At the same time as I was beginning my deeper journey into the Psalms, good friends of ours were facing an extremely difficult time of loss in their lives. We endeavoured to bring some small comfort and pray for them. But words don’t come easy in such situations, either to one’s friend or even to God.
It was during this time that I read these words:
“Psalms [are] profoundly Jewish [in] character…the psalms of negativity, the complaints of various kinds, the cries for vengeance and profound penitence are foundational to a life of faith in…God. Much Christian piety and spirituality is romantic and unreal in its positiveness. As children of the Enlightenment, we have censored and selected around the voice of darkness and disorientation, seeking to go from strength to strength, from victory to victory. But such a way not only ignores the Psalms; it is a lie in terms of our experience…Psalms as a canonical book is finally an act of hope. But the hope is rooted precisely in the midst of loss and darkness, where God is surprisingly present. The Jewish reality of exile, the Christian confession of crucifixion and cross, the honest recognition that there is an untamed darkness in our life that must be embraced – all of that is fundamental to the gift of new life.
The Psalms are profoundly subversive of the dominant culture, which wants to deny and cover over the darkness we are called to enter. Personally we shun negativity. Publicly we deny the failure of our attempts to exercise control…Against all of this the Psalms issue a mighty protest and invite us into a more honest facing of the darkness. The reason the darkness may be faced and lived in is that even in the darkness, there is One to address…” (‘The Message of the Psalms – A Theological Commentary’ by Walter Brueggemann – Augsburg Publishing House)
The Psalms, so I am discovering, give us the language to not only praise and worship our great God, but also to talk to Him about difficult times in our lives and in the lives of others.
Eugene Peterson in his introduction to Psalms in the Message Bible says that “The Hebrews…provided us with this prayer book that gives us a language adequate for responding to the God who speaks to us.” (‘The Message – The Bible in Contemporary Language’ by Eugene H Peterson – NavPress)