Right at this point, the Psalms do something else for us, and it is utterly crucial what they do. It’s not in the middle of the Bible by accident. Oh, what a precious, precious book. Can you live without it? Can you live without the Psalms? Can you survive without the Psalms? Can you fight for joy without the Psalms? I have no idea how anybody survives without this help that God put in the middle of our Bible.
“Can you fight for joy without the Psalms?”
They do something else for us. They keep us from being naïve, from having a naïve optimism about the emotional possibilities of fallen people. And they help us navigate the seas of embattled emotions. When we’re born again, the Spirit of God opens the eyes of our hearts to see God — to see Christ, to see his beauty, his glory in the cross, in the gospel — as more valuable, more precious, more satisfying than anything. That’s how you become a Christian: you see him that way.
However, it would be, the Psalms make plain, naïve and unbiblical to think that our gaze on the glory of Christ remains so clear to the end of our days, and that the responsiveness of our heart to that sight of glory remains so intense to the end of our days that the Christian life is one of unclouded vision of God and unhindered joy in God. That happens for nobody — except one person, and he is in heaven.
The Psalms, more than any other book in the Bible, illustrate that sobering fact. The psalmists’ vision of God is often obscured. The psalmists’ joy in God is often conflicted and embattled.
I am ready to fall,
and my pain is ever before me. (Psalm 38:17)
I am lonely and afflicted.
The troubles of my heart are enlarged. (Psalm 25:16–17)
There is no soundness in my flesh
because of your indignation;
there is no health in my bones
because of my sin.
For my iniquities have gone over my head;
like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me. (Psalm 38:3–4)
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me? (Psalm 42:5)
You have rejected us and disgraced us
and have not gone out with our armies.
You have made us turn back from the foe,
and those who hate us have gotten spoil.
You have made us like sheep for slaughter
and have scattered us among the nations. . . .
All day long my disgrace is before me,
and shame has covered my face. (Psalm 44:9–11, 15)
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. (Psalm 6:6–7)
This is why we cleave to the Psalms. They are us. Pain. Loneliness. Affliction. Trouble. Guilt. Burdens. No health. Cast down. Turmoil. Shame. Moaning. Weeping. Nights flooded with tears.
Are you in the world? That’s us — unless we’re utterly hypocritical. Now if some soft prosperity preacher responds and says, “Whoa, that’s pre-Christ. That’s pre-Pentecost. We live on the other side of Christ — the other side of the fullness of the Holy Spirit. We don’t walk in that kind of defeat and misery,” I say, “Then why did Paul say, ‘I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart’” (Romans 9:2)? Unceasing anguish in the heart of the man who said to rejoice how often? Always (1 Thessalonians 5:16). Go figure.
“Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing — that’s the goal of my life.”
This is the miracle of the Christian life. “Unceasing anguish. My kinsmen are perishing. What do you expect me to feel?” Rejoice always. Can you do that? Yes, you can if you are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. It’s not easy. It’s a miracle, but you can. There’s no way to survive without that.
Why did Paul write, “We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:8–10)? That’s my favorite phrase. O God, thank you that that’s in the Bible.
Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing — that’s the goal of my life. I’ve got so many sad things in my life I can hardly stand it some days. And I’m told to rejoice always, but not only always — in everything. “Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything” (2 Corinthians 6:10). I love Paul.
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