Lent and the spiritual wilderness experience

Death Valley

Death Valley, California

The season of Lent recalls Jesus’ 40-day temptation in the wilderness. All Christians sooner or later go through their own spiritual wilderness. And so, in the Old Testament, did one of the Sons of Korah, who left behind Psalms 42 and 43to instruct and comfort us in our own struggles with wilderness experience.

These two psalms appear to have been originally one song of three verses with refrain: “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” (I use “verse” in the sense of familiar songs or hymns, not in the sense of a verse of scripture.)

Verse 1: Psalm 42:1-4

The first verse expresses spiritual dryness. When a deer is thirsty, it finds a brook and drinks, but where is God? The psalmist ask that question, and lots of people ask it of him. He used to go to the temple with the multitude to observe the feasts. Now he no longer does. He may have been a backslider. He may have been in exile. In 2 Kings 12:17-18, King Joash sent all the treasure of the temple to King Hazael of Syria. Perhaps the psalmist was among those sent out on that sad mission and had to miss one of the feasts.

It really doesn’t matter why he puts going to the feast with the multitude in past tense. Anyone can relate to the spiritual struggles of lonely times, when we may indeed be feeling alone. Even feeling alone sitting in church surrounded by people who, we feel, are experiencing a joy that we don’t. Are you struggling with spiritual dryness? Join the psalmist and pray his refrain (v. 5). In your spiritual wilderness experience, it may be your own Good Friday now, but Sunday’s coming.

Psalm 42:6-10

The second verse expresses bewilderment. God has apparently forgotten about the psalmist. Why? Why? Deep calls to deep. The depth of human need calls out to the depth of God’s provision:

  • Brokenness calls out to love.
  • Despair calls out to hope.
  • Captivity calls out to freedom.
  • Sin calls out to mercy.

In times of great need, that is not met as quickly as we would like, we often feel that God has forgotten us. That feeling causes intense spiritual struggles. Yet it is the noise of God’s waterfall from which deep calls to deep. It is the Lord’s waves and breakers that sweep over us. His love and song are with us day and night. We must go to God in order to complain to him about being forgotten! And how can we find him to complain unless he makes a way for us to do so? Are you feeling bewildered? Join the psalmist and pray his refrain (v.11). In your spiritual wilderness experience, it may be your own Good Friday, but Sunday’s coming.

Verse 3: Psalm 43:1-4

Light after darkness

In the third verse (Psalm 43), the psalmist pleads for vindication against the ungodly. He still wonders why God allows such injustice and oppression. He pleads for God to send light, faithful care, or as another translation puts it, truth to lead him to God’s holy hill. Is that a prayer for return to literal Mount Zion? Or is it for a figurative place where he can renew his worship? Either interpretation would satisfy and answer the prayer.

However the answer comes, we can go to the altar with joy and worship with the fervor and devotion of our fondest memories. Have light and truth overcome injustice in your life and led you back to a place of unclouded worship? Join the psalmist and pray his refrain (v.5)–this time, not with dogged determination as before, but with joyful confidence. You have prevailed in your spiritual struggles. You have walked through your spiritual wilderness experience. You have endured your own Good Friday. Sunday has come. Praise God!

Photo credits: Death Valley. Some rights reserved by Pamela Carls
Light after darkness. Some rights reserved by JD|Photography

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