Halim Suh speaks on Psalm 42:1-11
Series: The Gospel And...
We begin a new series about how the gospel addresses everything. We will look at how the gospel doesn’t just deal with eternal events and our salvation, but also with our everyday lives, events such as depression, sex, money and work.
We won’t be able to look at every topic and issue. However, through the series we set up the framework for how the gospel should be the lens from which we ought to view everything.
What is the Gospel?
If we’re not careful, the gospel can become just another word that is thrown out. A religious word that we use all the time, but has lost any particular meaning. It can become over simplified, where we think telling someone God loves them means we shared the gospel with them. Or if we serve our neighbor, we’ve shared the gospel with them. But is that true?
Telling somebody God loves them is a true and biblical fact. Helping somebody, serving your neighbor, are things that we should do. They are foundations and implications of the. However, they are not explicitly the gospel itself.
The gospel is good news of God. Before the foundations of the world, God made a plan to seek and save the lost. It’s the good news that Jesus lived the perfect life God demanded of us, that we couldn’t do.
It’s the good news that Jesus died the death God demanded from us because of our sin and rebellion against him. Jesus rose from the dead, on the third day, to conquer sin and death once and for all, so everyone who by God’s grace, places their faith in him will get to be with God forever.
That is the gospel.
This gospel not only speaks to eternal destinies, but also to our everyday realities. It addresses everything.
As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. 2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? 3 My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?” 4 These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival 5 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 6 and my God. My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar. 7 Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me. 8 By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life. 9 I say to God, my rock: “Why have you forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” 10 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?” 11 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 (ESV)
The psalm is about a man whose soul is down cast and in turmoil. What does a down cast soul look like?
As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. Psalm 42:1 (ESV)
The metaphor is not a deer that likes drinking water or even is thirsty and looking for water. It’s a metaphor of a deer that is panting, dying of thirst and goes to the familiar water brooks only to find they’ve run dry.
Therefore verse two, “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?” is saying that he’s dying, longing and seeking for God, but can’t find him.
The psalmist has lost something. He’s lost God’s face. He’s lost the intimacy of meeting with Him and the taste, touch and sight of God in his soul. The things that used to stir him and make him glad, feeling safe and secure, no longer resonate.
He hasn’t lost the belief in God. He’s lost the feel of God.
He still believes. So why is it a big deal that he doesn’t feel?
The whole of Christian faith is built upon God’s presence. God looking at you and saying, “I will never leave, nor forsake you.” That is what Jesus was all about. Jesus coming down as Immanuel, God with us.
To the believer, there is nothing more devastating than to seek God’s presence, but feel His absence.
Psalm 42 is a lament psalm, a psalm that expresses grief and despair. God gave us one hundred and fifty psalms. Out of those, He gave us sixty-seven lament psalms. What does that show us?
God knows that in this life we will go through much grief and despair. He wants to prepare us. He doesn’t want to leave us without His word. He wants to equip us for those times.
Possible Causes for Depression
Why do we go through these times?
The psalmist asks, “ Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” Psalm 42:5 (ESV)
• Caused by Sin:
Commonly, when someone is going through something like this its because of sin.
For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. 4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Psalm 32:3-4 (ESV)
David was speaking in concern of his sin. He was saying that his bones were wasting away and groaning all day long. His soul was in turmoil, because of sin in his life.
Not just sin in general, but because of a particular sin he was holding onto and not confessing and repenting from.
It may be that some of us are going through turmoil of the soul because there is some sin in our life that we’re holding onto, keeping in the dark and refusing to confess.
What would be the cure for that? What does David do next?
I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Psalm 32:5 (ESV)
If you’re going through a dark night of the soul, it may be due to a particular sin in your life. The solution then is simple.
You need to confess to God and to the people He has put in your life.
Confess. Repent. Turn away.
Because of the gospel, the good news that Jesus died for your sins, you will experience God’s grace in forgiving you. Therefore your soul will be lifted up.
• Caused in the midst of Obedience:
Some of you are legitimately going through this, but are not holding onto a particular sin.
