Psalm 42 — The meaning of life

Psalms of the sons of Korah

This is the first psalm in Book 2 of the Psalms, whilst we may think of praising God as something that people who are content do, this book starts not with a shout of praise, but with a lament from a person living with depression. Praising God is for everybody.

A woman, photographed in black and white leans forwards with her head in her hands,the hands are cupped together completely obscuring her face.
Depression by ryan melaugh on Flickr
Used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) licence.

The books of Psalms are roughly themed like this:

Book 1: Psalms 1 – 41: God is beside us.
Book 2: Psalms 42 – 72: God goes before us.
Book 3: Psalms 73 – 89: God is all around us.
Book 4: Psalms 90 – 106: God is above us.
Book 5: Psalms 107 – 150: God is among us.

Psalms 42, 44–49, 84, 85, 87 and 88 are attributed to the Sons of Korah. Korah, was a cousin of Moses and Arron andled a revolt against Moses: Korah died in the rebellion. His three sons were named as singers in the Tabernacle and their offspring in the Temple. The sons of Korah who wrote these psalms are descended from Korah’s sons, not necessarily the sons themselves.

Why Are You Cast Down, O My Soul?

To the choirmaster. A Maskil of the Sons of Korah.

As a deer pants for flowing streams,
    so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
    for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?
My tears have been my food
    day and night,
while they say to me all the day long,
    “Where is your God?”
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.

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.

My soul is cast down within me;
    therefore I remember you
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
    from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep
    at the roar of your waterfalls;
all your breakers and your waves
    have gone over me.
By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
    and at night his song is with me,
    a prayer to the God of my life.
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 UK with paragraphs added by me to illustrate the verse/chorus structure of the psalm.

Before we look at this Psalm to find out what it is saying we have to know what type of writing it is. The Psalms are totally poetic in form,and Hebrew poetry in the Bible often includes figurative language. On top of this Palm 42’s title says it is a maskil (or maschil) meaning enlightened or wise. This also belongs as Wisdom literature, like Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. Wisdom literature is often involved in the meaning of life.

The Hebrew title of this psalm is also the first line of the chorus: “Why are you cast down, O my soul?” We can look back at what God has done or forward to what God is going to do and know we should be praising God yet we can feel downcast. It seldom makes sense yet that is where we are. Depression and logic seldom go together.

But if this psalm says anything it is this: It is OK to be depressed. That does not mean that we should stay there, as the Psalm’s chorus says, “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”

To me this is personal. For 15 years I have been disabled due to an accident that was not my fault. I had been involved in the Charismatic renewal leading worship and there had seen people being healed through laying on of hands, had been healed myself and even been astonished at seeing people being healed through my own prayer. To be left with a chronic condition tried my faith a lot. I could look forwards to God being with me again or back to how things were, but still my soul was depressed. Psalms like this spoke to me and stopped me giving up.

Back to Psalm 42.This is a song of hope. One problem with depression is that it is easy to lose hope. Keeping our eyes on God even when we are spiritually numb can give us the hope to get through, not because God is waiting for us as the light at the end of the tunnel, but because God is with us in the darkness.

< Psalm 41 | Psalm 42 | Psalm 43 >

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