I love Psalm 42. The raw emotion recorded here has spoken to the condition of my heart on numerous occasions and has oft been a comfort to me. The Bible is remarkable when it comes to these things. This is no sugar coated version of life where "Jesus makes me happy all the time." The sons of Korah have not written this Psalm to describe the experience of their best life now, or overcoming depression by faith. They have simply laid bare their souls, pain and all.
The reality that they address here is quite plain. Verses five and eleven characterize it as being cast down in soul. Verse one compares the thirst for God as that of a deer who is in need of flowing streams of water. You hear despair in the their voice as you read "My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?" This is not the stalwart faith of the unquestioning. This is a man who life has beat down, and who is tormented furthermore by those who mock his faith in God. The question of "Where is your God" (vs 3 and vs 10) is described as a "deadly wound."
This is important for those of us who are cast down to note. God is not afraid of you questioning. Nor is your experience unique to you. Many others who believe in God have been in your place. Those days you wake up and wonder if it is worth reading the Bible. The times when you know that you ought to turn the other cheek, but are fed up with how life is treating you. Or perhaps you simply are overwhelmed with the knowledge of how screwed up you are, and are not seeing change or improvement in sight. You are not alone. The Sons of Korah are there, pleading with you.
Asking the right "why?"
Here is where this moves beyond simple comfort in our miserable company, and into instruction for godly life. The psalmist asks "why?" But it is important to note that he does not ask "why would you let life be this way" or some derivative of that question, as we are inclined to do. His main question of "why" is directed at himself. "Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you at turmoil within me?" (vs 5, vs 11) This questioning of self both precedes and follows his only question directed at God, "Why have you forgotten me? Why do I go on mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?"
In times of despair it is not only permissible and healthy, but urgent that we question ourselves. We, most generally, do not think clearly in despair. We often fail to question ourselves and our outlook. We learn in Psalm 42 that questioning our own view is exactly what we need to do.
The basis of the psalmists self questioning lies in a realization that what he experiencing may be real, but there it a greater reality. And that is the reality of a good and faithful God. He remembers going to the house of God with the throng, leading them in praise (vs 4); he acknowledges God's Lordship over creation (vs 7); and he declares that God is his rock (vs 9) and salvation (vs 5 and vs 11). We need this perspective. We need to look, especially in our times of despair, to the Reality who is beyond our reality. We may feel cast down, but the truer reality is that a good God is there with us. He has experienced weakness, abuse, and temptation in a way that makes him our sympathetic High Priest (Hebrews 4:13). You don't have to carry your burdens any longer(1 Peter 5:7). Cast them upon him, for he cares for you.