All of us experience times when it feels as though God has tossed us aside. Psalm 43 helps us to understand how to respond and experience God’s joy again.
Deuteronomy, chapters 5-6; Psalm 43; Mark, chapter 14
Psalm 43 (NLT):
Declare me innocent, O God! Defend me against these ungodly people. Rescue me from these unjust liars. For you are God, my only safe haven. Why have you tossed me aside? Why must I wander around in grief, oppressed by my enemies? Send out your light and your truth; let them guide me. Let them lead me to your holy mountain, to the place where you live. There I will go to the altar of God, to God – the source of all my joy. I will praise you with my harp, O God, my God!
Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again – my Savior and my God!
As we read Psalm 43, it’s apparent that the psalmist is struggling. What is the source of that struggle? Is it emotional? Spiritual? Does it spring from a physical condition?
It seems at first that it is relational: Defend me against these ungodly people. Rescue me from these unjust liars. The psalmist is under attack; these attacks have discouraged him and led him to cry out to God for help.
Why have you tossed me aside?
But then in verse 2, the psalmist throws us a curveball: Why have you tossed me aside? That question is directed to God, which leads us to believe that there is a spiritual aspect to the psalmist’s struggle. He feels that God has rejected him; it’s clear that the psalmist does not know why God would have done that. He describes his condition as wander[ing] around in grief, oppressed by my enemies. He wants God to declare him innocent – in other words, to act on his behalf against those who are attacking him. The psalmist would have no realistic expectation that God would do so if he was guilty of some sin against God. Clearly, he believes that is not the case.
Send out your light and your truth; let them guide me. The theme of God’s commands being a light and a source of wisdom runs through many of the psalms. The psalmist cries out to God for wisdom and direction. Show me where to turn! Show me where to go! Let them lead me to your holy mountain, to the place where you live. While we may not understand the nature of the spiritual problem, the psalmist is convinced that the answer is in God’s presence.
To God – the source of all my joy
In verse 4, the psalmist recognizes and reaffirms that God is the source of all my joy. Whatever problem he is facing, he knows that God can help him through it. As soon as he asks God to lead me to your holy mountain, to the place where you live, his outlook changes. He stops thinking about those who are attacking and accusing him, and fixes his eyes on God.
Why am I so discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! Once his focus shifts from those who oppose him to the God who defends him, his attitude changes as well. It’s almost as though the mention of God’s presence and the joy that God brings has shaken the psalmist out of his discouragement and restored the joy of God’s salvation. And that’s a good thing for us to remember!
I think it’s important for us to acknowledge that there are some types of discouragement and depression that are grounded in physical or relational issues. Those things are usually not dispelled simply by remembering that our joy is in the Lord. We know that God is able to heal all kinds of conditions, but we also know that sometimes that healing comes through medical professionals and procedures. As Christians, we should never minimize the seriousness of these sorts of issues and tell people that if they just pray and believe, the problems will go away.
But we should also recognize that there are many types of discouragement that are grounded in spiritual things – and for those matters, going to God is exactly the right course of action! So how do we know how to respond in these situations?
Here’s how I understand this passage: first, there are times when we feel distant from God. That fact in and of itself is not an indication that there is something “wrong” with us spiritually. But sometimes when we sense that distance it is because God is trying to show us that there is something to be addressed. We know that God does not “cast his people aside,” so if there is a distance between us, it may be because we’ve moved out of God’s will (whether intentionally or not). So the first step is to ask God, “Why?”
Next, we need to understand the difference between being discouraged and sad (v 5) and being “depressed.” The Hebrew word rendered discouraged in the NLT is a word that means “bowed down” or “sunk low.” It often has a spiritual dimension. One familiar passage where the same word is used is in Lamentations 3: “The thought of my suffering and homelessness is bitter beyond words. I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss. Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.”
When we are discouraged – brought low – sad – Psalm 43 reminds us to seek out God’s presence. We take heart in the fact that God is faithful, and his mercies are new every morning! And he will help us to put our hope in God, the source of all our joy!
Father, you know that all of us face times when we are discouraged. We cry out to you, and it seems as if you have “tossed us aside.” In those times, help us to come to you, rather than running from you. If there is something that has caused us to move away from you, show us, and help us to repent and turn back to you. If our discouragement is caused by other circumstances, remind us of your great faithfulness. Your mercies are new every morning, and you are the source of all our joy! Bless us today as we focus our attention on you. Amen.