Rhythm Of The Psalms
Yesterday (3/17/21) marked two months from the wreck that killed my fiancee. I thought about how to mark that day, and yet in the end I marked it by sitting along with my thoughts, old letters, and prayers that seemed to constantly shift between faith and fear. That shifting is something that has been going on for the past two months, and it is something that I am unsure has an end date. In those months I have come to tell people that I have been caught in the rhythm of the psalms.
I have heard many people talk about psalms as the place to go for easy comfort, the place where we don't have to wrestle with some of the hard truths found in Scripture, or a place to go when life is full of the green pastures and still waters that Psalm 23 promises us. And yet those same people seem to quickly pass over the valley of the shadow of death that Psalm 23 promises we will walk through on our way to such places.
There is an honestly in the psalms that I believe that many people miss, or choose to ignore, when reading through the psalms. For in the psalms I have found words for the prayers I dared not pray or the feelings I didn't know how to explain.
In the past two months, I have been caught between people, who I tell myself are well-meaning, who offer advice and try to say the right things. On one side are people who love to remind me of verses like Romans 8:28 without having enough biblical knowledge to know that this verse speaks of where Hannah is now and not life on this side of eternity. And then on the other side are people who point to the places in Scripture where people let it all out and are honest in their anger towards God.
I believe that people on both of these sides see a part of what is true, but on one side it seems like people downplay the pain of living in this fallen and broken world. And on the other side, it seems like people are advocating throwing ones-self into a place of pain and anger devoid of any hope whatsoever. But I believe that it is in Psalms, more clearly than anywhere else that the juxtaposition of these two sides is seen and modeled for people like me, and like you, caught in midst of one of life's many dark and fearful nights.
To walk through all of the psalms and show this would take men and women far more knowledgeable than I and would fill more volumes that one could read in a lifetime. But looking at the psalm I read this morning let me show you what I mean...
Psalm 71* begins with a bold declaration that it's in the Lord that the psalmist takes refuge, and then in the very next verse we read a cry for God to listen to him when he prays. This is something that I think any honest person can relate to. Those times when we know in our heads that God is a refuge for His people, yet it seems like each time we call out we are sent straight to voicemail. And we have to ask ourselves, is He's even listening anymore. I've been there, I might even be there again before the end of the day. But we must follow where the psalmist is leading us.
In the 3rd verse, we see the psalmist again declare, right after his cry for deliverance, that God alone can save from the pain and brokenness of the world. Yet this verse is again followed by a cry for rescue. It's a back and forth between the head and the heart. He knew, as many of us do theologically, that God is strong, He saves, He delivers, He rescues, He loves, He listens, and He answers. And yet...so often in our hearts point to the pain and brokenness that we experience and believe that though this is true for others, it may not be as true for us as it is for them.
And yet this again is followed by a declaration that God alone is our hope, and that He is worthy to be praised. The psalmist makes bold declarations that God not only can save, but speaks to a hope that God will save him. And then again, in verse 12, we read (and echo) the cry for God to not be far from us any longer. The psalmist cries out and asks not only for help but asks that God "make haste" to do so. Yet in the middle of this cry for relief to come, and come quickly the psalmist writes, "But I will hope..."
This is not a declaration that hope is present, but that though all seems hopeless he will remind himself of that which is true. Even more true than his own feelings, thoughts, and emotion. Something that is nothing less than heresy to the worldview of the 21st century.
And then again, a few verses later the psalmist is honest about where he is and prays "O God, do not forsake me". It's easy to read this without thinking about why this was said. For no one bellows out a cry like that unless they believed, of felt, like being forsaken was an option. And here the psalmist is honest with where his heart is, and yet takes that to the only place where an answer of substance can come.
I think of of the most telling verses in this chapter is found near the end of this psalm. In verse 20 the psalmist writes: "You who have made me see many troubles and calamities
will revive me again;
from the depths of the earth
you will bring me up again."
And I think that more than any other verse in this chapter we see the rhythm of the psalms summed up and clearly shown. The psalmist doesn't make excuses for what has happened and does not lose faith in that foundational truth of God's complete sovereignty over all things, a doctrine that when removed from Christianity changes the faith altogether. He points his finger at God and body declares 'You did this to me!' But though he goes there, he does not live there. Something that is easier said than done, at least in my own life.
The psalmist, rooted in the hard doctrine of God's sovereignty in the midst of pain and trouble, also knows that if God was not sovereign in the midst of His pain then God would not be strong enough to bring him through it. And from there we read the declaration that comfort will come again. The psalmist doesn't put on his church-face and lie through his teeth as so many of us do. He doesn't claim that he's 'too blessed to be stressed' or that he's just 'blessed and highly favored. He's honest about where he is, but in that honesty, he runs to what he knows to be true. In this place, there is little to no comfort. Yet, comfort shall come. In this place, God seems far off, yet the knowledge that God draws near is truer than the feeling that He's walked away. In this place we wrestle with the type of pain that keeps us awake with weeping, one day dawn will break and joy will return. And this is the rhythm of the psalm. It is the ebb and flow of our souls in the broken and beat-up world. We will have pain, we were promised it. Or as C.S. Lewis put it, "We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, ‘Blessed are they that mourn,’ and I accept it. I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for. Of course, it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination." But in the midst of it, we must be honest with what we feel in our hearts even when it seems like we can't focus and life is nothing more than a painful blur. And then we must continually run to what we know is more true than how we feel about God...and that is what God has revealed are His thoughts toward us. *Psalm 71
In you, O Lord, do I take refuge;
let me never be put to shame!
In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me;
incline your ear to me, and save me!
Be to me a rock of refuge,
to which I may continually come;
you have given the command to save me,
for you are my rock and my fortress.
Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked,
from the grasp of the unjust and cruel man.
For you, O Lord, are my hope,
my trust, O Lord, from my youth.
Upon you I have leaned from before my birth;
you are he who took me from my mother's womb.
My praise is continually of you.
I have been as a portent to many,
but you are my strong refuge.
My mouth is filled with your praise,
and with your glory all the day.
Do not cast me off in the time of old age;
forsake me not when my strength is spent.
For my enemies speak concerning me;
those who watch for my life consult together
and say, “God has forsaken him;
pursue and seize him,
for there is none to deliver him.”
O God, be not far from me;
O my God, make haste to help me!
May my accusers be put to shame and consumed;
with scorn and disgrace may they be covered
who seek my hurt.
But I will hope continually
and will praise you yet more and more.
My mouth will tell of your righteous acts,
of your deeds of salvation all the day,
for their number is past my knowledge.
With the mighty deeds of the Lord God I will come;
I will remind them of your righteousness, yours alone.
O God, from my youth you have taught me,
and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.
So even to old age and gray hairs,
O God, do not forsake me,
until I proclaim your might to another generation,
your power to all those to come.
Your righteousness, O God,
reaches the high heavens.
You who have done great things,
O God, who is like you?
You who have made me see many troubles and calamities
will revive me again;
from the depths of the earth
you will bring me up again.
You will increase my greatness
and comfort me again.
I will also praise you with the harp
for your faithfulness, O my God;
I will sing praises to you with the lyre,
O Holy One of Israel.
My lips will shout for joy,
when I sing praises to you;
my soul also, which you have redeemed.
And my tongue will talk of your righteous help all the day long,
for they have been put to shame and disappointed
who sought to do me hurt.