Some years ago I read Carl Trueman’s helpful article entitled ‘What do miserable Christians sing?’ His argument was that we need the God-breathed language of lament in the psalms to enable us to articulate our grief in the face of a broken world in a godly way.
I was reminded of it over these past weeks while reading of how the world and the Church have responded to the killing of George Floyd. Where can we find the vocabulary to pray about injustice? Here in the UK this week the government at Westminster voted to allow abortion for non-fatal foetal abnormalities in Northern Ireland, in spite of the fact that the majority of politicians in the Northern Ireland Assembly (who are supposed to have the authority to legislate on this issue) opposed it. A baby can now be legally ripped apart in their mother’s womb simply because he or she has Down’s Syndrome, a cleft palate or lip, or clubfoot. At a time when that same government’s slogan has been ‘Stay home, protect the NHS, save lives’ and their imposing of stringent measures to keep safe those most vulnerable to covid-19, it is more than a little sickening to see their utter disregard for the lives of the most vulnerable in our society.
We ought to feel righteous indignation and anger in the face of these and a thousand other daily kinds of evil. But how do we express our outrage in a God-honouring way? When our emotions are running high, it’s all too easy for our tongues to run away with us and for us to say too much. Here too we need the psalms.
When we are filled with righteous indignation at the injustices perpetrated in a fallen world, what praise songs are sufficient? When a gunman has just sprayed a class of seven-year-olds with bullets; when a jihadist has just blown himself up in a crowded market; when unborn children are ripped apart in their mothers’ wombs for no other reason than their existence is an inconvenience to the social life of the mother—what songs can we sing that can keep pace with our emotions?
And this is true of the whole varied range of our emotions. What do fearful Christians sing? Doubting Christians? Ashamed Christians? Ecstatically joyful Christians? Eugene Peterson puts it well, ‘I need a language that is large enough to express nuances across a lifetime that brackets child and adult experiences, and courageous enough to explore all the countries of sin and salvation, mercy and grace, creation and covenant, anxiety and trust, unbelief and faith that comprise the continental human condition. The Psalms are this large, supple, and courageous language.’ And Calvin in his preface to his commentary on the Psalms wrote, ‘I have been accustomed to call this book an anatomy of all parts of the soul; for there is not an emotion of which anyone can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror. The Holy Spirit has here drawn to life all the griefs, sorrows, fears, doubts, hopes, cares, perplexities, in short all the distracting emotions with which the minds of men are wont to be agitated.’
I had planned to write more on this subject, but yesterday I came across an article on the Gospel Coalition blog and discovered that Heather Ferngren Morton had done the work for me in her piece, ‘Why We Need the Psalms More Than Ever Before.’ Read it and sing the psalms!