Toorak Uniting Church

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Obstinate in obscurity

Psalm 42
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
8:00am, 4 September 2005

A deer longing for flowing streams, a soul thirsting for God, eating tears night and day, the throng going up to the house of God, a multitude keeping festival, a cast down and disquieted soul, the deep calling to the deep, thunder from cataracts waves and billows washing over, a deadly wound…..

Those are some of the images psalm 42 presents us with this morning. Strong images that vividly picture strong emotions. Images that speak to the heart, to the place where our own emotions lay, reaching inside us to the place where we can identify with what the psalmist is trying to share about his experiences, his feelings, his journey through life with God.

For me this is the essence of the psalm. The feeling that somehow the experience and emotion of the psalmist touches my own and brings to the surface, gives words to some of what lives in my heart and soul. Teaching me how to handle those feelings and emotions, showing a way to growth, to peace and a more profound being with God.

The deep of the psalmist speaking, across the centuries, to my deep, giving me a song to sing in the night, providing me with words and images that will help me cope with periods of dryness and difficulty in my own life and faith and showing me ways to transformation and hope.

A deer longing for flowing streams…..
I’d like you to think of a time when you felt like that. Stuck, searching, desperately longing. Think back to a time when life was hard going and you felt lost, empty and desperately lonely. Think back to the times when faith seemed to mean nothing anymore and God was only a far away echo of something that used to be there but wasn’t anymore.

I assume we have all been through periods like that in our lives. But maybe you haven’t. Maybe it has always been plain sailing for you. Then I am sure you will have seen others struggle and felt for them. And perhaps you can think of them and the desperation you’ve seen them going through.

A deer longing for flowing streams. Parched, thirsty, desperate.

Me, longing for God, for life and light and comfort, for a power greater than me taking over and looking after me, for inspiration, for hope, for life being good and the sun shining brightly.

Tears have been my food day and night says the psalmist. And we could hear that in many different ways. Exhaustion, passive inevitability, anger, frustration, reproach….. I don’t know how you read it, and what your experience has been with tears that won’t stop flowing and deep and overwhelming sadness.
It is not a good place to be, however you react to it and whatever emotion it will call forth in you.

Where is your God? In situations like that we don’t need others to ask us that question. It is a question that will be hovering around in the back of our heads anyway: Where is God? Why I do I have to go through this? Isn’t faith supposed to be something that helps, supports and drags one through?

And desperately we try to remember the good times, when all was well, when we felt energised, inspired and full of beans. When life was good and faith was giving us happiness and joy. When consolation came easily and we had a community around us singing and praising and God was close at hand. Those were the days…….

Some of us when confronted with emptiness and a feeling of being lost in the present will get stuck there. Hankering for what was, for the good old days when everything was so much better, life so much brighter, faith so much easier, the church community so much more inspiring and joyful. A very dangerous place to be stuck because it provides us with fake comfort and stops us from growing and moving forward into a new and more profound relationship with God. It keeps us in the past, with something that is no more. It keeps us from the present and in denial of the difficult times we face. It keeps us from transformation, from growing, from God.

God is not a God of the past you see, not a God of the dead. God is a God of the living, of the future and if we want to be with him, if we truly long for God in our lives the past is not where we should be looking for him. We should be looking in the here and now, even where that is a dead and dry place. We should be looking towards the future, even when that is something we dread and does not appealing to us at all at the moment.
Happy memories, however wonderful they may be, disconnect us from the present and prevent us to grow through whatever may be painful or uncomfortable to something better. Prevent us from learning trust and surrender to the God of the future.

Why are you cast down my soul? Why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.
Obstinate trust is the only answer to situations of dryness and despair, to warm memories of the past flooding out the misery of the present or the anxiety over the future.
The only answer to disquiet and cast down-ness the stubborn trust that God is still in there somewhere, albeit hidden and out of reach for the moment. That the flowing stream is there, only temporarily out of sight.

Blub.

That’s how it often goes doesn’t it. Life is hard, for a moment we seem to lift ourselves out of our misery and down we go again. Waves and billows are hard to resist and the deep can be pretty deep.

And again, in the psalm but also in life, we will resist: Damn it! I know God loves me, I know his song is there for me somewhere in the dark, I trust prayer will eventually get me somewhere...

I say to God, my rock, why have you forgotten me?

It is this up and down, to and fro, oscillating between hope and despair we will all recognise I think when we’ve ever experienced a period of difficulty, sadness or dryness in our lives. At times you will be able to snap out of it and speak to your gloomy self with authority, the next moment you’ve lost it again and you’re sitting with your drooping spirit under one arm and a dispirited soul under the other, feeling forgotten, abandoned and utterly miserable. It happens. And it is real. It is part of life for most of us. Most if not all of us will be wounded some time in our lives, feel we’ve lost it, or are lost.
The psalm helps us I think to recognise it is, and that it is only human to feel that way, and that it really is a big deal, but at the same time not the end of the world or even of our faith or our lives.

Others have felt like this. Thirsty, longing, hankering for the past, overwhelmed by adversity, lost in sadness, searching in the dark, calling out for help, feeling abandoned.
Others have been on the emotional roller coaster of oscillating hope and despair.
Others have felt wounded and anxious and taunted.
Others have asked that question: "Where is God, has he forgotten about me?"

The psalm finishes on the positive:
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.

Whatever happens and however we get lost trust is the only way out of it. Trust that God is there somewhere and that however difficult things can be at present he is in there, all the while transforming us and finding ways to restore us to life. That it is not the past that was the best place to be, but that there is future that is going to be even better, the present the place where God is transforming that past into a future. That even where we feel overwhelmed and abandoned in the end we are not. Our vision may be obscured, we may have lost the connection, we may feel we are gasping for breath, thirsting for water in the middle of a desert, but ultimately somewhere in all that God is commanding his steadfast love and singing his song in our night.

It reminded me of a story I read this week that I will share with you now:

Amen.

© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2005


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