An arid soul longs for God as a thirsty deer longs for water. All people know this feeling though not all people know where this feeling should lead. Those who do not yet know God simply drink from wells that are readily available. There they find temporary relief. But those who know God are not so easily satisfied. For once the soul tastes and sees that the Lord is good then all other streams drink like dirt.
The memory of God’s satisfaction can exacerbate the soul’s struggle with spiritual depression. For some reason, the writer of Psalm 42 is no longer able to gather with others in the presence of God. He cries out, “When can I come and appear before God?… I remember this as I pour out my heart: how I walked with many, leading the festive procession to the house of God, with joyful and thankful shouts” (verses 2, 4). But something has changed. Perhaps he is as we are now—socially isolated. His soul has become dejected and dry.
Thoughts of better days seem to compound his struggle. He no longer feels as he once did. But, his memories prevent him from settling for cheap imitations of what God alone can provide. This may cause his thirst to linger longer. Deep down inside he knows that only a renewed sense of God’s goodness can irrigate his soul. He has nowhere to go but to God.
The psalmists then interrogates his soul: “Why, my soul, are you so dejected? Why are you in such turmoil?” (verse 5). But answers are elusive. The soul can’t often get a grip on such a slippery question. Spiritual depression does not always make sense. Its causes may not often be traceable. So many variables adversely affect our emotional and spiritual health.
The life of faith is just that—a life of faith. Feelings do not determine reality—even the feelings of spiritual dryness and depression. At times, every person of faith will not feel the refreshment of their faith. Dry spiritual stretches are to be expected as we navigate life in a fallen world. But, expecting them is not the same thing as accepting them. So, we confront our arid feelings with the activity of faith.
The psalmist commands his soul to “put your hope in God” (verses 5, 11). Though he is deeply depressed, he fights to recall previous experiences with the goodness of God and declares truth in the midst of the desert: “The LORD will send his faithful love by day; his song will be with me in the night—a prayer to the God of my life” (verse 8). The psalmist honestly expresses how he feels; but, more importantly, he declares what he believes. That’s what living by faith entails. That’s what the life of faith requires when the feelings of faith are remote.
Moreover, spiritual dryness and depression can be exacerbated by the oppressive tactics of our enemies. The world, the flesh, and the devil work in concert to cut us off from the fountain of living waters. Together, they taunt us with questions of God’s location—leaving us feeling dejected and in such turmoil. But, by faith, we fight back once again commanding our soul to focus on what’s eternally true and not temporarily frustrating. In time, God will irrigate our souls with the experience of His goodness. We refuse to settle for anything less when dealing with spiritual dryness.
This post along with other resources is also available at hallowschurch.org.