Clinging to God in Depression

Psalms 42-43 have long been recognized as one Psalm, perhaps divided for liturgical purposes. But these two Psalms have also long been recognized as coming from a depressed soul. He says his tears have been his food day and night (42;3a). He says his soul is in despair, disturbed within him (42:5, 11; 43:5). He questions himself as to why this is the case. Throughout the Psalm, he acknowledges that the depression is caused by external oppression (42:3b, 9b-10; 43:1-2). But the Psalmist is depressed for more reasons than his circumstances. There seems to be an inner sense of loss. He remembers happier times with God’s people, in God’s presence (42:4), but that seems to be no more. He still longs for God, but it is a longing that appears to be unfulfilled at this point. The sense of despair in these two Psalms is palpable and is certainly better felt than merely exegeted.

Nevertheless, there is something else in this Psalm. The Psalmist not only questions himself, he preaches to himself. Three times there is this inquiry, “Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me?” (42:5, 11; 43:5). The magnificent thing about this inquiry is that the Psalmist immediately responds to himself each time with, “Hope in God.” He preaches to his despair. He tells himself to put his confidence in God. He continues, “For I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God.” This is nothing other than a declaration of faith. He doesn’t feel like praising God, in fact he is complaining. But he knows that the outcome of maintaining hope in God will be that God’s praise will once again be on his lips, it is only a matter of time.

One other observation should be made. The Psalmist identifies certain truths about God throughout, which reveal where his hope is. He is the living God (42:1a), He is the God who commands lovingkindness (8a), he is the God of my life (8c), He is the God of my strength (43:2a), He is the God of light and truth (43:3), He is the God of my exceeding joy (43:4b), He is God, my God (43:4c) and He is the help of my countenance and my God (42:11c; 43:5c). The Psalmist does not hide his depression or despair, nor even his own sense of disappointment with God (which is more perception than reality). But right in the middle of all of it, he clings to who God is and what He is like. It is this that stirs his soul to say, “Hope in God.” It is this that keeps his faith from being extinguished.

Christina Rossetti, in a hymn that we should sing more often, captures this beautifully.

“My faith burns low; my hope burns low;
Only my heart’s desire cries out in me
By the deep thunder of its want and woe,
Cries out to Thee.”

(None Other Lamb, None other Name)

When our faith and hope burn low, remember who your God is. Remember what He is like. Preach to yourself that hoping in Him is never in vain and that in His lovingkindness you will again praise Him.