Psalm 42 – Lament

We all know the opening lines of Psalm 42, right?

I imagine that, if I started it off, you could finish it.

As the deer pants for streams of water. . .

These words were turned into an intimate worship song a few decades ago. Many of us still remember it even today. But what if I told you Psalm 42 is actually a lament, a complaint, a pouring out of pain, hurt, fear, and more.

For starters, check out verses 1-3.

As the deer pants for streams of water,
    so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
    When can I go and meet with God?
My tears have been my food
    day and night,
while people say to me all day long,
    “Where is your God?” (vs1-3)

We are have been trained to stop at vs2, thus, we don’t catch the rest of the psalm. Though this lyrical prayer is seen as someone engaged in a passionate worship session, vs3 makes the situation very clear. Things are so bad, so terrible, that the poet’s tears have been his food day and night.

He is crying in such a way that he knows the taste of his tears over his dinner. The salt-laden faucet pouring forth from his own eyes speaks greater than any char-grilled meat or seasoned vegetable.

In our own world of pandemic, racial injustice, rioting and razing of cities, social media outrage, and an election, perhaps Psalm 42 should sound forth as our cry.

Read the rest of the psalm, all eleven verses. It is a raw cry and plea to the one true God to come through. The writer is deeply downcast—we know this because it is repeated three times, a compelling literary device in the poem. In the midst of the situation, though, the psalmist also calls forth hope on some level, even if just a smidgen (vs5 and vs11). Such deep pain, but he’s not giving up his hope in God just yet.

In the future, as we read the words, “As the dear pants,” they shall now remind us of our need to honestly lament and cry out to God—especially when we taste our tears over our dinner! We are called to be a people who truly learn the gift of lament.


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