His Steadfast Hand

By day the Lord directs his love,
at night his song is with me—
a prayer to the God of my life. Psalm 42:8

Psalm 42 is full of imagery that calls to mind a relentless suffering: a panting thirst, tears for food, overwhelming waves sweeping over me. Yet this psalm is also peppered with calls for hope, and reminders to praise God in his steadfastness. As we’ve moved through these weeks of Lent and studied Psalm 42, I’m learning that even in this predominantly somber time of remembering Jesus’ suffering, I must return to hope and stay close to God in prayer. As I try to hold these contrasting ideas together, I’m reminded that this pattern of opposing themes is found in countless examples throughout scripture. Most notably, in the book of Lamentations: this pattern of suffering and hope is seen as the people of Jerusalem lament the destruction of their city, cry out to God, and remember his steadfast hand in guiding them through trials. In FCCH Women’s Bible Study last autumn, as we studied Lamentations, I learned to more deeply appreciate the patterns found in this kind of biblical poetry. What might on the surface seem like a tedious and repetitive complaint is a beautiful spiritual practice that insists the reader (or singer) pays close attention and appreciates how God remains right there with us through our suffering - all we need to do is to seek God in prayer. From these poems of lament, I have been encouraged to remember that my suffering, despair, and longing are fulfilled in the promise of salvation and hope in Christ.

These opposing themes draw our attention to the nature of God, our Creator, who is steadfast in his care for all His people. The Lamentations prompt us to see these themes more clearly in balance and accept both suffering and joy. In the Old Testament, this balance plays out as the people of Jerusalem grieved the destruction of their city, yet remembered God’s love and mercy.  For us, this balance plays out as we suffer our trials, yet are reminded to keep hope, knowing that we do not suffer in isolation. We look to the cross where we share in the suffering of Jesus and the joy of his ultimate triumph over sin and death.

As I read the early verses of Psalm 42, I saw a similar pattern to what I read in Lamentations last fall. Here the psalmist describes his longing for God, and also his hope and praise for his Savior. He repeats several times the lament of his downcast soul, his thirst for God’s steadfast protection. Verse 8 though, is distinctive. It seems to break the pattern of the relentless lament. In verse 8, the psalmist sings again of both day and night - recalling the earlier weeping (“My tears have been my food day and night” v3). This time though, the psalmist rises from his downcast posture of despair momentarily, reminding us that God’s love is with us throughout the whole of each day and that His presence comforts us like a lullaby in the dark night. This juxtaposition reassures us that God is ever present with us even through suffering, even as we lament and cry out in despair. We need only to pray, to call out to God as the psalmist does throughout this song. Just as the psalmist returns to lament further in this psalm, we will undoubtedly continue to face trials in our own lives. No matter the waves of despair or longing we might feel caught in, however, God remains steadfast.
Lord God, you are our steadfast protector, even as waves of despair fall over us. Thank you for your Word that reminds us of your constant presence - your love directing each of our days, your song that is with us each night. Be with us as we endure the trials before us, and remind us that even in suffering, the cross of Christ is ever before us, urging us onward. In your name, Amen.