The Deer is Dehydrated
One of my favorite psalms is Psalm 42. It’s on many people’s top 10s, so I’m not special in this regard. It famously opens:
As the deer pants for flowing streams,
So pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?
The problem is we usually read the psalm the wrong way. We read (or sing) these words as an expression of our desire for God. We think the main point is “this is how much I want to be in God’s presence.” As the psalm goes on, however, it becomes clear that the main issue isn’t my desire, but God’s absence. The reason the dear pants is because there is no water, and the reason the psalmist laments is because God is absent. There is no heavenly feast to enjoy, no spiritual experiences to comfort. Indeed:
My tears have been my food
day and night,
while they say to me all the day long,
“Where is your God.”
This is a lament psalm, and in it the psalmist is honest about his struggles, about the absence of God’s presence. The psalmist pours out the depths of his Spiritual loneliness.
I love that psalms like this exist. We have lost the art of lament. We plaster over our Spiritual depression with religious-sounding platitudes. That’s not the Biblical model. The Bible encourages us to go to God with honest and reverent lament–to go to the very one whom we feel is not listening and pour out our souls before him. This is what “hope in God” looks like: continuing to turn to him, even when we feel his absence, as the only one who can truly fill us.