Deep to Deep

There’s this song that came out in 1999, written by Brenton Brown, and then popularized in 2005 by Kutless, which has been really popular in evangelical churches during the last decade.  It’s called All Who Are Thirsty.  It can be a little slow at times, sort of dirge-like, but I’ve always liked it alright.   There’s this one line, though, that I’ve always wondered about — the last one:

All who are thirsty
All who are weak
Come to the fountain
Dip your heart in the stream of life
Let the pain and the sorrow
Be washed away
In the waves of His mercy
As deep cries out to deep

As deep cries out to deep.  What does that mean?  It sounds… well, deep!  But I’ve never really understood it.  The phrase comes from Psalm 42, which is itself a pretty popular passage.  I won’t include the entire thing here (just 4 of the 11 verses to give you the gist) but you’ll find it down in verse 7.

1As a deer pants for flowing streams,
    so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
    for the living God…

…My soul is cast down within me;
    therefore I remember you
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
    from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep
    at the roar of your waterfalls;
all your breakers and your waves
    have gone over me.

By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
    and at night his song is with me,
    a prayer to the God of my life…

The phrase has become a kind of joke in our house.  One of us, Jason or myself, will be expounding on something profound or attempting to wax poetic about God or the universe or just how dirty our windows are and the other will say,

“Wow, pal… that’s deep.”  

“What can I say?  Deep cries to deep.”

“You know that’s right.”

I was surprised this past weekend, as I was working my way through the third chapter of Honest to God, to stumble upon an unexpected understanding of the phrase.  It started with unpacking what it means to think of God as “the Ground of Our Being.”

If we consider traditional Christian thinking, we have a God who is “out there.”  A God who hovers outside of and separate from the earth, sort of like the sun.  But suppose, Robinson ponders, there is no God out there?  Suppose the skies are empty?  What if, instead, we considered God the “ultimate depth of all our being, the creative ground and meaning of all our existence.”

What does it mean for God to be “ultimate depth?”  Here is how Paul Tillich, a German American Christian existentialist and philosopher put it, in connection with suffering:

‘Deep’ in its spiritual use has two meanings: it means either the opposite of ‘shallow’, or the opposite of ‘high’.  Truth is deep and not shallow; suffering is depth and not height.  Both the light of truth and the darkness of suffering are deep.   There is a depth in God, and there is a depth out of which the psalmist cries to God.

There it is — deep crying to deep.  Deep suffering, which is depth not height, cries out to a deep God, who is deep not shallow.

Robinson, in Honest to God, goes on to explain further why this change in spatial metaphor is important.  The Epicurean gods of the day floated out there, above the fray.  They were “the epitome of sublime indifference,” existing far above and beyond the people of earth, not to be bothered by their pesky concerns.   In contrast, the God of the psalter is not floating out there above and beyond it all.  The psalter’s God is a personal God and therefore cannot be out there above the fray like the Epicurean gods.  For if God is above it, he can’t be present in it.

I have gotten the sense lately, as I am now two months out from diagnosis, that some folks are ready for me to “have perspective” and a “hopeful outlook.”  This may or may not be true, I don’t know.  But while I do, on the one hand, have those things, I also, on the other, have found the whole thing to be depressing as hell.

I am in the depths, as it were.  But God is not “up there,” hovering above me while I grapple with what it means to have multiple sclerosis and struggle to process my feelings about it.  What relief was mine, what a freeing of space in my chest, when I read that God, the Ground of Our Being, is in the depths as well.  I am not alone. God is in the deep.

Deep really does cry out to deep.  Who knew?

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