Dr. Mark Gignilliat from Beeson Divinity School joins us with a message from the book of Psalms.
If you were stranded on a deserted island and could only take one book of the Bible with you, which one would you choose?
For me, I think it would be the Psalms. They are rich. There’s a treasure trove here of insight into what it means to live all of life In God’s presence.
Well, good morning to all of you. We’re going to dive into the Psalms today and if you have a Bible around that might be helpful, and we’re going to try to cover the whole thing. Now, that’s a little bit overstated, you know, there’s 150 of these Psalms, but the idea is for us to kind of get a sense of how the Psalter has been put together and we’ve done this a few times this week already, as I’ve kind of thought about this, we might press into the Psalms a little bit more even next month, as well, when we when we come together because we, let’s just say that I’ve had a plan for what I’ve wanted to cover, and then there’s what’s happened, and they haven’t necessarily aligned.
But the Psalms are in some way the Divinity School of the Bible. They’re where you get spiritual formation. Within the history of the church, the Psalms have played a really important role. So, for example, Saint Augustine, in the early church, on his deathbed, asked to be left alone with the penitential Psalms, those Psalms of confession and forgiveness. I think Psalms 32, Psalm 51, Psalm 130; these penitential Psalms are Psalms that recognize ourselves as sinners in need of redemption and here’s Augustine, one of the great teachers of the church, asking to be left alone on his deathbed with those Psalms.
Martin Luther describes the Psalms as a kind of tote bag of the whole Bible or the Bible in miniature, he said. So, all the major themes of the Bible you can find in the Psalms, God’s goodness, God’s glory, the reality of sin, the harshness of judgment, the need for forgiveness, and the hope of the Heavenly City, all buried in the Psalms. John Calvin, who I have a special affinity for, and I often will joke with my students that when I was five, I asked Jesus into my heart, and when I was 18, I asked Calvin into my heart. It’s overstated, but Calvin calls the Psalms an anatomy of all the parts of our souls. That’s an actually important phrase. I think what Calvin means by that is the Psalms have the ability to, and I’ll be not all that delicate here with this, to cut us open and reveal the inner chambers of our lives. They have an exposing quality to them that can help us come to terms with who we are from the perspective of God’s own instructions. So, the Psalms have that that ability to cut and to slice, to kind of speak into our lives.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, this is one of those German theologians of the 20th century who actually died under the hands of the Nazis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer delivered some powerful lectures as a seminary Professor on the Psalms and said something like this, when you read the Psalms, ask yourself what does this Psalm sound like on the lips of Jesus first, then ask yourself what does this Psalm have to do with me. And that, I just stumbled upon that quote. I tell my students there’s this thing called the providence of walking the stacks of a library. Go in to walk a library and wonder, what’s in that book, you pull it off, and found that gem from Bonhoeffer, just thinking about the ways in which the Psalms shape our understanding of the prayers of ancient Israel, they shape our understanding of our own prayer life through the prayer book of the church, and they also can help us understand the prayers that Jesus is making to the Father by the Spirit for you now shaped in some ways by the language of the Psalter.
So, I just think the Psalms are rich. You know, this is a kind of a proverbial thing that’s maybe not all that helpful, but if I was pushed into a corner and asked, all right you’re going to be on a deserted island for three years and you can only take one book of the Bible with you, I think it would probably be the Psalms. So, they’re rich. There’s a treasure trove here of insight into what it means to live all of life In God’s Presence. Now, let me stop and just talk about that for a second. The Psalms are inviting us, and let me let me up the ante, the Psalms are actually commanding us to live all of life in God’s presence. From mountaintop moments, to the valley of despair, from confusion, to reorientation, in moments where you need wisdom, in moments when you are rejoicing, in moments when you are giving thanks, the Bible and the Psalms are instructing us that God wants all of our lives lived in His presence and in a spirit of prayer.
