Lately I’ve been loving me some Psalms. The Psalms are so personal, so intimate, so passionate, so full of emotion and intensity. They soothe and encourage and uplift the soul. Man, when I read about my Shepherd walking with me through the Valley of Death that is some seriously good, seriously sacred stuff. When I read about finding fullness of joy in God’s presence forevermore that is right in my wheelhouse. When I read about God being my portion I am treading on holy ground.
But there are certain things which make my relationship with the Psalms… complicated. For example, Psalm 10:15 reads, “Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer; call his wickedness to account till you find none.” Awww man. What am I supposed to do with this verse? Am I supposed to pray God would break the arms of wicked people? What about all the stuff Jesus says in the New Testament about loving your enemies and doing good to those who mistreat you? How do arm breaking and loving your enemies fit together?
O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart…
How can I possibly embrace this Psalm? Only the blameless can dwell with God on his holy hill. Only the one who does what is right and speaks the truth in his heart can sojourn with God. Am I blameless? Do I always do what is right and speak truth in my heart? Uhh, hardly. And David, who wrote this Psalm, wasn’t exactly blameless either. He had murder and adultery on his rap sheet.
So what are we supposed to do with the violent prayers scattered throughout the Psalms? And how should we interpret the Psalms in which the author proclaims his righteousness?
In Sunday School the answer to every question is “Jesus” or “the Bible.” In this case the Sunday School answer is the correct answer.
Jesus is the key to unlocking all the Psalms.
Almost all the Psalms were written by David, God’s appointed king over Israel. When the wicked threatened and attacked David they weren’t only attacking David, they were also attacking God himself. As God’s appointed king David represented God’s rule and reign on the earth. To rebel against God’s appointed king was to rebel against God himself. Therefore it was just and right for David to pray God’s punishment upon the wicked. David was praying that God would destroy those who sought to destroy God.
Of course, David participated in his fair share of wickedness. Ultimately he failed to represent the rule and reign of God upon the earth. But Jesus succeeded in every area David failed. Jesus is God’s ultimate appointed king. While he was on the earth he walked in perfect righteousness and obedience. He didn’t steal anyone’s wife, didn’t orchestrate any black ops murder plots. He perfectly represented God’s righteousness.
Now he has been exalted to the highest place in heaven. He is the true, reigning king, and those who commit wicked deeds are waging war against Jesus himself. People who create porn are waging war against Jesus. People who cheat on their spouses are waging war against Jesus. People who promote impurity and unrighteousness wage war against Jesus. People who love money more than Jesus are actually waging war against Jesus. People who teach heresy wage war against Jesus. People who abuse their children are waging war against Jesus.
It is absolutely right for us to pray that God’s justice will be done to the wicked. When God’s justice is done it upholds the dignity and righteousness of King Jesus.
God’s justice will be done to the wicked in one of two ways. Either they will repent of their sins and allow Jesus to bear justice for them or they will bear God’s justice themselves. Either way the justice of God is executed and the righteousness of the King is upheld. We pray the wicked will repent and turn to Jesus for forgiveness. We also pray God will bring justice down upon them if they refuse to repent. We pray God will destroy those who refuse to repent and continue to traffic young girls, corrupt political systems, abuse their children, live for money, relish porn, cuss out their coworkers, and spread rumors.
And when it comes to the “righteousness” Psalms our approach is the same. Only one person is sufficiently righteous to dwell upon God’s holy hill: Jesus. But Jesus doesn’t hoard his righteousness! Rather, he gives us all his righteousness and holiness when we place our trust in him. I can ascend the holy hill of the Lord because Jesus has ascended the hill ahead of me. He has cleared a path for me to follow. I can fully embrace the Psalms of righteousness because I am clothed in the righteousness of Christ.
If the Psalms begin to feel confusing read them through the lens of Christ. Read them as if Christ himself were speaking them. Jesus is the key to unlocking the Psalms. He shines light upon all the dark and confusing places. He is the reigning king who shares his righteousness with those who don’t deserve it.
When someone claims to know what Jesus or Paul or any other biblical author “really” meant. I’ve got to admit, it takes a lot of guts to make a claim like this. By saying you know what Jesus “really” meant you’re saying that all the scholars, church historians, pastors, and Christians throughout all of church history have missed the true meaning of Jesus’ words. I mean, sure, there have been many theological mistakes throughout church history. But now, after thousands of years, you’ve finally figured out what Jesus really meant? If that’s the case then Jesus’ words must have been pretty unclear.
When someone claims to know what Jesus or Paul or any other biblical author would have said if they were alive today. Again, another bold, audacious claim. God chose to close the canon of Scripture at a very particular time and place in history. There were very particular cultural practices and ideas in place when God closed the canon of Scripture. If he wanted to, God could have continued to cause men and women to write Scripture. But he didn’t. When you claim to know what Jesus would have said regarding homosexuality or gender roles or politics or church, you are walking on very dangerous ground. You are treading where only heretics dare to tread. Jesus and Paul and Luke and Jude and James and every other Biblical author said what they said and no more.
When someone claims that the Church has gotten an issue completely wrong. Yes, there have been many mistakes made by church leaders throughout church history. But to claim that the Church as a whole has gotten an issue completely wrong for the last 2,000 years? Wow, very, very bold claim. To claim that Christians, who are indwelt and led by the Spirit of God, have collectively swung and missed for the past 2,000 years is a very strong claim indeed. And doesn’t it strike you as a bit odd that only now God is starting to make up for his mistake? That now, after 2,000 years, we are the generation who has finally gotten things right?
My generation is infatuated with the new and immediate. We love the newest gadgets and newest movies and newest theological ideas. We would be wise, to paraphrase C.S. Lewis, to let the fresh winds of church history blow through our musty brains.
