I say to God, my rock:
‘Why have you forgotten me?
Why do I go mourning
because of the oppression of the enemy?’
As with a deadly wound in my bones,
my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me all the day long,
‘Where is your God?’
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 (Psalm 42:9-11)
At the end of the semester, I often hit a rough patch. I don’t know if most grad students experience this, but I do most of the time. Perhaps it’s the letdown of the glorious summer that turns out to be more normal life. Perhaps it’s the missed-step feeling the comes from finding too much of my identity in my work and then not having any work to do. I’m not sure exactly where it comes from, but I was happy to read this Psalm this morning.
Whenever I read this Psalm, I’m reminded of a sermon I heard from Paul David Tripp at Crossroads. I appreciate, first, that he was honest, like the psalm is honest, that even Christians go through rough patches. Even Christians go through seasons when we are troubled–anxious or sad or angry or blasé–Tripp takes up a phrase from St. John of the Cross, calling these times “the dark night of the soul.”
Second, I am grateful for Tripp talking about this refrain that runs through Psalms 42 and 43, where the psalmist talks to his own soul: “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.” We often take our feelings for granted; we see them as controlling us, like in the movie Inside Out. What’s to say that “we” (that is, our thinking, our actions, our decisions) can’t also influence our feelings? What’s to say that we can’t speak theology to our souls that will soothe our troubled hearts? Nothing. In fact, the psalmist does this, and so can we. It’s not an instant solution, but it helps, and it honors God.
One of the most important things to do in those moments of darkness is to remember the things that you’ve learned in the light. It is very easy, when darkness comes, to think that somehow God has changed, somehow His promises have changed, somehow God has moved. If on a bright and sunny day, you walk down into your basement where there is no light, and you’re surrounded by darkness, the reality that you left is still reality, the sun still shines. You just happen to be in a place of darkness. It would be wrong to panic and say, “The light is gone, the light is gone!” The light still shines (Paul Tripp, “Day and Night”).
Over the past few years, I’ve often been comforted by Brian Eicrhelberger’s musical meditation on this psalm, “Satisfied in You.” You can listen to the song and download a chord chart here.