Thursday, April 12, 2018

O my God (Psalms 42 and 43)

The psalmist is clearly struggling with himself. Perhaps you can relate. We could call these psalms “the case of the disturbed, despairing soul.” Have you been there? It affects your whole body.

The “my’s” of the psalm are striking. Regarding himself, the psalmist refers not only to his soul, but to his tears. He is breaking down. Not all of us respond the same way. Perhaps you are beset by bitterness. It affects your whole outlook. Or perhaps you are operating with a simmering anger, ready to boil over. You could substitute your undesirable state of mind here.

When our soul hurts, so do our bones. Our emotional or psychological state (the word “psyche” is a transliteration for the Greek word, “soul”) hurts physiologically. The psalmist says that his bones hurt, because of his enemies. And the disturbed soul sees enemies everywhere - not that they aren’t real. But he is not in a good place to discern real dangers from false.

The psalmist is in despair over “my case.” Of course, my situation is exceptional. And it is, because it is mine. Not that others’ cases are any less. But there is a feeling that no one understands what I’m going through - the case of the disturbed, despairing soul.
Finally, twice, the despairing soul expresses itself in the downcast countenance. Smiles have flipped to frowns. As Naomi retorted on her return to the homeland, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara (Bitter), for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.” Her neighbors could see the storm clouds coming all the way from Moab.

As we explore these linked psalms, then, we are exploring our own souls, because many of us have been there. But thankfully, it doesn’t end there. Are you willing to push further?

These psalms consistently refer to “God” rather than “LORD” (except for 42:8), which is unusual. But at the beginning, the psalmist refers to just “God,” until verse 6, where it then changes to “O my God.” We find the psalmist digging deeper, moving from God-in-the-abstract to engaging with “the living God” who is at the same time “my God.” This problem of whole-self disturbance will be addressed, and will be solved, not alone, and not through self-help, but with serious and respectful engagement with “my God.” Let’s dig deep. Let’s engage.  - O my God.

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