Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. (Psalm 42:5,11) Passage: Psalm 42:4-11
Happy New Year! Usually, the beginning of the new year is the time of hope and new resolution. For example, around this time of the year, gyms used to be filled with people with new decisions for better life style. But this year, however, people are hesitant to go to gyms due to widespread of Omicron virus. For the last two years, we have been adopting a new life with social distancing. As this situation prolongs, people experience loneliness, despair, and depression. The psalmist in today’s passage tells us how we can overcome spiritual depression.
Despair and depression can affect anyone, even God’s people. Abraham is known as the father of faith. One day he fell into spiritual depression. He tried to help his nephew Lot. In order to rescue him, Abraham risked his life. But Lot went back to Sodom. Abraham was in despair and stayed in his dark room. God visited him. He encouraged Abraham to count the stars in the sky. We also see despair among Jesus’ disciples. When their teacher Jesus was crucified, their dream to establish a glorious kingdom was gone. In their despair, they went their hometown for fishing. We may fall into despair and depression when we have health problems, loved ones pass away, lose jobs or fail courses. Despair or depression may happen to us in serving the Lord. Galatians 6:9, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
Today’s passage is the psalmist’s testimony about his spiritual depression and overcoming it in the Lord. In this passage, we hear words such as downcast, disturbed (5, 11), mourning, oppressed (9), mortal agony, taunt me (10). These words indicate that the psalmist was undergoing a spiritual depression. Let us think about some reasons in what situation he had a spiritual depression.
First, he was not able to come to the house of God. Verse 4 reads, “These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng.” The psalmist says that he remembers something. What does he remember? He says, “how I used to go to the house of God.” The psalmists, the sons of Korah, were the leaders of tabernacle worship during the time of King David. When David’s son Absalom rebelled against father, they had to flee from Jerusalem. They could not worship God in the tabernacle. When he remembered the times of worshiping the Lord freely and joyfully, he felt sad and depressed.
Until two years ago, we could meet freely to worship together in person. But we are not able to worship God in person since March last year. Worshiping time is the time we pour out our hearts to the Lord, restore our relationship with the Lord and among God’s people. It is the time for us to lay down burdens, rest in him, and reset for the new week. It is the time for us to renew our joy and hope in him. During the pandemic, some join worship service through online such as Zoom or Livestream. Some say that online worship cannot be the same as in person worship. When Jesus was talking with the Samaritan woman, he told her that it is not about the location of worship, but the attitude of worshipers. God is looking for worshipers who worship in the Spirit and truth. Where there is the word of God proclaimed during worship and worshipers come to the Lord with sincere hearts, the Holy Spirit is present and blesses his worshipers. The first sign of spiritual depression is not joining worship service or not having right attitude to worship the Lord. COVID pandemic cannot be an excuse not to worship the Lord. The psalmist testifies here that without worshiping the Lord, our souls will be drained, fall into despair and depression. Worshiping the Lord is our first priority.
Second, he was overwhelmed with hardships. The second reason the psalmist fell into spiritual depression was that he was overwhelmed with hardships. Verse 7 reads, “Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.” The psalmist portrays his distress figuratively as if waves and breakers were sweeping over him. As they fled from Jerusalem, they were hungry and tired. They were afraid of being attacked by Absalom’s troops. They felt as if recurring waves of trouble plunged their souls into a bottomless ocean of sorrow and despair. During the pandemic, people around us get sick and died, lost jobs, face financial difficulties, and grocery bills are higher. New viruses continue to spread relentlessly. Waves and breakers are sweeping over us. If we are overwhelmed by these, we fall into fear and depression.
Third, he felt forgotten by God. The third reason the psalmist fell into spiritual depression was that he felt forgotten by God. Verse 9 reads, “I say to God my Rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?” The psalmist calls God “my Rock”. A rock represents the one who is solid and most dependable. The psalmist trusted God as his Rock. He was happy as long as “his Rock” was with him even if the whole world was against him. We understand that orphans are most sorrowful people. When the psalmist was undergoing trials, he did not feel that God was with him or cared for him. He cried out to his God, “Why have you forgotten me?” He was in a spiritual depression. When we are in trouble, we pray to God for his mercy. We have been praying for the recovery of the world from the pandemic. But still the world is under the pandemic. When loved ones got sick, we prayed for them. But some passed away. Many continue to struggle with financial difficulties. We may wonder why things did not turn out according to our prayers. We wonder, “Why have you forgotten me?” When we are trapped in this view, we fall into a spiritual depression.
