One phrase in a powerful sermon completely paralyzed me.
Dr. Robert Smith Jr., who serves as Charles T. Carter Baptist Chair of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School where he teaches Christian Preaching, was preaching from Psalms 42 at a conference my husband Ed and I were attending.
He relayed a story of a conversation he’d had with a shuttle driver, in route to the airport after a speaking event. Just months prior to this shuttle ride, Dr. Smith’s youngest son, Antonio Smith, had been murdered during a robbery that transpired at restaurant where he worked. His 34 year old son “beat his father to the grave” as he expressed in this piece for Christianity Today.
As Dr. Smith was completely unfamiliar with the airport he was about to fly though, he began to ask the shuttle driver for details about security, the gates and even where to get breakfast. The shuttle driver quickly answered all his questions and even pointed out where the best cup of coffee would be found. Dr. Smith inquired of him, “Which is your favorite airline?” The shuttle driver quickly told him, “I’ve never flown before.” Dr. Smith was incredulous. “You’ve never flown? How do you know so much about the airport?” The driver said, “I’ve studied the airport so I could answer questions, but I’ve never been in the airport.”
Dr. Smith then confessed to us, “I’ve studied Psalm 42, but since my son’s death I’ve found myself in Psalms 42.” His heart was no longer a safe distance from the words,“Why so down cast oh my soul?” and “My tears have been my food day and night.” He was in the Psalms, no longer a mere student of it.
His words gave voice to my experience with the Psalms.
Through my own sorrow, I found myself in the Psalms like never before. I had studied Psalm 23, but now I found myself in Psalm 23. I had studied Psalm 84, but I found myself in Psalm 84.
You, dear reader, may say the same thing only inserting your own common human circumstance:
“In fear, I found myself in Psalm 27.”
“In personal failure, I found myself in Psalm 73.”
“In joy, I found myself in Psalm 16.”
“In confession, I found myself in Psalm 32.”
“In anger, I found myself in Psalm 94.”
The word of God is not a carefully crafted propaganda piece about a non-real human existence. It contains the honest human stories— and messy brokenness— that God is not afraid to include in His narrative. That’s why stories of adultery, conflict, fear, despair, envy, lust and doubt all can be found in the Psalms. God creates a wide berth for reality in His Word
“There is no greater disaster in the spiritual life than to be immersed in unreality.”
We won’t find sanitized stories or sanitized people in the Bible. The Psalms reflect every human emotion, but they do so in a distinct and important way; they are emotions seen in relationship to God.
Eugene Peterson says, “Everything that a person can possibly feel, experience and say is brought into expression before God in the Psalms.”
The Psalms tell us we should not fear revealing our innermost thoughts or feeling. In fact, our innermost thoughts and feelings should drive us to pursue God rather than hiding or avoiding Him.
“In neglecting our intense emotions, we are false to ourselves and lose a wonderful opportunity to know God. We forget that change comes through brutal honesty and vulnerability before God.”
–The Cry of the Soul by Dan Allender and Tremper Longman III
Today we launch a series on Finding Ourselves in the Psalms. You will hear diverse voices share intimate spiritual work with honesty and vulnerability before God. We follow in the footsteps of the original authors who were willing to chronicle their work of the soul before a holy and loving God.
Published September 19, 2016