Psalm for the Depressed

Why Are You Cast Down, O My Soul?

[42:1] 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,
[6] 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.
[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)

Dealing with pain, as apparent from this psalm, takes more than just defiance. Note the repetition: turmoil doesn’t simply go away. You can’t say to your soul, “Why are you cast down, and why are you in turmoil within me?” and then just add, “Come, let us just move on,” or, “Let us just go and live as we were, ignoring this.” It’s not possible to just decide that you’re better or OK or happy or will go on to new things. You cannot just replace what was broken and expect to be healed. Humans aren’t cars that only need new parts – or new jobs or new friends to get better. Our souls need to hope in God, where hope is holding out for the unseen goodness in the land where God will bring us. Hoping in God is not hoping for better/best situations or better/best times, or else you will forever be sorely disappointed by a broken self and a broken world. Biblical hope is not hoping that God will eventually give you the earthly desires of your heart; it is learning to actually desire God beyond all, and sometimes, or even quite often, that will mean laying your desires on the ground and walking away.

As with Lot’s wife, the one who looked back and turned into a pillar of salt (ironically enough the mineral in tears), it is hard not to look back, wondering all manner of things. It’s hard not to want to replay, and you can replay levels and whole games in video games, probably pandering to this desire. Perhaps I sucked at gaming, but I always made the same mistakes even when I replayed. This is not necessarily a theological link I wish to draw by mentioning Mrs. Lot, but more so just a visual. At the weekend retreat that I mentioned in another post (Throwing off burdens (and some spectacular use of grammar in the Bible)), I was told something else that made me sit up:

Exercising self-control in our thinking and living (i.e. casting the whole of your care once and for all on Christ) involves:

  • not multiplying our suffering by rehearsing or reliving our troubles
  • keeping from futile speculation (Romans 1:21 in AMP)
Funny that we do these things, but we do. There’s some weird satisfaction in it. Thinking is the hardest to exercise self-control over. You can beat your body and make it your slave much more easily than you can beat your mind and make it your slave. (Ref: 1 Cor 9:27 NIV) Futile speculation, too, can seem like it’s not an entirely futile activity: we think we protect ourselves by speculating a worst case scenario so that we’re prepared for the worst and save ourselves the hurt, but in the meantime, that’s just more constant and fictional pain for something that might not even happen. More so, it’s indicative of not casting all cares, anxieties, worries and concerns on the Lord (1 Peter 5:7 AMP) and throwing off those burdens.
Now I will quote verbatim my favourite introductory paragraph from the prayer guide we were given:

Have you ever felt helpless? Helplessness is an unsettling and sometimes terrifying thing to most of us. We resist it, deny it, and when we are finally face to face with it, we sometimes find that we are unable to endure it. But helplessness is actually one of the greatest assets a human being can have. Crisis brings us face to face with our inadequacy and our inadequacy in turn leads us to the inexhaustible sufficiency of God. Spectacular answers to prayer can come following a period when you can do nothing for yourself at all and therefore find yourself waiting on God alone. This hemming in process is one of God’s loving and effective ways of teaching you that he is gloriously adequate for all your problems.

The Puritans had it right in this prayer from The Valley of Vision:

Desires

O THOU THAT HEAREST PRAYER,

Teach me to pray,
I confess that in religious exercises
the language of my lips and the feelings
of my heart have not always agreed,
that I have frequently taken carelessly upon
my tongue a name never pronounced above
without reverence and humility,
that I have often desired things which would
have injured me,
that I have depreciated some of my chief mercies,
that I have erred both on the side of my hopes
and also of my fears,
that I am unfit to choose for myself,
for it is not in me to direct my steps.
Let thy Spirit help my infirmities,
for I know not what to pray for as I ought.

Let him produce in me wise desires by which
I may ask right things,
then I shall know thou hearest me.
May I never be importunate for temporal blessings,
but always refer them to thy fatherly goodness,
for thou knowest what I need before I ask;
May I never think I prosper unless my soul prospers,
or that I am rich unless rich toward thee,
or that I am wise unless wise unto salvation.
May I seek first thy kingdom and its righteousness.
May I value things in relation to eternity,
May my spiritual welfare be my chief solicitude.
May I be poor, afflicted, despised and have
thy blessing,
rather than be successful in enterprise,
or have more than my heart can wish,
or be admired by my fellow-men,
if thereby these things make me forget thee.
May I regard the world as dreams, lies, vanities,
vexation of spirit,
and desire to depart from it.
And may I seek my happiness in thy favour,
image, presence, service.

Thus far, this post has mostly been me amalgamating a bunch of things I’ve read, heard and thought about in recent weeks, hopefully tying them together in a new way such that I’m not really just quoting them. I don’t know if it’s of any use to anyone else reading. In any case, since the title indicates there is a psalm for the depressed here, let me finish off with a part from a more hopeful psalm for the depressed than that first one:

[13] I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord
In the land of the living.
[14] Wait for the Lord;
Be strong and let your heart take courage;
Yes, wait for the Lord.

(Psalm 27:13-14 NASB)

The goodness of the Lord in the land of the living… that means while he’s still alive. Although I have said that our hope should not rest solely upon the goodness of the Lord’s provision in earthly things, I do think it is alright for that to be a part of our hope, because it’s not as if God keeps everything we desire from us either. Maybe just not in ways we expect.

Funny last thought, though not accurate: I always get mad at myself for speculating about how the Lord will provide, because I feel as if everything that I randomly or thoughtfully come up with will not come to pass because the provision can’t be anything I would think of… and sometimes I rather like my speculations.

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