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Hope in God

Let your cry of anguish be heard—and then remember.


The beautiful thing about the Psalms is that they are so applicable to our own lives, and they also give us guidance as we minister to others. There is a great variety in what the authors of the Psalms write: Messianic, praise, petition, confession of sin, lament, etc. The psalmists understood the joys of life, but they also experienced and wrote about life's sorrows and troubles.

We also understand joys and sorrows. Even now we can remember the euphoria we felt on our wedding days (or of someone else's), and we even now feel the bitter sting of a funeral for a person who left this earth too soon. We know the joys of triumphs and the anguish of defeat. We have tasted glory in job, family, and life, and we have palpably felt the grief of loss in each of those areas. We see progress in our Christian faith, and we see far too much defeat in the face of sin. In the face of these realities, we need to learn biblical lament—which is not equivalent to a Facebook rant, because it is imbued with hope.

We know all of this, and, though we often forget, God also knows our pain. Hebrews 4:14-16 reminds us that Jesus, our Great High Priest, can sympathize with our weaknesses as the man of sorrows.

Andrew Peterson depicts this cry of lament well in his song "The Silence of God."

And if a man has got to listen to the voices of the mob
Who are reeling in the throes of all the happiness they've got
When they tell you all their troubles have been nailed up to that cross
Then what about the times when even followers get lost?
'Cause we all get lost sometimes …
There's a statue of Jesus on a monastery knoll
In the hills of Kentucky, all quiet and cold
And he's kneeling in the garden, as silent as a stone
All his friends are sleeping, and he's weeping all alone …
And the man of all sorrows, he never forgot
What sorrow is carried by the hearts that he bought
So when the questions dissolve into the silence of God
The aching may remain, but the breaking does not
In the holy, lonesome echo of the silence of God …

The beautiful thing is that, while we will feel this way, there is rock solid truth to cling to, reminding us of the God who never leaves us or forsakes us. Lament leads us to hope.

Psalm 42 begins book two of the Psalms (Psalms 42-72); there are five books total. Psalms 42-49 are psalms of the sons of Korah. Korah rebelled against the authority of Moses and Aaron, and he and his family were put to death because of it, as we see in Numbers 16 (though some of his sons survived, as we learn in Numbers 26:11). In the time of King David and Solomon, these sons of Korah served as musicians and gatekeepers at the tabernacle and temple, and they ministered still more than a century later in the days of Jehoshaphat.

Psalms 1-2 are a unit that opens book one; Psalms 42-43 are a unit that opens book two. (There is no superscription with Psalm 43, and the themes are similar, so they seem to belong together.) There are three sections—42:1-5, 42:6-11, and 43:1-5—separated by the repeated phrase "Why are you cast down …" In these verses, we see a pattern repeated three times, always capped off by the same exhortation—and this is highly instructive for us today.

There is, first, a declaration of anguish from the psalmist. Second, he forces himself to think, by way of remembrance, of who God is and what he has done in the past and present. Third, and finally, in a repeated refrain, he composes himself and preaches to his own soul.

A declaration of anguish

Psalm 42:1 is the cry of any true believer. This is an image of an animal in drought, and like such an animal, we have a desperate longing. We love God, and his love has been poured into our hearts by the Spirit (Rom. 5:5). There is a yearning for God deep in our souls that is being expressed (like in Psalm 84, where the psalmist yearns for God and says a day in his courts is better than a thousand elsewhere). The psalmist's soul—his inner being, the essence of who he is—deeply desires to meet with God in the sanctuary of the temple. (Notice the psalmist refers to God 21 times in very personal ways, referring to him also as "my salvation [or Savior]," "my rock," and "Lord.")

However, despite the kind of tone we see in some modern songs using these lyrics, which can be very positive, the psalmist cries out that his soul thirsts for God and then states that he is in anguish, feeling separation from God. All of us have been literally thirsty at various times in our lives, especially if we are involved in exercise—but think here of an affectionate and emotional yearning because of perceived or real separation. In the summer of 2001, when my wife and I were dating, I was away from her for the entire summer, and my heart ached to see her. This is lament. It seems as though a psalmist like this would be cognitively aware that God is omnipresent and he does not forsake his people, but he feels the distance poignantly (in a way that is reminiscent of Psalm 22).

Psalm 42:6-7 give geographical depictions—Jordan, Mount Hermon, Mount Mizar—that are all places in northern Israel, away from Jerusalem, that seem to depict life away from Jerusalem, the temple, and worship of God. The psalmist is describing the separation he feels. The water imagery, ironically, reminds the reader that in the beginning of this Psalm, the writer had too little water, and now he is describing having too much—and God is sovereign over it all.

Psalm 42:9-10 and 43:1-2 talk more specifically about oppression and taunting from people around the psalmist. It would be enough had all he faced was the sense of God's absence, but his grief was heightened by the taunts of others (as Psalm 42:3 says, "[P]eople say to me all day long, 'Where is your God?'"). The author was no doubt asking himself the same question: "O my God, where are you?"