All right, so, again, I can’t say enough about the Psalms. I mean, I just think they’re remarkable. I don’t know if you’ve had this experience. I imagine that you have. I’m sure many of you here have read through the Psalms multiple times. I have too, and it’s remarkable the new things you discover every time you go through again. I mean, I’ve had this happen to me so many times where my wife or someone else will say, have you wrestled with Psalm 25 at all, and I’ll hear it and I’m like, wow that feels so new and so fresh. Now, this morning, my son and my wife are on the road up to a college visit, so I was up early, I said, all right, I’m gonna get my Bible and turn to Psalm 77, which was, for me, my Covid Psalm. I read it all the time, so, I’m gonna go to that again. Can I just read this Psalm to you? This is a gem. It’s entitled, A comfort in trouble from recalling God’s mighty deeds.” It’s another Asaph psalm. We’ll talk about Asaph again before the morning’s over. This Psalm 77 is in a collection of Asaph Psalms, a temple priest. This is what Asaph says.
My voice rises to God, and I will cry aloud. My voice rises to God, and He will listen to me. In the day of my trouble, I sought the Lord. In the night, my hand was stretched out and it did not grow weary. My soul refused to be comforted. When I remember God, then I am restless.
So, think about what he’s saying here. I’m raising my voice to God, I’m calling on God in the day of my trouble, I’m seeking the Lord in an aggressive way, my hand refuses to not be stretched out, and yet, when I remember God, I become restless, the Lord becomes the source of the Psalmist’s trouble. It’s not the first time for Asaph. We’ll see this later.
When I signed, and my spirit feels weak, You have held my eyelids open. I’m so troubled that I cannot speak. I’ve considered the days of old, the years of long ago. I will remember my song in the night, I will meditate with my heart…
I mean this is a reflection back on Psalm 1, meditating on God’s Word day and night.
I’m going to meditate with my heart, my spirit’s going to ponder and reflect, where does my reflection go (verse 7) will the Lord reject forever? Will He never be favorable again? Has His favor ceased forever? Has His promise come to an end forever?
And listen to this very honest and really kind of troubling statement.
Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has He, in anger, withdrawn His compassion?
I mean, so you can get a sense here of deep disorientation and wrestling with God. Those of you who know Genesis 32 where Jacob wrestles with God by the river Jabokk in the middle of the night, I mean, the prophet Hosea, I think the best of the Christian interpretive tradition see that scene of Jacob wrestling with God by the river Jabokk, refusing to let go of God until God blesses him, they see that scene as typifying the life of faith.
I wish the life of faith were flowery beds of ease but that is not the way in which the Bible portrays the life of faith. The life of faith is you and God wrestling by the river Jabokk and you refusing to let go of God and His promises. That’s faith, and here you have Asaph, the temple priest, wrestling with his God in the middle of the night. Has God forgotten? Has He withdrawn his compassion to us in a moment of anger?
Now, look how he talks to himself. This is this is another one of those features of the Psalter that I think is so instructive, and we’ll come back to this. The Psalmists will talk to themselves, like if I can steal a phrase from Jerry Bridges. Jerry Bridges, in one of his books, and I think is probably one of the most off-quoted quotes from Bridges, he would say, you’ve got to preach the Gospel to yourself every day. The morning that you wake up and your day goes horribly, it doesn’t go according to plan, you snip at your wife, you had no time in prayer, and you’re just ornery, on that day, you are in need of God’s saving grace. And on the day when you wake up and the coffee smells right, and you’ve had some time with the Lord and it’s sweet, and you’ve had good interaction with your kids on the way out the door, you know what Jerry Bridges says? On that day you stand in need of the saving grace of God. We need the saving grace of God on our good days and our bad days, and we have to remind ourselves, we have to talk to ourselves, or, in the language of the Puritans, you have to learn to preach to yourself. Well, here’s the Psalmist preaching to himself right at verse 10.
So, then I said…
Who’s he saying this to? To himself.
It is my grief that the right hand of the Most High has changed, therefore (verse 11) I shall remember the deeds of the Lord. I’m going to recall and remember Your wonders of old. I’m going to meditate on all of Your works and Your deeds with Thanksgiving.
So, you sense the mood here? My current moment that I’m in right now, things are not going according to plan, God is not acting in predictable ways, I’m not even sure what my relationship with God is right now, this moment is a disordered moment, for whatever reason, so what I’m going to do is I’m going to remember the mighty works of salvation that God has done in the past. I’m going to call them to mind, and this is what he says.
