One of most significant passages in Scripture about spiritual darkness is Psalm 42. Like a deer who keeps looking for water in a dry riverbed, the psalmist feels like he is dying of thirst waiting for God to bring water to his parched soul.
In his sermon Finding God, Tim Keller shows how the psalmist does not moralize or spiritualize his condition and instead responds in three ways:
- He pours out his soul to God
- He questions his own hopes: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” (v.5, 11).
- He preaches the loving-kindness and grace of God to his own heart: “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (v.5, 11).
I winced when I first heard Keller speak about preaching to our hearts, because I had bullied my own heart for many years. I was driven by unbiblical ideals about what it meant to follow God and what it meant to be in relationship with him, and I used Scripture to try and manipulate myself to realize those ideals. I thought I would more quickly become the ideal man of God if I could cram in enough biblical truth, but my own brokenness twisted this truth and isolated me more from God and my own heart.
There is a significant difference between bullying and preaching to your heart. Jesus spoke the truth to the crowds, but he did not coerce. He described who he is and who his Father is, and he called people to repentance and life in himself, but he did not use manipulative tactics to get them to take action. Notice that the psalmist doesn’t say the following:
- “Why are you cast down, O my soul, for spiritual people don’t have these kinds of problems”: This idealizes the self and the spiritual life and is clearly unbiblical because other psalmists, Job, and many others in scripture expressed their anguish to God about his perceived absence.
- “Hope in God, for he will soon give me a spiritual high”: This idealizes what we think God will do. James and John had to be corrected by Jesus for wanting to be at his right and left hand in his kingdom (Mk 10:35-45) because they thought that Jesus’ redemptive work would restore the military kingdom like it was under King David. He had to show them that his kingdom would be much different from their expectations, where “anyone who wants to be important among you must be your servant” (v.43).
Instead, notice how the Psalmist preaches to himself in verses 5 and 11:
- “Hope in God”: His hope is not in ideals or false expectations about himself or God, but in God himself.
- “For I shall again praise him”: His hope does not rest in how he thinks God will redeem his situation, but in God who redeems and brings praise to our lips.
- “My salvation and my God”: His hope is ultimately in the God who saves and the one he belongs to: “my God.”