RABBI MARC GELLMAN TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY
1: Judge me, O God, and plead my case against an ungodly nation: O deliver me from the deceitful and unjust man.
2: For you are the God of my strength: why do you reject me? why am I going to cry because of the oppression of the enemy?
3: O send your light and your truth: let them lead me; lead me to your holy hill and to your tabernacles.
4: Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my extreme joy: yes, on the harp I will praise you, O God my God.
5: Why are you cast down, oh my soul? and why are you worried in me? hope in God: for I will praise him again, who is the health of my face and my God. (King James Version)
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Psalm 43 is deep, brooding, hopeful, and strange. First of all, Psalm 43 is almost the same as Psalm 42 with some verses exactly the same (3 and 5). It is possible that once they were one Psalm, but for some reason they were eventually divided. Who knows? All this is above my pay.
Additionally, Psalm 43 strangely does not include a superscription that would attribute its authorship, such as the common phrase “A hymn to David.” I assume it was written by David fleeing a jealous King Saul, but perhaps it was composed by a harp player who had been exiled from the Temple in Jerusalem.
The bottom line is that this psalm could have been written by anyone who felt betrayed or unjustly attacked; or by someone who is simply depressed by the bumps and bruises of life. That’s why I love him so much. This psalm is honest about being blue.
The psalmist brought his brokenness before God, and with it a subtle but powerful argument: God is my strength but I am weak. God must therefore be weak or, worse, indifferent to my pain: “For you are the God of my strength: why do you reject me? why am I going to cry because of the oppression of the enemy? (verse 2)”
For Christian readers, this verse perfectly foreshadows Jesus’ cry in his final moments on the cross: “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 25:46). The setting is different for this psalm, but the words, sentiments and question are the same. Pain makes us doubt God.
Paradoxically, suffering is both the most fundamental obstacle to faith and the most fundamental reason for faith.
We think we are innocent, and therefore we think our suffering is betrayal by a supposedly just God. This is wrong on two counts. Most of our suffering is caused by our own actions. We damage our health, we violate our vows, we transgress clear moral rules and therefore we suffer the just consequences of our sins.
It’s a hard truth, but it’s a real truth and when God is used as a scapegoat for our own moral weariness, I am, to use the language of the King James Version, deeply offended.
However, the world produces an excess of suffering from totally innocent people – and God must answer for that. God’s answer is that not all suffering is punishment. Some are the result of bad luck or bad genes or bad times.
The ancient rabbis taught: “The world goes by its own laws. Aristotle called this natural evil as opposed to moral evil. If you are in the path of a hurricane, you may suffer, but the hurricane is not bad and its destruction is not a punishment from God.
God’s offer in the face of unjust suffering is to accompany us through the suffering and give us the strength to emerge from the other side of despair and grief healed and hopeful again.
Like the force of buoyancy that pushes a cork to the surface after being pushed by a wave, God provides us with spiritual buoyancy to push us toward light and truth (verse 3).
The psalm ends in verse 5: “Why are you cast down, O my soul? and why are you worried in me? hope in God, for I will praise him again, who is the health of my face and my God.
The Hebrew yeshuat panai, which translates to “the health of my face” literally means “the salvation of my face”, but it is impossible to translate it adequately. Its meaning must be discovered. This means that at some point, when you are completely lost, God will send someone to find you.
Study this: Who found you?
Send questions and comments to The God Squad via email at [email protected]. Rabbi Gellman is the author of several books, including “Religion For Dummies,” co-authored with Father Tom Hartman.