Why do we love to read the Psalms? One reason has to be the emotional connection we make with these inspired poems and hymns. They have a way of slipping past our mental defenses and pretensions to touch the raw nerves of our true feelings. They describe our thoughts and emotions with amazing precision. Then they apply the Spirit’s soothing balm to our wounds.
Take Psalm 42 for example. It is one of eleven psalms in the Bible contributed by the sons of Korah. According to 1 Chronicles 9:19, this family served as gatekeepers in the temple. Later the sons of Korah became associated with the musicians and singers who led in temple worship (2 Chron. 20:19). In Psalm 42, one of Korah’s sons revealed that God’s worship leaders, like anyone else, could experience feelings of deep despair.
Life’s painful circumstances do not simply skip over God’s people. Sometimes hardships and hurts come at us because we are believers. But whether our hardships are outside our control or arise from poor choices, we sometimes find ourselves battling against waves of despair. Psalm 42 speaks openly and compassionately to us about those painful emotions.
For the psalmist, sometimes his despair felt like a thirsty deer longing for cool streams during a drought (42:1). We all need water to survive. We also need a sense of closeness with God. The psalmist felt depressed because he could not appear before God in the sanctuary to worship Him.
The psalmist also admitted that he cried day and night, especially when he recalled the wonderful times of worship he had enjoyed in the past. Now, however, life’s circumstances had washed over him like relentless wind-swept waves (42:7).
Finally, the psalmist revealed his sense of fear and abandonment “because of the enemy’s oppression” (42:9). He suffered crushing taunts from those who ridiculed him and his God. He began to wonder if God had indeed forgotten about him.
In the face of all of these desperate emotions, though, the psalmist could still hear the echoing refrain of the good news. It was a call to greater faith. “Put your hope in God, for I will still praise him, my Savior and my God” (42:5,11).
May we also hear this calming message when the storms of life lead us to feel despair.
David Briscoe is a content editor at Lifeway for Explore the Bible resources.