‘WHY?’ QUESTIONS No.18
Psa 42:5 Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?
Our emotions are both a blessing and a bane. Joy and laughter are expressions that bless us. Tears even can be a blessing when they are tears of joy. Those are the upside emotions but the many downside emotions are not a blessing. We are sufficiently self-aware these days to know that emotions are linked to our physical state so when we are tired we feel down, we feel low. But there are also times when we feel emotionally low and we cannot see any connection with our physical well-being. Physically we’re fine, yet somehow within us we feel disturbed. Sometimes our deep emotions can act as a warning.
Once, many years ago I came home at the end of the day and found as I talked to my wife about normal things, I began to feel quite disturbed. Disturbed is a good word. Do you remember there was a pool in Jerusalem in Jesus’ day called the Pool of Bethesda where it was believed that an angel came and ‘stirred’ the water and when that happened they believed if you got into the pool quickly you would be healed. The man spoke to Jesus, “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred.” Stirred here is the same as disturbed. The peaceful water would suddenly be stirred up, it was disturbed. That is how it can be with us and that was how it was with me that day. There seemed to be no natural reason why it should be, so I went away and the Lord said, “You wife’s spirit is disturbed because there was a witch in the house earlier in the day and her disturbed spirit disturbed your wife’s spirit and her disturbed spirit has disturbed yours.” It was true she had been sharing the Lord with this other woman who was deeply into the occult and it had left her with a disturbed spirit. We learnt to ‘clean up’ before the Lord after such encounters.
Sometimes we may be ‘disturbed’ because a loved one is being threatened and it is a warning to us to pray. Sometimes we may be ‘disturbed’ because of the presence of the enemy in someone we encounter, as above. Sometimes we may be ‘disturbed’ because of the enemy rising against us directly. In each case there is an absence of peace deep down or, to put it another way, the still waters of God’s presence are disturbed by the enemy’s presence. The only thing about this dis-peace is that initially at least we don’t know the cause of it. Something or someone is making us feel disturbed but we don’t know who or what. There is yet another cause seen in this psalm.
Thus it was that the psalmist had this awareness of being downcast, of being disturbed, but didn’t know the reason for it. In fact, twice in this psalm and once in the psalm that follows he expresses this uncertainty. For him this sense of inner disquiet is more than feeling just ‘low’; that we might think if we had just the word ‘downcast’, but we also have the word ‘disturbed’. However, even thinking about ‘downcast’ we see it means to be ‘cast down’ and that suggests that someone or something has caused this. It didn’t just happen. Add to that the word disturbed and, using the water analogy above, someone or something has disturbed the peace. Something has happened to cause this, and we need to enquire of the Lord to find what it is. To do that here we need to go back in the psalm.
The first three verses of the psalm seem to indicate a hunger for the Lord which is acute because the Lord doesn’t seem to be there. Yet what makes it worse, are the words of other people who have been chiding him: “men say to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?” (v.3). Their words make it worse. His awareness of lacking a sense of the Lord’s presence has been made more acute by their remarks. He thinks back (v.4) to the times in the past when they knew the Lord’s presence, but that just seems a distant memory now. That is what has made him feel downcast, that is what has disturbed him. He knows there is something better than he has at the moment, and its absence leaves him feeling both negative and disturbed.
So what to do about such times? Two answers are given. The first is to call to the Lord. That is what he is doing in the psalm. The second thing is to resolve to trust the Lord, to trust that, although the Lord seems distant at the moment, that will change. Listen to what he says: “Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” (v.5,6). He may feel low at the moment but, as he puts his hope in God, he will yet praise the Lord again. The sense isn’t just that he will have to make a supreme effort to praise God, but that God will come and do things that will cause praise to rise afresh in him. In other words, he is declaring that this is a temporary state and he will trust God to turn up in His time and continue doing the things they have known Him do in the past.
So, to conclude; if you have this sense of being cast down and being disturbed by someone or something, and the presence of God seems absent, then see it as a temporary glitch. As you call to the Lord and trust in Him, He will act; He will reveal the cause and bring change. That is faith.