Awhile back, Carl Trueman wrote a great little article titled “What Can Miserable Christians Sing.” Here’s a summary, in the author’s own words:
“My thesis was very simple: there is nothing in the typical book of hymns or praise songs that a woman who has miscarried a baby, or a parent who has just lost a child to cancer, can sing with honesty and integrity on a Sunday.
“The desperation and heartache of such moments are things which we instinctively feel have no place in a religion where we are called on to rejoice in the Lord always. Yet there is a praise book which taps such emotions and gives the broken-hearted honest words with which to express their deepest sorrows to God.
“It’s called the book of Psalms; and its recovery as a source of public praise in the Christian church can only help the church overcome its innate triumphalism and make room for the poor and the weak; that is the very people that Paul alludes to in 1 Corinthians which are the normal kind of church member.
Yes and amen. Being able to sing sad, sad songs during worship is a benefit of Psalm-singing we often overlook.
But there’s more. What about angry Christians? What about those who aren’t so much sad as they are incensed by the evil in the world around them? Specifically, what can Christians sing to God this coming Sunday that reflects our heart’s reaction to the news that twenty-one fellow Christians were beheaded by ISIS on a Libyan beach?
Providentially, last night our family came in our regular times of singing to Psalm 35E from the Book of Psalms for Worship. While few (if any) Christians would ever be so bold as to write and sing songs to God asking for God’s strong justice against our enemies, here it is. Here is the song we need to sing but could never write on our own:
12. Let not those wrongfully my foes
Raise over me their joyful cries;
And those who hate me without cause,
Let not with malice wink their eyes.
13. Of peace they will not speak at all,
Toward peaceful neighbors scheme with lies.
With brazen words accusing me,
They say, “We saw this with our eyes.”
14. LORD, You have seen; do not be still.
O Lord, be not far from my sight.
O rouse Yourself, to judgment wake!
My God, my Lord, uphold my right.
15. With justice judge me, LORD, my God;
Let not my foes gloat over me.
Let them not think, “We’ve swallowed him!
At last, our soul’s desire we see!”
16. Let them be humbled and ashamed
Who gloat at my calamity;
Clothe them with shame and with disgrace
Who proudly rise up over me.
17. But let them shout aloud with joy
Who long to see me justified;
And let them never cease to say,
“O let the LORD be magnified.
18. Because it brings to Him delight
To see His servant prospering.”
I’ll speak about Your righteousness;
Throughout the day Your praise I’ll sing.
(Psalm 35D & 35E from The Book of Psalms for Worship)
Please understand, this isn’t a case for exclusive Psalm-singing. This is just a case for singing Psalms. It is right and good for us to be troubled and angered when God’s people are slaughtered. And when something is right and good, it’s also right and good for us to sing about it to God. Anger is a frightening emotion: many times it’s sinful and something we need to repent of. But when it’s not…it’s something we are allowed to bring into the worship of God. It’s something we need to bring into the worship of God.
So, yes, be angry. And sing your anger to God with songs that you know please Him and heal your heart simultaneously.
And here’s a final warning. These Psalms of war (sometimes called imprecatory Psalms) are serious business. We need to treat them as such. When we sing them, we are calling the Angel of the Lord to raise His army against our enemies: sin, Satan and the haters of the church.
The video below was produced when the Book of Psalms for Worship was published. In it, Prof. Duncan Lowe (at the 1:15 mark) makes the same points much more beautifully:
“Sometimes the Psalms can be bold in saying certain things that a hymn writer would hardly have the right to say. Because only God can give us the right words to say certain things.”