1 Judge me, O God, and plead my cause against an ungodly nation; deliver me from a 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 forth thy light and thy truth: let them guide me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your tabernacles.
4 Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my utter joy: yea, on the harp I will praise you, O God my God.
5 Why are you despondent, 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. (King James Version)
Psalm 43 is deep, dark, hopeful and strange. First of all, Psalm 43 is almost the same as Psalm 42 with some exact same verses (verses 3 and 5). They may once have been one Psalm, but for some reason they have been divided. Who knows? All of this is above my pay level.
In addition, Psalm 43, strangely, does not include a superscription that would attribute authorship, such as the common expression “A hymn for David”. I guess it was written by David fleeing from a jealous King Saul, but maybe it was composed by a harp player who had been exiled from the Temple in Jerusalem. The main point is that this Psalm could have been written by anyone who felt betrayed or unfairly attacked; or by someone who is just depressed by the bumps and bruises of life. This is why I love him so much. This Psalm is honest to be blue.
The psalmist brought his break before God, and with it a subtle but powerful argument: God is my strength, but I am weak. Therefore, God must be weak or, worse, indifferent to my pain, “For you are the God of my strength: why do you reject me? Why will I cry because of the oppression of the enemy? (Verse 2) “
For Christian readers, this verse perfectly portends the cry of Jesus in his last moments on the cross: “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying: Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is, my God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 25:46). The setting is different for this Psalm, but the words, the feelings and the question are the same. Pain makes us doubt God.
Paradoxically, suffering is at the same time the most fundamental obstacle to faith while also being the most fundamental reason for faith.
We think that we are innocent and, therefore, we think that our suffering is a betrayal by a supposedly righteous God. This is wrong in two respects. Most of our suffering is caused by our own actions. We harm our health; we violate our vows; we break clear moral rules – and, therefore, suffer the righteous consequences of our sins. It is a harsh but real truth, and when God is used as a scapegoat for our moral weariness, I am, to use the language of the King James Version, deeply upset.
However, the world is producing excess suffering of totally innocent people, and God must answer for it. God’s answer is that not all suffering is punishment. Some are the result of bad luck, bad genes or bad times. The ancient rabbis taught that: “The world walks according to its own laws. Aristotle called this natural evil as opposed to moral evil. If you are in the path of a hurricane, you may be in pain, 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 suffering and to give us the strength to emerge from the other side of despair and pain healed and full of hope. Like the force of buoyancy that pushes a cork to the surface after being pushed down by a wave, God offers us spiritual buoyancy to push us towards light and truth (verse 3).
The Psalm ends in verse 5: “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why are you worried in me? Hebrew yeshuat panai, which the King James version translates as “the health of my face” literally means “the salvation of my face”, but it is impossible to translate it correctly. Its meaning must be discovered. This means that at some point when you are completely lost, God will send someone to find you.
Who found you?
SEND QUESTIONS AND FEEDBACK to The God Squad at [email protected] or Rabbi Marc Gellman, Temple Beth Torah, 35 Bagatelle Rd., Melville, NY 11747.