The Psalms make me uncomfortable



“Summer in the Psalms” sounded so idyllic. Praying from the Bible every morning and night! What comfort and joy it would bring me during the relaxing summer months...or so I thought.  

I was ashamed at first how uncomfortable this practice has made me.

Sure, there were the amazing scriptures that appeared in the daily readings just when I needed them,—like “The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?” (Psalm 27:1, NIV) or Psalm 23 (which I still remember reciting in the King James every night before bed when I stayed with my grandmother.) These were like a soothing balm to my anxieties and daily wear and tear.

But SO many other verses left me with a pit in my stomach. For example, “The Lord preserves those who are true to him, but the proud he pays back in full.” (Psalm 31:23, NIV)

It leaves me wondering, first of all, if I am “true” to him. Also, what exactly does “pay back in full” mean? And what about those people who think they are being true but aren’t? 

The plethora of Psalms that ask God to destroy enemies (Psalm 17, 35, name a few.) leave me asking: is God just an angry old guy up in the sky who comes down and wipes people out? 

And lastly, there was the verse that really left me worried: “Therefore let all the faithful pray to you while you may be found” (Psalm 32:6, NIV)

This seemed particularly doomsday. Is there a time when God may not be found? Is that now? Would he really shun the unfaithful so that he won’t even hear their prayers anymore? Suddenly, my idyllic summer reading has left me with more questions than comfort or joy.

This practice of reading the Psalms every morning and night is teaching me many things, but most notably—

1. How small my Image of God is.

2. How privileged my world view is. 

I imagine God as an non-violent, unstoppable force, and source for good in the world, who, quite coincedentilly, sees the world more or less the way I do. Lots of writers have written at length about the problematic violence in the Old Testament, and being far from a scholar on the subject, I’ll skip a thesis about that. (Although, I would recommend checking out Greg Boyd’s books “Crucifixion of a Warrior God” and “Cross Vision: How the Crucifixion of Jesus Make Sense of Old Testament Violence”... and these books’ reviews, if you’d like to get in on the debate around this topic!) Wherever you stand on this subject, I think it is easy to blame God for all the violence and terror of that day and now, or at the very least, to blame God for not intervening. Yet, my take-away today is to keep struggling with these difficult questions, instead of avoiding the parts of the Bible that I don’t like. How small my image of God is! I make God out to be just who I think I need, instead of seeking to actually discover who he is. “For the word of the Lord is right and true; he is faithful in all he does. The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love. (Psalm 33:4-5, NIV) Do I really believe that God is faithful in ALL he does? If I really believed that, how would my life be different? Instead of discarding the parts of the Bible I don’t like and giving up on Christianity because I take issue with this or that, why not lean in to these questions? The God that David describes and speaks to in the Psalms, that God can take it.

Lastly, this practice has shown me how privileged my world view is. Having never known real violence or desolation, having never had real enemies threaten my or my loved one’s lives...I haven’t really been “poor enough in spirit” (Matthew 5:3) to understand these prayers of David, to need God like he does. This practice is helping me widen my lens with which I see myself, God and others.

As I read David’s personal prayer journal each morning and night, I’m in awe of how God is his lifeline. How honest David is about his fears and anger, how he seeks God even (and especially) in those moments of desperation....and on top of it all, he SINGS to God about it. He uses music to connect to the divine and he holds nothing back—that’s something I can understand.

Maybe these Psalms say more about how we can pray than anything else.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t talk to God like that. And yet, I am so thankful that we are given permission, so to speak, to be honest with God, through the Psalms. I am so thankful that God meets us where we are, however uncomfortable that place may be.

Have you prayed through the book of Psalms? How did the practice make you feel? What questions did it bring up for you?