Fourth, he was insulted. The fourth reason the psalmist fell into spiritual depression was that he was insulted. Verse 10 reads, “My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’” The psalmist describes his pain as “My bones suffer mortal agony...” Bone pain is described as a deep/penetrating pain. When my ankle was broken three years ago, pain was severe and I could not sleep many nights. We pray for Amanuel to recover from bone infection. Let us continue to pray for him. The psalmist says that he was insulted by enemies, “Were is your God?” When they were fleeing from Jerusalem, a man named Shimei hurled insults on David and the teams by throwing dirt on them. “Where is your God?” The psalmist felt that his bones suffer mortal agony.
We thought about being insulted last Sunday. “Where is your God?” This question causes us to doubt God’s love. It makes us think, “I am not good enough to my God.” It is the devil’s strategy to break our love relationship with God. This insult drives out joy from our hearts. During the Christmas worship service, we learned that Christ’s coming to the world brings us great joy. Our joy in Christ does not come from events, but from deep love relationship with God. When this relationship is broken, joy is gone, and we fall into spiritual depression.
The psalmist did not remain in his despair and depression. He overcame. Let us see how he did. First, he remembered God. Verse 6 reads, “My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you from the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar. The psalmist says here, “My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you...” When one’s soul is downcast, what is usual response? Cain in Genesis chapter 4 was downcast because his offering was not accepted by God. Despite God’s gentle counsel for him, Cain was angry and killed his brother Abel. Usually downcast is a step toward despair, complain, grumbling, violence, distress, and depression.
What did the psalmist do in that situation? “...therefore I will remember you...” He remembered his God from the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar. The land of Jordan is the land of Jordan river from Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea. Mount Hermon is the high mountain in the north of Israel. Mount Mizar is a small unknown mount near Mount Hermon. This tells us that the psalmist remembers God’s grace in every situation. Remembering God’s grace is the secret to overcome spiritual depression. At Ebenezer, Samuel’s message for his people had one point. “Thus far the Lord has helped us.” (1 Sam 7:12) All they needed was to remember their God. When are in danger of falling into spiritual depression, it is time for us to remember the Lord. Remember the Lord in all circumstances. Remember how you experienced God’s grace in school, at work place, in danger, in temptation, in marriage, having children, in fellowship, and in traveling. When we remember the Lord, we are like Abraham who was counting the stars in the sky and each star looked like his child, grand child, and great-grand child. Depression was gone. His heart was filled with joy and hope.
Second, he put his hope in God. Verses 5 and 11 are the same, “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” “Why, my soul, are you downcast?” The psalmist commands his soul. In this way, he awakens his soul from sleeping or depression. Sometimes it is good to command our soul like the psalmist, “Why are you not happy, my soul?” “Why don’t you remember your God, my soul?” “Why don’t praise your God, my soul?”
The psalmist continues, “Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him...” It is another form of command to his soul. “Put your hope in God...” We are all vulnerable to fall into spiritual distress and depression. Even Abraham did. The problem is residing in depression too long. The devil wants us to wallow in depression and stay there until death. But God wants us to overcome it by faith. We need to command our soul, “Put your hope in God...” When we put our hope in the world, we will be eventually disappointed. A Chinese proverb says, “There is no never ending banquets in the world.” In other words, everything eventually come to an end. But our hope in the Lord is different. Isaiah 49:23 tells us that “...those who hope in the Lord will not be disappointed.” Roman’s 5:5 tells us that our hope in Christ does not disappoint us because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts.
The psalmist commands his soul to “Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him.” “I will yet praise him.” He was determined to praise the Lord regardless of his situations. He was fully aware that they could not worship in the tabernacle in Jerusalem, they were undergoing overwhelming hardships, they had the feeling of being forgotten, even being insulted. Yet, the psalmist praised the Lord. Determination to praise the Lord leads us to overcome spiritual depression. Paul and Silas praised the Lord and sang hymns in prison. Then God opened the prison door for them and set them free. Dr. Rufus’s text greetings to me always says, “Praise the Lord.” I am encouraged by his spirit of praising the Lord. We can praise the Lord in any situation. My ankle injury was a pain to me. But during the 6 weeks lying in bed, I made many friends on Facebook and invited them to Bible study. I praise the Lord for that. We can praise the Lord even for the pandemic. While we have hardships, God opened many new things through the pandemic. Before the pandemic, the world was running so fast. It was like a train heading toward a cliff. But with the pandemic, we spend time to think about life. We make connections in a new way and make friends regardless of physical distance, and share gospel with them. When we lose jobs, we can praise God for humbling us and with the expectation of a new opportunity. The psalmist could praise the Lord because he confessed that the Lord is “my Savior and my God.” May God bless us to overcome despair, distress, and depression, by remembering the Lord and putting our hope in the Lord, and praising him in any situation.