The songs that you find in the middle of the Bible are a bit of a mixed bag. Which is probably why we use the word psalm, from the Greek meaning song, rather than the Hebrew title Tehillim, which means praises.
I mean, how can this be praise?
O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger,
nor discipline me in your wrath.
Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing;
heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled.
My soul also is greatly troubled.
But you, O Lord—how long?
Turn, O Lord, deliver my life;
save me for the sake of your steadfast love.
For in death there is no remembrance of you;
in Sheol who will give you praise?
I am weary with my moaning;
every night I flood my bed with tears;
I drench my couch with my weeping.
My eye wastes away because of grief;
it grows weak because of all my foes.
Depart from me, all you workers of evil,
for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping.
The Lord has heard my plea;
the Lord accepts my prayer.
All my enemies shall be ashamed and greatly troubled;
they shall turn back and be put to shame in a moment.
Psalm 6, ESV
The church, quite rightly, puts praise and adoration in a high place in worshipping God, but is our understanding of what is praise wide enough. When was the last time, outside a traditional service with sung psalms, you heard sentiments such as Psalm 6, literally Praise 6 in the Hebrew, expressed in a church.
Do our traditional hymns or modern worship songs have the same breadth, going from elation to despair, as do the 150 Praises of the Bible? How can we pour out our grief to God in a public service if the culture of church tries to squeeze us into he mould of showing that we are happy. It’s fine if we feel this way, but when we feel differently, then what? Why do we have to lie to ourselves by smiling.
The Psalms are praises. The moaning Psalms are praises. Even the Psalms calling for vengeance are praises. It takes quite a value shift, a fundamental shake up of the ideas we have about what praise is, and how we are to approach God.
For me it took a near death experience. Coming to terms with constant pain is something that gives a different perspective on just about everything.
I have leared that it is not a lack of faith to pour out your complaint to God. It takes faith. You cannot complain to a god that you think does not care, or who is imaginary. A god like that is one that isn’t worth believing in anyway.
A god worth believing in is one who identifies with people in their suffering. Who cares for the poor, the lonely, the weak. Who suffers alongside us. And that is what the incarnation really means.
We find it hard to accept that God identifies with the poor and suffering. Even when Jesus walked upon the earth those closest to him found it hard to accept. Peter rebuked Jesus when he heard that Jesus had to suffer, even after years of learning from Jesus as one of the closest of the disciples he just didn’t get it. So when you hear those who still don’t get it preaching today, who are preaching that people suffer because they do not have enough faith, who are saying that if you drive a Ford and want a Mercedes-Benz it is because you do not have enough faith, that God wants you to be rich, it is time to respond to them with Jesus’ words to Peter. “You are a hindrance. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
The prosperity gospel, the idea that if you follow God you will become rich and all will go well is an insult to all those who are involved in an accident for no fault of there own. An insult to all those in the world who are suffering because they live in a war zone, or starving because the harvests have failed, or have been hit by a natural disaster. It is an insult to God who identifies with the suffering of the world. A God who cares.
I’m not surprised that Christianity is growing in areas where there is hardship, in the developing world while there has been decline in the comfortable parts of the world with a comfortable well paid leadership. Where people have to rely on God they learn to trust.
Instead of telling those who suffer they have no faith we should be identifying with them. We should feed the hungry and thirsty, welcome the stranger, visit the sick and imprisoned.
The psalmists understood, they complained to God about the unfair. And the compilers of the psalms understood too, collecting the songs of moaning to God for public worship alongside those which speak about God’s goodness when things go well. It’s shame that the use of psalms in worship is on the decline, and that new songs which talk about trusting God in times of suffering, whist there, are not amongst the most popular.
I’m not against happy songs, there is something to be learned from singing these too, I wouldn’t want to replace them, I’d just like more of a balance.
Let’s be real with God when we come together to worship God.