Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Downcast Soul

Early last month, I read an invitation sent out for a ladies’ gathering:
How is your soul?

In Psalm 42 the psalmist asks the question: “Why are you downcast, O my soul?  And why are you disquieted within me?”

Lately I have met a few downcast souls within our family-of-God.  (I have been one of them!)  Things just don’t feel quite right and we are wondering what is happening to us, our thoughts, our souls?  We know God wants us to love him with our whole heart, soul, and strength.  But we feel tired and unable to muster up the strength.

Please, ladies, come to our dessert evening where we will explore scripture that instructs us how to take care of this soul God wants to be totally his.
The invitation prompted a question in my mind: How much mustered effort is enough?  And then there was another question: Who is the assumed effective agent in the process?  I am genuinely curious, because this afflicts everyone at some point in his or her walk with the Lord, and addressing the subject is a good step in the right direction.  I hope it is answered biblically at the gathering.

If the strength originates in or emanates from me, then the command to love (De 6:4–5) is nothing more than a plea to continually stir up passion or enthusiasm.  The effort will always be “just a bit more,” which ultimately leads to self-destruction as we continue to add man-made conditions in a never-ending quest for higher spirituality; whereas if the strength originates in God, then He must stipulate what is intended or how He will make this strength available.  Notice, then, the context of the command to love:
And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.  (De 6:6–9)
A whole heart is not described as one wherein all one’s time and energy are given over to performing self-imposed tasks or goals, but in knowing the Scriptures to do them and not forget from Whom all things have been received (De 6:10–15).

Later in the month, I saw the following quoted from The Deep Place Where Nobody Goes by Jill Briscoe pertaining to the same gathering as above:
I ran to the Deep Place where nobody goes, and found Him waiting there.  “Where have you been?” He asked me.

“I’ve been in the shallow place where everyone lives,” I replied.  I knew He knew.  He just wanted me to admit I’d been too busy being busy.  “I’m running out…”  I began.

“Of course,” He said.  “I haven’t seen you in a while.”

He sat down on the steps of my soul and smiled at me.  Angels sang; a shaft of light chased away the shadows and brightened my daily day.  I smiled back.

“I’m such a fool…”

“Shhh,” He said, putting His finger on my lips.

He touched my hurried heart.  Startled, it took a deep breath and skidded to a near stop.  My spirit nestled into nearness in the Deep Place where nobody goes.
My soul spoke, then: He answered with words beyond music.  Where on Earth had I been?
Matters became clearer for me and prompted another question: What is the proposed solution for the downcast soul?  The Lord does desire and require full fealty, and like the children of Israel, we intend much but in the routine of life, we falter.  The desire and strength to follow wanes.  What had been our joy and delight becomes lackluster, even burdensome.  Or maybe the daily grind of life is not the issue, rather sudden difficult circumstances.

What is the cure for the downcast soul?
Jill Briscoe offers a romanticized mystical solution by referring the reader to a “Deep Place” to find intimacy with “Him.”  There are immediate problems with this solution, beginning with the obvious: if nobody goes there, how does the author get there?  How did she find the way?  Is there a road map of sorts, and who has access to these directions?  The story hints at a secret knowledge for inner peace that is available to only a few that find it—key elements of the ancient heresy of gnosticism.

Let it be known that I am willing to give Mrs. Briscoe some literary leeway, rather than rush to assign the moniker of abject heretic, but difficulties remain.  Who is “He?”  For certain he cannot be God, because as much as the story character wishes to confess sin, he cuts her off as if to say that it is not a problem.  The Lord calls us to confess, so that He might forgive us our sins, not cut us off mid-sentence.  And why are the two so intimate?  Notice the close contact and caressing are reminiscent of lovers.  What is actually being portrayed?  I assume no intention of salacious behavior, but something is amiss.

A better solution to the question of the downcast soul would be found with Psalm 42, which the ladies correctly referenced in the original communication above.  This is a good starting place, wherein the psalmist admits he is downcast being separated from the worship life in Jerusalem.  He longs for that communion and cannot understand why God has seemingly neglected him.  One can feel the wrestling within the psalmist as he describes his longing, yet the inability to fulfill it.  The situation is difficult, but the psalmist rests in the ongoing care of the Lord, reminding himself that He is faithful and will not abandon His people.

Another good example is Psalm 77, which presents an apparently more dire condition.  Here the psalmist describes his constant entreaty marked by constant loud lament and outstretched hands.  Sleeplessness is his constant companion as he struggles with the idea that the Lord has forsaken him.  The psalm turns, however, as attention turns from his pain and proclaims:
Then I said, “I will appeal to this,
    to the years of the right hand of the Most High.” (Ps 77:10)
To what does Asaph appeal?  He appeals to what he has been taught in the Scriptures of the Lord’s mighty deeds in redeeming a people and the ongoing truth that He made His dwelling place with them.  It is these things that give the psalmist strength to persevere.

The solution, then, for the downcast soul is to remember: 1) God works on your behalf as demonstrated on the cross; and 2) there are great and precious promises, which explain to us what He freely bestows in Christ.

He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all,
how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? (Rom 8:32)

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