Your way oh God is Holy. What God is great like our God? You’re The God Who works wonders. You’ve made Your strength known among all of the peoples. By your power you’ve redeemed Your people, the sons of Jacob and Joseph…
And it’s got to be one of my favorite verses in the Bible, listen to this poetic description of the splitting of the Red Sea, verse 16.
The water saw You God, the water, they saw you coming, and they were in anguish. The ocean depths also trembled.
Why did the Red Sea split into? Because the waters saw God’s presence coming to them and they were terrified to the point of being riven into. That’s fantastic.
Clouds poured out water, the skies sounded out, your arrows flashed here and there, the sound of your thunder was in the whirlwind, the lightning lit up the world, the Earth trembled and shook, your way was in the sea, your path, in the mighty waters, your footprints were not known. You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.
It’s beautiful writing. You did it in the past, so, here’s the here’s the pattern. A moment of disorientation, confusion in relationship to God, worship, life, potentially even hope, we call to remind the mighty acts that God has done in the past, knowing that He did it for Moses and Aaron and the people of Israel, knowing that He did it for Jesus and the apostles, knowing that He’s done it through the history of the church, for Grandma and Grandpa, even for me last year, trusting that He will again move by His mighty hand. So, again, I wasn’t even planning on talking about Psalm 77 but it’s just absolutely rich and these things are peppered all the way through.
Okay, now, with that said, go back with me to Psalm one. A couple things about the Psalms at large that I’d like for you to see this morning. I’m sure many of you have already noticed this, but you notice there at the beginning of Psalm one, I think all English Bibles have this, I have The New American Standard this morning, I see Charlie’s got the ESV. Any NIVs in here? NIV, all right, we got we got the bases covered, so, do you notice what’s at the top of Psalm one, there’s a there’s a little phrase, you see that? What does it say? Book one. So, book one, are Psalms one through 41. All right. Now when you go to Psalm 41, actually Psalm 42, and it’s going to get a little bit pedantic, but hold on with me, book two, Psalms 42 through 72. For just fun, notice the last verse of Psalm 72. All right, so, 72:20. The last verse of Psalm 72, 20, says this, “the prayers of David, the son of Jesse, are ended.” That’s weird, this is this is one of those ‘Houston, we’ve got a problem’ moments, because all you have to do is turn a few pages and you’re going to get more David Psalms, so, what’s going on here?
Well, a couple of things. Psalm 72:20 probably did at one point in time end a David collection of Psalms. That’s probably the case, but the fact that it’s still in the Psalter, I don’t think is a scribal mistake. I think this is making a point here about the promises that were made to David and his offspring, the promise of a Davidic throne, a Davidic King on the throne forever, have become somewhat challenged in Israel’s history. You see this as a major theme in the in the latter part of the Minor Prophets, you see this as a challenge in the book of Chronicles, so this is a theme that emerges that links us, I think, into book three, which are Psalm 73 through 89.
I’m running out of room, but that was all right, now, so Psalm 73, right here, another Asaph Psalm, and you’re right here right now, and I’ll just kind of make this as an assertion, not necessarily an argument, but my sense is that Psalm 73 right here at the seam of Book two and Book three, beginning Book three is like the hinge around which the whole of the Psalter moves. It’s a Psalm and I’ve used this term elsewhere, it’s a Janus face, you know that? It’s a face that looks backwards and forwards. So, Psalm 73 kind of looks backwards here and it also looks forward to some of the promises that come and emerge in the development of the Psalms and their larger shape.
Can we look at Psalm 73 just for a second, and I don’t want to get lost, and as we notice again, it’s the beginning of a collection of Asaph Psalms. If you want a good Saturday morning, spend some time in the 70s, all right. The 70s of the Psalms, really rich. Notice what happens here with Asaph. Verse one, remember this is the temple priest, he’s a priest whose vocation, if I can put this in somewhat borderline sacrilegious terms, God is his business, it’s what he does for a living, and look what he says in verse 1.
God certainly is good to Israel to those who are pure in heart.
