I was at Status last night for the MUSE Theology night. Aaron Moore spoke about how to honestly read and pray the Psalms without skipping over the sad and angry ones. His focus was on authenticity and genuine reaction to circumstances and to God without giving a candy-coated answer that you don’t really feel.
This was his main division of the Psalms:
- Orientation: When everything lines up. Life is good. Happy. Somewhat easy. This is when sometimes we forget we need God.
- Disorientation: This is where I was for about a year and a half until this past semester. Lost. Confused. Numb to God’s voice and his comfort.
- New Orientation: When we see God move and hear His voice again. Not necessarily reorientation to where everything is fine, but enlightened to see God’s plan in a new way. This has been me the past 6 months or so. This isn’t to say we are removed from struggle, but we are made more aware of God’s presence.
He equated these stations of life with specific Psalms, respectively:
Psalm 33 [TNIV]
1 Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise him. 3 Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy. 4 For the word of the Lord is right and true; he is faithful in all he does. 5 The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love. 10 The Lord foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples. 18 But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, 19 to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine. 20 We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. 21 In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. 22 May your unfailing love be with us, Lord, even as we put our hope in you.
See isn’t that happy? Unfailing love. Rejoicing. Trust. Justice. Etc.
Psalm 13:1-4 [TNIV]
1 How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? 2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? 3 Look on me and answer, Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death, 4 and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
Where did the God of Psalm 33 go for David? “Will you forget me forever?”, “How long will my enemies triumph over me?” In the last one God was delivering from death. This, my friends, is called life. There is a balance between our contentment in God and our absolute need for Him. I’m not talking balance like equal scales that never move. I’m talking about the kind of balance a child has when learning to ride a bike. Wobbly. Back and forth. Falling down over and over. That sounds like me. So why, when we talk about the Psalms do we so often neglect these Psalms of despair and skip straight to redemption when we know that we’re not there yet? I can’t just sing a happy song and have everything between God and I be clean and restored. It’s a process. So, I choose to be honest in my response to God and not just spew tired cliché church speak. When I’m lost and angry and can’t honestly say everything is great, I will express that honestly. These Psalms are examples of honest expression of emotion in David’s heart.
Jon Foreman has a song called Instead of a Show where he argues for authenticity, not churchy speech or living for the sake of following rules, but glorifying God and showing love.
I hate all your show and pretense.
The hypocrisy of your praise.
The hypocrisy of your festivals.
I hate all your show.
At the end of Psalm 13, David finishes his thought on God’s apparent disappearance from his life. He trusts through his pain and chooses to give God the praise he deserves. As Aaron said, this Psalm didn’t have to be written in one sitting. David’s heart changes and expresses hope in his pain in verses 5-6:
5 But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. 6 I will sing the Lord ’s praise, for he has been good to me.
Psalm 30 [TNIV] A proclamation of David’s recognition of God coming back into his life. God fulfilling his promises. New orientation:
2 Lord my God, I called to you for help, and you healed me. 3 You, Lord, brought me up from the realm of the dead; you spared me from going down to the pit. 4 Sing the praises of the Lord, you his faithful people; praise his holy name. 5 For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning. 6 When I felt secure, I said, “I will never be shaken.” 7 Lord, when you favored me, you made my royal mountain stand firm; but when you hid your face, I was dismayed. 8 To you, Lord, I called; to the Lord I cried for mercy: 10 Hear, Lord, and be merciful to me; Lord, be my help.” 11 You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, 12 that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent. Lord my God, I will praise you forever.
This turnaround is hope. Hope in God’s promises. Even in pain.
This is a great post, i like the idea about different themes to certain psalms. for the longest time i tried restoring that awesome feeling with God, but it was until I realized that, that awesome feeling only came from being crucified with Christ.
If you wanted to see more along these lines, the themes of orientation, disorientation, and new orientation come from Walter Brueggemann’s work on the Psalms. He (Brueggemann) insists it’s his lasting contribution to biblical scholarship. He’s published extensively about it on both academic and popular levels.