I’m a little more than halfway through my second trip through the Psalms this year, and at times it’s difficult to distinguish one Psalm from another. When several psalms say the same things over and over again, in (sometimes only slightly) different ways, it’s a very present danger to check out and start skimming. I just read this in the last three.
More specifically, we think that the Psalms’ repetitiveness is simply conjugating the verb “praise” 150 times. I praise God. You praise God. He praises God. We praise God. Y’all praise God. They praise God. Now repeat!
First of all, the invocations and invitations to praise the inexhaustibly worthy Lord of glory are far richer than we assume; whatever dullness or dreariness we experience with the text lies in us, not in the text.
Secondly, the Psalms do repeat themes and phrases often–just not the ones we expect. A surprising number of Psalms echo the cry of oppression and injustice at the hands of enemies. The darkness of the Psalms can be striking, and the corresponding boldness of the Psalmists makes us squirm in our seats.
Asaph in particular has no qualms about asking hard questions of God:
- “Why have You rejected us forever, God? Why does Your anger burn against the sheep of Your pasture?” (Psalm 74:1 HCSB)
- “God, how long will the foe mock? Will the enemy insult Your name forever? Why do You hold back Your hand? Stretch out Your right hand and destroy them!” (Psalm 74:10-11 HCSB)
- “Will the LORD reject forever and never again show favor? Has His faithful love ceased forever? Is His promise at an end for all generations? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has He in anger withheld His compassion? Selah” (Psalm 77:7-9 HCSB)
- “How long, LORD? Will You be angry forever? Will Your jealousy keep burning like fire?” (Psalm 79:5 HCSB)
Throughout the Psalms, but particularly in Book II, the image of oppression at the hands of enemies is seen time and again. Often, as in the passages above, the Psalmist prays to God, asking why God is so far away or isn’t answering or acting or delivering or judging.
It’s an indictment of the church’s prayer in general and of my prayers in particular that I don’t have the relationship with God that allows for such boldness.
But this boldness is not the insolence of a disrespectful child sassing his momma. This boldness is built upon the steady foundation of faith in God. It is a lie that true faith is always unwavering; true faith wavers, but ultimately never lets go. Genuine faith asks hard questions, but the only point in asking questions is the expectation that Someone is listening, right? Why ask nothingness to give account for itself?
Notice how this plays out for Asaph in the above Psalms:
- God my king is from ancient times, performing saving acts on the earth. You divided the sea with Your strength; You smashed the heads of the sea monsters in the waters; You crushed the heads of Leviathan; You fed him to the creatures of the desert.” (Psalm 74:12-14 HCSB)
- “So I say, ‘It is my sorrow that the right hand of the Most High has changed.’ I will remember the LORD’s works; yes, I will remember Your ancient wonders. I will reflect on all You have done and meditate on Your actions.” (Psalm 77:10-12 HCSB)
- “God of our salvation, help us–for the glory of Your name. Deliver us and atone for our sins, because of Your name.” (Psalm 79:9 HCSB)
The two must go together: if we only ask God hard questions but without a foundation of faith, we will be like the seed sown in shallow ground, which is burned up by the scorching difficulties that besiege us. If we attempt to live happy-clappy, never-sad lives, we are not only delusional, but we deny God the glory of deliverance and refuse the great good of His presence (Psalm 73:28).