It is astounding that the psalmist prays this way and makes known his woes to the Lord, but this is instructive for our prayer lives. Psalms like this one—as well as 44, 60, 74, 79, 80, 85, and 90—are known as psalms of lament. These Psalms are instructive for how we can rightly bring our sorrows before the Lord. He is there to hear our prayers, and he allows us to leave our anxieties and cares at his feet. What we need when we are needy is God.

Remembering God's work

We can all relate to this psalmist in some way as we think of hardships relating to jobs, relationships, family, finances, health, and a host of other things. Sometimes we may think, What possible hope is there?

The psalmist, though in lament, is not in despair. He deliberately turns his mind to God's grace and faithfulness and covenant. It is here we come to the second element in these two psalms: remembrance. He forces himself to think of realities other than his own troubles.

As stated earlier, we are to make our requests known to God and cast our cares upon him. As we do so, there are promises that he will care for us, and his peace will guard our hearts as we dwell on what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy (Phil. 4:6-8). We must consciously, forcefully remember God, his character, and his work on our behalf. My friend Aaron needed this when, the night before speaking to thousands in a chapel service, his refrigerator went out, his kids were sick, and he was battling anxiety. Four of us who are close friends sent him long text messages to encourage him and remind him of the truth of who God is and what he has done. This encouragement buoyed Aaron in that time.

In verse four, the psalmist remembers what it is like to worship the living God. He remembers the love of God that remains with him and directs him (v. 8) and God's truth that leads him home to worship God, the joy of all his joys (43:3-4). Amid pain and sorrow, we must remember truth.

Never forget: God is sovereign, loving, and in the midst of your sorrows. He has spoken to us definitively, decisively, and directly in his Word.

Preach truth to yourself

This final point brings us to a place of application where we are called to remember, trust, and hope by preaching truth to ourselves.

Thus far, we've seen in each stanza how the psalmist first expresses his grief and frustration and then forces himself to think of the ways in which God is faithful to his people. The third element in each stanza is his determination to resolve the tension between these two. He argues with himself; he pulls himself together and regains his composure, preaching to his soul. As the great 20th-century preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, "Don't listen to yourself; preach to yourself." As though he were two men, the psalmist talks to himself.

Perhaps you are like me and an internal dialogue happens when you exercise. One voice tells me to stop because my lungs and muscles are burning. The other says to persevere because this will be for the overall good of my body. As we know from 1 Timothy 4:7-8, bodily exercise is of some good, but discipline for godliness (which includes preaching truth to yourself) is much more profitable.

What does the psalmist say to himself? Hope in God! Wait for God! Hope is confident expectation based on the truth that we have. This is no mindless meditation: a closing of the eyes or a passive twiddling of the thumbs. Rather, we are to engage in ongoing, expectant, straining anticipation for God's deliverance. This is a spiritually aggressive confidence that God will act and show himself faithful, based on past performance and future grace seen in his promises.

Note that the psalmist preaches this word of hope to his soul three times. Perhaps it is poetic flair, or perhaps he knows he needs to continually preach this message to himself, as we all do. We do this in many ways: internally in our minds, verbally, reading and studying Scripture, actively sitting under the preached Word, putting Scripture up in our house to be seen, and hearing truth from fellow believers.


So why should we hope in God? We hope in God because of his character and attributes. He is merciful, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, holy, just, exerting wrath toward sin.

He is for and not against those who are in Christ, infinite in power and worth and perfection, all-knowing, everywhere-present, unchanging in character, our rock and salvation, sovereign over all things, Creator, sustainer, altogether great, and altogether good.

In the history of redemption, he has created all things, shown grace to humanity again and again, given a child to Abraham and Sarah in their old age, brought 10 plagues upon the mighty Egyptians, parted the Red Sea for the Israelites to walk across, provided food and drink for Israel in the wilderness, defeated nations, made the sun stand still, disciplined his people for their sin, brought them back to the land in his mercy, brought his Son Jesus Christ as the way and truth and life and the only means of salvation, propitiation, expiation, redemption, and reconciliation with God.

He has given his Spirit to the church and promised a coming day when all will be made right, when he will dwell with his people forever, and there will forevermore be no more sorrow, sickness, tears, or death.

These are historic examples (along with some prophetic examples), and they are not taking into account all that God has done in your own life over the years. Think upon his faithfulness in your life as well; this would be great conversation to have with friends or family today.

Brothers and sisters, we must make known our anguish to God, for it is real. But we must be relentless in remembering, looking to our Bibles to rightly interpret our own lives so that we can hope in God. We will yet again praise him, for he is our salvation and our God. Preach this truth to yourself.

Let your cry of anguish be heard—and then remember, trust, and hope in God by preaching truth to yourself. And remember the God who hears your suffering has suffered for you in the Son, Jesus Christ. Hope is possible because of him. We must believe this to be true. This is not one-time, and it is not just for yourself. May we be a church who is faithful to remind one another of gospel truth and pray with one another, so that in the midst of life's sorrows, we will hope in God.

Jeremy Kimble is Assistant Professor of Theology at Cedarville University and the author of '40 Questions About Church Membership and Discipline' (Kregel, 2017).

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Sermon Outline:


I. A declaration of anguish

II. Remembering God's work

III. Preach truth to yourself