This is a confession of faith, in fact, it’s possible, if not probable, that language like this was part of the liturgy of the first temple. This was maybe, for those of you who are in liturgical context, you’ll know this kind of antiphonal thing, where one choir, the preacher will say one thing and the congregation will respond, or one side will respond of the church to another side. This is that kind of, I think, liturgical confession. It’s what we believe to be true. For the Anglicans and Episcopalians and Presbyterians and Methodists in the room who go to kind of liturgical churches, this is, in effect, something like us saying every Sunday, I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth. The Apostles Creed, Nicene Creed. So, this is the confession of faith of what Asaph believes and confesses to be true. Number one, God is good, and in the Psalms, by the way, God doesn’t just do good things, God is goodness. There’s no goodness, every good thing that we experience is a derivative of the being of God as goodness itself, so God is good, He’s good to Israel, number two, and He’s especially good to those who are pure in heart. Who are the pure in heart? Jesus talks about this.
Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.
I think the pure and heart are not those who are blameless or sinless, morally perfect. I don’t think that’s the claim here. Pure in heart is, I think, linked to the first commandment. No other God but me. Deuteronomy 6:4 Hear o Israel the Lord Our God the Lord is one and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your might. That’s at the heart of the Covenant relationship between God and His people. I will be your God; you will be My people. The first commandment is not one among ten. The first commandment is the foundation upon which all of The Commandments are built. No God but me, and here, Asaph says, I say if I can use our terminology, in church or in temple, every Saturday or Sunday, depending you know where we are, I say these things, God is good, He’s good to Israel, He’s good to those who are pure in heart. Notice what happens in verse 2.
But as for me, my feet had come close to stumbling, my step had almost slipped.
This is one of the reasons why I’m so grateful for the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, and especially this part of the Old Testament, feels so fresh. I mean, I read we talked about Ecclesiastes las week, I read Ecclesiastes or Proverbs or certain Psalms, and I feel like they were written yesterday. They’re ancient characters, not their problems. They feel. If I can steal from a Dutch theologian named Herman Bavinck, they feel eternally youthful. They’re young, and why are they young? What’s the youthful character here? Well, the challenge of Christian faith or a major challenge of Christian faith, a thing that causes us to wrestle with God in the middle of the night. Is what we do when what we confess to be true about God, I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of Heaven and Earth, I believe that God has created all things, and He’s preserving all things, and He’s governing all things toward His own redemptive purposes, I believe that’s true, surely God is good to Israel to those who are pure in heart. I believe that’s true. What do I do when my confession comes into conflict with what I’m experiencing? I believe that’s true but it doesn’t seem to comport or coincide with what I’m experiencing in reality.
This is a challenge of the Christian faith, and we are, by the way, in a moment, especially in the western church, where experience and people’s experience of the truth has become kind of the almost the final arbiter of the truth. This is why we use terms today which sounds so silly in our ears, but it’s not silly in the marketplace of ideas. I want people to hear my truth, or that’s your truth. I’m like oh, that’s, I thought Jesus said He was the truth, so these sort of, you know, wishy-washy moments that we’re in, complicate things because our experience becomes something that we overly rely on to help us arbitrate the truth, but we all know the challenges of our experience. Asaph’s experience, and we can’t get lost here because I gotta get back to this, but Asaph’s experience was God promises shalom to His people. Prosperity in Psalm 1, the righteous and they’re always fruitful, like a tree by the river and they’re always bearing fruit in their season, that’s what God promised His people, and I’m looking at the arrogant and the wicked, and I see that the arrogant and the wicked appear to be enjoying the shalom that God has promised to us. And now, for Asaph, up is down and down is up, and if you’ll notice what happens to Asaph, his circumstances don’t necessarily change, we don’t have any explanation of that, but his perspective is altered. This this is again the kind of a mirror into the life of the Christian faith. Our circumstances don’t always get altered but our perspective can.
I met a son that was a relaying to me some challenges that were going on in the world of High School athletics, and I said, listen son, let me just let you know, there are some things in your circumstances that you have absolutely no power over. There’s none, but here’s the areas that you do have a little bit of responsibility and control over. Attitude, effort, perspective, yada, yada, yada. I mean, this is what happens here in Psalm 73. Asaph doesn’t have control of the circumstances, but his perspective and his understanding of God comes back again into clearer view.
(Verse 17) Until I understood, until I entered the sanctuary of God, then I perceived their end. (Verse 25) Whom do I have in Heaven but You and with You I desire nothing on Earth.
