The Psalms and the Life of Faith

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This moves todah psalms to theological confession rather than simply "thanks" for positive experience. Todah is really a kind of praise offered to God that arises out of personal or communal experience yet in the context of overall commitment to God. The experiential dimension of todah psalms is easily seen in the middle section of the psalm as the worshipper recounts or gives testimony of his experience. This fact places this "thanksgiving" firmly in community worship as a visible sign of praise to God for his grace. There are also two specialized types of todah psalms that deserve special attention, the Salvation History Psalms and Songs of Trust.

However, they can also call for praise that comes very close to hymn.

The Courage to Read: Reflections on Psalm 1

The Songs of Trust are todah psalms that move even closer to hymn. There is still some sense of the immediate experience of God, yet they usually are focused more on reflective praise that is generalized into affirmations about God. They are experience generalized to trust. While they are firmly grounded in the understanding that God has acted in the past in the lives of people and the community, hymns have moved beyond the immediate experience to a stability in life that allows reflection on the nature and character of God as the one who delivers and provides.

There is lacking the deep emotion of the laments, as well as the immediacy of testimony. Yet there is a calm depth to these psalms that expresses that stability of life that comes from understanding and reflecting on the journey of faith, and is willing to declare a truth about God based on that journey. While not related to immediate experience, Hymns still exhibit features of description, the reason or ground for praise.

Yet, they often move to Doxology , a type of hymn in which there is usually no reason given for the praise. There is simply a repeated call to offer praise to God. Doxology moves to the most abstract form of praise, where God is honored in joyful abandon simply because he is God. But even here, this should not be understood as praise more "pure" than other types of praise.

It is not that this type of praise has any more value in the biblical traditions than any other type. In fact, the occurrence of doxology is far more infrequent than either todah or lament. This ought to raise some cautions about drawing superficial conclusion about praise from either hymn or doxology. There are several other types of Psalms that are well represented in the Psalter. They do not exhibit a stable pattern and so are usually grouped by topic and content rather than by internal structure.

That also allows a few to fit into one category by structure and another by topic. One of the largest groups of these are the Liturgical Psalms , so called because they were most likely used in special festivals or services of worship in the life of Ancient Israel.

While they were preserved and adapted to other uses long after the monarchy came to an end, the remnants of their original purpose is often obvious and helps understand some of the features in the Psalms. The Covenant Psalms may have had their original setting in an annual covenant renewal ceremony, while the Songs of Zion and the Temple Liturgies could be used for any of several festivals celebrated in Jerusalem. Two final specialized types are related in that both are reflective and come closer to being theological treatise than prayer. Again these are grouped by similar topics and concerns rather than a shared structure or form.

Wisdom Psalms are so called because they share features with the Wisdom traditions of the Old Testament Job , Proverbs, Ecclesiastes in terms of literary structures, vocabulary, and concepts. They frequently deal with topics such as the injustices of life and the justice of God, the responsibilities of choosing the correct path or manner of living, the relative value of riches, and the transitory nature of human existence.

Poems of the Law , which includes the lengthy Psalm , are simply psalms that reflect on the value of living life by the instructions of God preserved in the torah. In theme, these are close to thanksgiving psalms, in that the torah is celebrated as a gracious gift of God whereby he provides instructions for living life well in the world that he has created. The call to faithfulness to these instructions, in terms of being blessed or suffering consequences, picks up convenantal themes as well, but moves more closely to the "blessings" of life that come from accepting responsibility that is a feature of the Wisdom writings.

The theological implications of the Psalter are far too extensive to deal with here, and really only emerge fully from close examination of the Psalms themselves. However, there are two concluding observations that are important in any theological reflection on these prayers.

The psalms of the Psalter express praise in different modes, depending on the life situation of the worshipper or community. These different modes of praise each express a different perspective on God in relation to life experience. This reveals that the psalms conceive God, not in static categories of being or ultimate reality, but in dynamic terms that see God active and interactive in human affairs.

Yet, the Psalter teaches us that praise in the mode of lament is just as important as praise in the mode of doxology. In fact, there are far more lament psalms than of any other type. And they are all collected together into a prayer book whose very name in Hebrew, tehillim , means "praises. This suggests that our modern ideas of praise as a positive emotion are much too narrowly conceived. It also suggests that laments, with all the pain, grief, despair, even anger that they express, are just as much acts of worship and faithfulness to God as are the more socially acceptable and popular positive expression of hymns.


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This fact is a crucial theological truth that is in danger of being lost in some circles of the church that only values the positive. The simple fact is, not all of life is positive, but all of life comes under God in these prayers. Related to this same misconception about praise is the idea frequently expressed, openly or subtly, that "good" Christians should end up in doxology or "pure" praise, and then remain there as a sign of spiritual maturity. The implication is that anything less indicates spiritual problems.

But if the above observation about the use of these prayers is valid, this perspective is distorted at best. It is simply not how life works.

The Courage to Read: Reflections on Psalm 1 | Catalyst Resources Catalyst Resources

And one of the most important aspects of Psalms that have value for us today is that they are life oriented. There is a flow and a rhythm in the use of these prayers that is even reflected in how the Psalter itself is organized. And the book itself is composite, showing clear signs of being compiled over a long period of time see Introducing the Psalms. Yet, there is still some overall flow to the book. Much of the first part of the Psalter is composed of laments, todah psalms are more frequent later, while hymns occur more toward the end. The conclusion of the Psalter is a collection of doxologies.

Psalm 16:8

This suggests that the sequence lament-todah-hymn is a deliberate progression. That is, lament petition leads to thanksgiving that leads to hymn. While that may seem to suggest that the end of proper worship, and Christian living, should be doxology, when we consider that these prayers were a dynamic expression of the life and experience of the worshipping community, a deeper perspective emerges.

Two Old Testament scholars have made observations about the Psalter that are helpful here. Claus Westermann has described the Psalms in terms of the unifying element of praise, supporting the observation above that the psalms are simply different modes of praise. Walter Brueggemann picks up this dimension and describes the psalms in terms of the dynamic of life experiences. We may be at various points in that process, and therefore praying certain kinds of prayers at a particular moment.

“Be Brutally Honest” - Bono & David Taylor: Beyond the Psalms

But the fact that one is at doxology is not necessarily the measure of spiritual "success. But any work we put into it is with our hearts aimed at the prize Philippians —namely, Christ. Everything else is secondary.

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A foundation of any good relationship is vulnerability. And can I let you in on a little not-so secret? You can trust God. Whatever your past experiences may try and tell you, God is trustworthy, he loves you, and He never fails. Some days this truth is easier to grab on to than others. But He loves opportunities to prove His love and faithfulness. Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. When we realize that God is all-knowing, we must also realize that He loves us unconditionally in spite of our faults and failures. All he asks is that we come to Him with a contrite heart of repentance.

And even though we should come to Him in reverence, we should also be able to express to the Lord what we are really feeling and not feel the need to hide something from Him. And when we express them to Him, being the perfect Father that He is, He helps us walk through them to a place of redemption. Format: Digital. Publisher: Fortress Press. Be the first to rate this. Key Features Provides essential Old Testament scholarship from one of the most prominent living scholars Examines the way Psalms are prayed and sung in the modern church Includes material perfect for pastors, professors, counselors, and Old Testament scholars.

Praise for the Print Edition The Psalms, for Walter Brueggemann, are not simply ancient texts or routinized elements of a liturgy.