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.
The Psalter does not allow its readers to live in the illusion that following God’s path will always be pleasant. In fact, following God’s way may lead us through some very dark valleys (Ps 23). In Psalm 44 the writer complains to God because he is experiencing rejection, humiliation, and scorn, but had done no wrong:
All of this happened to us, though we had not forgotten you or been false to your covenant. - Psalm 44:17
He sees nothing in his present situation to confirm that God is in control or is faithful to God’s people, but it is important not to overlook the fact that the cry is made to God, again built on the assumption that God is the King of all of creation. By lamenting to God the psalmist is confessing that the situation is beyond their control and they are in need of God’s deliverance and presence.
One striking element we discover in studying the Psalms is the brutal honesty of the psalmists that give them space to ask for pain to be inflicted upon their enemies. Rather than viewing these passages as condoning violence or hatred contradictory to Jesus’ teachings, however, perhaps they should be read as indications that we may take every emotion and thought to God. The psalmists do not turn to their own resources to climb out of the pit, suppress their emotions, or attempt to personally inflict pain on their oppressors. (We Christians are shocked by the violent language in the Psalms but how often do we use our own tongues to inflict retributive suffering?) Instead, they turn to God in faith and trust.
As a result, we see that their hearts and view of the world are transformed by turning to God. Not only in almost every lament psalm do we find a movement in the end to praise, but several recent scholars have pointed out that there is a movement within the entire Psalter from lament to praise:
The final shape of the Psalter, though it acknowledges the reality and pain of human suffering, plumbs the depths of agony in the face of the hiddenness of God, and admits to the darkness, anger, and outright evil that continue to abide even in the heart of the faithful, nevertheless still points to an alternative view of reality in which there is room in the human heart only for praise. Praise constitutes another reality in which the presence of God has become so real that anger has no point, pain has no hold, and death lacks all power to sting.
Gerald Wilson, “The Shape of the Book of Psalms,” Interpretation 46 (1992), p. 139.