I mean, the covetousness that I’ve had looking at the prosperity and the ease of the wicked and the arrogant, o Lord, when compared to what you’ve given me in Your Son, when compared, if I can steal from C.S. Lewis here, to the ocean of the life that You’ve offered us in the beauty of Your own person, all of the toys that they’re getting to play with pale in comparison to what You are. Whom do I have in Heaven and on Earth but You? Look at verse 26.
My flesh and my heart they will fail me, but God is the strength of my heart and He’s my portion forever.
So, again, you have this, so here’s Psalm 73, right at the core of it, and it’s letting you know about the challenges of confession of faith and doctrine and lived experience and the importance of wrestling with God and bringing God from the periphery on these matters back to the center, knowing that what He says is better and what He offers is truer and richer than any of the counterfeit alternative offerings that the culture and the surrounding world is offering. So, that’s book three. Book four are Psalms 90 through 106, and you know, this is maybe somewhat contentious, but some of the people that I like to read in the Psalms have argued that they think Psalms 95 through 100 form something of the theological pulse and heartbeat of the Psalms. Why? Because the major theme in Psalms 95 to 100 is the Lord is King. That’s important because when we go back here, we see the promises with the Davidic kingship have become somewhat problematized. We enter into the confusion of that in Book three, we enter into the reorientation of that in Book four, namely with the influence, the focus on, the Lord Himself is the King.
Psalm 95, that’s a Psalm that many of you will know from church. Generations of Christians have called Psalm 95 “The Venite”, now come, let us sing for Joy to the Lord, let us shout for Joy to the rock of our salvation. Psalm 96, sing to the Lord a new song. If you notice Psalm 98, verse 6, with trumpet and lyre, sound of the horn, shout joyfully before the Lord the King.
So, for you Lord of the Rings fans out there, this is this is volume three of Lord of the Rings. It’s the return of the King. My kids have been re-watching the movies that’s why this is fresh on my mind. The king is returning back to Zion. Then, kind of move with me here to 107, Book five are Psalms 107 through 150. I want you to just notice something about this. When you get to Psalm 146, well let me back up, Book five here, some really important Psalms well, they’re all important, but some that sort of stand out, the longest Psalm in all the Bible, what? 119. That’s in here and what’s the major theme of Psalm 119? God’s Word. Thy Word is a lamp into my feet and a light into my path, and you have this long Psalm devoted, even in its form, to the perfection of God’s instruction of God’s Word. It’s perfect. Then you move from Psalm 119 into Psalms 120 through 134, which we might do next month, I’ll talk with Richard, but Psalms 120 through 134 are these Psalms of ascent, Psalms that were sung, Pilgrim Psalms, along the way toward the temple.
Eugene Peterson wrote a famous book that’s done very well, basically kind of pastoral commentary on these Psalms here and he’s called them A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, so, beautiful Psalms. And then if you get to Psalm 146, you’ll see what begins to happen as the plane of the Psalter begins to descend to the runway to land, all right, so we’ve been on quite a journey, and now we’re about to kind of come to the end, and just look at these here and see if you see the word that appears so many times as to almost become massively redundant. Psalm 146:1, Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, my soul, I will praise the Lord while I live, I will sing praises to my God while I have my being. Psalm 147, Praise the Lord, it’s good to sing to God, praise to our God, praise Is beautiful. Psalm 148, Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, Praise Him in the heights, praise Him, all his angels praise Him, praise Him, praise Him. Getting this? Psalm 149, Praise the Lord, sing a new song to The Lord, praise to the congregations of the Godly ones. And then look at Psalm 150. Praise the Lord, praise God in the sanctuary, praise Him, praise Him, praise Him. Look at verse 3. Praise Him with trumpet, praise Him with lyre, with harp, praise Him with tambourine and dance, kind of, this is the kind of worship that can make Presbyterians and Episcopalian Anglican types get a little nervous, me too, but they’re like really excited about Jesus here. Praise Him with string instruments and flute, praise Him with loud cymbals, resounding cymbals, and just in case you didn’t get it, here’s the last verse of the Psalms. If you happen to be animate and breathe, like if you’re breathing in and out, let everything that does that praise the Lord, and then, what’s the last three words of the whole Psalm, of the Psalms? Praise the Lord.
