Losing the sense of God (Psalm 42)

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“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.  When can I go and meet with God?  My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long,  “Where is your God?”

Some things are difficult to express.

I was reading about clumsy archaeologists handling ancient documents and watching them turn to powder as they were exposed to the light. It made me think of feelings long hidden of which we can’t talk because they’re just too delicate to handle. This is why the book of Psalms is so precious. It speaks those thoughts out, reminding us that the human heart of is the same in all ages.

Psalm 42 speaks of a serious grief which the Puritan writers used to call “spiritual desertion.” What do you do when you lose the sense of God? It’s poignant to think that Jesus prayed this Psalm when in a more terrible agony he prayed, “My God. my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”  So what caused this depression? How did the writer cope?

He had an ache in his heart, which he expressed as a thirst. “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?” It’s a yearning for more. We are so made that nothing which has limits satisfies and we can never quite be satisfied with the world as it is.  Even the drive towards “more” in terms of money, or beauty or fast cars or bigger yachts… all these things can be understood as that same thirst, expressed in its lowest forms.

In a strange way, our destiny is to be forever unsatisfied. We are built for more. It’s like that closing phrase in  C.S.Lewis’s Last Battle. We are called Further up and further in.” No eye has seen what God has prepared (1 Cor 2:9)… it’s the promise of fulfilment, of more  and that what it is to be “thirsty for God.”

And what happens next?  God is personal and when you reach for the more of eternity, you find a Person. It’s not a concept but one who is love itself. All the pipes and tubes of the human body, all the intricacy of every world system, micro and macro -all that is the expression of that love that created the softness of clouds and the purity of snow.

According to the Hebrew Bible, the centre point of the revelation of God was “ I am who I am.” In that word “I am” is a declared personality; and it contains the voluntary approach of the Creator to the creature.

And that’s why the Psalms explode with those outbursts of passionate individual attachment which are on every page. A person, asking and giving love, and feeling it-that was the Israelite’s Yahweh.

 

How radical it is to believe in a personal God! But this is how the Bible speaks:  It’s not a law, but the life of all that is-the Being who feels, and is felt-is loved, and loves again-feels my heart beat into His-counts the hairs of my head: feeds the ravens and clothes the lilies: hears my prayers, and interprets them through a Spirit which blends with my spirit.

And –this is the point of the Psalm- what happens when that is lost? He’s not thinking about concepts or principles: It’s like a love-affair that has been abruptly stopped. He is heart-broken for the loss of God.

The world can be pretty unsympathetic and misunderstanding. When my Dad died, someone called my deep sorrow unbelief. When I got divorced, flatly, God has left you because of your sin. When Val and I went bankrupt in business they said, like Job’s friends, God is punishing you. When Val was chronically ill, Christians told us that we lacked faith for healing. And when Jesus called for God in that terrible hour, “Eloi, Eloi,” they said, “Let be: let us see whether Elias will come to save Him.”

John Lennon said: Life can be tough. Sometimes you feel you’ve had enough”. It’s easy to say: Be strong! But the truth is that at the very moment when your spirit is reaching for God, very often those around most misunderstand:“As a sword in my bones, my enemies reproach me: while they say daily  to me, Where is your God?” (v10).

There’s an important thing to say here: this feeling of forsakenness is no proof of being forsaken.

If God seems far from you..well, it’s only a “seem”. And yearning after an absent God is an evidence of love as strong as rejoicing in a present one. Even when you’re doubting his existence –passionately crying for light in the darkness-you may be closer to him than some cold Pharisee diligently serving him. For what did Jesus mean when he cried out,“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” ?

There are times when cloud obscures the sun: you can not see it or feel it. Sometimes we feel depressed… unaccountably and irresistibly. But sometimes a spark of hope just jump starts your engine again. The sun will come again. The night will end. So too, spiritually. Sometimes you just have to hang on in there. “Having done all, stand.” And faith must be replaced by hope. “What I do you don’t understand now; but you shall understand later.” “Clouds and darkness are round about Him: but righteousness and truth are the habitation of His throne.” “My soul, hope in God: for I shall yet praise Him, who is the health of my countenance and my God.

This hope was in God.  Isn’t that the whole point? The mistake we make is to look for a source of comfort in ourselves: instead of looking to God. In other words, we look for comfort precisely where comfort never can be. How can you draw help from your own feelings? It’s like pulling yourself out of a deep well by tugging at your own shirt collar.

And there’s nothing you can do. Nothing.

But when you learn of the extent of that nothing, you can begin to experience the everything of God. God is not affected by our changeability, our changes do not alter Him. When we are restless, He remains serene and calm; when we are low, selfish, mean, or dispirited, He is still the unalterable I AM. The same yesterday, to-day, and forever, in whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. What God is in Himself, not what we may chance to feel Him in this or that moment to be, that is our hope, “My soul, hope  in God.”

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