There is no particular sin listed in Psalm 42. This shows us that depression can happen even without sin in our lives. Sometimes it can happen, not because of our sin, but because of our obedience.
It is quite possible for someone to be thirsty for God, serving Him and seeking His will, yet go through a deep turmoil of the soul. It happened to men like Charles Spurgeon, Martin Luther, and Jonathan Edwards. These were all men who struggled deeply with depression, in the midst of seeking God and being obedient.
Martin Luther led the church through one of the greatest movements, later called the Reformation. Chris Armstrong writes:
“Historian David Steinmes describes the terror with which Luther experienced at these times as a fear that God had turned His back on him once and for all, abandoning him to suffer the pains of hell, feeling alone in the universe. Luther doubted his own faith, his own mission and the goodness of God. Doubts which, because they verged on blasphemy, drove him deeper and deeper into despair. His prayers met a wall of indifferent silence. He experienced heart palpitations, crying spells and profuse sweating. He was convinced that he would die soon and go straight to hell. “For more than a week I was close to the gates of death and hell. I trembled in all my members, Christ was wholly lost. I was shaken by desperation and blasphemy of God.””
In the midst of you seeking God and wanting to do His will, you may be experiencing turmoil. Instead of God rewarding you for your obedience, you may feel like He’s punishing you.
9 I say to God, my rock: “Why have you forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” 10 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?” Psalm 42:9-10 (ESV)
Something has happened that has caused the psalmist to say, “Why have you forgotten me?” It’s even caused his enemies to question where his God was.
Maybe you’re trying to honor God with your obedience, but your wife wants to leave you. Maybe you’re trying to honor God with your studies and future career, but you feel absolutely no direction from Him, floating from one major to the next without any sense of purpose. Maybe you desire to have a godly marriage that honors Him, but singleness seems to have no end. You’re trying to live in obedience, but your soul is in turmoil.
If this is you, know that you’re not alone. Some of the greatest saints the world has ever known went through some of the darkest and deepest struggles of depression. Jesus Himself experienced a dark night of the soul. Not because of sin, but rather due to obedience.
Sometimes God uses depression in our lives, so that we would know Jesus better. So you would know Him by sharing in the sufferings of Jesus.
• Caused by the physical:
3 My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?” Psalm 42:3 (ESV)
Martin Loyd Jones, a doctor turned preacher, wrote a book called Spiritual Depression. He identifies this verse as symptoms of clinical depression. The psalmist is not eating; he has no appetite. He’s not sleeping either. There is something physical going on.
As Christians, we have a tendency to reduce everything to the spiritual. If you’re going through depression, people will tell you to pray more and read the Bible more. While the world has a tendency to reduce everything to the physical, saying if you’re in a depression, you need some medicine.
But when man fell in the garden, all of man fell. Not just our spirits, but also our physiology. Chemicals that ought to be in balance are no longer in balance. We may need God’s common grace of medication to make us better.
Depression is always a spiritual issue. But, it may not always be just a spiritual issue. So we need all of God’s grace, common grace of medication and His special grace of the gospel to lift our souls from turmoil and out of depression.
If you’re taking prescribed anti-depressants, you don’t have to feel like you’re not trusting God enough and don’t have enough faith. But at the same time, if you’re on medication, don’t treat that pill as your savior. You may never admit it, but you might be living functionally as if it is.
Jesus is our one and only Savior.
If at all possible, seek the wisdom of a Christ-centered, Bible-saturated doctor to make sure that medication is the best course of action for you.
This is not an exhaustive list of the reasons you could be experiencing turmoil. However, these are some of the major causes.
Biblical Cures for Depression
What does the Bible say about the cures? What does the psalmist do?
• Actively Remember:
He remembered God.
During the times we don’t feel God or sense His presence, we have to remember that it was not always this way. We have to remember the times when we have felt His presence and our souls were filled with joy.
We have to actively remember.
