Those Whiny Psalms

You know, I’ve never been a big fan of the Psalms.  The best time I ever had in that particular book of the Bible was when I lead a couple of courses on the history and structure of the Psalms.

That was really interesting to me.

But I lost a bunch of students who couldn’t care less about bicolons, metaphor, and chiasm, who just wanted to sit around “feeling” the Psalms, talking about how they “touched their hearts.”

That’s not me. I am more a thinker than a feeler.  Just the facts, ma’am.

I’ll take the Epistles over the Psalms any day.

That is, until recently. I am really getting into those Lament Psalms… and they may actually lead to a change in my life.

I just went on a retreat where, providentially, we discussed the Laments.  Did you know there are more Laments than any other type of Psalm? More Laments than Praises?

I’m not surprised.

As for me, I like to call them the Whiny Psalms.

I recently read Psalm 73 and, boy, did I identify. Here’s a brief breakdown of the Psalm with my paraphrase of the author’s intent:

Verses 1-16:  “I am about to give up because the bad guys (that would be my enemies) get all the good things and all the good guys (that would be me) get dumped on. Life is unfair. Life sucks. And I am mad.”

An aside: I don’t get so angry about my “enemies,” but about my friends & acquaintances who seem to be sliding by on easy street and are being “used” by God while my husband waits and waits for a ministry job & struggles with health issues, I endure a pain in the rear job, etc. etc. (despite our deep knowledge of theology, our vast ministry experience, and, of course, our humility… LOL).

Verses 17-20: “Wait a minute: I had forgotten the end of the story. I’ve been short-sighted, looking at things from a temporal perspective. I forget that one day (that is, after we are all dead and in eternity), you will send those bad guys right to hell.”

As an aside, again, I find it a bit tough to think about God “sweeping away with terror” those who I envy – and, apart from Christ’s death for me, I would deserve the same punishment. BUT, I do think it helps a teeny bit to realize that the injustices I see and feel NOW (both in the world and in my life) will one day be completely set right.

Verses 21-22:  “Oops, I just realized it.  My heart is pierced in conviction!  In some ways, I’m as bad as my enemies. I’ve become a brute beast in my bitterness and arrogance.”

Verses 23-28: “Wait! It’s amazing that despite my sin, you don’t cast me away! You are always with me, holding my right hand, guiding me, taking me to glory with you after I die! Oh, I praise you, who are all that I need –  my strength, my portion, my good, my refuge. I will tell everyone how wonderful you are!”

As I said, I relate to the Psalm… most if it.

I want to get back to that very last section, the one where the psalmist declares that God is all he desires…

But first, I think I may have to get through the in-between part, verses 21-22: that repentant part.

Fact is, I wonder if my recent bout of anger at God (and especially at Christians) is senseless, ignorant, and arrogant. Maybe. But I don’t feel convicted.

Not yet, anyway.

I’ll let you know when I do. (Keep tuned)

Meantime, Lord: Do your thing in my heart. Though I don’t like it sometimes, I know it’s good. My guess is there’s some sin in me bigger than the sins against me. I just can’t see it. Or don’t want to. But, I know it’s good for me to recognize my sin, repent, and let it go. Sigh. So convict me. OK, I said it:  help me to repent. Ick. Amen.

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4 thoughts on “Those Whiny Psalms

  1. When I have been depressed, and I have been very depressed, those Psalms help me immensely. I am able to identify with the writer, and it helps me shed some of the pain.

    To those who oppose studying form and structure, I want to say that it helps one derive meaning, and that is how one really gets the “feeling.”

  2. I think many of the Psalms are depressing, some of them seem to have no respite at all.

    I think some of the power in them is reading them aloud, either with others or even by yourself.

    Try it.

    Amazing reality check, aren’t they? We don’t have no sugar-coated religion, friends. It’s reality on steroids. Betrayal, pain, anguish, depair, people trying to kill us.

    –Theoden

  3. Could it be “senseless, ignorant, and arrogant” and valid at the same time? Just like when we’re irrationally angry or afraid or anything else, the feeling itself is neither moral nor immoral, but just real and ours…

    and maybe God is compassionately saying, “It’s hard for you to kick against the goads…”

  4. This is perhaps a bit beside your main point, but I, like you, was one who had trouble approaching the Psalms until I led a semester-long study on them and discovered all of the rich structure (in both individual Psalms and the order of the entire Psalter). For me, the analytical approach to the Psalms opened up a whole new amazing realm. You are correct that there are more Laments than Praises. However, one interesting thing I learned is that the organization of the Psalter as a whole is such that the first half of the book has many more laments and the end leans toward more praises (just like a typical individual Psalm). In fact, the whole book can be seen as a struggle with what God’s covenant means (esp. in light of it’s apparent failure as Israel entered captivity). The low point seems to be at the end of Book III with Psalm 89, where the Psalmist despairs concerning God’s promise. After this intense struggle with the meaning of the covenant (perhaps resolved in Psalm 90), the Psalms gradually build up to a higher and higher frequency of praise.

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