Psalm 42:5-6 Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance. O my God, my soul is cast down within me; therefore I will remember you from the land of Jordan.
Are you in a struggle with sadness? Feelings of weakness wash over you in waves?
You know you need God’s help – but feel so overwhelmed by circumstance and undernourished in spirit that you feel you can’t even pray? I have been there too. So has the man who wrote the Psalms.
Listen to David in Psalm 42.
Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance. O my God, my soul is cast down within me; therefore I will remember you from the land of Jordan.
Now listen to Calvin, yes *that* John Calvin. Here he writes as a man who understands suffering and sadness. He knows exactly what to do with it.
He begins by saying that we have to debate with and fight against ourselves. It is as if circumstances of sorrow threaten to turn us into two people. We need to learn to call on God to help us “maintain an internal conflict against the desires of our own hearts!”
And he ends by moving toward hope. Notice how he tugs on the term “yet.” Even when we cannot see because of “present sorrow,” we can “get beyond its reach” by relying on the promises of God.
This commentary on Psalm 42 is a profound piece of biblical counsel. It has helped me immensely. I pray it’ll do the same for you.
David here represents himself as if he formed two opposing parties. In so far as in the exercise of faith he relied upon the promises of God, being armed with the Spirit of invincible fortitude, he set himself, in opposition to the affections of his flesh, to restrain and subdue them; and, at the same time, he rebuked his own cowardice and imbecility of heart.
Moreover, although he carried on war against the devil and the world, yet he does not enter into open and direct conflict with them, but rather regards himself as the enemy against whom he desires chiefly to contend. And doubtless the best way to overcome Satan is, not to go out of ourselves, but to maintain an internal conflict against the desires of our own hearts.
It ought, however, to be observed, that David confesses that his soul was cast down within him: for when our infirmities rise up in vast array, and, like the waves of the sea, are ready to overwhelm us, our faith seems to us to fail, and, in consequence we are so overcome by mere fear, that we lack courage, and are afraid to enter into the conflict. Whenever, therefore, such a state of indifference and faint-heartedness shall seize upon us, let us remember, that to govern and subdue the desires of their hearts, and especially to contend against the feelings of distrust which are natural to all, is a conflict to which the godly are not unfrequently called.
The remedy is here added, hope in God, which alone inspires our minds. David very well expresses the power and nature of hope by these words, I shall yet praise him; for it has the effect of elevating our thoughts to the contemplation of the grace of God, when it is hidden from our view. By the term yet, he confesses that for the present, and in so far as the praises of God are concerned, his mouth is stopped, seeing he is oppressed and shut up on all sides. This, however, does not prevent him from extending his hope to some future distant period; and, in order to escape from his present sorrow, and, as it were, get beyond its reach, he promises himself what as yet there was no appearance of obtaining. Nor is this an imaginary expectation produced by a fanciful mind; but, relying upon the promises of God, he not only encourages himself to cherish good hope, but also promises himself certain deliverance.
But, above all, this is to be observed, that as in the preceding verse we have seen David contending courageously against his own affections, so now we here see by what means he steadfastly maintained his ground. He did this by having recourse to the help of God, and taking refuge in it as in a holy sanctuary. And, assuredly, if meditation upon the promises of God do not lead us to prayer, it will not have sufficient power to sustain and confirm us.
Unless God impart strength to us, how shall we be able to subdue the many evil thoughts which constantly arise in our minds? The soul of man serves the purpose, as it were, of a workshop to Satan in which to forge a thousand methods of despair. And, therefore, it is not without reason that David, after a severe conflict with himself, has recourse to prayer, and calls upon God as the witness of his sorrow.