talking about God behind God's back. Now he turns in positive petition to God. He calls for God's active intervention. Everything begins to change. He promises to go to God's altar and expects joy and delight when he arrives there (v. 4). What made the difference? He stopped talking to himself and began talking to God. Further, he expected that God was already in the process of lifting him up and out.
If you are down today, tell God. Stop talking to your own soul and look beyond yourself to His active intervention. Recover the active expectation that God indeed will act for you. Then you will no longer have to thirst for God. You will discover the truth of Jesus, "Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him" (John 7:38). You can drink from a source that the psalmist could not even imagine. Drink from that living water now and escape despair.