If you walk into the typical church, the songs you’ll hear are usually uplifting and hopeful – whether they’re old or new. They speak of God’s love for us, our joy in him, our call to follow Jesus – all that good stuff.
But imagine for a moment that you go to church this Sunday, open up the hymnbook or look up at the screen, and to your shock, the words of the first song include, “Lord, kill my enemies! May their children be dashed against a rock!” and in another, “God, where are you? You have abandoned me.”
Too far-fetched? It shouldn’t be.
Those are the kinds of songs both Jews and Christians have been singing for centuries. They come from one of the books of the Bible – the biggest one, in fact – called the Psalms. The Psalms were like the songbook or hymnal of the Jewish people. These songs gave voice to their relationship with God.
Like every deep, honest relationship, they are not comfortable. They don’t always soothe the soul, at least not in the kind of anesthetizing way a lot of Christian songs do today. They are painfully honest about the ups and downs of knowing and loving God.
Sometimes we are riding high as Christians. Life is going well. The Psalms show us how to praise God.
Sometimes life stinks. Things are not going well. The Psalms show us how to bring our sorrow to God.
Sometimes we get angry. Sometimes we get bitter and vengeful. Sometimes we have emotions coursing through us that we don’t consider godly – and they aren’t.
The Psalms don’t pull away from any of this. In song after song, they express the range of emotions normal people go through. They express all the doubt, fear and frustration that come with trying to be faithful in a fallen world.
I love the encouraging songs we sing at church. And the kind of unfiltered emotions we see in the Psalms need to be tempered with the compassion and mercy of Jesus. Even so, if we didn’t have the Psalms, there would be something a little more disingenuous about the whole Christian thing. It would be a little more plastic.
In that sense, they are a comfort. A professor back in college made the point that the Psalms are not a litmus test: “Meet this standard of spirituality, and we’ll let you into heaven.” The Psalms are more like a boundary marker. They show you how far you can go and still call yourself a follower of God. Are you crushed by the weight of grief? Are you doubtful whether God is really there? Are you bitter and angry because you were treated unfairly or with contempt? There is room in God’s heart for you. You can be honest with him.
Maybe because these songs play such a pivotal role in the church, I tried to memorize them in college. I got through, oh… one. Then I realized, I had written tons of songs myself, and I knew every line to them, so I thought, “Why don’t I put the Psalms to music to help me remember them?” In no time, I had five or six down.
Over at my other site, you can hear a recording of one of them. I hope you enjoy it, but if you don’t, I hope you check out the Psalms yourself and see what real Christian spirituality looks like.
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