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Reading Through the Psalms

Weekly Devotionals

Reading Through the Psalms

Psalm 13:1-6

1 How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? 2How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? 3 Look on me and answer, LORD my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death, 4 and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall. 5 But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. 6 I will sing the LORD’s praise, for he has been good to me.

“There is no other book in which there is to be found more express and magnificent commendations, both of the unparalleled liberality of God towards his Church, and of all his works; there is no other book in which there is recorded so many deliverances, nor one in which the evidences and experiences of the fatherly providence and solicitude which God exercises towards us, are celebrated with such splendour of diction, and yet with the strictest adherence to truth; in short, there is no other book in which we are more perfectly taught the right manner of praising God, or in which we are more powerfully stirred up to the performance of this religious exercise.”
― John Calvin

 

There is something very personal about reading the Psalms, especially since there are so many “I” referents within the litany of prayers scattered across the book. Previous scholarly work of the Psalms viewed the prayers of lament as strictly individually focused, but there have been others who view these prayers as representative of a community. Seeing the collective spirit in the Psalms has significant implications in informing our modern faith. Our cultural context is no doubt highly focused on the needs of the individual and that certainly carries over in how many read the Psalms. I do not think there is anything particularly egregious in taking the Psalms from an individual perspective, but there is a communal aspect that we can miss and ultimately, such a personal view lacks the fullness of what God might intend for his creatures. The idea that faith involves a community with regards to thanksgiving, joy, lament and pain reveals the importance that our experiences should be shared in the context of friendship, love and commitment to one another. The human project of flourishing with God was never meant to be done alone and individualistic readings of the Psalms may rob some its power, for we lose opportunities to experience the sublime from others and we also lose opportunities to reciprocate those blessings outwardly to our community.

The real greatness of the Psalms, such as Psalm 13, is that it speaks of the human experience in such raw and realistic terms. One interpretive tool we can use when reading Psalms is seeing that there is a dynamic movement from orientation to disorientation and then to reorientation. It’s a profound description of the journey of faith and it’s precisely because the Psalms speaks of these moments of disorientation or dislocation with such honesty that believers across all generations and cultures are able to resonate with it. There is something deeply comforting in knowing that Scripture doesn’t present life with God in terms that are sentimental or cheap, otherwise it would be devoid of reality. Instead, the Psalms reveal the true depth and longings of the human heart.

May the peace of Christ be with you, now and forevermore. Amen.