Bible study for Jan. 27: When circumstances overwhelm

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Psalm 42:1-3, 6-8; 43:3-5
Jim Duggan, Pastor
Bellevue Baptist Church, Macon

The Book of Psalms provides a look at handling the raw emotions of the human experience. In these psalms we find expressions of joy and depression, calm and anxiety, contemplation and celebration. After even a casual reading through the 150 psalms, the reader will encounter just about every emotion known to man.

This week’s passage focuses on the feelings of despair. While divided in our Bibles, the psalms seem to go together as a unit with three stanzas.

Authorship of these two psalms is attributed to “The Sons of Korah.”  Korahites were part of the tribe of Levi. This tribe carried the responsibilities of Temple management and worship leading. Priests descended from this tribe. The Korahites were part of a clan that had the responsibility of carrying the holy items of the tabernacle during the wilderness wandering period (Numbers 3:27–32; 4:1–20; 16:9), and later they were singers during worship (1 Chronicles 9:17–32).

Psalm 42:1-5
When God Seems Far

The Psalmist attributed his desperation to two factors: a sense of separation from God and the taunting of godless people.

He compared his despair to the thirst of a wild animal desperately in need of water. The longing was more than just a wish or desire. The Psalmist felt a desperation in his soul equivalent on a spiritual level to the physical panting of a dehydrated animal. 

Second, others mocked his desperation and accused him of not believing in God. Depression is a very real experience in life when we feel overwhelmed by our circumstances. For some, clinical depression runs deep and seems inescapable. When such darkness overwhelms, the believer may turn to medical professionals for help. Sometimes despair is caused by physiological issues that should be addressed medically. The Christian should not feel that depression indicates a weakness in their faith any more than they should feel a heart condition or orthopedic condition does.

Many times, however, the despair brought on life’s circumstances may be faced with concentrated Biblical reflection. Such was the case with the sons of Korah as they authored Psalm 42 and 43. The phrase in verse 2, “come and appear before God,” indicates public worship. In verse 4, he recalls times in which he led worshippers to the Temple. In worship, we can turn our attention from our seemingly insurmountable circumstances to our unfailing, Almighty God.

Psalm 42:6-11
The Presence of God

In spite of the feelings of desperation and abandonment, the Psalmist knew that God would eventually act. In verse 8, the Psalmist looked for God’s faithful love by day and song by night. The inclusion of day and night is a literary tool that indicated God’s continual activity. God does not work in shifts. He does not take time off. Even in his despair, the Psalmist knew God was continuing to work all around him.

Often in our lives, we find ourselves in a challenge between what we feel and what we know about God. Here, the Psalmist trusted in his knowledge of God over his feelings about his current circumstances. As we reflect on our feelings, we also turn to our knowledge of our all-knowing, all-powerful, ever-present God who loves us and who is in the process of working out His plan all around us.

Each of the stanzas end with the same refrain, 42:5. 42:11, and 43:5. “Dejected” and “turmoil” indicate feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. Yet, the Psalmist answered his own rhetorical question with a statement and a commitment to action. There is hope in God, and he would continue to praise God even when he didn’t feel like it. “I will still praise Him.”

Psalm 43:1-5
The Action of God

The terminology of Psalm 43 reveals a growing confidence in the Psalmist. In 42:2, he referred to “the living God.” In 42:8 the “God of my life.” But then in 43:4 he referred to God as “God, my greatest joy.” 

He expressed confidence that God would vindicate him, champion his cause, and provide refuge. He recognized that God would eventually send light and truth to pierce the dark despair that engulfed him. His commitment, “I will still praise Him,” proved to be the water for his thirsty soul.

Points to Consider

1.  Depression and despair are very real and can happen to any of us. Sometimes we need medical care, other times, we need a renewed spiritual focus.
2.  Life often involves a battle with what we feel about our circumstances in conflict with the truth we know about God. Always go with what you know. 3.  Continue to focus on and worship God even when you may not feel like it. Often, that continued focus is the path out of despair.

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