Blogging the Bible 142 – Psalms 85-89 – When life and theology don’t match

Psalm 89 is one of those psalms which appeals to God for help – but this time the psalmist wrestles with the recognition that help hasn’t come.

It starts with confidence in the LORD. The Psalmist promises continuing worship of the God who has promised continuing steadfast love to Israel and David. He praises God’s glory in exalted terms – the LORD shines brighter than any heavenly body, the LORD is greater than any other spiritual being. The praise extends from the heavenly realm to God’s work in creation, stilling the raging seas and crushing the monsters of chaos. Then it descends to the historical, with God’s promise to David and his descendants.

But in v.38 there’s a sudden, clashing change of direction. God is accused of breaking his word when the royal house of David has fallen, presumably with the exile. There’s no resolution, just anguished complaint. (v.52 jars so clearly that I checked a commentary, and it’s reckoned to be added to the psalm to complete the third book of the psalms, rather than belonging in this psalm itself.)

The contrast of the two halves of the psalm is extreme. The heights of praise fuel the depths of despair. After all, the more glorious we believe God to be, the more powerful and loving we know his character to be, the more faithful to his word we believe him to be, the more incomprehensible it is when he seems so clearly to have abandoned us.

For those moments when we do feel abandoned, this psalm is a gift. It surely wouldn’t be here if God couldn’t cope with our anger and our anguish when our theology and our experience don’t match. For that matter, perhaps it’s here to show us that we can sometimes hold deep faith and true doubt together, without having to resolve or understand everything all the time. When we can worship God in the same breath as we yell at him, trusting him doggedly despite all that life is trying to tell us, perhaps we’re coming close to the spirit of the Psalmist – and God has given us words to express that.

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