Notes from a sermon preached at Magdalen Road Church, 2 January 2011.
Living without God
New year is a good time for self analysis. How am I doing? How is it going between me and God? How is the battle with sin going? How is the gospel working itself out in my life?
Psalms are a good place to go, as they show what real life is like for the believer.
Psalms 42-43 written as a single psalm with a unifying, single chorus.
How do you feel about God right now? Sometimes psalms don’t reflect how we feel about God at any given time. This psalm reflects what it feels like when we don’t feel joy and confidence.
The psalmist’s situation. What is going on in this psalm, how does he feel? Powerful imagery to show how it feels to be in this situation. Drought. As the deer pants for streams of water, my soul thirsts. The point of these verses is that there is no stream, or forest. This deer is dying. Where is there water? If I don’t get some soon I will die. This is how I feel, says the psalmist. Where is the refreshing reminder of God’s presence? When will this parched emptiness end? No sign of God’s refreshing presence. This is what it is like at times for the believer. Location. I want to be in Jerusalem, but I’m the wrong side of the river. A feeling of distance from God. God feels very distant. Don’t feel the intimacy, or that I can draw near to him. Depths. The power of a wave, crashing into him and sweeping him away. Chaotic. Traumatic. One thing after another. Swept here, there and everywhere. Plunged into the depths. Genesis 1 imagery, the deep, before God’s spirit moves over it. Deadly wound. Mortal agony. He doesn’t have an answer to those asking ‘where is your God?’, a question he is asking himself. Resonates with the deep questions he is asking within his heart. These four images capture the sense of desperation. The taunts of the world that remind us of our own deep questions. This is a normal part of the believer’s experience, even if you’re not feeling it now. Don’t let it catch you off guard. Sometimes it is like this.
The psalmist’s response. He remembers God. These things I remember. Calls to mind better times. Remembers when he felt intimate with God. In the flow of the psalm it appears that this memory doesn’t help him so much. Tender memories of how it used to be. Temptation to stay distant. This relationship with God is hard work. Settle for a shallow relationship with God. Don’t put your heart on the line and you don’t get hurt. My soul is downcast, therefore I will remember you. This recalling takes effort. I’m going to stop and deliberately recall. Remembrance in the bible, e.g. the last supper, “do this in remembrance of me”. What would it have been like to hear this? Am I likely to forget you Jesus? Yes. We need to remember God. The psalmist relates to God. Bring the situation into the context of my relationship with God. He writes a psalm. He grumbles to God. Takes his complaints, unhappiness and despair to God. Why have you forgotten me? God is big enough to take that. He’s not bothered by us being honest with him about how it feels. He is determined to relate to God. He reasons with himself. Why are you downcast my soul? Turns from talking to God, to talking to himself, to his soul. Why are you downcast? Not a little pep talk for the soul, but in the context of prayer. Soul, you know this God don’t you? Take what you know to be true, and trust you will see it in real life, even if you can’t see it right now. Not because you’ve talked yourself into it, but because it is true. Hope. Wait. Trust. This emptiness will not last forever.
The psalmist’s confidence. He is confident. His hope. God is my stronghold, and I look to be vindicated by him. “Where is your God?” I believe he’s coming. He looks forward to a homecoming (v3). He remembers kneeling to worship at the alter, and he knows he will come home. Not about manufacturing excitement about God, but asking God to make what we know to be true about him, real in our own lives. He will do this in his time.
What is this psalm really about? A man feeling distant from God, entrusts himself to God, believes he will be restored to God’s presence. It’s about Jesus. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Vindicated by God, raised and restored to perfect relationship with his father. Others have been there before you. Jesus Christ has been there before you, and come out the other side, vindicated. He has set the precedent we can trust in wholeheartedly. Jesus Christ is alive and reigning, has gone through this and has conquered it. He will take you home. Hope in God. You will praise him again.