by Joe Leavell

A meditation on Psalm 42 for the socially distant:

Several days ago, I did it. I ventured out of the house to the store to find some toilet paper. We are OK at our home, but we have some friends who had run out, and I thought maybe I could help them find a few rolls. I spent two hours looking over the completely bare shelves of several locations wondering what on earth had happened to these disaster zones we once called stores! It soon became hopelessly evident that I wasn’t going to find any TP that day, and I gave up in defeat. Thankfully, my friends were able to track some down, but as of now, I have given up any search as an exercise in the absurd. A lot of us seem to have a similar TP hunting story to tell.

During my fruitless hunt for toilet paper, there was one song that kept percolating through my head over and over. It was the chorus, “As the Deer.” Anyone else remember that chorus? The song reflects Psalm 42:1, which says,

“As the deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.”

In my mind though, I kept singing, “As the quarantined panteth for the toilet paper so my soul longeth after…” Yeah…it started to sound strangely sacrilegious, so I stopped humming.

The sentiment itself, however, is not too far off from what the psalmist is expressing in Psalm 42. When you hear the chorus sung, you get the impression that the writer is just so in love with God that he pines for Him like a deer pants for water. That isn’t what he’s saying at all! There are hints further in the Psalm when he says phrases like,

“My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, ‘Where is your God?’”

and,

“I say to God, my rock: ‘Why have you forgotten me?’”

This poem is not the picture of someone who is writing an obsessing love song to God. It is a visual picture of a deer in the middle of the desert that is dying of thirst! These words are the picture of hopelessness. The Psalmist is someone who has been searching for evidence of God’s presence in his turmoil. He was feeling completely abandoned in his time of need, and it seems as if God is nowhere to be found.

Maybe you are a Christian who is struggling to understand what God is doing right now or maybe you have felt abandoned by God for a very long time. No matter how much you are reminded of His promise to never leave or forsake you, it can feel like you have searched everywhere for evidence of God’s loving care and have left with the feeling of hopelessness.

While the Bible never minimizes the psalmist’s circumstances, it also never indicates that the pain of human emotion accurately reflects the truth of God’s absence from the redeemed. Why then is it often so hard to find God’s hand in difficult times such as these? God feels absent when our circumstances are poor because we are often primarily looking for Him to provide more of a temporal salvation rather than the eternally promised one.

Psalm 42 never says whether the Psalmists’ circumstances got better. Rather, the Psalmist ends his song not by listening to his overwhelming feelings of despair, but by speaking truth to himself about his God. He says in verses 5 and 11 both,

“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.”

What intimate words of relationship in reminding himself that this is his God in whom he can have confidence, hope, and trust no matter the circumstances!

No matter how much we struggle to hopelessly look for toilet paper, and no matter what happens through this pandemic, if you are God’s child, God has not abandoned you! God’s presence or absence is not dictated by how favorable our circumstances might be. His Spirit dwells within us, never leaving through the tempest until the day Christ returns to rule. In that day, He will remove the curse of disease and death and make us incorruptible to dwell in His presence forever.

His promises are larger than saving us from the fallout from this pandemic. He is actively using this time to flawlessly continue accomplishing His plan to redeem His people, for the glory of His name, through the power of the Gospel! While we wait and groan longingly for His return when we will see Him face to face, not one moment has gone by where God has forsaken His own.

For Further Study:

I wish God Would Just Appear to Me – by Joe Leavell

Groaning for Home – by Joe Leavell

Trusting God – by Jerry Bridges

When God Weeps – by Joni Eareckson Tada