This is the second in a series of notes on lament. There are numerous Psalms of lament and these Psalms are divine instruction in lamentation. I want us to learn to lament by meditating on Psalms 42 and 43. These two Psalms comprise a single song of lament, which follows an alternating rhythm of descent and ascent. The song descends as the Psalmist recounts his trials and articulates the turmoil in his downcast soul. The song ascends in hope as he remembers God’s covenant love and faithfulness.
In this note I want to consider verses 1-3, which pull us into the turmoil of the Psalmist’s downcast soul. The opening lines are familiar:
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?
There’s a BBC documentary narrated by David Attenborough about wildlife on the African plains. The final scene depicts the hunting strategy of an African tribe in the Kalahari Desert. The hunters isolate a kudu deer from the herd and then one hunter, carrying only a small spear and some water, chases it across the desert. All day he runs. Eight hours. Eventually, the deer, exhausted and dehydrated, collapses and gives itself up to the hunter.
The Psalmist feels like a hunted deer. He’s been hunted and taunted by his enemies, day and night. Spiritually he’s in a dry land. He’s tired and thirsty. He knows that only God can give him rest. Only the living God can satisfy his thirst: “my soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” The question is, when will he find rest? When will his thirst be satisfied? How long will he suffer in this arid exile? “When shall I come and appear before God?"
In verses 3, he pours out his soul:
My tears have been my food
day and night,
while they say to me all the day long,
“Where is your God?”
The Psalmist is longing for streams of water. His soul thirsts for God, but all he has to quench his thirst are his tears. Day and night, his tears have been his food, and all the day long, he’s taunted with the question, “Where is your God?” Now we understand the urgency of his question, “When shall I come and appear before God?” because every minute of every day he’s in tears and he’s taunted. The longer he waits, the more this question works its way into his soul: “Where is your God?”
That question marks the first low point in the song’s descending and ascending rhythm. In the next note, I consider verses 4-5 which turn upwards in hope. For now, we should note that the low point is a turning point. There is hope hidden in the taunting question: “Where is your God?” The question is not, “Where is God?” but “Where is your God?” The Psalmist has been crying out to God, but the taunt reminds him that the God for whom his soul thirsts is his God. The possessive pronoun gives hope, because it signifies the covenant. God has said,“I am yours and you are mine” (see Exodus 6:7). That covenant declaration is a declaration of love and a promise of love. As we will see in verses 4-5, that covenant love gives hope to a downcast soul.