I send people to the Psalms all the time. I tell them that it’s a collection of songs and poems. I tell them that people wrote these songs and poems and laments and declarations to give words to emotions and experiences. I tell them that these emotions and experiences are common to humans, maybe even to us.
I tell them lots of things.
When I tell people most often, however, is when they need a response to particular emotions and experiences.
When a person feels like throwing things at God because everything is falling apart, I am unlikely to suggest that they read Psalm 100, which starts, “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.” Though there are times to invite people to joyous celebration, it isn’t all the times.
In fact, I’m more likely to sit with them and read these words from Psalm 102: “When I call, answer me quickly. For my days vanish like smoke, my bones burn like glowing embers.”
We’re used to stories, whether watching or listening or reading. There is a beginning, a middle, and an end. If there are chapters, they advance the story. The book of Psalms is not a story, not a chapter book, and only loosely organized into a flow. It is less like a chronicle or a letter or a collection of proclamations. Instead, it is more like our daily lives.
In a day we can have emotional highs and lows, we can have commitments in the morning and confessions in the evening. And our responses are mixed together.
The preservation of this collection with its variety of feeling suggests that those of us who have been taught, implicitly, to always rejoice, to be always be strong, to always be active have been taught wrong. Instead, it’s possible, that feeling weak, worn, sad, defeated, are honest feelings. And that in these songs and stories, we may find ways to give words to our injury and find understanding for our lament. And, of course, sometimes, to rejoice.
In the next few posts, I’ll be interacting with a few psalms to illustrate what I mean.