In the fourty-second and fourty-third psalms (meant to be read as one), the psalmist repeats a refrain three times: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God! For I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” Crucial to take note of in the case of these refrains is the immediate context. The historical context is difficult to discern, but the words used let us know that the writer is in profound emotional pain. He writes, “My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me continually, ‘Where is your God?’” (42:3); “My soul is cast down within me…” (42:5); “…all your breakers and waves have gone over me” (42:7); “I say to God, my rock, ‘Why have you forgotten me?’” (42:9); “Why do I go about mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” (43:2).
In the midst of these cries and laments, the refrain of these psalms almost seems out of place. When we experience pain and a sense of abandonment by our Father, it may seem quite natural to cry out to him for help, but it seems odd that the psalmist would speak so assertively and confidently of hope. Hope is exactly what his circumstances tell him that he is without. But the psalmist has learned to preach to himself rather than listening to himself.
The great 20th century preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote, “Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them but they are talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you. Now this man’s treatment [in Psalm 42] was this: instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself. ‘Why art thou cast down, O my soul?’ he asks. His soul had been depressing him, crushing him. So he stands up and says,: ‘Self, listen for moment, I will speak to you’” (i).
Left to itself our minds will speak nothing but calamity and complaints to us. Preach to yourself, friend. And let this be your sermon: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God!”
(i) Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1965), 20.