So, okay that was over the top, but that’s not by accident. There’s a reason why early church fathers like Gregory of Nyssa would say that the Psalms mirror for us the journey of the soul. Our souls are going through, think about all that you go through here, through hill and dale, through mountain and valley, high moments, low moments, good moments, bad moments, lamenting moments, praising moments, all up and down, up and down, but if you can get this sense that all of the songs are moving you tyrannically toward praise, here’s a maybe a shorthand understanding of what the Psalms are trying to achieve in shaping our souls. The Psalms are helping you know and helping me know a couple of things. Number one, how to really be happy. I mean, just think about Psalm chapter 1, verse 1. How blessed, how happy is the man who delights in God’s Word. The end of Psalm 2, how blessed, how happy, how fortunate, those who recognize and live under the refuge of God’s wing. They love God’s Word, they reside under the refuge of God’s wing, those people are blessed, they are happy, they are in the space that we would identify as the space necessary for true human flourishing. The question that’s been asked by philosophers, really from all time from recorded history, are basic questions like why is there something and not nothing. It’s a great question Heidegger asked in the early 20th century, this, by the way, is one of the reasons we all hope our kids don’t major in philosophy at college, like, do something practical, I don’t want you living in my basement for the rest of your life, but why is there something and not nothing? What does it mean to be human? Is life worth living? And how can we find happiness in this world?
I mean, those are the great questions that philosophers have been raising for all time, and what I think is so interesting is, not in the same way as the as the Greco-Roman philosophical tradition, but the Bible is not uninterested in those questions, in fact, the Bible leans hard into them. How is one blessed? How does someone live under the smile of God? Well, one thing we know from the Psalms is no one gets a get out of jail free card from what Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls “the tempest of living”. There are religions out there on offer that can try to get you a get out of jail free card from the tempest of living, namely something like Buddhism. You want to escape your body and being enfleshed? Well, there are religions out there for you; Christianity is just not the one. Christianity calls you into the tempest of living with all of the complexities that pressure you in that tempest, and yet, in the midst of that tempest, God lets us know that true joy and human flourishing is found in recognizing the significance and authority of His Word, finding peace under the refuge of His wings, and recognizing that I’m most fully human, what God intended me to be, when I’m praising. I was made to praise. To live is to praise and to praise is to live. If I can steal from the Anglican, the Book of Common Prayer, from morning prayer, a phrase that’s used, let us praise You not only with our lips but also with our lives.
So, I think the idea of praise here is not just what we do on Sunday when we worship together, as important as that is, not just you having a special moment in the car with your favorite Christian music, as special as that can be, but it’s recognizing that all of your life is under the umbrella of the view and the face of the Living God. So, I’m practicing law to the glory of God and praising Him in that. I’m involved in commerce in such a way that I understand my involvement in commerce and business is not an end unto itself, it’s devoted toward praise. Now, this is one of the great things about being a Protestant for me is, we’re not living with this hard and fast distinction between the clergy and the laity, all Christians have been called to a vocation, and that vocation is in service to the glory of God, namely His praise. To live is to praise and to praise is to live.
I think that the significance of this in our moment it’s really hard to overstate because our cultural moment, and this is not really new but we’re seeing it in very acute ways, our cultural moment all around us is telling us that to find your true identity, who you are, requires you to turn inward, discover yourself, determine yourself to be the self that you want to be, and then, go out and be that self. That that is the language of our therapeutic moment. And I think what the Bible is telling us, and as an aside, I think this is so interesting, given our moment if you asked Saint Augustine to define sin, please give us a definition of sin, Augustine’s definition would be sin is turning in on the self. That’s sin. Praise, by its very nature, draws us outside of the self to recognize goodness, beauty, truth, redemption, glory in the face of another and to point away from ourselves toward Him.
