Forsaken by God

More than David, more than Job, no man ever felt more forsaken by God than Jesus. Near the end of His time on the cross (Matthew 27:46), Jesus took a line from Psalm 22 as His own.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Psalm 22:1a)

The next few lines of Psalm 22 also fit with His affliction.

Why are you so far from saving me,
from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest.
(Psalm 22:1b–2)

We sing about when “The Father turned His face away” from the Son. Yet Jesus certainly did nothing wrong. He had no sin of His own. And He felt forsaken. We know that He wasn’t doing drama or mouthing the words.

Our righteous God cannot look at the unrighteous. But the good news is that the Father forsook His Son for a time so that He could never forsake His redeemed, adopted children.

We can be encouraged to know that the godly have such times. We can be encouraged to know that ours will never be an experience as bad as that of Jesus. And we can be thankful that Christ endured being forsaken in order to secure our eternal fellowship with God. Do you feel isolated from God? Then come, eat and drink in remembrance of Him and in fellowship with Him by faith.

Not 149 More Doctrinal Bullet Points

In my last post on Psalms I gave some reasons why our use of the Psalms is flat. That needs to change. It should BOOM.

By boom I mean literally: make a loud, deep sound. And by boom I mean figuratively: make a dent in the ideological walls of unbelief and rebellion.

Why should we use the Psalms? Here are three reasons for pulling the pin from the Psalter grenade.

1. Psalms are spiritual.

Knowing, speaking, and, yes, singing Psalms is spiritual. That is, it is an evidence that the Holy Spirit is controlling us. Paul exhorted the Ephesian believers,

do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart (Ephesians 5:18–19)

A drunk man may get loud and rowdy and sing his songs off key for the entire bar. He can’t keep it to himself. A man filled with the Holy Spirit can’t keep it to himself either. According to the verses above, a spiritual man will be focused on others and inspired Psalms are part of his vocabulary. Spirit-filled men speak in ψαλμοῖς (psalmois)—many Old Testament psalms, in ὕμνοις (hymnois)—many hymns with religious content, and in ᾠδαῖς πνευματικαῖς (odais pneumatikais)—many songs having to do with the divine spirit. Psalms aren’t the only way we can encourage each other, as if we were playing a party game where we could only speak in lines from Psalms. But lines from Psalms are the only inspired song lyrics we have.

The psalmists were not writing to believers who were filled with the Spirit, but Paul told believers who were filled with the Spirit that the Psalms were appropriate subject matter. Paul also gave this exhortation to a congregation of mostly Gentile believers. He expected that the Spirit would translate the prayers and praises of one nation into many tongues.

2. Psalms are biblical.

This was one of those observations that, once I heard it, I’ve not been able to forget it. The letters of Paul to the Ephesians and Colossians are similar but each contains some distinct emphases. In Colossians 3:16 we see almost the same results of Ephesians 5:18-19 but from a different cause.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16)

Biblical people, the kind we most certainly want to be, are stocked with Scripture and, in particular, the Psalms.

Psalm 1, a psalm about delighting in the law of the Lord and meditating on it day and night, introduces 149 more psalms, 149 more songs. It does not head the list of 149 more doctrinal bullet points. A melody set to meter would enable meditation and enhance memory. It might even be enjoyable. Songs help us delight more. When we get a song stuck in our head, is that not part of what it means to mediate day and night?

3. Psalms are vital.

Our English word “vital” comes from the Latin vita = life; so it describes something that is absolutely necessary, indispensable to the continuance of life. Vital signs are life’s minimum. God’s Word is vital for life, so says the introduction to the Psalter itself: Psalm 1.

Blessed is the man
[whose] delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is 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.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
(Psalm 1:3–4)

The law of the Lord is to be delighted in, and there are few better ways to do that than singing. Psalm-love encourages us to be planted for sake of life, even when the culture waters dry up around us. For the thirsty, my attempt to explain Psalm 1 is here.

