The Bible is full of calls to praise God. It is a constant theme through God’s word that we ought to say, sing and shout praise to our awesome Creator. The book of Psalms in particular is a constant reminder to give God glory and praise. Almost every psalm in the book has that theme and aim. Take Psalm 89 for example:
I will sing of the Lord’s great love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations.Psalm 89:1
As the psalm continues, the song not only encourages praise, but gives reasons for praise: God’s love and faithfulness, and that this love and faithfulness endure forever. We are painted a picture of God whose love never falters, fails or fades. No wonder this God is worth praising, and no wonder that the psalm calls all of creation to join in this praise of God.
But this psalm takes a surprising turn. Most psalms have a twist in them, in fact. Many of the songs of the book of Psalms take us on a journey: they start with danger, difficulty or distress and move toward trust in God; they start with pain and end with praise.
But this psalm is different. It begins with praise and then, as the psalm draws to a conclusion, turns to pain: “But you have rejected, you have spurned, you have been very angry…” says verse 38. Having spoken of God’s praise, the psalmist now speaks of his pain, and the ‘forever’ of the opening verses becomes the “How long O Lord?” of verse 46.
O Lord, where is your former great love, which in your faithfulness you swore to David?Psalm 89:49
The psalms are beautiful, not only by leading us to praise, but also in speaking of our pain. They give voice to our thanksgiving, and they also give voice to our grief. They teach us to sing, and they also teach us to wail. They allow us to vocalise our suffering and give us permission to speak of our struggles. We are allowed to talk of pain and distress, even to sing of it. It is part of our experience and the experience of being a follower of Jesus.
Wonderfully, as Christians, we are not stoics. We do not put a brave face on grief or suppress emotions. We are allowed to feel.
One of the reasons we can, and should, pour out our struggles to God is because he is the one who can truly make sense of them. Too often, my emotions don’t make sense to me, let alone to anyone else! But they make sense to God and he is more than willing to accept them.
Psalm 89 is a psalm about human experience. It’s also a psalm about the king. It talks of King David, and picks up the thread of his descendants. It’s probably written in the wake of attack by enemies. It is possibly penned in response to a failure by the king.
But verse 48 points to a greater hope in the face of failure:
What man can live and not see death, or save himself from the power of the grave?
It points us forward to the greater Son of great King David, the Lord Jesus Christ. He was the one who did live and not see death. He conquered the power of the grave. It is that hope that we hold onto in suffering and struggle. And it’s that hope that takes us from praise to pain and then back to praise once again.