Hard-Living Psalms: A Bible Study for Asbury's Worship (August 15-16)
by Rev. Lee Johnson
august 15, 2020
In Spirituality of the Psalms, Walter Brueggemann, an Old Testament professor and well-known lecturer, identifies three typologies of Psalms: orientation, disorientation, and re-orientation. The Psalms, he says, reflect the plight of ancient Israel, which experienced both great success and stress, at times simultaneously. Israel had an intimate relationship with God. Sometimes, though, it was difficult for the Israelites to locate God’s closeness, especially in moments of dis-orientated living. The Psalms of dis-orientation then reflect a search for God in the Israelites’ hard-living times. Read Psalm 13:1-4. The voice of the Psalmist struggles to locate God, as though an enemy has prevailed, making it one of those hard-living Psalms. Ponder a time you struggled to locate God. How did you give voice to your struggle?
Peter Enns, a Professor of Biblical Studies and author of The Sin of Certainty, writes how Christians gravitate towards Psalms which prompt the shout: “Praise the Lord,” similar to those Brueggemann calls "Psalms of orientation." We like Psalms, Enns reflects, that proclaim: “Everything is fine, God is great, stay the course.” In Enns’ typology of Psalms, these might be called Psalms of Certainty. Yet, much of life is not lived there, especially in this time of social unrest and COVID-19. Yet, it might be spiritually and physically wise to learn from the Old Testament and allow the Psalms of disorientation a voice in our current-day struggles and acknowledge the relational barriers disorienting events can build between believers and God. Read Psalm 88 – truly a Psalm of dis-orientation written out of a time of national uncertainty for Israel. Both Brueggemann and Enns note the Psalm is missing any possibility of hope. Have you ever encountered a time without the possibility of hope? What does it mean to you that the biblical word, as found in Psalm 88, gives voice to such a time?
Peter Enns version of Psalm 88: “O Lord, I have been on my knees to you night after night. I am so troubled, and in so much agony, I feel like I have one foot in the grave, in deep and dark places. I am absolutely without hope, including in you. You really don’t seem to care. Actually, let me be blunt: you’ve abandoned me. This is all your fault. You’re the one who makes me feel like this. You’re even the one responsible for my own friends looking at me like I’m some sort of freak show. Even so, all night and all day, I am on my knees praying, still calling to you for some relief – I am desperate. But you keep on hiding. I am in absolute pain and the only friend I have is darkness. Thanks for nothing.
I’ve often thought the flow of life moves through cycles of certainty and un-certainty in short time spans. One moment, the world is COVID virus-free, the economy is humming along, and the next… One moment the tip of social and racial justice appears more balanced and the next… Our lives are full of the complexity of this movement, at times all in the same day, maybe even hour. The Psalms provide a complete and complex view of this phenomenon. Unlike Psalm 88, Psalm 13 does not leave the reader in what Peter Enns calls, “a deep pit of blah.” Instead, the Psalm moves the reader back to trust. Maybe that’s where the road of uncertainty is intended to take us. Return to Psalm 13, this time reading verses five and six. Use your biblical creativity and make a list of what might have prompted the author to return to trust. Then, think about your journey of uncertainty and God. What leads you back to trust?
Asbury's Weekend Worship: https://www.visitasbury.org/worship/
Beginning Saturday, August 15 at 5:00 pm
"But I trusted in your steadfast love."