A Spiritual Thirst For God

Psalms 42.

The 42nd Psalm, composed for temple worship, is especially evocative as it reflects the condition of the human heart. The psalmist metaphorically compared his spiritual thirsting for God to a parched deer seeking out freshwater from a brook (Ps 42:1-2a); implying his lost sense of intimate proximity to Yahweh (Ps 42:2b–6). We relate to God’s presence in a living reciprocal fellowship when His countenance (or face) is ever before us (c.f., Ps 42:2b, 5b, 11b). His ‘attendance’ with us is said to be lost when we no longer miss or perceive Him within the limitations of our human senses; He seems to be far away from us or His presence is no longer palpable to us. However, in reality, it does not infer that God is not present, or that we have ceased in our belief of His existence, nor it is always attributable to our sinful state (viz., in Ps 42, it is not). Experientially, spiritual dryness can occur quite suddenly. What are the causes for such a predicament?

At the time of its composition, the psalmist was located in Northern Israel, as he warmly recalled his earlier privileged position in Jerusalem (in southern Israel) participating in the festival processionals toward the temple (Ps 42:4-6). No reasons were given for his northern sojourn and no specific festival was mentioned, although it seemed likely that the latter was an annual community affair (c.f., Ps 42: 5: “hope in God, for I shall again praise Him”). Being away from his religious community appeared to have diminished the psalmist’s identity with God’s people; we need to keep in mind that individuality was not a noteworthy trait in the Near Eastern culture. A more personal explanation for his spiritual drought was his enemies’ regular taunts – discrediting his faith, “Where is your God?” (Ps 42:3b, 9). Although no specific details were provided as to its subject matter, the insinuation was sufficiently cruel for him to question God’s faithfulness and lovingkindness in his life. In point of fact, they extracted a physical and emotional cost, plunging him into a depressive state, where appetite and sleep disappeared, and weeping became a constant preoccupation (Ps 42:3, 4a, 5a, 6a); although it is not uncommon to feel spiritually low when one is physically weak (c.f., 1Thess 6:14-24). What can the psalmist do under such a condition?

The first thing he does is to confess to God the confusion within his own soul despite his sense of alienation from Him (Ps 42:4; Ps 42:9-11a). Even if our faith in God is circumstantially diminished, we ought not to cease in our daily activities in prayer and other spiritual disciplines, for they continue to maintain our communicative links with our Creator. Through it, the psalmist remained in touch with his own inner turmoil, yet was able to reflect on them, externalised them, and attempted to analyse his quandary. Spiritual dryness invariably provides us an opportunity to identify and assess our weaknesses, our fears, our strengths, our expectations, our priorities in life, and our faith. In the process, he realised that his hope can be in nothing else except in God, in His lovingkindness and covenantal faithfulness (Ps 42:5-8; Ps 42:11b). It is pertinent to note that he talked himself out of his despondency and worries. The problems do not go away, but he eventually got around to realise that his God is in control, and He remains trustworthy. An advantage we have over the ancient psalmist is our position in Christ. To any believer, being in Christ is to belong to a church community (Rom 12:1-8; 1Cor 12:27), where the resources of the people of God are graciously available to assuage our spiritual darkness (Eph 4:1-6; Rom 1:12; Gal 6:2; 1Thess 4:18).