March 20, 2019

Lent 2 - Psalm 42

“Hope in God”
1. It demolishes the dualism between faith and feelings
2. It delivers on the unsearchable riches of grace

Read Psalm 42 responsively:

What place do feelings have in Christian faith? The simple illustration in your bulletin is used as one answer. This picture is from the organization Campus Crusade for Christ. It has been used to describe the relationship between faith and feeling for many years and by many speakers. They explain it in this way: “Let us call the train engine "fact" – the fact of God's promises found in His Word. The fuel car we will call "faith" – your trust in God and His Word. The caboose we will call "feelings."

As fuel flows into the engine, the train runs. It would be futile and, of course, ridiculous to attempt to pull the train by the caboose. In the same way you, as a Christian, should not depend upon feelings or emotion [to] live a Spirit-filled life. Rather, God wants you to simply place your faith in his trustworthiness and the promises of His Word (”

What do you think, good explanation or not? Well, like many catchy modern-day proverbs, it depends on what is meant. I think the slogan is used to target the popular notion in America that a person’s faith is an entirely subjective experience. That’s why they have “facts” as the locomotive. Facts are objective and true regardless of how you feel about them. It shows immediately, and correctly, that faith is not a malleable thing that each person determines for themselves. It is indeed based upon the solid, unchangeable, and objective Word of God as Paul wrote, “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Romans 10:17).”

Likewise, we would also disagree with churches that emphasize the physical manifestation of feelings such as: speaking in tongues, performing miracles, elevation of one’s pulse, or uncontrollable praise reactions as being required to be sure of having true faith. These notions emphasize the outward response which can vary quite substantially from one person to another.

So, we might conclude that feelings are very distinct from faith. However, Jesus commanded His followers to worship in “spirit and truth (John 4:24).” He condemned the Pharisees as “whitewashed tombs,” things that look good on the outside but are corrupt and defiled inwardly (Matt. 23:27). At the root of hypocrisy is the lack of genuine and sincere belief, and feeling is certainly part of that to a degree. Consider also the fruits of the Spirit from Galatians 5 – love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. You can’t really strip feelings from these qualities. What we see is that there is a necessity to feelings when it comes to true faith. Feelings don’t lead the way; and in that sense the caboose is definitely not driving the train. However, we can’t take feelings out completely either. The proper understanding is that feelings generated and given by the Holy Spirit, which may manifest themselves in various physical ways, are part of faith and should not be forgotten.

We recognize the struggle between faith and feeling here in our text for today. This psalm as been said to be one of the sections of the Bible that speaks to depression. That seems to be the thought indicated in the common refrain, “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me?” The Hebrew word for “cast down” means to sink down, to be dissolved, or to melt away. The psalmist speaks of this in connection with his soul, or in other words, the immaterial part of his being. These descriptions fit well with depression, which for so many can be an unexplainable ailment of the spirit.

The other aspect here in the Psalm is the duality of the problem. What I mean by duality is two competing forces. Dualism is a common feature in many religions where one recognizes a good element and a bad element at odds with each other. Think of the concept of yin yang in Taoism or the idea of karma in Hinduism. These are dualistic concepts. Here, we see a similar thing, although with a much different purpose, in this psalm.

The dualism is between faith and feeling. The psalmist has knowledge of the true God and he confesses to believe in these truths. He seeks after God for satisfaction as a thirsty deer at the creek’s edge. He earnestly desires the house of God in worship to be reminded of God’s mercy and power. He prays to the Lord with confidence at night and day. He believes in God as His rock. These are the expressions of the psalmist’s faith, which is very much present. This faith also leads to themes of joy, praise, singing, confidence, and hope.

Yet, the psalmist’s feelings turn him in a different direction. His struggles are declared in terms of questions.
·       When shall I come and appear before God?
·       Why are you cast down, O my soul, and disquieted within me?
·       God, why have You forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of my enemy?; the same enemy that asks, “Where is your God?”

The dualistic struggle is a further symptom of depression. Depression is a struggle that exists even when we know and believe gracious and truthful facts about God. We may have full confidence in who God is and what He promises and that He is able to accomplish those things, yet still feel miserable. And it feels like being caught in a trap.

The psalmist described the struggle this way, Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls; All Your waves and billows have gone over me. The picture of crashing waves comes to mind. Not only do these lingering questions and feelings of uncertainty cause deep shock and surprise by crashing into our souls over and over again, they also have a way of sucking us out to sea and ensnaring us with further doubts and uncertainties.

