Try to imagine the Bible without the Psalms. What a different book it would be! What a different place the church would be. And what a different person I would be.
It’s not as though the rest of the Bible does not teach truth and awaken emotions. I learn things and feel things everywhere I read in the Bible. But it’s not the same. The Psalms do not just awaken the affections of the heart; they put the expression of those affections in the foreground. They feature the emotional experience of the psalmist intentionally against the backdrop of divine truth.
Emotion on Display
They do not just invite the emotion of the heart in response to revealed truth. They put the emotion on display. They are not just commanding; they are contagious. We are not just listening to profound ideas and expressed affections. We are living among them in their overflow. We are walking in the counsel of God-besotted wisdom, and standing in the way of amazed holiness, and sitting in the seat of jubilant admiration.
We touch pillows wet with tears. We hear and feel the unabashed cries of affliction and shame and regret and grief and anger and discouragement and turmoil. But what makes all this stunningly different from the sorrows of the world is that all of it — absolutely all of it — is experienced in relation to the totally sovereign God.
God at the Bottom of It All
None of these emotions rises from a heart that has rejected the all-governing God.
- “Your waves have gone over me” (Psalm 42:7).
- “You have made my days a few handbreadths” (Psalm 39:5).
- “You have rejected us and disgraced us and have not gone out with our armies” (Psalm 44:9).
- “You have made us like sheep for slaughter and have scattered us among the nations” (Psalm 44:11).
- “You have made your people see hard things” (Psalm 60:3).
- And in it all, “O Lord, you have searched me and known me!” (Psalm 139:1).
God is behind everything. This is the great difference between the Psalms of Scripture and the laments, complaints, and sorrows of the world. For the psalmists, God is a rock-solid, unshakeable, undeniable, omnipotent Reality. Their emotional experiences get their meaning not by denying him or his power or his wisdom, but by dealing with him as he is: absolutely sovereign. “Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps” (Psalm 135:6). This was the psalmists’ unshakeable conviction — all of them: “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3).
Taste and See That He Is Good
They never turned against God and rejected him because of their calamities. The fool says in his heart there is no God (Psalm 14:1), but not the psalmist. It was unthinkable to the psalmists that their sorrows should drive them away from God. Where would they go? “If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” (Psalm 139:8). If God is God, then all emotional life is lived in his presence. He makes sense of it. Or there is no sense.
But sheer omnipotence is not the main reason the psalmists never forsake their God. The psalmists know from experience that he is good and faithful. They know that, if they trust him, he will act on their behalf (Psalm 37:5). They testify again and again,
- “You have multiplied, O Lord my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us” (Psalm 40:5).
- “You have drawn me up and have not let my foes rejoice over me” (Psalm 30:1).
- “You have given me the shield of your salvation” (Psalm 18:35).
- “You have given me relief when I was in distress” (Psalm 4:1).
- “You have healed me” (Psalm 30:2).
- “You have been the helper of the fatherless” (Psalm 10:14).
- “You have maintained my just cause” (Psalm 9:4).
- “You have turned for me my mourning into dancing” (Psalm 30:11).
- “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound” (Psalm 4:7).
Plant Your Heart Here
In great mercy and wisdom, God has chosen to give us the Psalms. He has put them at the very center of his inspired word. Surely this is no accident. The heart is the center of our emotional life. And God’s heart-book is at the center of his word. How easy it is to find!
This is an invitation. God wants our hearts. He will take them as he finds them. And then, with the healing balm of the Psalms, he will shape them. Accept his invitation to come. On the front door, he has promised, Enter here. Find your delight in lingering here in meditation.
You will be “like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers” (Psalm 1:3).