Text: Nahum Tate (1652-1715) and Nicholas Brady (1639-1726) Tune: Martyrdom
*1 As pants the hart for cooling streams, When heated in the chase; So longs my soul, O God, for thee, And thy refreshing grace. *2 For thee, my God, the living God, My thirsty soul doth pine; O! when shall I behold thy face, Thou majesty divine? 3 Tears are my constant food, while thus Insulting foes upbraid; "Deluded wretch! where's now thy God? "And where his promised aid?" 4 I sigh whene'er my musing thoughts, Those happy days present, When I, with troops of pious friends, Thy temple did frequent: 5 When I advanced with songs of praise, My solemn vows to pay; And led the joyful sacred throng, And kept the festal day. 6 Why restless, why cast down, my soul? Trust God; and he'll employ His aid for thee, and change these sighs To thankful hymns of joy. 7 My soul's cast down, O God; but thinks On thee and Sion still' From Jordan's banks, from Hermon's height, And Mizar's humbler hill. 8 One trouble calls another on; And, bursting o'er my head, Fall spouting down, till round my soul A roaring sea is spread. 9 But when thy presence, Lord of life, Has once dispelled this storm, To thee I'll midnight anthems sing, And all my vows perform. 10 God of my strength, how long shall I, Like one forgotten, mourn, Forlorn, forsaken, and exposed To my oppressor's scorn? 11 My heart is pierced as with a sword, Whilst thus my foes upbraid; "Vain boaster, where is now thy God? "And where His promised aid?" *12 Why restless, why cast down, my soul? Hope still; and thou shalt sing The praise of him who is thy God, Thy health's eternal spring.
REFLECTION To be human is to suffer. Suffering is a mark of the church according to Martin Luther. This great Psalm of David takes us through suffering, from the aching thirst of the deer, to remembrances of good times, to hope that God will provide, as he has in the past, “Thy health’s eternal spring.”
This paraphrase of Psalm 42 from the 17th century uses the entire psalm. I find it interesting that for the last two centuries, hymnal editors have cut it down to include only the starred stanzas plus a doxology. While I do understand the need to have shorter hymns, editors tend to leave out the dark meat, the part that speaks frankly about our sense of abandonment, our suffering and feelings of being forsaken.Trying to comfort by only speaking of the brighter side may actually increase suffering.
In the church of late I sense a move toward wanting to prevent suffering with good programs and interventions, but on the other hand something of an avoidance of speaking the truth to the one who is suffering. Scripture, especially the Psalms, is filled with shrieks of terror and doubt, even accusations against God for seeming to have abandoned the writer. The psalmist is learning to cope by remembering the best days behind him and speaking truthfully about his suffering, asking for God's return.
When people are at their lowest ebb, sweet talk is simply an irritation. They want the truth. Once I tried to comfort my mother in her last difficult weeks with one of her favorite verses, "Rejoice in the Lord." Never one to mince words, she looked at me fiercely and said "Oh, shut up!" I doubled over with laughter, which she fully expected, but she was telling me that what she needed was a lament. As Emily Dickinson wrote, “I like a look of agony because I know ‘tis true.”
In my father’s last months, he was briefly in the hospital and had been given a shot to calm him down, which brought him into deep confusion. I stayed overnight with him for several nights watching as his mind cleared. I read him Psalm 71, the old man’s psalm. He stopped me on verse 9: “Cast me not off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength faileth.”
He looked up at me, his soft greenish gray eyes coming into focus, “That is my prayer.” He needed the truth and knew it when he heard it.
We can’t fix everything, much as we would like to. We are helpless against much pain and suffering, we are nothing against death. But our faith gives us words that speak the truth and stand like pillars against all that is crumbling around us.
Like some schoolmaster, kind in being stern,
Who hears the children crying o’er their slates
And calling, “Help me, master!” yet helps not,
Since in his silence and refusal lies
Their self-development, so God abides
Unheeding many prayers. He is not deaf
To any cry sent up from earnest hearts;
He hears and strengthens when He must deny.
He sees us weeping o’er life’s hard sums,
But should He give the key and dry our tears,
What would it profit us when school were done
And not one lesson mastered?
Ella Wheeler Wilcox
Tate and Brady produced a New Version of the Psalter in 1696, supplanting the first one by Sternhold and Hopkins (ca. 1562). Tate was poet laureate of England at the time, but not very highly regarded. Brady was also involved in the literary world of the realm but did not achieve great reputation as a poet. However, their psalter became the preferred one in its time. It soon gave way to Isaac Watts looser versions of the psalms in 1719. According to Calvin’s rules, when one paraphrased a psalm into a singable version in the vernacular, one had to include every “jot and tittle” of the original so it would be God’s word in all its purity.
First Methodist Church at Chicago Temple
Matijn de Groot