When dealing with depression, sometimes we need more than just that fact locomotive leading the way. Simplifying a struggle like this into a neat and tidy formula like facts, faith, and feelings can be more restrictive than liberating. Imagine offering such a thought to the sons of Korah here, who wrote this psalm. Or to King David, who used the exact same expression in Psalm 43. It would be short-sighted and callous.  The entire problem is with the questions of knowing and believing who God is and yet feeling such pain despite that faith.

So, how does this cruel dualistic cycle end? What can we do for help? There are essentially two options. On the one hand, we can stress that “fact” locomotive. This is a common reaction for Christians who rely on the Bible. They either directly or indirectly chastise a struggling believer as if he or she isn’t really a strong enough Christian. They point them back to the simple, objective truths of the Bible and keep insisting that they trust these facts wholeheartedly or they are part of the problem. In the end, they minimize the entangling struggle of depression and thereby they ignore the inherent issue at hand.

On the other hand, it’s tempting to travel a route that bypasses the Bible. Because something like depression is so deeply personal and connected to faith in God there is an allure to ignore God and hope the feelings go away. There are many other treatment options available outside of the spiritual, and it’s east to trust solely in what those things offer. In this setting, a passage such as Psalm 118:8 is applicable: It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man. Notice, it’s not wrong to receive help from one another. It’s not a sin to treat depression with medication or counseling. There is certainly much more that can be offered than only the Word of God. But the danger is when these things become more important than God. The struggle, especially when it is do deeply personal to our faith, will only continue if God is not considered at all.

So, perhaps we can learn a bit for our lives, and where to find help, by recognizing value in each perspective. When we feel cast down in our souls and disquieted within our spirits, there is help from God and from those around us that God puts into our lives. But remember that coping with and recovering from a mental, and even spiritual, ailment does not happen by acting more like a Christian and putting on a good face. There are blessings from the Lord that are given through sound logic and physiological means too. It’s not a lack of trust to seek help in these areas. It’s not unchristian to use what God has given to help you. It’s what He wants and it’s what He provides. But, with any blessing for any reason, never let it be more important than the one who gives. Never trust in the opportunity more than the one who established, created, and brought to existence the opportunity.

The Psalm narrows this solution down into one simple concept – Hope in God. In response to the each question, the psalmist replies – Hope in God. On the surface this may seem like the heartless, simple-minded response as we mentioned earlier. It’s vain to think that we can really help a person who is struggling by throwing commands in their face. But, there’s much more here than a mere command. To tell a person what they already know is insulting and condescending. Certainly, the Sons of Korah knew already that they should hope in God.

But to hope in the LORD is much more than just a command. It’s a reminder of the unlimited grace of God – the untapped potential of God’s power that is easily forgotten and neglected. Those are the thoughts contained in the concept of hope. It’s a word we’re all familiar with, but it also by its very nature contains so much more beyond what we can think or even imagine. That’s always built into hope, no matter how much you know about it or trust in it today. It always contains blessings far beyond what you perceive in present time.

This is why emphasizing the hope we have in God can help depression. For one, it is and objective truth, that is dependent on how you feel in the moment. Whether you’re high or low emotionally, spiritually, or physically, Christian hope never changes. It finds its source of power in Jesus, who remains the same, yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8).

Yet, hope grasps even more than the facts. Hope if God doesn’t minimize or make light of the deep struggles of the soul which far surpass facts. Hope is simply the word we use to described the limitless blessings we have in life. For a believer who wrestles with the uneasiness of knowing and trusting God’s Word but also still having inward pain, hope is the ever-present reminder that there is so much more to God than we perceive now. That’s why we should hope whether we’re up or down emotionally. Even if you feel confident and happy, hope still has blessings to offer because you’re promised so much more in Jesus Christ. It’s okay if you can’t see it all now – you have hope in God.

He continues to tell you again and again who Jesus is and what kinds of qualities He displayed for you. Love, compassion, forgiveness, self-sacrifice, faithfulness, gentleness. Yes, Jesus felt all of these feelings for you, and proved it undeniably in the truth of His Word. You know every one of those facts. Hope latches onto those things and gives you a solid anchor of trust in the midst of life’s storms. It gives you the unlimited mercy and power of Christ to hang onto, despite all the other feelings in life that run contrary to it.        

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