Psalms, Part 2

Blessed be your name
In the land that is plentiful
Where the streams of abundance flow
Blessed be your name

Blessed be your name
When I’m found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness
Blessed be your name

Every blessing you pour out,
I turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord
Still I will say…
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be your glorious name

You give and take away
You give and take away
My heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be your name

The words of this popular Christian song, recorded by Matt Redman and sung by the community of believers, is the equivalent of a Psalm in the culture of Israel. It expresses faith in the LORD even when things are not going well. While it is not a direct parallel, references to the desert place, to darkness closing in, and feeling as though God has taken away that which is meaningful and precious, may give us a glimpse into the ethos of the authors of a major type of psalm, the Lament.

A general characteristic of the Lament is the outpouring of emotion to God during the experience of intense hardship, either spiritual or physical. We are reminded of the writing of Jeremiah as he expressed his sorrow over his suffering and the anticipated suffering of Israel in his book,

Lamentations. As a believer reads a lament, there is a ray of encouragement in the midst of pain because it affirms the value of worship even in the midst of human suffering. At one time or another, all of us can identify with the psalmist who expresses his raw emotion to God. Yet, as our contemporary song exemplifies, the faith of the author shines forth in the end.

A careful study of Psalms of Lament shows what appears as a deliberate structure. While there is occasionally an introductory section invoking the divine name (3, 4, 5, 80) and a plea for God to listen (5, 59, 83), the Lament usually begins by diving right into the source of pain and suffering. Psalm 13 is a classic example.

How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? (Psa 13:1-2 NIV)

Then there is the presentation of the reason why God should answer the plea, often being the writer’s opinion that it will protect his reputation as a follower of God.

Look on me and answer, LORD my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death, and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall. (Psa 13:3-4 NIV)

But the most distinct feature of the Lament is the closing expression of faith and trust in God.

But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the LORD’s praise, for he has been good to me. (Psa 13:5-6 NIV)

When a believer is in the midst of difficulty, psalms of lament give us permission to cry to God: husbands who lose their bride of 60 years, parents who are surprised by the questionable decision of an adult child, those who experience a sudden phasing out of employment, or those who suffer from an illness or accident. When life is at its darkest, cry out to God. God knows what we are thinking anyway; why not enter into the closest fellowship possible with him and unload your deepest emotion? Yes, God gives and takes away, but blessed be his name.

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