Psalm 143: A Psalm of Despair

Do me a favor and please read Psalm 143.

Our psalm today continues on from the previous one (Psalm 142 – in which you can find my thoughts here). David, while hiding from his oppressors (most likely from Saul), is feeling faint in spirit. He’s experiencing the pain of loneliness, he’s experiencing the pain of sorrow, and his spirit is simply shot (vs 1-2). He fully grasps the fact that he’s not worthy of being saved (vs 2) and yet he knows that God can, and will, if He so desires. David isn’t claiming he’s righteous enough TO BE saved, and yet he’s hoping that God would still find him worthy enough TO BE saved. This psalm is a hope of deliverance and guidance amongst a soul that is in despair.

When we are distraught, in anguish, or full of sorrow – hope can seem like the last thing we have. When misery runs deep it can seem like this place in which we find ourselves is the place in which we will end up. Hope is far off, joy is fleeting, and the only thing that seems to be in your future is the very place where you already are and wish you were not. That’s the definition of “despair” is it not? That there is no hope? That there is no joy or even a bright future? And what’s really interesting is that in verses 8-12 David calls out for God’s love to come through, for his direction to lead his path, for his arms to rescue him, his words to teach and correct him, and his path to be flat. David is not only recognizing that his current situation is dire, he’s not only declaring that God COULD remove him from this situation, but he’s also acknowledging that the movement from here to there will only come from God.

This is all right and good – and completely correct. Our trust, complete trust, must only be in God and nothing, or nobody, else. We need God to show us the right path because we constantly choose the wrong ones and we must recognize that our lives ARE in his hands (and better his than our own hands). We declare that God is the only one who can rescue us from the harms of this world, that what is right and true only comes from his Word and teaching. That God’s will is the right course of action EVERY TIME and we simply need the Holy Spirit to lead and guide our steps. With all these good and true words – why does David kick off these declarations, hopes, and needs, by stating that he hopes by the morning God would bring him his unfailing love (vs 8)? Does God have to send a messenger? Maybe the Pony Express? Does a telegram take a long time to get from heaven to the cave? Does God need 8 hours to send his love, his comfort, and his peace?

Despair is a really powerful place to be in – and not for a good reason. It’s a darkness that is all consuming. It’s a feeling, mindset, emotion, place, and space where even the things we know that are not true still find a way to sink their teeth in. So David, even with all these truths he has declared for whatever reason God’s love seems to be the one thing that he needs the most, it’s the one greatest things God gives, and yet it feels like the only thing that may or may not come. It’s the one thing he wishes was here, hopes will eventually make it, but misses the truth that he already has it.

I’ll be honest, I don’t know where to go with despair because I’ve never felt it personally. I’ve witnessed it, spent time with people experiencing it, and tried to encourage people as they looked for hope – but that’s where it has ended for me. But what I do know is that despair is real and simply because we are loved, held, and protected by God does not mean that the darkness of despair won’t sink into our hearts. That is one of the biggest fallacies when it comes to faith – that just because we profess God nothing bad will ever happen. Anyone who has ever struggled with depression, lost a loved one, lost their job, has/had medical conditions that ravage their bodies and mind can attest that faith and hope, while strong, does not push away darkness and despair. And for all the deep-rooted knowledge we have of God’s faithfulness, love, and presence, sometimes darkness is just…dark. And no amount of God’s declaring love seems bright enough to dispel it.

But the hope that you and I have is not only OF God’s consistent and ever-present love but our hope is also rooted in the fact that his love, his leading and guiding, his rescuing, his teaching and his righteousness are not dependent on how I feel or the place/space I’m in. His love doesn’t come only when I can see it or feel it – it’s simply always there whether my eyes and heart recognize it or not. Paul writes in Galatians 2:16 that we are not “justified” by our works or anything else…and I would add that we are not justified by our 100% holding to what we believe all the time or complete faithfulness in our faith when consumed by despair. If we confess Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior than our lives, our souls, are secure. That’s it. Again, our present state of darkness does not mean his constant state of light is not with us. That’s the pain of sin and brokenness – that sometimes we cannot see goodness even when it’s right before us. But again, my brokenness doesn’t push his holiness aside – and in truth this is the very reason Christ came. To rescue us from the pit of despair. To bring us out of the very things David was seeing and feeling – and the Holy Spirit is our reminder that on that day of Pentecost (Acts 2) the love of God came upon his people. Always…never leaving, always leading, ever-present.

This psalm is a beautiful reminder that where we are and the feelings we feel do not make God different than who he is, what he has done, the things he continues to do, and the salvation he has granted by way of his Son and work of his Spirit. My prayer for you, if you are in that space like David, is that you cling to the word and promises of God. That even in the darkness his light is radiating. That even when you cannot see it, hold to the truth that it’s still there.

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