The Roller Coaster of Psalms
I was flipping TV channels this morning, and ran across a gentleman who was doing an on-air Bible study. I would tell you the name of the program or of the host, but it was early, and I just don’t remember. What I do remember is that he said, “Let’s continue our study in the beautiful book of Psalms.”
It made me wonder if he has read the entire book or not. Yes, there are some gorgeous, inspiring, wonderful Psalms, but then there are some that are – not. I’ve mentioned before that I’m reading Yancy’s book, The Bible Jesus Read. One of the chapters is about the book of Psalms, and it has started me thinking.
There are some beautiful Psalms – poems of wonderful praise and worship (think of 8, 121, 139). Psalm 23 describes a very personal walk with God. There are others, though, that speak of abandonment, of hatred, of violence. Tuesday is the day that I read the Psalm in the lectionary reading for the week, and today’s was Psalm 14 – God looks around and can find no one who believes in him. (I'm not usually a fan of The Message translation of Psalms, but this one is -- well -- a very modern adaptation, and it does "bring it home." The link I've used for Psalm 14 above is that translation). I’m just not sure that we can blithely call the book of Psalm “beautiful.”
As an aside, one of my favorite lines from this chapter of Yancy’s book is, “We whine about things we have little control over; we lament what we believe ought to be changed.” So, next time I’m whining, I’m going to call it a “lament.”
So what does the book of Psalms say to us? I ask this question not in reference to a particular Psalm, but as a question about the entire book as a whole.
- I think we are reminded that God can take it. These are prayers, sent from God’s people to God himself, and we are just reading them as a spectator. From the time of Abraham, when he argued with God about Sodom and Gomorrah, through Moses, who expressed his doubts that he could possibly be the one to lead God’s people out of Egypt, through David (to whom many of the Psalms are attributed) and even up to Doubting Thomas, God has allowed – maybe he expects – His children to have problems. He’s OK when we tell him we disagree, or that we are angry, lost, hurt, doubting, or abandoned. I still like the thought that the one request that God granted Job was an audience. We can share all of this with God. Not only is He OK with it; He wants us to do it. Also in Yancy’s words, “The language of lament is oddly the shadow side of faith.” We cry out to those who we deeply, wildly trust. God wants that trust, so he willingly accepts the lament.
- Looking at the entire book, one can see that the emotions of the Psalms are not consistent. The tone of each changes, from one to the next. I think this can serve to remind us that our lives – our faith journeys – are not flat. Not only that, but our faith journeys are not a set of stairs straight up to God. It doesn’t work that way. Our faith journeys are more like a roller coaster – up and down, twisting this way and that. One day we may feel close to God, the next day – not so much. The general direction is toward God, but sometimes in the day to day, that is not so apparent. When we took the youth to SpiritSong, the adult chaperones had an ongoing joke (several, actually, but this one comes to mind). Standing, looking a roller coaster, someone would wonder out loud how likely it was that the car would jump the track. “That hardly ever happens,” was always the answer. Our faith journey is a little bit different than that. We’re stuck on this ride with God-epoxy – He’s got us, and he’s not going to let the ride jump the track. We can be assured on the downhill portions, during the times when the car goes upside down, and twists around like a corkscrew, that it’s OK. It’s just part of the journey, and even when we can’t feel our faith, God still has a hold of us.
- I also think that having all of these very differing kinds of prayers in a seeming random order in the book of Psalms can point out to us that while we may all be on faith journeys, those roller coasters aren’t synchronized. While we may be riding high on a Psalm 8 awareness of the wonder of God, someone else may be wondering “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (22:1). We have opportunities to help each other through times likes those, if we can remember to do it.
Image: Yes, you've seen it before (back on July 8), but it seems appropriate here, too, so here is is again. This is Face Off (a roller coaster at Kings Island) and the sun.