The end for the meditator is that in all that he does, he prospers. The picture returns to the man, not just the tree. There is a solidity, a sweetness, a sap to his life rooted in God’s Word. And note that the contrast is not with a shallow-rooted, brown-branched, barren tree. The contrast is with a hollow husk of chaff. The chaff is dead. But our hearts should be alive with the sound of Psalms.

Thanksgrabbing

Ah, the winter holiday season is upon us and it starts this coming Thursday with Thanksgiving. We are learning that God is honored when we feast and not only when we fast. We are also learning that feasting is a whole lot of work.

Fasting takes a lot of discipline. We could even call it work. But it is mostly mental and spiritual work. In order to honor the Lord with a fast, no one needs to compile a shopping list, or vacuum the floors, brine the bird, roll the dough, mash the potatoes, fold the napkins, whip the cream, uncork the wine bottle, or wash all the dishes. Denying the flesh requires effort but a lot less clean up.

That said, those who do a lot of work to feed bodies have a different need to deny their flesh. Prepping a great meal is an example of something that can happen anytime, but the Thanksgiving holiday sets the table for what we could call Thanksgrabbing, a tradition some of us may already be observing.

Thanksgrabbing occurs when we expect to be seen and praised for all our work. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t be thanked; of course you should. But if bitterness grows every hour you’re on your feet because no one seems to notice, let alone offers to help, or if your leftover casserole cooks in a broth of hurt feelings because guests didn’t acknowledge all your effort, then you may be grabbing for thanks.

Again, attitudes can sour in a cornucopia of ways and it isn’t particularly a matriarchal sin. It’s the kind of sin that happens when one trades a monk outfit for a lightweight martyr outfit, serving and sacrificing in order to obligate thanks from others. Deliverance from dualism involves new difficulties, but they are difficulties worth fighting. Don’t let resentment make you the biggest turkey at the table. Remember, “The liberal soul shall be made fat,” and those who gladly share gravy will be gravied themselves (see the KJV of Proverbs 11:25).

The Season of Our Desuetude

There is a medley of reasons for our desuetude of Psalms. Not only are they my observations, they also are my experience.

Our use of psalms is flat. What I mean by flat is that we lack interest in the Psalms. We don’t give much energy to them. Likewise, if a musical note is flat, the sound is below the true or normal pitch. Our use of Psalms is well below the pitch God’s praise calls for.

Why is our use of Psalms flat? Here are four types of dissonance (lack of harmony or tension) between us and the Psalms.

1. Lyrical Dissonance

We are not used to the style of writing. As a culture we don’t have much familiarity with, let alone appreciation for, poetry. The Psalms are 3000 year old poetry. They are also Hebrew poetry, and translation is typically the toughest on poetry. A frequent setting for these poems is a dessert, sometimes the temple, other times the palace. We don’t find ourselves in similar places often. Shepherds and soldiers and priests and kings wrote these poems. None of us hold any of these occupations. The poetic devices, other than alliteration and maybe chiasm, are things we are not comfortable with.

And when we do give these words our precious time
most of these inspired lines don’t even end the same way (or rhyme!).

2. Musical Dissonance

Who knows what the original songs sounded like? In order for us to get the English into a sing-able format, it usually sounds odd to us, like a six year-old forcing everyday conversation into tune. Men in monasteries in the first few centuries used to memorize and chant the Psalms. More men during the Reformation and Renaissance wrote new melodies to compliment the Psalms in their respective languages. But it actually seems that most of church history has not used these inspired songs because it was hard.

It is a challenge for us today. There are some who will take the time to learn, to appreciate, maybe even to play the more difficult stuff. Many would prefer to have catchy, easy tunes. There is a reason that popular music is popular.

3. Theological Dissonance

We are not sure what to do with Israel. Our Presbyterian and Covenantalist brothers would say that Israel was the Old Testament Church and the Church is the New Testament Israel. But that by itself doesn’t solve all of the issues. What about Israel’s King and immediate theocracy? What about all of the national themes? What about all of the military battles? We are not Israel. Jesus is our King, but that works out differently in the United States in the 21st Century. Can we find anything for us in the Psalter? Will we be able (or give the effort) to think through the steps to make proper application?