I’m about 95% sure that at least one person who reads this post will remind me of the fact that many Christians owned slaves. In response I would say two things. First, it is my educated guess that many men and women throughout church history who have defended sinful practices were not born again. This is the case when it comes to the Crusades, slavery, the Spanish Inquisition, and many other sad events. These events and practices were promoted by those who embraced cultural Christianity, not true Christianity.
But this is not always the case. Jonathan Edwards, who was clearly born again, owned slaves. Many churches clearly embraced racist attitudes and practices for many years. What are we supposed to do in these cases? We acknowledge that Christians and churches get it wrong sometimes. This isn’t a contradiction of what I said earlier. Churches can get particular issues wrong. This is why we must always be testing our beliefs against the clear revelation of Scripture and the collective wisdom of the last 2,000 years, as opposed to the last 200 years.
We would be wise to test our modern ideas of sexuality, politics, gender roles, and every other issue against church history as a whole. As I look out over the battles being fought in churches I find it remarkable how closely many of the battles resemble the fight for democracy in the United States. This probably isn’t a good thing. Our battles must always be fought on the basis of God’s word, not current ideas. Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not in any way suggesting that slavery or racism or sexism is okay. But our definitions of what is right and wrong must be shaped by God’s word and nothing else.
If we don’t we don’t test our ideas against God’s word and church history, we are in danger of letting our theology be shaped by current events and ideas rather than the clear, unshakable Word of God.
Worry is the act of imagining a future without God.
When you strip it down to its bones that’s what it really is. I worry when I imagine a future devoid of God. I worry when I project my current feelings and discouragements and struggles into the future. I worry when I take God’s love and faithfulness out of the equation. When I imagine a stark and bleak future, a screaming void in which my faithful and loving Father does not exist or act on my behalf. Underneath all the anxiety and fear and confusing emotions worry is actually a form of atheism. It’s acting as if God does not exist.
Psalm 18:46 provides three words which destroy worry and fuel faith: “The Lord lives…”
Don’t pass over those words too quickly. The. Lord. Lives.
My budget is flatlining and we are financially tanking and I don’t see hope for the future! But the Lord lives. The same Lord who owns everything and provides for ravens and sustains galaxies and calls us his children is real and alive and active in your life. You can’t provide for yourself but your budget is not too tight for God. The Lord lives.
My child is not doing well spiritually and I’ve tried everything and I don’t have any hope that anything will change! The Lord lives. The same Lord who has saved murderers and prostitutes and Pharisees and drug addicts and money addicts and pastors' kids is real and alive and active in your life. You can’t save your child, but your kid is not too hard for God. The Lord lives.
My marriage is on the rocks and we’ve tried counseling and we’ve read all the books and I don’t see things getting any better! The Lord lives. The same Lord who created a bride for himself out of rebellious, wicked, God-hating sinners is real and alive and active in your life. You can’t rescue your marriage, but your marriage is not too hard for God. The Lord lives.
My spiritual life is dry, and I’ve tried a thousand different things to get it kickstarted, but nothing seems to work, and honestly, I don’t think things are going to get any better. The Lord lives. The same Lord who caused you to become spiritually alive is real and alive and active in your life. You can’t breathe fresh life into your heart, but your heart is not too dry for God.
Your circumstances may be bleak. You may not see a light at the end of the tunnel. You may not see any silver lining. But circumstances and tunnels and silver linings are not the basis of our hope, God is.
Don’t be a functional atheist today. The Lord lives. Let’s live in light of that reality.
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” (1 Peter 4:12 ESV)
Trials stink. Running out of money stinks. Suffering from chronic migraines stink. Being slandered by coworkers stinks. All trials stink, right?
Well, yes and no. From a human perspective, trials are painful and sad. But from God’s perspective, trials are sad, but also wonderfully productive. In James 1:2-4 it says:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
Humanly speaking, this is crazy talk. Count it all joy whenever I meet a trial? James sounds like some sort of sadistic masochist who loves pain. Like those guys who lie on beds of nails, or swallow glass, or watch made-for-TV movies on the Hallmark Channel. Insane. Perhaps a bit unstable. In need of psychiatric help.
But James sees things from God’s perspective. He knows that God uses trials to produce steadfast faith in us. Steadfast faith is faith that isn’t easily shaken. Steadfast faith is faith that holds fast to God even when it is buffeted and beaten. Steadfast faith says, “Blessed be your name,” on the road marked with blessing and the road marked with suffering. If we’re going to make it to the end, we need steadfast faith.
But steadfast faith doesn’t just happen. It’s not like you can take a blue steadfast pill and suddenly be a faith ninja. Steadfast, unshakeable faith only comes through the pressure of trials. Trials press us in to God. They force us to lean on God, and trust him when we can’t see the outcome. They knock our legs out from underneath us so that we’ll cling to God.
God never wastes our suffering. He doesn’t play games with our suffering. Every trial has a divine purpose behind it. We can rejoice in our trials, and even count them all joy because we know that God is producing steadfast faith in us.
Rejoice in your trials. Count them all joy. Wait patiently in the midst of them. God is at work, even if you can’t see it.
Stephen Altrogge serves as a pastor at Sovereign Grace Church of Indiana, PA, where his main duties include leading worship, preaching, and working with youth. He also has written a number of worship songs that have been included on Sovereign Grace Music albums. Stephen is the author of the book Game Day For the Glory of God: A Guide For Athletes, Fans, and Wannabes, published by Crossway Books in September 2008, and The Greener Grass Conspiracy: Finding Contentment on Your Side of the Fence, published by Crossway Books in April 2011. When not shining his dad’s shoes, you can find Stephen drinking coffee or playing video games.
Find out more when you visit his blog, The Blazing Center.