Those Irritating Psalms

Those Irritating Psalms August 19, 2013

Sometimesthe Bible irritates me. It doesn’t always say what I expect it to say. More tothe point, it doesn’t always say what I want it to say.

Take someof the Psalms, for example. Often those inspired poets will say things that Icould never say, like this: “Judge me, O LORD, according to my righteousnessand according to the integrity that is in me” (7:8). Or: “The LORD dealt withme according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands herewarded me” (18:20). If my own righteousness is the measure of how God willdeal with me, I’m in deep trouble.

So what dowe do with Psalms like that? Ignore them? Explain them away as hyperbole?Boastfully assume we should be able to talk to God like that? No, I thinkthere’s a better way to understand these Psalms.

The answeris found in remembering what the Psalms are, namely, a part of what the NewTestament writers sometimes call “the Law.” That doesn’t mean it no longerapplies to us. It just means that when we feel convicted by it, we need toremember how the Law is supposed to function in our life: to convict us andlead us to Christ.

To say it adifferent way, all of these Psalms that sound so far out of reach for usactually are… and are not. They ARE out of reach in ourselves, but they ARE NOTout of reach if we are in Christ. In other words, Jesus did live like this. Hecould actually say these things and mean it. He could take verses like this onHis own lips and talk to God like that! I love how Dietrich Bonhoffer puts it:

The psalms that will not cross our lips as prayers,those that make us falter and offend us, make us suspect that here someone elseis praying, not we—that the one who is here affirming his innocence, who iscalling for God’s judgment, who has come to such infinite depths of suffering,is none other than Jesus Christ himself. It is he who is praying here, and notonly here, but in the whole Psalter.  (Life Together)

This iswhat Bonhoffer calls “the secret of the Psalter,” and it’s probably the mostimportant thing I’ve ever learned about how to read the Psalms. These areJesus’ prayers before they are mine, and I must pray them and read them throughHim.