That said, don’t forget 1 Corinthians 10:6 and Romans 15:4. The Psalms are undoubtedly included for our instruction and encouragement to endure, even if that takes effort to appreciate.

4. Postural Dissonance

Not only are we uncomfortable with the Jewish distinctives, we are also uncomfortable with the upfront lows (though we may not get cozy with their highs, either). We prefer our piety a little dishonest; keep the hard parts of your life to yourself.

There are discouraged, weary, if not depressed and borderline bitter cries in these songs. It isn’t that we don’t ever doubt, we just wouldn’t say it out loud in church company. We certainly wouldn’t write it down in a song, or think that others should sing it in worship. If we heard a man praying like certain psalmists we might confront him afterward. Maybe he needs to be corrected. But maybe he needs us to keep singing the next verses that follow the frustration, the verses renewing hope in the Lord.

Gold-Plattered Snot-Fests

Somewhat recently a large group of believers were taken from their homes. Their capital city was attacked and those who weren’t killed were taken captive. They were allowed to live but provided with minimal rations and put under hard labor. We would consider them only a level above being prisoners of war.

What did they do to keep their faith alive while in exile? How would they stir up hope among themselves that God would return them to their homeland? Would they compromise and lose their distinctions and blend in with the culture? Or would they be known as a group within their captivity? What would identify them?

The nation of Israel was taken captive a few times in its national history, a history that is “somewhat recent” to us in light of eternity. The book of Psalms was collected and collated around some of these disasters.

Book 1 (1-41) emphasizes David’s kingship and troubles. Book 2 (42-72) is Israel’s troubles in general. Book 3 (73-89) is Israel in exile, the darkest of the five sections. Book 4 (90-106) is end of the exile and looking to the heavenly King. Book 5 (107-150) is exaltation. It’s a pattern of problems, prayer, and praise found not only in individual songs, but the whole hymnbook leads through the same process.

Many of the Psalms were written in the middle of trouble. The songs were certainly sung in the middle of trouble. These songs were weapons for the soul, in good and bad times.

For example, what if your captors made you sing your praise songs to taunt you? What would you sing? You’d get a psalm.

Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth,
if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
above my highest joy!
(Psalm 137:6, see verses 1-3 for the context)

We have a variety of strategies for dealing with low tides of the soul, but singing is not usually one of them. Singing hymns and psalms and spiritual songs even less.

I didn’t grow up as a psalm singer. In my childhood at church, we only sang hymns and we only sang out of a hymnal. If you can imagine it, we didn’t have projectors putting lyrics up on a screen for all to read. I think we read from the book of Psalms, probably, or at least some of them such as Psalm 23. The Gideons included it in the back of their New Testament copies so we probably gave Psalms at least a little more attention than Leviticus.

I attended a variety of churches while in college and stuck with one throughout seminary. This is the second congregation I’ve been a part of since graduating seminary. And this is the first church I’ve ever been a member of where we’re actually attempting to sing any actual Psalms.

Some churches I attended just didn’t have a high appreciation for the Bible. The leadership wanted visitors to feel comfortable more than they wanted the truth to be clear. Of those churches that did esteem the truth, most were Epistolary Evangelicals, the truth-tube believers that live almost entirely in the New Testament letters. Ain’t nobody got time for the Old Testament mess.

And why bother? The Old Testament is a mess. Besides, aren’t there issues with New Testament Christians looking to Old Testament contexts for help? As for songs, aren’t there plenty of good, new sources today? And don’t Psalm-people tend to be pretentious people? A few of you may have grown up around gold-plattered snot-fests where patriarchs looked down on anyone who even mentioned the name Sandi Patty or Twila Paris.

I get the resistance. I am a notoriously slow processor. It can take me hundreds of pages and sometimes hundreds of days to think over and work out my responses to certain issues, let alone maybe change my mind. I am also a career contrarian. I do not like to be persuaded; I like to argue. I resist being led (sometimes a strength) and am hard to edify (always a weakness). But I have been persuaded that the chasm between us and the Psalms is worth crossing. It is work, but it is worth it. So, yes, I am trying to persuade us to believe in Christ, to die like Christ, and to know the Psalms just as Jesus did.

