Deep calls to deep at the thunder of your cataracts.
(Psalm 42:7)

The whole of Psalm 42 is deep, describing feelings much too heavy for words. It begins with an expression of profound spiritual yearning:

As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God. (verses 1-2)

And near the end, we find words that anticipate Jesus’ cry from the Cross:

I say to God, “Why have you forgotten me?”
(cf. Matthew 27:46; Psalm 22:1)

Read the entire psalm, and you’ll feel the author’s anguish and intense spiritual striving.

The word deep occurs in the second verse of the Bible:

The earth was a formless void and darkness coveted the face of the deep.
(Genesis 1:2)

Here, as in many other Old Testament passages, it refers to something immense, mysterious and unfathomable, epitomized by the restless sea. For a person who lived in a semi-arid Middle East land, as the psalm writer did, viewing the sea during a turbulent storm, rolling, crashing waves under skies dark with looming storm clouds from horizon to horizon, must have been an overwhelming image. If he also happened to see waterspouts (the likely meaning of the word in Psalm 42:7 translated cataracts), reaching down from the clouds and siphoning large volumes of foaming water up from the sea, there would be no words to describe that awesome scene.

What does the psalmist mean by “Deep calls to deep“? It seems that he’s describing one reality too deep for words trying to communicate with another reality too deep for words. Some commentators have suggested that the phrase refers to the deep part of a spiritual seeker trying to connect with the deeper dimensions of God. Somehow, the waterspouts/cataracts indicate that connection being made:

Deep calls to deep  at the thunder of your cataracts.

It’s clear to me that this psalm is not about an average, routine prayer or act of worship, involving a believer for whom life is rolling along pretty well, following predictable patterns and resulting in an adequate amount of satisfaction and happiness. The religious principles such a person lives by seem to be working, and their view of God seems to fit into their everyday life experiences.

No, the writer of the psalm is in a different place. Phrases that express this include: a deadly wound in my body, my adversaries taunt me, they say to me continually, “Where is your God?” He describes his soul as cast down and disquieted. He says he weeps day and night. He feels the need to pour out his soul. This is not the description of a stable, secure, “together” follower of God. This is a person in a deep, dark place.

So, if you’re someone for whom things are working pretty well right now, you can stop reading. But if you’re in a deep place, read on. You need a deeper experience with God. A superficial God won’t help you. The caricature of God that might usually work for you — the picture in your mind right now — isn’t enough. The deep within you is crying out for the deep within God. Nothing else will satisfy you. You won’t be able to explain it; it’s beyond words and understanding. But you will know when that waterspout, that cataract from God, fills the vast empty place deep inside you.

Hear these final words of encouragement from the psalmist:

Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God. (verse 11)

He knows; he’s been there.

– Pastor George Van Alstine