A.W. Tozer are in a famous book called The Pursuit of God which used to get a lot of airtime, I don’t know if it does anymore, has a wonderful chapter in there said entitled “The Blessedness of Self-forgetfulness.” The joy that comes from being released from the tyranny of the self. I was reading a piece two weekends ago in The Wall Street Journal by a social psychologist named Jonathan Haidt. Jonathan Haidt writes it at this point in time, I’m probably going to read it, his book, The Coddling of the American Mind, it’s just a fantastic expose of our moment, especially our young people in these moments, very good. In this interview in The Wall Street Journal, and he’s not a Christian by the way, Jonathan Haidt says he’s very concerned about the mental well-being of Generation Z, children born between 1995 and 2012. He said, “In the history of humanity,” it’s kind of a hyperbolic statement, but that’s what he says, “we have never seen a generation more prone to despair, more prone toward anxiousness, more fragile, more given to the possibilities of suicide, than this generation,” and he begins to kind of unpack what some of that is and I’ll just, in a very simplified way, say a lot of it has to do with this question of what does it mean to be human and how do I identify and how do I present my own personal identity. That those questions are central and young people are being buried under a weight of disorder in light of what the culture is screaming at them of what it means to be truly human and a person. And here comes the Psalms, ancient words ever knew, letting us know that from the standpoint of God’s perspective for us to find our true self is not by turning inward but by being lost in wonder, praise, and adoration of the One who was and is and is to come.
When you look at these here, Book one, two, three, four, and five, that sounds a lot like another really important part of the Old Testament, sounds like the Pentateuch, right? The Torah, Genesis to Deuteronomy, the five books of Moses. It’s by intent. The Psalms were shaped in this way, in an intentional way, don’t know by whom, but in an intentional way to mirror the Pentateuch, the Torah. In fact, a very good Old Testament scholar by the name of Gordon Wenham wrote a book years ago now entitled The Psalms as Torah. The Psalms are instructing us, they’re, if I can use a southern colloquialism, they’re learning us, they’re teaching us how to speak, God’s authorizing us to speak to Him in all of these ways, and He’s inviting us into a life that’s lived in His presence, knowing that life in His presence is where our true humanity is to be found. We don’t escape our humanity there. We find what it really means to be human in accord with God’s intent in that in that particular place.
When my wife and I were first married, this might be what you’re referring to earlier, but when my wife and I were first married, we went to a marriage seminar and the speaker, I’ll never forget this, the speaker was talking about the dangers that lurk in marriages, and he gave this, I thought, really helpful definition of the opposite of love. He said the opposite of love is not anger or even hate. You know, many of us in this room have been married long enough to know that, you know, a flip can be switched from romance to frustration really fast, but his point was when you’re angry or even arguing or fussing, you still have skin in the game. You know, the relationship matters to you. He said, the opposite of love is indifference, and he says, and this is why the silent treatment is so pernicious in a marriage. I’m like, really. I can think of some really, some way more awful things to do to my spouse than the silent treatment but he said this is really bad, so I was listening. He said, because the silent treatment, in effect, lets your spouse know whether you are or whether you aren’t don’t matter to me right now. You could be alive you could be dead, neither of those really matter to me. That’s the opposite of love, indifference.
And what the Psalms do is, in effect, teach us and tell us and instruct us that God does not want silence from us. He authorizes us in the Psalms to say really risky things to him but all of these various Psalms that are in there are awaiting you for the various moments in life that you will face in the future, moments of joy, moments of despair, moments where you need instruction, moments where you sinned again and need confession and renewal, all of those are waiting for you to be worn in that moment in God’s presence as we live all of life with Him, anything but the silent treatment.
So, the Lord bless you with the Psalms. The Psalms are, you know, they’re the deep end of the pool, they continue to offer such richness to us as God invites us into a whole life that’s lived in His presence and moving tyrannically toward praise.
All right. Let’s pray. Lord, bless these men and thank You for our time together this morning. Pray that You’ll strengthen them in the Gospel, pray that You will let Your Word bury itself in their hearts and their minds and grow and bear fruit. I pray Lord that You’ll shape us toward praise. Lord we will struggle with the tyranny of ourselves to the day that we die but Lord we do ask for release so that we can be lost in wonder and praise of You knowing that that’s where true delight and true joy is to be found, under the shadow of Your wings. That’s where we find what it means to be what You’ve intended for us to be as men and women in Your kingdom and we ask these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Dr. Mark Gignilliat is professor of divinity at Beeson Divinity School, where he teaches courses in Old Testament and Hebrew, and also serves as theologian in residence at St. Peter’s Anglican Church in Birmingham. Dr. Gignilliat is married to Naomi, and they have four children.