Psalms: It’s OK not to be OK

This past year I studied the Psalms A LOT. I got to study the Psalms in a seminary class (Hebrew 4), I went through the whole Psalter devotionally with two friends of mine at church (went through Tim & Kathy Keller’s outstanding book The Songs of Jesus), and we’re currently teaching through the Psalms in our youth ministry. God’s taught me many things through this year in the Psalms. One of the big takeaways is simple yet life-changing: It’s ok not to be ok.

The book of Psalms is full of petitions and lament—people crying out to God in distress, people saying ‘God, where are you?’, people acknowledging they’re stuck in darkness. The Psalms are real. They don’t hold back. They don’t fake it with positive thinking or feel-goodisms. The Psalmists don’t hide. They tell it how it is and beg God to intervene. Brueggemann reflects on this,

Much contemporary prayer is denial, as though our secrets can be hid from God. But they cannot…While we should be glad for the lingering residue of Israel’s lament, we should, even more than that, be grateful for these scripts and models of prayer that stake everything on full covenantal honesty in the presence of God. Such daring honesty, at God’s throne of mercy, is the only route to transformative well-being. That is the secret of the laments that cannot be hid. (92-93)

Brueggemann, Walter, and Brent A. Strawn. 2014. From Whom No Secrets Are Hid : Introducing the Psalms. Vol. First edition. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press.

So if anyone out there is not ok…that’s ok. Don’t feel guilty or unfaithful. In fact, you’re actually in the midst of faithfulness. My encouragement to you is to read the Psalms and do as the Psalmists do—cry out and tell God that you’re not ok. Because the amazing thing about the Psalms is that the God of the Psalms has experienced the Psalms. God incarnate knows what it’s like to not be ok. So actually my encouragement to you is not only to do as the Psalmists do, but do what the incarnate God of the Psalmists has done—cry out and tell God that you’re not ok. God heard Jesus’ cry. Through Jesus and by the Spirit, God also hears your cry. Miller beautifully concludes,

To hear these prayers now in the voice of Christ radically transforms our suffering and changes its face. The face of suffering for us now is the face of Christ. It is no less real for us than it was for him. But he has walked that way before us and walked that way for us. So we do not ever walk that way alone. We know how terrible it was for him, so we know we cannot avoid that terror when it strikes us. But we know also that it was not the last word for him. So our human suffering is terrible and our cries still roar, but neither the suffering nor the cries are the last word. (23)

Miller, Patrick D. “Heaven’s Prisoners: The Lament as Christian Prayer.” In Lament: Reclaiming Practices in Pulpit, Pew, and Public Square, edited by Sally A. Brown and Patrick D. Miller, 15-26. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005.

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