Summary: This sermon begins talking about the Psalms of Disorientation. God does not despise our doubt. He has given us a way to use our doubts to build our faith by praying the psalms of disorientation.
Psalms: Songs of Disorientation (Part 1)
Up to this point in our study of the Psalter, we have been looking at the psalms of orientation. We have seen that the psalms of orientation describe life as functioning as it should. Creation is seen as well-ordered, the system of retributive justice is intact, delighting in and meditating on God's instruction brings positive results. The psalms of orientation left to themselves present something like the modern "prosperity doctrine." But those are not the only types of psalms found in the Psalter, because we all know by experience that life does not always work like that.
This brings up an important point about studying the Bible that we can learn from our study of the psalms. The Bible has multiple voices. It is not monotone. There is a reason that there are four Gospels. There is a reason that the wisdom tradition of Israel contains more than the book of Proverbs. It also contains Job and Ecclesiastes. There is a reason why both the records of Kings and Chronicles appear in the canon of Scripture. The canon of Scripture is a symphony and in each book of the Bible, each genre has a place. Human life is complicated and the Bible is written to address it all.
One of the realities that we have to acknowledge is that life is not always defined by orientation even for those who do everything right. This is one of the things that the wisdom tradition, the prophets, and the psalms of disorientation wrestle with.
It is interesting that the church continues to sing the songs of orientation in spite of the continued move of the world around us to the place of disorientation. This may be our declaration of faith in God despite what things look like. It may also be our declaration that nothing can separate us from the love of God! We may worry that expressions like those found in the psalms of disorientation will "talk us out of our miracle" or that we are not "speaking faith." There is something to be said for not grumbling like the children of Israel did in the n wilderness when they refused to believe the LORD and Moses.
But, something else to remember is what Paul said to Timothy, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (3:16-17).
This includes those parts of the Bible that we must wrestle with in order to understand. This includes the psalms of disorientation.
What do we mean by psalms of disorientation? They are the psalms that question the goodness of creation. They are psalms that wrestle with the idea that God is good and just as the psalmist looks around at a world that contradicts the promises of God. They are psalms that contain complaints to the LORD and protests about life to the LORD. They are also psalms of penitence in which the sinner confesses and repents of her sins. We are used to the psalms of repentance, like Psalm 51. We will talk about them eventually, but less familiar are those songs of lament, complaint, and protest. There are also psalms of God's complaint where the speaker is no longer the human covenant partner, but the LORD.
The songs of human lament are contrary to our view of faith and contrary to our culture of winning in life.
We may have an aversion to them because we do not want to participate in the culture of complaint and victimhood. We may also have an aversion to them because we wonder if they are compatible with the victory that we see in the resurrection. We may also think that the psalms of lament are relegated to the past, to the spirituality of Israel.
However, the Lord Jesus practices lament in the Gospels. He weeps over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41-44). He wrestles with God in the garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:31). He cries out the words of Psalm 22:1 on the cross. The apostles quote one of the psalms of lament to speak about Judas's demise in Acts 1:20 (cf. Psalms 109:8). In the Revelation, we hear the souls under the altar in John's vision lamenting their own martyrdom and crying out that God would avenge them (Revelation 6:10). There is a place for lament in Christian worship and practice.
The apostle Paul when describing life in the Spirit says that even those who have the first-fruits of the Spirit and await the resurrection, groan with the rest of creation. The psalms of lament are a form of groaning before God. They are a form of saying to God and with God that things are not right and there is a place for that in our practice of Christian spirituality and in our worship.