The Psalms have been the worship and prayer book for followers of Yahweh (the ancient Hebrew name for God) throughout the centuries. As we begin to explore these ancient scriptures, you are invited to join in this worshipful and prayerful practice by journeying through the psalms this fall. You may want to read and pray through one psalm a day or spend the whole week in one of the psalms or part of a psalm from the reading schedule that week. The reading schedule is posted on our website or you can pick up a physical copy at one of our Sunday services.
Each week a blog post will assist us in thinking more deeply about different themes found in the Psalms. Along with this, various media, such as music and art work, will accompany the blog post to enhance our explorations.
We are a generation that cannot face suffering. Advertisers tell us that if we’re not happy, it must be the product we are using, so we should change it. Hollywood assures us that if our marriage is getting rocky, we should get a divorce because being romantically in love is what it’s all about. We celebrate victories and avoid grief. Having disposed of God we are forced to live in the illusion that we are in control of our lives. To admit that we are out of control would be to relinquish power and admit that we are not gods. There is an underlying fear that admitting to despair would entail giving up all hope. Church life is often no different. Faith means always smiling. Living the victorious Christian life is what it’s all about.
The Psalter—another name for the Book of Psalms—does not allow such a simplistic view of life. Every emotion is explored; every doubt is expressed. There is no glossing over of the pain in life. Instead, it is exposed in all its rawness. The irony of the Scriptures, and especially the Psalms, is that right at the point when all seems doomed, when we feel our feet slipping into the eternal hole of darkness, we realize that we are not alone, that there is Someone to whom we can cry out, Someone who is in control of the chaos.
The Psalter has the potential to give us a whole new outlook on both life as well as the Scriptures. It can help us to view life honestly, not only as we perceive it ourselves, but also as we perceive it before God. The Psalms are expressions of the inner life of God’s people. The Psalms teach us that being rightly related to God and choosing God’s path involves acknowledging God’s kingship in creation, remembering God’s past acts of salvation, obeying God’s covenantal law, trusting God in the midst of suffering, and expecting the complete restoration of God’s kingdom.
Acknowledging God’s Kingship in Creation
Recognizing Yahweh—the Hebrew name for God used throughout the Psalms—as Creator and King over all creation is central to the understanding of the Psalms, the entire Bible, and life today. The entire Psalter is constructed upon the assumption that creation has been created with order and that all stability is dependent on God. The beauty and order in creation sing the praises of Yahweh, who is good and stable like a rock:
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of God’s hands.
- Psalm 19:1
Not all aspects of nature are presented positively in the Psalms, however. Chaotic waters often seem to threaten the order and harmony of creation. Because the psalmists believe that God has the power to control the chaos as reflected in the Scriptures from Genesis 1 onwards, however, they can cry out to Yahweh for help. There is an underlying recognition that life can only be given and sustained by Yahweh (Ps. 104:24-30) and comes when one is rightly related to Yahweh. As Leslie Allen explains in her book Psalms, “For the psalmists nothing in this world has an innate stability but only a derived, God-given one.”
Today we like to imagine that we are the centers of the universe, and to maintain this lie we must always remain in control or at least sustain the illusion that we are in control. Recognizing that, in fact, Yahweh is the Creator and King of the Universe frees us to, first, face the chaotic waters without rationalizing them away, and, second, to turn to Yahweh in seeking order. When we realize that Creation is ordered, we come to understand our place of harmony in it. Finally, we will acknowledge that our life without God’s sustaining presence cannot stand against the chaos.