So, back to “psalms of disorientation”, as Walter Brueggemann calls the lament psalms.
I guess we have to ask the question, despite what Wright and Lloyd-Jones say, do we really need the psalms of lament? I mean aren’t they a bit negative, in some cases downright depressing? Isn’t there enough negative things in the world without cluttering our spiritual lives with such dark poems? How on earth could using these psalms in our personal devotions and communal worship be of any benefit? And don’t we want the world to see what a great thing it is to be a believer in God, a follower of Jesus? Won’t the world judge the use of these psalms by the church (as Brueggemann puts it) as “acts of unfaith and failure”?
Well, according to Brueggemann, the use of these psalms, possibly seen by the world as “acts of unfaith and failure” are, on the contrary, acts “of bold faith, albeit a transformed faith.” He explains, “It is an act of bold faith on the one hand, because it insists that the world must be experienced as it really is and not in some pretended way. On the other hand, it is bold because it insists that all such experiences of disorder are a proper subject for discourse with God. There is nothing out of bounds, nothing precluded or inappropriate. Everything properly belongs in this conversation of the heart. ” (see references # 2)
Consider these thoughts above in the light of Psalm 35.
1 Contend, Lord, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me. 2 Take up shield and armor; arise and come to my aid. 3 Brandish spear and javelin against those who pursue me. Say to me, “I am your salvation.”
4 May those who seek my life be disgraced and put to shame; may those who plot my ruin be turned back in dismay. 5 May they be like chaff before the wind, with the angel of the Lord driving them away; 6 may their path be dark and slippery, with the angel of the Lord pursuing them.
7 Since they hid their net for me without cause and without cause dug a pit for me, 8 may ruin overtake them by surprise — may the net they hid entangle them, may they fall into the pit, to their ruin. 9 Then my soul will rejoice in the Lord and delight in his salvation. 10 My whole being will exclaim, “Who is like you, Lord? You rescue the poor from those too strong for them, the poor and needy from those who rob them.”
11 Ruthless witnesses come forward; they question me on things I know nothing about. 12 They repay me evil for good and leave me like one bereaved. 13 Yet when they were ill, I put on sackcloth and humbled myself with fasting. When my prayers returned to me unanswered, 14 I went about mourning as though for my friend or brother. I bowed my head in grief as though weeping for my mother. 15 But when I stumbled, they gathered in glee; assailants gathered against me without my knowledge. They slandered me without ceasing. 16 Like the ungodly they maliciously mocked; they gnashed their teeth at me.
17 How long, Lord, will you look on? Rescue me from their ravages, my precious life from these lions. 18 I will give you thanks in the great assembly; among the throngs I will praise you. 19 Do not let those gloat over me who are my enemies without cause; do not let those who hate me without reason maliciously wink the eye. 20 They do not speak peaceably, but devise false accusations against those who live quietly in the land. 21 They sneer at me and say, “Aha! Aha! With our own eyes we have seen it.”
22 Lord, you have seen this; do not be silent. Do not be far from me, Lord. 23 Awake, and rise to my defense! Contend for me, my God and Lord. 24 Vindicate me in your righteousness, Lord my God; do not let them gloat over me. 25 Do not let them think, “Aha, just what we wanted!” or say, “We have swallowed him up.”
26 May all who gloat over my distress be put to shame and confusion; may all who exalt themselves over me be clothed with shame and disgrace. 27 May those who delight in my vindication shout for joy and gladness; may they always say, “The Lord be exalted, who delights in the well-being of his servant.”
28 My tongue will proclaim your righteousness, your praises all day long.
Basically there are three main characters involved in this poem of deep distress. There is the psalmist, whom we are told is David. Then there is the enemy, who is unnamed. Then there is God. The desperate words spoken about a deteriorating situation of danger all round him are spoken to one Person alone, and that is to David’s God, the “LORD”. This psalm is simply a prayer. It seems that David believed, as Brueggemann puts it, that “all experiences of disorder are a proper subject for discourse with God. There is nothing out of bounds, nothing precluded or inappropriate. Everything properly belongs in this conversation of the heart”.
Consider its content: “…O Lord…fight against those who fight against me…May those who seek my life be disgraced…Since they…without cause dug a pit for me…They repay me evil for good…They slandered me without ceasing…O Lord, how long…Rescue…be not silent. Be not far from me…rise to my defense…the Lord be exalted…My tongue will speak of your righteousness and of your praise all day long.”
Certainly words not of “unfaith and failure” but on the contrary, words of “bold faith”. Words we can learn from and be transformed by as we apply them to, and pray them when, own lives are in times of disorientation. And if your life is anything like mine, that seems to be fairly often.
I consider that the answer to my question above, concerning the relevance of these psalms to us today, is that these psalms are indeed extremely important to our lives as believers in David’s God, our Creator and Redeemer. In fact, they are transformational. May the trend away from the frequent use of the Psalms, and particularly the lament psalms, be reversed in our day. If so, there is no doubt, we, individually and as a church, will be richer for it.
Let me just add though that I realize there are many people, and maybe you are one of them if you are reading this, who have not given up on the Psalms. I recently checked on Google for “blogs on the Psalms” and was surprised by just how many there are. And I was very impressed when a friend of mine told me recently that she reads 5 psalms every day. Now there is something to aspire to!