4 These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival. Psalm 42:4 (ESV)
When God gives you the grace to sing to Him and you feel something, or worship Him and sense His presence, cherish those feelings. They may not always be there.
You can’t take those feeling for granted. Cherish and remember them. Those thoughts and memories are weapons for fighting depression.
• Preach to yourself:
What else did the psalmist do?
5 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. Psalm 42:5 (ESV)
Who is he talking to? Who should hope in God and will again praise Him?
“Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?” Dr. Martin Loyd Jones.
Throughout the day we are listening to the ceaseless thoughts of our internal selves. Thoughts that say, “Where is your God? He has forgotten you. He doesn’t love you, how could he?” They are constantly speaking these lies and we constantly listen.
If we’re going to break the downward spiral that leads us into depression, we have to stop ourselves and talk back. Say, “Self! You sure have been talking a lot. Now shut up and listen, I’m talking now.”
Address your soul and turmoil; speak to it, preach the gospel to it. We have to do this repeatedly. Over and over again.
My son has been having nightmares of skunks. Silly fear, I know, but they’re real to him. So he wakes, crying and afraid to go back to sleep. My wife taught him a bible verse to say.
When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. 4 In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can skunks do to me? Psalm 56:3-4 (ESV, edited)
So the next night he woke up afraid, we told him to say the verse out loud. He did, but then kept crying saying it wasn’t working, that he was still scared. I told him he was saying it, but not believing it. I instructed him to say it over and over and over, until he believed it. We left his room as we heard him reciting it repeatedly.
The next morning, I asked him why he was so scared of skunks. He said, “I’m not scared of skunks.” And that was that. Now he’s afraid of spiders.
When our souls are cast down and in turmoil, we must preach to ourselves over and over again until we believe it. Our souls will not be transformed by one exhortation. We have to keep preaching to ourselves.
We would be falling short to simply focus on our souls and turmoil. Or even the psalmist’s soul and turmoil. We have to look deeper and further, to the One whose soul was truly in turmoil. Jesus.
He was a man that was living in complete and absolute obedience, but in the garden of Gethsemanes, we hear Him say, “My soul is very sorrowful even to death”
He was matchlessly in turmoil, truly cast down unto death as He contemplated the wrath of God that would be poured down upon Him on the cross.
His hands and feet would be nailed to wood, rusty iron tearing through tender nerves. Just to catch a breath, He would have to push up on His feet, using the nail as leverage as His lashed back would scraped against the rugged cross. That is a depression caused by the physical.
Having never known sin, He would become it. Having never known wrath, He would have to drink the whole cup. That is a depression caused by sin.
Having never known separation from the Father, He would be forsaken by Him. His heart would melt like wax, broken by reproach; He would be abandoned. He would cry out in unusual darkness, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” That is depression caused by the emotional.
At times we feel like we’ve been forsaken by God and cast down. But Jesus was truly forsaken by Him and struck down.
Jesus was truly forsaken, so that you and I will never be forsaken.
So preach to yourself that you are not forsaken, because of what Jesus did on the cross.
If the psalmist, before the cross, was able to say, “I hope in God”, how much more should we, after the cross, be able to say the same thing?
“Hope in God, I will again praise Him.”
He doesn’t say that he’s praising him now. That is to live in denial. He doesn’t say he will never praise Him. That is to surrender utterly to depression.
He’s saying there’s coming a day when he will praise Him. What he’s going through now is real. But there is coming a day.
We have a Savior who went through the deepest and darkest night of the soul, so that in the midst of our dark nights, we can still hope in God.
No matter what degree of depression you go through, my hope and prayer is that God lifts you out soon. But even if He doesn’t, and you battle depression for the rest of your life, like many saints that have gone before us, we can still say, “Hope in God”.
God even uses depression to renew and sanctify you. It is to point you to Jesus.
There is coming a day when God will wipe every tear from your eye and you will find yourself in your new glorified mind, body and emotions, never to taste the bitterness of depression ever again.
So let’s hope in God. No matter what.
Say it to yourself, “I will again praise Him”.