In the next couple of posts I want to address reasons that we might not utilize the Psalms in our personal and corporate worship, along with reasons that we should.

A Visible Purpose

Abraham Kuyper stated that his aim was to equip a body

of spiritually mature, sober-living, serious people who, consciously assuming God’s promises and in the tradition of the historic Reformed church, sought to make visible in their personal lives and the life of the nation something of the kingdom of God.

–quoted in For the Healing of the Nations: Essays on Creation, Redemption, and Neo-Calvinism

Most Saturday Nights

On most Saturday nights our household makes dinner into an event. The food may be a bit more fancy as well as the decorations on the table. We get the kids involved with some quick-fire catechism type questions, we all sing the doxology, we pray, and then we feast as an appetizer for Sunday morning’s feast of worship.

One thing I usually do is poor the drinks. Everyone around the table gets a glass of wine, be it a large glass or a kid cup, and to whatever degree it is cut with seltzer water. It’s part of our celebration and my privilege to pour out the portions. Dad sets the tone by doling out the wine.

The Lord also fills cups. The wicked get the cup of fire and sulfur and scorching wind to drink as David described in Psalm 11:6. For the righteous, we can sing along with another of David’s songs,

The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.
(Psalm 16:5–6)

The Lord is the one who gives us our cup. He gives it to us Himself and in it He gives us Himself. He gives Himself to us now, during worship, as a taste of a forever feast.

What more proof do we need than the word that declares the goodness of the Lord’s Supper? God gave Himself for us so that He could give Himself to us. He gave His body and blood, He gives us Himself. He is our cup and the cup today is an endowment for an eternal heritage of fellowship.

Overlooking Glory

There is a stage of development as Christians are learning to love righteousness that can cause its own kind of damage. There is no way to not love righteousness and have that be good. There is also a way to love righteousness that is not as good as it could be. It can happen between peers, it can happen from parents and pastors, and really anytime someone watches someone else sin.

Here are two ways to state it positively, one from Proverbs and one from an apostle. Solomon said,

Good sense makes one slow to anger,
and it is his glory to overlook an offense.
(Proverbs 19:11)

And Peter said,

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8)

In each circumstance there are real problems: an offense was committed and sins were multiplied. These are not okay, and they are virtually impossible to avoid in a community or a classroom or around a kitchen table. Yes, we are to help one another recognize and repent from sin. Yes, we are to train our kids to obey and respect. Yes, we are to be a people who love righteousness.

But how can we have the glory of overlooking an offense without anyone committing an actual offense against us? And are we loving earnestly by always grinding confession out of others? It is not good sense, let alone our glory, to be fussy with the fussers. We may have been sinned against, but we may sin in being so easily offended.

The Fruit of the Womb

November is National Adoption Month and in this first week of the month elections took place across our country. It may be too much to tie together an exhortation to confess from these two threads, and yet they may be in a knot already.

When we worship God we not only see what He is like but also what He likes. More than that, we begin to like the same things. It is possible to study His interests without becoming interested in Him or the subjects, but we will not sing from our souls about Him having certain loves and then act as if our loving the same persons or things is inconsequential. The godly will be like the God they praise.

Our God cares about the fatherless. In Psalm 10 David celebrated that the LORD “will incline [His] ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed” (verses 17b-18a). He “settles the solitary in a home” (Psalm 68:8). Widows and orphans are His cause (James 1:27).

So then must we also care for the fatherless. It may be providing permanence. It may be helping in transition. It may be working at prevention. It could be adopting, fostering, providing emergency care or respite care, or just helping financially in any part of the process.

We also ought to be voting for officials who will not kill our children before they are born (or kill our widows because they are a “drain on society”). How the wicked have been making men fatherless, not because men grow up without fathers, but because the wicked urge fathers to kill their kids. When men worship the god of their belly (more money and time for themselves) they hate the fruit of the womb. But God cares about them.

Our kids are not a hindrance to our fruitfulness, they are our fruitfulness. Until we get (or regain) that perspective, one that can only come as we worship God, our nation will continue to be barren and barbaric.