Psalm 42 – Where Is Your God Now

Bible opened to Psalm 42 with Endangered Species dark chocolate with sea salt and almonds on green plate

Today’s passage: Psalm 42

Today’s chocolate: Endangered Species dark chocolate with sea salt & almonds

You may know Psalm 42 as the psalm with the thirsty deer simile. It’s one of the more well-known psalms, in part because of this popular worship song. Written in 1981 by Martin Nystrom, the worship song focuses on God as fulfilling one’s most fundamental desires. It’s decidedly a song of orientation. In Psalm 42, the psalmist remembers singing psalms of orientation in the house of God–but such experiences are far from him now. Psalm 42 is a psalm of dehydration.

Like a deer that remembers water but finds all its old streams dried up, the psalmist remembers God’s presence and expresses the longing of his unfulfilled desires. I’ll be honest, I don’t know what it’s like to be a thirsty deer. The metaphor only carries so much meaning to a person of the 21st century. But when the psalmist says,

These things I remember and I pour out my soul within me.
For I used to go along with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God,
With the voice of joy and thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival, (4)

well, that picture might click with us. You look at the smiling faces in a photograph and think how different everything is now. You do something you’ve always done, something that brought you joy, yet it’s not the same. You try to walk with God long enough, eventually you’re going to hit a dry spell.

In the psalmist’s dry spell, God seems absent. Like someone in the waiting room at the doctor’s office or hoping for the chance to plead his case in court, the psalmist asks, “When shall I come and appear before God?” (2). His enemies ask him “Where is your God?” (3), and while remembering God’s goodness to him, he says, “I will say to God my rock, ‘Why have You forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?'” (9). Now, if God is omnipresent, he shouldn’t be absent, and if God is omniscient, he shouldn’t have forgotten the psalmist. But where in the Bible did you read that God is omnipresent and omniscient? What verses led you to conclude that he’s omnipresent and omniscient–and what does that mean, anyway? Any Biblical understanding of God’s omnipresence has to be able to account for the type of dryness that the psalmist is going through here.

Even if we assert that God is everywhere, it doesn’t follow that we will always be able to sense him. John says that God is light (1 John 1:5); to extend the metaphor with contemporary physics, you might say that we aren’t always able to see God’s light. If his light is everywhere, then it’s only sometimes in the visible spectrum; other times it’s into the ultraviolet or infrared, or perhaps even further out in the extremities of the electromagnetic spectrum. Sometimes God changes wavelengths on us, and we ask, “Where did you go?”

And it hurts. It hurts like a thirsty man in the desert. So the psalmist ends the psalm by addressing his soul: “Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him” (11). After all, when you’re thirsty to the point of despair, what else do you have but hope?

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